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Betting the Big 10

   by Ben Burns - 07/16/2010

How much do you believe in Ohio State? Answering that question correctly could be the key to making money betting Big Ten football this season.

Hyped as a national title contender, the Buckeyes are certainly talented enough to make a run. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor looked like he was starting to live up to his potential at the end of last season. He was brilliant in the Buckeyes’ impressive Rose Bowl win over Oregon. Four of five starters on the offensive line return, in addition to a potent group of running backs. Defensively, there are enough senior superstars to compensate for a unit that returns only six starters. Things are looking good in Columbus.

But be careful before hooking up your bankroll to the Buckeye bandwagon. The public’s perception of Jim Tressel’s program is on the rise, which obviously means the pointspreads will be too.

After getting blistered in back-to-back BCS title games by Florida and LSU, it became trendy to bash the Buckeyes and the slow, prodding Big Ten. The Buckeyes hit rock bottom after a 35-3 loss at Southern Cal in 2008. But since that game, Ohio State has gone 15-8 ATS, including last year’s 9-4 ATS mark. There’s no way they go 9-4 against the number this year.

Ohio State is one of the bigger public teams out there. Considering they’ll likely begin the season in the top 5, it’s hard to imagine that there will be a lot of betting value in Buckeyes this season.

So, if not with the Buckeyes, where is the value in the Big Ten this season? As mentioned, Iowa and Wisconsin are getting plenty of preseason love. The Hawkeyes and Badgers each ended last season with impressive bowl victories and return a ton of starters. Oddsmakers will be forced, at least early on, to respect both teams.

Then, you look at the rest of the Big Ten and see a cluttered mess of average teams with major question marks. Does Penn State have a quarterback? Will year three of the Rich Rodriguez era produce more results than the first two? Will Michigan State remain the most underachieving program? Could you tell the difference between Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota or Indiana if they all came out in the same uniforms to start the season?

When you guys figure out the answers to all those questions, let us know. In the meantime, here’s a few notes that hopefully will make us all some money this year.

Big Ten Odds/Ends
(ATS records from past three years)

Ohio State Buckeyes
ATS: 22-15 (Home: 9-10. Away: 10-4)

Thing to remember: Under Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes are 43-28-1 ATS against the Big Ten, by far the best mark in the conference.

Iowa Hawkeyes
ATS: 22-14 (Home: 10-9. Away: 10-4)

Thing to remember: Kirk Ferentz made some serious coin for Hawkeye backers the past 10 seasons. Iowa is 72-47-2 ATS since 2000. Ferentz has done an especially good job getting his team to rebound from a loss. The Hawkeyes are 26-12-1 ATS after a straight-up loss.

Penn State Nittany Lions
ATS: 20-17 (Home: 9-11. Away: 9-5)

Thing to remember: Behind an offensive line that had been shuffled throughout spring practice, sophomore starter Kevin Newsome did not look comfortable in the spring game. He completed 5 of 11 passes for 50 yards and was sacked twice. Newsome doesn’t have much time to get comfortable, with a trip to Alabama looming in Week 2.

Wisconsin Badgers
ATS: 15-21 (Home: 9-9. Away: 5-10)

Thing to remember: A league-high 16 starters return for the Badgers, including 10 on an offense that averaged 31.8 points last season.

Michigan State Spartans
ATS: 18-17-3 (Home: 8-10-2. Away: 6-4-2)

Thing to remember: This is coach Mark D’Antoni’s best team since he arrived in East Lansing three years ago. There are NFL prospects on both sides of the ball, including All-America linebacker Greg Jones.

Michigan Wolverines
ATS: 13-21-1 (Home: 9-12. Away: 2-9-1)

Thing to remember: Last July, coach Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines were imploding from a scandal over practicing too hard. This year, Rodriguez’s third at Michigan, all is quiet in Ann Arbor, almost too quiet. With Rodriguez’s ability to recruit players suited for his spread option offense, you have to expect some improvement from the Wolverines.

Northwestern Wildcats
ATS: 17-18 (Home: 6-11. Away: 8-6)

Thing to remember: The Wildcats have absolutely no home-field advantage at Ryan Field Stadium and struggle to cover at home as a favorite. Under coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern is 2-9 ATS as a home favorite.

Illinois Fighting Illini
ATS: 15-19 (Home: 6-8. Away: 9-5)

Thing to remember: Make no bones about it -- Ron Zook consistently gets out-coached outside of the conference play. The Fighting Illini are 5-11 ATS in non-conference play under Zook.

Purdue Boilermakers
ATS: 17-17-1 (Home: 9-9-1. Away: 8-7)

Thing to remember: The Boilermakers lost their biggest offensive weapon, running back Ralph Bolden, to injury in spring practice.
Miami-transfer Robert Marve is expected to be the starter when Purdue opens at Notre Dame.

Indiana Hoosiers
ATS: 16-20 (Home: 9-9. Away: 6-8)

Thing to remember: The Hooisers will be explosive with nine returning starters on offense, including senior quarterback Ben Chappell. But there are a lot of holes on the defensive side of the ball, where only four starters return. Are you listening over players?

Minnesota Golden Gophers
ATS: 20-15 (Home: 7-11. Away: 7-7)

Thing to remember: After averaging just 99 rushing yards per game last season, the Gophers are determined to run the ball more. This strategy is not necessarily to improve the offense, but more to keep a defense that returns just two starters off the field.

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