When the Big Ten announced that it was going to play a fall football season after all. Who would not want more college football, right? But while it would be great to have the Conference and its teams added to the national landscape, the expectations for the Conference and its teams were clear.
Ohio State would win the Conference again and factor into the national championship hunt—and that is it.
Maybe Wisconsin could upset the natural order of things, or maybe Penn State, Michigan, or Minnesota might. However, three weeks into the Big Ten’s season, it is safe to say an 0-3 Penn State team will not factor into the conference championship picture.
A 1-2 Michigan team does not look like one capable of giving Ohio State a fight, and neither will a 1-2 Minnesota team. Wisconsin has had to cancel its last two games due to coronavirus issues, so they may have a hard time surpassing Northwestern (yes, Northwestern).
So, does that mean Ohio State has already won the Big Ten? Is there anyone else that even has a remote shot at knocking the Buckeyes off their pedestal?
As crazy as it sounds, the answer is yes.
Big Ten Championship Odds: A Few Surprise Contenders Have Emerged
Ohio State (-1250; odds DraftKings) is still in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten Championship. Justin Fields has been everything we expected him to be, and the Buckeyes have rolled over their first three opponents with ease. They do have a few potentially challenging games on deck, but they will be favored in every game (by a lot) the rest of the way.
Penn State (+100000) was the one team thought to have a chance of competing with them in the East. But at 0-3, the Nittany Lions are struggling to compete with anyone this season.
Wisconsin (+1600) was expected to be the rep from the West division in the title game. But after canceling their last two games due to Covid-19 concerns, they are bordering on being ineligible (teams are required to play six conference games to be eligible).
But a new contender has emerged in the West—the Northwestern Wildcats (+1400). Their preseason odds (+30000) said it all about the expectations people had for them. They didn’t have any. But after three games, they are 3-0 and firmly in control of the division.
If their defense can continue to dominate and their offense can do enough, they could be in the title game this year. Purdue (+5000) is still in the mix in the West at 2-0, but that could all change this weekend when they face off with Northwestern.
As surprising as it is to say Northwestern is in the hunt, the bigger surprise is in the East. Yes, Ohio State is firmly in control. But they have a pair of games over the next two weeks against teams that are surprisingly competitive this year.
Maryland (+15000) was destroyed in their season opener but have since bounced back to win their last two (over Minnesota (+10000) and Penn State). Whatever issues Taulia Tagovailoa had in the Northwestern game appear to have been solved. He has been nothing short of brilliant in the last two weeks.
Beating Ohio State will not be nearly as easy as beating Minnesota (which really wasn’t easy) or Penn State. Still, if Tagovailoa can continue to thrive and their defense can slow Justin Fields down, they have a small chance of upsetting Ohio State (a tiny chance).
We’ll find out this weekend.
Yes, Seriously… Indiana Football
Perhaps even more shocking is the other team the Buckeyes will have to be on the watch for—Indiana (+2000). After recording an incredible upset win over Penn State in Week One, the Hoosiers have continued to roll with wins over Rutgers and Michigan.
Statistically speaking, the two are not too far off from each other. Yes, Ohio State is scoring more (about 11 more points/game) and generating over 200 yards rushing while Indiana is only averaging 89.3.
But Indiana is only allowing 2.7 points/game more than Ohio State and 11 more total yards. But the Hoosiers are doing a better job against the run (128 to 131.7 yards/game).
Ohio State will undoubtedly be favored when they face off against Indiana in a couple of weeks. But the Hoosiers have played Ohio State tough when they have had lesser talent. Maybe the roster they have right now could give the Buckeyes a fight?
However, the Hoosiers have to survive the Michigan State Spartans (+75000) first.
So—yeah, Ohio State is still the clear-cut favorite to win the Big Ten this year. But with how some of these upstart teams are playing, it may be foolish to overlook the underdogs just yet.
With how 2020 has gone, nothing is off the table.