Ohio State Buckeyes
Unless you understand the importance of recruiting rankings you would question the ability of the Buckeyes to bounce back following their 52-24 decapitation by Alabama in the National Title Game last season. With only 11 returning starters in a year when 75 % of the teams are returning 18 or more starters, it would appear that Ohio State has little chance to extend its’ streak of 4 Big 10 Titles. NFL draft losses were significant once again including QB Fields. These perennial Top 5 teams however, are annually characterized by one common theme: They have great offensive and defensive lines. That is the case once again this season as Ohio State looks to extend the records of 20-2 SU, including 16-0 SU under the guidance of 3rd year mentor Ryan Day.
5th year HC Allen was rewarded for his 6-2 SU, 7-1 ATS season with a 7 year contract of nearly $5 million dollars/year. Yes, that’s to coach football at Indiana. But Allen’s infectious enthusiasm is worth at least several points/game on the scoreboard. Perhaps that 7-1 SU mark was a bit fortunate however, as the Hoosiers slipped in both points and yards on the offensive and defensive side of the football. Yet it is a testimony to this basketball crazed state that the recruiting rankings rarely break the Top 50. Returning starting signal caller QB Penix, though lacking gaudy numbers, has a 12-2 TRGS while completing just 56% of his passes. In short, he is a winner. Bottom line here is, I expect a reversal in terms of points and yardage, yet a probable decline in the SU and ATS records. If you were wondering how to translate profit, consider that in his 4 years at Bloomington, HC Allen is 10-1 ATS as home chalk.
PSU Nittany Lions
Much like the opinion on LSU, we will join Stevie Wonder and every prognosticator in the country to put the Nittany Lions on our BBB list. Thus it will be no surprise if we get “valued out” in our efforts for profit. As the grimace on now 8th year HC Franklin grew tighter each week, the Lions slipped to 0-5 SU, ATS including a loss (by 16 points) as 27 point home chalk to Maryland. Maybe one should have seen that coming when the Lions were 0-14 Net portal transfers last season. Maybe there is a further signal to be found in the fact 10 more players opted out at the close of 2020. Nonetheless, credit must be given to Franklin and the Lions for finishing the year 4-0 SU, ATS even though it was against Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois ALL OF WHOM HAD LOSING RECORDS. The numbers certainly did not support the 4-5 SU, ATS record as they outgained their opponents, on average, 430-329 YPG. A -10 Net TO margin and some questionable officiating contributed to their downer. With QB Clifford returning, a total of 16 returning starters and both coordinators enlisted, I must agree with the bounce, just not sure there will be any value. Know this, at both Vandy and Penn State, Franklin is 26-15 ATS in non-con games and, while at Penn State, he is just 5-21 ATS/loss.
This is not the 1980s, 1970s, and certainly not the 1960s. That’s a subtle way of saying that Harbaugh’s style of coaching has reached its expiration date. In the previous 3 seasons, the Wolves have been able to keep competitive with a 20/285 defense. Last season, the bottom fell out when they allowed a whopping 28/434, including 179/4.2 overland. The result was a 2-4 SU, 1-5 ATS record. In an effort to open up the attack, Harbaugh invested in a quarterback who had a proven record with an explosive offense. In 3Y at TTRR, Bowman has 16 starts with a 67% C and 33/17 ratio. Should Bowman not fit the bill, look for Top 10 recruit Frosh JJ. McCarthy to get playing time! That may solve the offensive woes, but until the defense returns to form, we want no part of Harbaugh and he Wolves. That is especially true in the role of road dog where he is 7-13 ATS.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Have the Scarlet Knights been resurrected with the return of HC Schiano. Schiano coached here from 2001 to 2011 when the Knights roamed the sidelines against BIG EAST competition. At that time, inheriting a program which was on the skids, he rebuilt Rutgers into a team that went 56-33 SU, going to 6 Bowl games in his last 7 years. The resurrection began with offense last season as the scoring average zoomed from 13 PPG to 27 PPG. With all 11 starters returning, including starting QB Vedral, the Knights need only improve on the defensive side (a Schiano specialty) to reach the promised Bowl Land. Note that the Knights went 4-0 ATS as road dog in Schiano’s return, a role in which he is now 26-16 ATS.
Michigan State Spartans
I was not among the fans when the Spartans hired Mel Tucker last year following his season at Colorado where he authored a 5 win season for a team that only averaged 24 PPG. Remember, Tucker is a defensive guy. Not sure Temple transfer Russo who, in 26 starts, has just a 60% C with a 44/32 ratio for an Owl team that comes off a 1-6 SU season, is the answer. Even with his senior status, this is a big leap for a guy who was not a Top 50 recruit and will be operating under OC Johnson who has been the coordinator under Tucker for the L2Y. A -14 Net TO ratio was in part responsible for the 2-5 SU, ATS maiden voyage under Tucker. Note that this is a Spartans team who, as recently as 6 years ago, finished a 3 year run in which they were 36-5 SU. Added value will help in transforming the pointspread record, but until the Spartans show improvement on both sides of the ball, one must tread warily.
Trevor Lawrence could have chosen to transfer here for his graduate season and I would still not be high on the Terps. They are coached by Mike Locksley who has a career record of 8-43 SU (22-29 ATS) and just 6-17 SU in 2 years as head man of the Terps. Why Tuagovailoa chose College Park is a mystery to me, other than the fact he understood he would have limited PT if he remained at Alabama. Good luck Tua, with your new OC Dan Enos, a former QB Coach at Alabama. Those are just some of the reasons why I am not as high on the Terps as some other people despite the fact that recruiting has improved in each of the last several years. ‘Till Locksley can log a winning campaign (5-12 SU, 6-10 ATS in College Park), I will seldom look his way.
The Badgers defense performed as always in the 2020 campaign allowing just 117/303 including 99/3.5 overland. The offense however, was far below expectations. After 3 years of averaging at least 223/5.0 overland, the running game dipped to 165/3.9. But with 8/10 OL returning, expect this unit to be significantly improved, for their usual stable of bruising backs. Though challenged by Iowa, the Badgers are the odds on favorites to win the BIG WEST. Note that HC Chryst has a strong coaching propensity that has seen him profit in the role of road chalk to the tune of 16-6 ATS.
At the close of the 2020 Season, neither Michigan nor Missouri, the Hawkeyes final two scheduled games, wanted anything to do with Iowa and opted out of their games. That’s how hot Iowa became after narrow defeats of 4 points to Purdue and 1 to Northwestern to begin the season. Following those two games, they beat Michigan State by 42, Minnesota by 28, Penn State by 20, Nebraska by 6, Illinois by 14, and Wisconsin by 21, never allowing more than 21 PPG in any of those games. There may be only 7 starters returning on each side of the ball, but no one will want to play Iowa. Note that in the last 4 seasons combined, the Hawkeyes have allowed just 17/363 YPG. With veteran QB Petras at the controls, Iowa will be one of the 3 best teams in the BIG 10.
The Wildcats had a dream season in 2020 when they went from 3-9 SU to 7-2 SU, 8-1 ATS and a Bowl victory over Auburn. With only 8 RS, it is a big leap for Hillinski (South Carolina) who made 11 starts but was only 58% C with an 11/5 ratio. Playing behind an OL with only 42 career starts adds another major question mark for the Wildcats repeating their dream season. Yet, I have learned long ago to never count out 16th year HC Fitzgerald. Northwestern insider says the Wildcats will be notably better than what the experts will predict. “That was my analysis in an early report of CFB QB Transfers.” Since that time, there are reports that Hunter Johnson may have bolted to the front of the line in his battle with Hillinski. The competition will take one look at the 8 total returning starters and have the Wildcats on their “Play Against” list. You should be advised to think otherwise taking particular note that, if they are underrated, you can take advantage of Fitzgerald’s 37-17 ATS mark (24-9 ATS L10Y as road dog). Bad news for the Cats is a mid-August leg injury to best RB Cam Porter.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers were on an upward trajectory under, now 5th year, HC PJ. Fleck. They went from 5 to 7 to 11 wins his first 3 seasons before going underground with a record of 3-4 SU in 2020. There were notable declines in points and yards on both sides of the ball. The 0-2 SU start, with head-scratching losses to losing teams Michigan and Maryland (allowed a combined 94 points), put them in a hole from which they could never recover. This season, though not projected to be one with double digit victories, look for the running game to lead the way when QB Morgan reports for his 5th campaign and operates behind an OL that returns intact making them have the potential to be one of the best OLs in the country with 182 career starts. RB Ibrahim figures to have an outstanding season. If you are going to “row the boat” with 4th year HC Fleck knowing that your “best bang for the buck” is when he is road chalk with a 10-5 ATS record.
It is a put-up or shut-up season for 4th year HC Scott Frost who returned to Lincoln looking to return the Husker fortunes to the glory days when, as starting QB, he led them to their most recent National Title in 1997. After two years at UCF, including a 13-0 SU mark in 2017, the stage was set for offensive revival in Lincoln. No excuses this year as this is the roster he has built including 17 returning starters. With a perennial Top 20 recruiting class, far more was expected from his Nebraska teams who have authored 3 consecutive losing seasons with a combined 12-20 SU record, including 9-17 SU in BIG 10 play. His teams have yet to average 30 PPG while allowing an average of 30 PPG in that time frame. 18 returning starters is only average in this “Super Senior” campaign. Meaning, in the eyes of this bureau, the chances of a successful BIG 10 season is highly unlikely.
Bret Bielema steps into as good a spot as one could fathom for a perennial losing team like Illinois, who had a record of 17-40 Su under the now departed Lovie Smith. That will not be the case, at least for long, under HC Bielema who has a 68-24 SU record while coaching Wisconsin from 2006-12. That includes 6 consecutive Bowl games and 3 BIG 10 Titles in his final years at the helm. He then turned around an Arkansas team leading them to a Bowl game prior to his departure. His last two years, Bielema has spent time in the NFL honing his coaching skills. Bielema says “I’m planning on winning now”. There is plenty of returning experience that needs to be “coached up”, including 17 Super Seniors. OC Tony Petersen, the highly successful OC at App State, has been enlisted and Ryan Walters (Missouri DC) will be in charge of the stop troops. With 18 returning starters, no surprise to this bureau if Bielema works his magic. With expectations low (Illinois has not had a winning season in a decade, and just 17 victories under former Coach Lovie Smith), I won’t be surprised if Bielema takes the Illini to .500 or better and to the plus side of the ATS ledger.
Far more was expected from 5th year HC Jeff Brohm after he led Western Kentucky to a 2 year record of 23-5 SU, 17-10 ATS in 2015-16. The transition to BIG 10 defenses has not proved as easy to the offensive minded Brohm. Win totals have dipped from 7 to 6 to 4 to 2 in 4 years. In the last 3 campaigns, the Boilers have allowed 30 or more points each season. As a result, the recruiting dipped over 40 positions in the rankings this past year. Victories to open the season against Iowa and Illinois proved false hope. They dropped their final 4 games of the season to Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers and Nebraska. Injuries and a lack of experience have been partially responsible for Purdue’s decline in recent seasons. This year however, with 91% of their yardage returning on offense, and 108 career OL starts, led by returning QB Plumber, no offensive excuses remain. And if the defense does not improve, under 1st year DC Lambert (highly successful in that role at Marshall L2Y), the door will swing wide open for Brohm’s exit. Best opportunity to back Brohm comes in the underdog role where, at Purdue, he is 14-5 ATS including 7-1 ATS as road dog.