College football futures predictions: Big Ten contenders, odds, and best bets - Hawkeyes ready to swoop?

Nov 13, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back Mekhi Sargent (10) rushes with the ball for a first down in the second half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.
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Ricky Dimon


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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports -- just about any and all you can think of! -- and coaching tennis in Atlanta, GA. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

The college football season will be here before we know it, and hopefully it proves to be a relatively normal one. That wasn’t the case in 2020, when there were conference-only schedules, some teams deciding not to play at all, game cancellations left and right, and little to no fans in attendance. But, hey, at least we had a season!

And what a season it was for the Ohio State Buckeyes. They could not get the best of the dynasty that is the Alabama Crimson Tide, but the Buckeyes made it to the College Football Playoff and took down Clemson before falling to Alabama. That’s not bad for a team that at one point looked like it would not even play football after the Big Ten initially announced that the conference as a whole would be opting out.

What will happen in the Big Ten this coming season? Let’s take a look.

Big Ten title odds

There’s Ohio State, and then there’s everyone else.

At -169, the Buckeyes are favorites over the entire rest of the field — and with room to spare. You have to go all the way down to +900 to find the next team, Wisconsin. Penn State comes in at +1000 and the top five is rounded out by Iowa at +1400 and Indiana at +2000. Needless to say, it is not expected to be a competitive Big Ten in 2021. But it’s not like all of Ohio State’s challengers are completely hopeless. There are some other teams that could make things interesting.

Big Ten best bet: Iowa Hawkeyes +1400

I just don’t see the value with Ohio State at -169. Chances are good that at some point during the season you will be able to get the Buckeyes at odds better than -169, so I would hold off for the time being. It’s not like they are a mortal lock to win the conference in the post-Justin Fields era. And, of course, the title does not go to the regular-season champion; it all comes down to a winner-take-all championship game. Pretty much anything can happen in a single game—not so much over the course of a full season.

That is why you want to be opposite Ohio State in the conference (meaning the West Division). You don’t want to have to battle the Buckeyes in the standings, but you would be more enthusiastic about taking your chances with them in the Big Ten Championship. As a West team, Iowa has intriguing value. Tyler Goodson is back at running back and should be poised for a huge year. Although the Hawkeyes need a few newcomers to step up on the offensive line and in the receiving corps, they do have experience under center in QB Spencer Petras. Iowa’s secondary is terrific, so this team is capable of being a force on both sides of the ball.

Big Ten best longshot bet: Minnesota Golden Gophers +3000

Last year was just bizarre for everyone, so let’s chalk up Minnesota’s 3-4 record to unmitigated circumstances. If the Golden Gophers look back on their last full season, they will see a sparkling 11-2 record by their name (with losses only to top 25 opponents in Iowa and Wisconsin plus an Outback Bowl victory over Auburn). Sure last year was not great, but the sample size was painfully small and two of the Gophers’ losses came in overtime.

Minnesota’s offense returns quarterback Tanner Morgan, running back Mohamed Ibrahim, and an experienced offensive line. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. took over play-calling duties in 2020 and with a year (not a full one, but still) under their belts, Sanford and his offense should be in more of a flow this time around. Even though Rashod Bateman is gone, the Golden Gophers have plenty of playmakers, and freshman receiver Lemeke Brockington could make people forget about Bateman — sort of — sooner rather than later.

Minnesota also has the advantage of being in the West Division.

At Pickswise we offer free expert College Football Picks and College Football Predictions for all games in the Power Five conferences and the top 25 teams outside of Power five, including our College Football Parlay picks each week.

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