It is Week Nine of the college football season, but it is just Week Two for the Big Ten. While it is not unusual to have a good idea of how a conference may play out by Week Nine, saying that by Week Two is premature. However, it is not crazy to say we may already know how the Big Ten will play out.
Yes, even though the conference season is only entering Week Two. There is still a lot of football to be played, but it is not hard to figure out who has a shot.
Ohio State was the heavy favorite entering the season. The Buckeyes have won the last three conference titles, and there isn’t much of a reason to think they can’t make it four in a row. However, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and maybe Iowa looked like they might have something to say about that.
That is if they got off to a good start and can keep the momentum going.
Big Ten Championship Odds: Don’t Crown Ohio State Just Yet
There is no room for error this year with a shorter schedule and no non-conference games. So, after losing in Week One, the chances are slim Penn State (+1600; odds via DraftKings), Minnesota (+2000), or Iowa (+10000) factor into the Big Ten title picture this season.
While Indiana’s (+5000) win over the Nittany Lions was nice, it was due in large part to Penn State making so many mistakes. The Hoosiers will probably not get nearly as much help from anyone else this season.
Northwestern (+15000) had a monster of a win over Maryland, but beating the Terrapins is not exactly an impressive feat.
It almost feels like we are dooming the conference to a bland season by saying this already. But the race is going to be between three teams: Ohio State (-500), Michigan (+600), and Wisconsin (+550). The Big Ten champion will be one of those three, barring an unexpected upset or two.
Wisconsin Badgers Odds to Flip the Script on the Buckeyes
Wisconsin looks like a shoo-in to represent the West division in the Big Ten title game once again. Much of their highly ranked defense came back this season, and they appeared to pick up where they left off in the season opener against Illinois.
But the question marks for the Badgers were on the offensive side of the ball. They needed a new running back to emerge, had to rebuild the offensive line, and needed to find a new starting quarterback after Jack Coan went down with an injury.
If the season opener was any indication, it looks like the offense reloaded just fine. The Badgers appear to be going with a running back by committee approach for now. But they might become more of a passing team this year. Graham Mertz put on a show completing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns.
However, the division could become wide open, though. Mertz and his backup have tested positive for Covid-19, which may mean the Badgers will have to start their fourth-string quarterback against Nebraska this weekend.
Michigan Wolverines Odds for Harbaugh and Company to Finally Win a Big One
As for Michigan, they always seem to start the season in conference title conversations. But they exit soon after due to lackluster play. That may not be the case this season, though.
Michigan had the toughest test in last week’s Big Ten opener against a ranked Minnesota team. But they answered the call with a dominant performance in a 49-24 win. The defense, always a strength under Jim Harbaugh, looked as strong as ever and held Minnesota to just 326 yards of offense.
What is going to make the Wolverines interesting to watch, though, is their offense. Harbaugh has yet to find a good quarterback but may have one this year in Joe Milton. His numbers were not mind-blowing, but he played an excellent game.
The rebuilt offensive line held its own while paving the way for 250+ yards rushing.
However, if Michigan is going to make it in the end, they will have to take down Wisconsin in a couple of weeks. Harbaugh will also need to beat Ohio State for the first time—which will not be easy.
Ohio State Buckeyes: The King of the Big 10
Ohio State’s offense looks as good as ever with Heisman-hopeful Justin Fields back at quarterback. He certainly put on a show with a nearly perfect game against Nebraska last week. But to maintain their dominance over the division, they will need to get more out of their run game in the future.
Yes, they did generate 215 yards on the ground in 48 total carries with an average of 4.5 yards a carry. However, Fields was the only ball carrier to gain over 50 yards. To be fair, Trey Sermon and Master Teague only had 11 and 12 carries, and three other guys also got carries.
But to beat Michigan, they will need a go-to guy in the backfield other than Fields. Fans should also be concerned that the rebuilt defense allowed 200+ yards on the ground to Nebraska. If that continues, it could be the downfall of the Buckeyes.
The season just started, though, and anything can happen. That does not mean we should not be mindful of who is in the conference title picture. But let’s not get so wrapped up in who will win that we do not enjoy the journey.