We’re less than a month away from waking up, grabbing that cup of coffee (or maybe a ‘Hotty Toddy’ in The Grove) and turning on College Gameday to see Lee Corso and crew make their picks and preview games for the Week 1 slate. Oregon and Georgia square off on national television. Utah and Florida will battle it out. And of course, Notre Dame takes on the premier team in the Big Ten, Ohio St., in Las Vegas. The game of college football is one that brings nostalgia, pride, and prestige to the fans of the game, but the 2022 landscape is certainly changing. NIL deals, the transfer portal, Oklahoma and Texas soon to the SEC, and the Big Ten scooping up the LA market in USC and UCLA (It could be quite the sight to see USC playing in a snowstorm at Camp Randall or in Minnesota in below freezing temperatures come 2024).
To sports bettors, this amounts to including a few more variables when handicapping college football. The preseason is always a little bit trickier, as there are so many moving parts, but it can be done. Of course, modeling is necessary in order to beat the book, but there is also a bit of art needed as well. Taking into account travel, factoring in weather, injuries, etc. all add to the fun of handicapping.
My College Football Betting Guide series focuses on how to find an edge and preview each team within the Power 5 conferences and beyond. My goal is to take you on a campus tour throughout each conference and find the value. I’ll provide you with the favorites, the contenders, the dark horses, and well, the donations you could make by selecting teams within each conference. I’ll give you my thoughts on each respective Team Total future bet you could make, some of the better players you could target for DFS Plays, and I’ll also give you my pick for who will raise the trophy as the conference champion, the MVP of the conference, and the +EV Pick.
The +EV Pick may have you scratching your head a little bit as to what it is, but +EV is short for positive expected value. Expected value in sports betting “is a way to measure the probability gap between a bettor’s expectations and the sportsbook’s.”
In layman's terms, it’s who is going to give you the most bang for your buck: AKA, What’s the most profitable pick if you were to do this over and over again, long term. Because of course, that’s our goal: Long term profit. (and of course, fun!). So say it with me and repeat it to yourself, “Plus EV over everything.”
Ok, that’s what you need to know, let’s actually dive into each conference, starting with the Grandaddy of ‘em all, the Big Ten. (SEC fans, don’t click away just yet, it’s just an allusion to the Rose Bowl, I still know the top talent resides there). One thing is for certain, the depth of the Big Ten is undeniable. NINE teams are projected to win 6.5 games or more so let’s dive into some of them.
2022 College Football Betting Guide: Big Ten Preview
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Conference Odds (via Fanduel)
- Ohio State -200
- Michigan +800
- Wisconsin +1200
- Penn State +1400
- Iowa +2000
- Nebraska +2000
- Michigan State +2500
- Minnesota +3000
- Purdue +4000
- Maryland +15000
- Illinois +20000
- Indiana +20000
- Northwestern +50000
- Rutgers +50000
Ohio State Buckeyes (2021 record: 11-2)
THE Ohio State Buckeyes come in as overwhelming favorites at -200 to win the Big 10. That’s an implied win % of 66.7%. Well, that steep price may be warranted as undoubtedly, they are the best team in the Big 10, and I wouldn’t be afraid to stop there as they may very well be the best team in the country. And this is said knowing the Buckeyes will have to replace their two stud WR’s in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who had 13 TD’s and 936 yards and 12 TD’s and 1,058 yards, respectively. It’s really quite impressive for a team who perennially loses talent to the NFL draft to return almost 75% of their production last year. This is for an offense that averaged 45.7 points a game! They score and they score quickly.
Here is last season’s data for PPA vs Explosiveness via CollegeFootballData.com
PPA (x-axis) by Explosiveness Y axis)
For Reference: Predicted points added takes each yard line into account and not all yard lines are created equal. You’d have more predicted points by starting at the 50 yard line than you would at the 20 yard line. It also includes down and distance. You’d predict to score more points from the opponent’s 30 yard line on 1st and 10 than you would if you started on the opponent’s yard line on 3rd and 10. Explosiveness is similar and quantifies it based on PPA, but well, you may already get what explosiveness is. It’s scoring and it’s scoring in chunks quickly.
Notice Ohio State there over by itself in the upper right quadrant? As you can see, the Buckeyes’ ability to score and to score quickly was elite, as they had the best PPA in the entire country.
Not only that, they lost to Michigan last year. Think they have a sour taste in their mouth? CJ Stroud, no longer a freshman, will come in to prove himself and his draft stock after throwing for 44 TDs, 6 INTs, and over 4400 yards. He’s a top Heisman contender and ready to find potentially the best DI WR in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who quietly had 1600 yards last season out of the slot. I expect him to continue to play out of the slot this season and torch defenses. The RB situation is locked down in TreVeyon Henderson, who after watching firsthand, just looks different out there when exploding for big runs behind what will feature a top 5 offensive line in the nation led by Paris Johnson and Dewand Jones.
This offense is going to be elite. Not just elite compared to offenses this year, but all-time.
Ok, Ohio State is going to put up points. But as the old adage goes, “Defense wins championships.”
If the Buckeyes are going to make a run at the national championship this year, their defense is going to have to improve. They allowed 31 points to Minnesota, 35 to Oregon, 42 to Michigan, 45 to Utah, and 31 to Purdue. How did Coach Day respond? He went out and got Oklahoma St. Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles, who actually built a defense that could handle the Big 12 offensive shootouts. This is the big question mark here, but really the only one.
Ohio State's schedule includes Notre Dame early in fabulous Las Vegas and Michigan at home. They’ll have to get by Penn State in Happy Valley, but otherwise, this team is absolutely primed to win not only the B1G, but also to raise the National Championship trophy at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in early January.
Prediction: Team Total Over 11 wins
Michigan Wolverines (2021 record: 12-2)
Michigan has been rebuilt. The Wolverines finished 3rd in the AP poll, entered as the #2 seed in the playoff, and eventually lost to the best team in the country in Georgia. The offense averaged over 35 points a game while stuffing opponents for only 17 a game. However, questions will arise as many pieces are gone from last year’s Big Ten Champions.
Both the offensive and defensive coordinators are gone and much of the offensive line has since depleted. However, the transfer portal has brought in Olusegun Oluwatimi to help rebuild that wall that prides itself in its run-first mentality with Blake Corum likely leading the way for RB crew. Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy will most likely each see significant time and it will be interesting to see how each handles the new offensive coordinator.
Defensively, Michigan will have to replace Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, and because of these absences, that defensive line isn’t going to be near what it was last year. They’ll have to replace over 50% of their experience from last year on defense and they’ve lost too much to be able to replicate that dominant squad from 2021. Their schedule is relatively favorable, most likely cruising to a 4-0 start. They’ll then later have to go to Kinnick Stadium to beat Iowa and then beat Penn State at home. “The Game” always awaits in the finale, and even though they've lost quite a bit on defense, they’re still going to be the #1 contender to challenge Ohio State for the Big 10 title this year. Michigan gets close to the 9 win mark and I think the betting market is going to be betting off the inertia the Wolverines gathered last year. There's value on the under for the Wolverines this year.
Prediction: Team Total Under 9.5 wins
Minnesota Golden Gophers (2021 Record: 9-4)
Minnesota doesn’t, and won’t, leap off the page to anyone at first glance, but this team was 9-4 last season under PJ Fleck and if it hadn’t been for complete letdown losses against Illinois and Bowling Green because of their offensive coordinator’s questionable decision making, this team would’ve only lost to Iowa and Ohio State, whom they were leading at halftime. The Gophers beat Wisconsin to claim Paul Bunyan’s Axe and will be returning Mohamed Ibrahim, a potential Doak Walker Award winner at the end of the season.
Mo ruptured his Achilles Tendon against Ohio State in the 3rd quarter after rushing for 163 up until that point. And oh, did I mention he was also the 2020 Big Ten running back of the year. The super senior will now run behind a top 10 offensive lineman in John Michael Schmitz and the Gophers have found replacements for the behemoth of a human in Daniel Faalele. Former Minnesota prep standout Quinn Carroll has transferred from Notre Dame and Chuck Filiaga has transferred from Michigan. Chris Autman-Bell and their top 5 pass catchers are all back to receive passes from Tanner Morgan, who will be a breakout this year after a disappointing last season (see offensive coordinator woes). Kirk Ciarrocca is back and Gopher fans couldn’t be happier to welcome him with open arms. In 2019, he helped lead an explosive offense to an Outback Bowl win over Auburn. Not only that, rumors are swirling that even a couple of dual-threat QB’s will see some packages to get the ball moving and increase some of the explosiveness for this very experienced offense.
The Defense was incredibly solid for the Gophers last year. They averaged to give up a measly 279 yards and just 17 points per game, but like Michigan, they’ve also lost quite a bit, including their leading tackler Jack Gibbens and Boye Mafe, an electric pass rusher on defense. The secondary will be strong and Joe Rossi will have to find ways to fill in the missing pieces from last year. Clemson transfer Darnell Jefferies and Ryan Stapp from Abilene Christian will see if they are up to the task and captain Mariano Sori-Marin will be back to lead the Gophers in the middle as a standout linebacker.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The Gophers are +3000 to win the Big 10, but they won’t have to play Ohio State or Michigan this year. They’ll likely start 3-0 and still have the likes of Illinois, Northwestern, and Rutgers on the schedule to get 6 wins. If the Gophers can scrap themselves to 3 more wins out of the remaining games, they’ll likely be in contention for the championship in the Big Ten West. If this happens, they get their chance at Ohio State. Admittedly, this would be tough, but at +3000, this price may be reasonable to take a shot at considering the parity in the Big Ten West. The Gophers have a puncher’s chance this season.
Prediction: Team Total Over 7.5 wins
Wisconsin Badgers (2021 Record: 9-4)
The Badgers come off a 2021 campaign that included a worrisome 1-3 start to the season, only to rattle off 7 straight wins before losing to Minnesota and rebounding with a Las Vegas Bowl win against Arizona St. Year in and year out, this team plays the same brand of football: They’ll scratch and claw 4-5 yards a play behind an elite and massive offensive line and they usually accomplish this with an elite talent running back. They may very well be RB U. The Badgers vanilla offense will throw the ball on occasion for short gains, but will this tried-and-true offensive scheme continue to work in the ever-changing college football landscape?
With losing 3 top receivers, I only see the Badgers doing more of the same with Braelon Allen. The Badgers are projected to have one of the nation's top 5 offensive lines, again, and will regularly face 8 men in the box from defenses, unless 4-star QB Graham Mertz shows that they need to respect the pass a bit more. This offense has success in what it has done, however, they finished second to last in explosiveness last year and below average in Predicted Points Added. That will need to change if the Badgers hope to reclaim the top spot in the West.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers and Jim Leonhard’s defense will have to recover from losing 8 out of their top 10 tacklers from their 2021 campaign. However, Wisconsin has shown they play solid defense, no matter the personnel they run out there. Last year’s defense was tops in the Big Ten in Total Havoc, a statistic that measures TFL, interceptions, fumbles, deflected passes, etc.
Their schedule this year has some serious hurdles. They’ll have to go to the Horseshoe to battle Ohio St. for their Big Ten opener, and they’ll have to travel to Michigan State and Iowa as well. The over-under for this team is set at 8.5 and it may very well be determined after the second week when they’ll take on the Washington St Cougars. If they get by that one and start the season 3-0, they can get to 9 wins. Without that win, which may be trickier than most people think considering Cameron Ward is under center for the Cougars, it’s under 8.5 for the Badgers.
Prediction: Team Total Under 8.5 wins
Penn State Nittany Lions (2021 Record: 7-6)
We are…going to rebound from a tumultuous 2021? Happy Valley was, well, happy after starting last season with a perfect 5-0. After that torrid start, the train flew off the tracks in the shadows of Mount Nittany, as James Franklin and the team couldn’t capture any marquee wins and even suffered a loss in the insane game that was Illinois to end the season with an Outback Bowl loss to the Razorbacks of Arkansas.
— SportsGrid (@SportsGrid) October 23, 2021
The Nittany Lions have brought in former HC Manny Diaz from Miami up to State College to run the defense (and maybe the turnover chain), but I don’t expect that to have much of an effect, as Miami’s defense was far from outstanding.
Penn State has lost ultimately its biggest playmaker in Jahan Dotson to the NFL. The offense will have Sean Clifford back with OC Mike Yurcich. Clifford, before the injury, was making big-time plays against big-time teams under the new offense. They’ve brought in Western Kentucky’s Mitchell Tinsley (5th in TD receptions in the nation, 14) to help fill the gap with Dotson, but the real problem for State is their offensive line. They allowed far too much pressure and failed to be able to run the ball.
In games against marquee opponents last season, here’s how the Nittany Lions faired on the ground:
- Wisconsin: 2.8 yards per carry
- Auburn: 2.5 yards per carry
- Iowa: 3.2 yards per carry
- Ohio St: 1.1 yards per carry
- Michigan: 2.6 yards per carry
- Michigan St: 2.3 yards per carry
And if you think it was just a problem against premier programs, they also averaged 2.4 against FCS Villanova, 2.1 against Illinois, and 2.8 against Maryland.
Penn State will have to drastically improve their run game and passer protection this season if they want to make a run at the Big Ten East. With Gatorade National Player of the Year and true freshman Nick Singleton potentially earning the spot, hopes are again high in Happy Valley.
Their schedule isn’t exactly favorable either. Penn State will have to travel to Auburn whose run defense may be the best in the country. Penn State will have to beat the Wolverines in the Big House. They’ll have to beat Ohio St. And don’t sleep on Purdue just yet. Going to West Lafayette early in the season may give us a good Litmus test of which Penn State team we are going to see for the 2022 season, but then again, we thought we knew in 2021...
Prediction: Team Total Under 8.5
Iowa Hawkeyes (2021 Record: 10-4)
Kinnick Stadium is an amazing place to watch a football game and it features maybe the college football tradition that we have as sports fans. When the 1st quarter ends, something amazing begins. All 70,000 fans, players, and coaches turn to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital and all wave to the pediatric units and their families in unison. The wave inspires hope for children to overcome the various illnesses and insidious diseases they’re battling. This 2017 tradition may not be as happy as “Jump Around,” but it certainly is an inspiring and wholesome moment. I may not love the Hawkeyes, but I will always respect that about them. Ok, on to the field.
Iowa started off what was about to be the magical season last year and after defeating Penn State as the 3rd ranked team in the country and with a favorable schedule ahead, sports pundits were talking about Iowa entering the College Football Playoff. Then, as the #2 team in the country and having Purdue come to town, it was full steam ahead. Spencer Petras was taking care of the ball, Iowa was running at will, and their defense was turning the ball over and creating havoc. But then something terrible happened. The Hawkeyes lost. They didn’t just lose, but they got smoked by the Boilermakers in Kinnick and no one saw it coming. They then lost to Wisconsin, but recovered enough to win the Big Ten West and play Michigan for the title. Iowa’s flaws were exposed and Michigan crushed them. Iowa went on to finish 10-4 after dropping the Citrus Bowl to Kentucky.
Most Iowa fans will look back at the 2021 season and think “What could’ve been…” But Kirk Ferentz and Iowa know they’re actually returning the strong 2021 nucleus of top-level talent to put together a strong 2022 campaign that’s ready to rock. On defense, Riley Moss will lead the Hawkeyes and absolutely be a candidate for the best defensive back in the country this year. They led the nation with 25 interceptions last year and only managed to surrender 19 points a game. That strong Iowa defense will have to make up for the Iowa offense that is going to miss Tyler Goodson. They’ll have to improve the extremely vanilla quarterback play and stretch the field with their wide receivers as well.
Like Wisconsin, each year these teams lose talent, reload, and seem to always put up solid seasons. They’re going to have to win some close games like they usually do, but they should make a strong case for the championship in the Big Ten West. Then, like Wisconsin and Minnesota, if you win the west, you have a puncher’s chance at Ohio St.
Prediction: Team Total Over 7.5
Nebraska Cornhuskers (2021 Record: 3-9)
If you told me at the end of the season, Nebraska went 6-6, it wouldn’t surprise me.
If you told me at the end of the season, Nebraska went 10-2, it wouldn’t surprise me.
The team has talent, a head coach with a proven track record (at a previous school), and a favorable schedule this year, but nothing so far in the Scott Frost Era has really come to fruition. For the first time in 4 years, the Huskers won’t be starting Adrian Martinez at QB. Texas transfer Casey Thompson will look to direct the Cornhuskers in the 2022 campaign.
It's “put-up or shut-up” time in Lincoln for Frost. They’re 15-29 in the era and have lost 20 of the 29 games by 8 or fewer points. Frost is going to have to figure out how to win in close situations this year, or he is headed to the coaching carousel.
Frost’s coaching staff is completely overturned and this can be an extremely volatile situation. How will the new coaches gel? How will players respond to new systems and personas? Mark Whipple from Pitt has taken over the OC job and Nebraska will likely run with quite a bit of pace and pass more often with Casey Thompson, who actually should be able to take care of the ball better than Martinez did. However, the offensive line is a question mark for Nebraska, as their center left early and injuries have kept their tackles out of spring practices. The RB situation is up for grabs, but the wide receiver should be better as Nebraska hit the transfer portal hard there, getting Trey Palmer from LSU.
Concerning the schedule, there’s no Ohio State or Michigan State this year. And even more importantly as a fan, the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry game is back! They also will travel to Dublin, Ireland to battle Northwestern in their season opener. Televisions and eyes will be focused on the Cornhuskers and the pressure is high in Lincoln. How will they respond? With a lot of instability on the coaching staff and the amount of turnover, I’m more in the camp that the Huskers disappoint, again. They seem to be darlings for everyone’s predictions, but I think the greatest predictor of future behavior, is past behavior.
Prediction: Team Total Under 7.5
Michigan State Spartans (2021 Record: 11-2)
Let’s come out and say it. Sparty will have to replace Kenneth Walker III and his 1600 rushing yards if they want to win 11 again. They’ll once again try their luck at the RB position in the transfer portal as they’re bringing in Jarek Broussard from Colorado and Jalen Berger from Wisconsin. Regardless of their talent, it’s going to be incredibly hard to replace the Heisman finalist in Walker III. Not to mention, their offensive line needs to be rebuilt, and WR Jailen Nailor is gone. Mel Tucker has his work cut out for him if he wants to replicate that 11-2 record from last year, resulting in a win against Pitt in the Peach Bowl and finishing #9 in the final polls.
On defense, they return stability but question marks still reside in the porous secondary. They’ve brought in Ameer Speed from Georgia and return all 5 starters from last year in the secondary which indicates we should see improvement there. Tucker has brought in Khris Bogle from the Gators to add edge pressure for their defensive line as well. Two athletic transfers in addition to two more athletic transfers from UNLV and Mississippi St should have the Michigan State defense ready to take on the grueling Big Ten East schedule.
Payton Thorne at quarterback was better than expected and helped lead, in conjunction with Kenneth Walker III, the Big 10’s most explosive offense, ranking even slightly ahead of Ohio St. Thorne is big and mobile and took care of the ball when he needed to. He’ll need to replicate that. Additionally, he’ll need a WR to step up. The culture Mel Tucker is building there is something I can get on board with, but winning 11 again this season may be too tall of an order for Sparty. I have them closer to the 9 mark.
Prediction: Team Total Over 7.5
The Dark Horses
Maryland Terrapins (2021 Record: 7-6)
The highly volatile Terps are primed for another highly volatile season. They’re peppered with top-level athletes and Mike Locksley is going to have basically all of his playmakers back. Taulia Tagovailoa and over 85% of the offense is back for Maryland. Dontay Demus is back from injury and Taulia is coming off an impressive offensive season where he passed for 3,860 yards, 26 TDs and 11 INTs. I expect him to improve markedly in every category, especially with an offensive line that returns almost every single snap from last season. He will also get Florida standout Jacob Copeland at WR as well. This offense is going to be explosive.
The biggest question for the Terrapins is on defense. They’re going to give up points and be involved in a lot of shootouts this season. They’re offensive talent alone is going to result in some big upsets and everyone who has the Terrapins on the schedule better not have a letdown that week, otherwise the Terps may put up 40 in a flash. Not to mention, it may be worth tuning into the SMU game, as these teams might combine for over 100 points…
Prediction: Team Total Over 5.5
Purdue Boilermakers (2021 Record: 9-4)
The upset specialists from last year. Purdue had some pretty outstanding wins against Iowa (#2), Michigan St (#5), and later Tennessee to go 9-4 and claim the Music City Bowl. Their star WR in David Bell is off to the NFL, but Aidan O’Connell will be back at QB and ready to sling it all over the year. AOC and the Boilermakers' offense averaged 29 points a game last year and will be able to keep up with most teams this year, especially considering their schedule.
However, their defense is a pain point. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not good either and with the departure of their DC, it’s not likely to take any giant leap forward. The Boilermakers, if they defeat Penn State in their opener in West Lafayette, could really do some damage as they avoid Michigan St, Michigan, and Ohio St. Be on the lookout at they could sneak their way into the thick of things, however, I think some regression looms for the Boilermakers.
Prediction: Team Total Under 7.5
Instead of throwing your hard-earned money on these longshots, maybe consider donating that money to charity, might I suggest what I mentioned before, the UI Steads Children’s Hospital?
Illinois Fighting Illini (2021 Record: 5-7)
Bilema helped the Illini win 5 games last year, but I don’t think he’s the answer. They return just slightly over half of their experiences on offense and defense. Not only this, they were ranked 116th in total offense last year. It could be a long season in Champagne.
Prediction: Team Total Under 4.5 wins
Indiana Hoosiers (2021 Record: 2-10)
High hopes were held in Bloomington for the Hoosiers after their stellar 2020 campaign, but the Penix Jr is off to Washington after an abysmal 2021 season and Hoosiers are going to have to search for answers and hope to find it in Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak, who actually has significant arm talent. If Indiana slips by Illinois the first game of the season, they might be in line for a 3-0 start. However, it’s all downhill after that I’m afraid.
Prediction: Team Total Push 4, Under 4.5, Over 3.5 - shop around
Northwestern Wildcats: (2021 Record: 3-9)
Pat Fitzgerald has his work cut out for the Midwest Ivy leaguers. Trust him and Gamecocks transfer Ryan Hilinski, now in his second year, to snake their way to 4+ victories. The offense can’t get much worse. Additionally, In betting, we like volatility. This team’s last 4 seasons have been the epitome of that, with Gamestop Stock levels of it. Let’s roll with the Wildcats.
Prediction: Team Total Over 4
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2021 Record: 5-8)
Piscataway is a cool name, but let's call it what it is. Rutgers is great in the Big Ten... for that New York TV market. Greg Schiano and company have far from an explosive offense, as they ranked 120th last year. They’ll need to improve there as they have one of the toughest Big 10 schedules this year.
Prediction: Team Total Under 4.5
Postseason Award Ceremony
- MVP: Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He might be the most athletic receiver that Ohio State’s ever had, and that’s saying something.
- Big 10 Champion: Ohio St. Buckeyes
- The +EV Pick: It has to be someone from the West and with the amount of potential and experience they have coming back, I have to take Minnesota at +3000.
- Personally, I like them as Big Ten West champions at +600 much better. Ohio State is too much to handle as is primed for a national title run.
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