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Cappin’ the B1G: Predicting Rutgers Football and Other Big Ten Teams 2017 Regular Season Win Totals

Penn State v Rutgers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Well guys, it’s that time of the year again! Football is finally back and so am I for my second annual edition of Cappin’ the B1G. In my first article of 2017 I’m going to be breaking down how I think each team in the conference will fare against the posted regular season win totals from Las Vegas. Keep in mind that conference championships and bowl games do not apply to these totals. I will lead off with Rutgers and then do the rest of the conference in alphabetical order with my prediction for which side of the win total (provided by I believe each team will land on at the end of the regular season. If you want to publicly berate me, you can do so in the comments section or on my Twitter page @tjurk44.

Last year in this same format I was able to go 5-1 in my preseason win total predictions that I felt strongest about and 8-6 overall. To view last season’s article, click here. I hope to have similar success this year in predicting how the conference will fall into place. Without further ado, let’s get into the picks!

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2016 Regular Season Record: 2-10

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 3

Well that wasn’t very pretty. I tried to warn you all when I said we would go under 4.5 wins last year that there were going to be major growing pains but I was burned at the stake. I forgive you guys though, you were just being loyal Rutgers fans and I’m back to give another dose of reality. After the Ash Era opened up with two wins in their first three games, the wheels fell off and we lost our next nine straight to end the regular season 2-10. It’s not exactly easy to find wins in the Big Ten when you score 16 points per game and allow 37 per game. Year Two of the Ash Era is here and I think we have some cause for optimism in 2017.

The good news on offense in 2017 is that it can’t possibly be any worse than what we saw in 2016 when RU finished last in the conference in total offense and passing offense and also completed under 50% of their passes. Former Louisville starting QB Kyle Bolin has transferred in and taken a firm grasp on the starting spot in new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill’s offense. Bolin will have last year’s leading WR Jawaun Harris to throw to along with everyone’s favorite Scarlet Knight Janarion Grant. Leading rusher Robert Martin is also back but the main concern is an offensive line that lacks experience and size. OT Tariq Cole was a great asset in pass protection last season and if the rest of the offensive line follows suit, Rutgers could find some rhythm on offense and put points up on the scoreboard for a change.

Chris Ash was hired to be head coach for his defensive prowess but has had his work cut out for him on the banks thus far. The Scarlet Knights ranked dead last in the conference in 2016 in total defense and 2nd to last in scoring defense, allowing 37.5 points per game. Rutgers returns 8 starters this year which will definitely help Ash implement his defensive system and have a better grasp for the personnel. LB Trevor Morris will lead an experienced LB unit after racking up 102 tackles a year ago. The defensive line has to find a way to get pressure after totaling just 21 sacks in 2016. The secondary should be a strength as they return 3 of 4 starters who allowed just 58% on completions in 2016. I look for safety Saquan Hampton to have a breakout year and really make a name for himself in 2017. The defense will improve greatly if they get some more time to rest than they did last year when the Rutgers offense was a 3 and out machine, constantly setting the defense with bad field position.

The 2017 schedule isn’t exactly kind, opening with the College Football Playoff hopeful Washington Huskies in Piscataway while also having to endure a four game stretch on the road later on in the season. It feels like another rough season on the banks but I truly feel that things will get better in 2017. I see 6 winnable games on the schedule including a lock win against 1-AA Morgan State. If Rutgers can win 3 out of 5 vs Eastern Michigan, @ Illinois, vs Purdue, vs Maryland, vs Michigan State, that would put them over the posted win total of 3. I really feel that if the offense can just get some first downs and keep the defense off the field to allow them to rest, the defense will create some turnovers deep and give it back to the offense in good field position. If they check all of these boxes, Rutgers can pull off 4 or 5 wins this season. We all know Janarion Grant is good for a few game changing plays per season as well. Give me the over!

T.J.’s Pick: OVER 3 WINS

Illinois Fighting Illini

2016 Regular Season Record: 3-9

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 3.5

The Lovie Smith era in Champaign kicked off just about as well as the Ash Era did in Piscataway with the Fighting Illini floundering their way to a 3-9 record. Smith did the best he could with the talent he had and found a nice home win against Michigan State in a down year for the Spartans. Year two will be a huge indicator of whether or not Lovie has what it takes to be a successful college football coach.

The quarterback situation was a complete embarrassment last season which led to Illinois finishing 11th in the conference in passing offense and 12th in completion percentage. Last year 42% of Illinois offensive possessions ended within 3 plays for a non-scoring reason. That is absolutely atrocious. This year things don’t appear to be much better as Chayce Crouch will probably be the starter with Jeff George Jr backing him up. The good news on offense is that ace WR Malik Turner is back along with injury prone WR Mike Dudek. Dudek can be one of the best receivers in the conference if he remains healthy, which is a huge if. The Illini rushing attack was secretly decent last year and they return Kendrick Foster and his 5.7 yard per carry average along with three out of five offensive line starters. Look for Illinois to rely heavily on their rushing attack while the QB’s try to take care of the football.

Last year the Illini defense allowed 32 points per game and they are going to need to drastically improve on that number if they want to get to 5+ wins this year. In three of the past four seasons, Illinois defense has given up 200+ rushing yards per game and will return just six starters this season. 2016’s leading tackler Hardy Nickerson is gone as well as their top four sack producers which spells massive trouble for Lovie Smith. The secondary is definitely the strength of the defense, led by CB Jaylen Dunlap but with the front seven in shambles, it’s going to be very difficult for the defense to improve this season.

It feels like this is still going to be a complete rebuild year for Lovie Smith and the Fighting Illini. The rushing attack will lead the offense but when the defense is giving up points in droves, it’s going to be hard to stick to the ground game in order to win games. I only see 5 winnable games on this schedule so I’m definitely going under 3.5 here. In order to Illinois to even sniff 5 wins they are going to need a shockingly good year out of someone at the QB position. I just don’t see that happening and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lovie Smith rides off into the sunset after 2017.

T.J.’s Pick: UNDER 3.5 WINS

Indiana Hoosiers

2016 Regular Season Record: 6-6

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 6

The Hoosiers are preparing for their first season in quite a while without former head caoch Kevin Wilson, who resigned under a cloud of controversy during the offseason. In 2015 under Wilson, Indiana was #1 in the Big Ten in scoring offense but just two years later I suspect the defense will be the strength of the Hoosiers. The main reason for the Hoosiers transition to a defensive minded team is the hiring of former Defensive Coordinator Tom Allen to be the new head coach.

Allen has bought in former Tennessee Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord to run the offense which should be solid yet unspectacular. QB Richard Lagow is back this year and gives the Hoosiers a good chance at having an above average passing attack. In order for that to happen though, Lagow needs to seriously cut down on his interceptions after throwing 17 picks to 19 touchdowns a year ago. The receiving weapons for Indiana are loaded after top target Nick Westbrook comes back at WR after falling just short of 1,000 yards a season ago. Alongside Westbrook, Lagow will also have WR Simmie Cobbs at his disposal. Cobbs was a monster in 2015 when he put up 1,000+ yards and 17 yards per reception. The running game will be the big mystery here after the departure of Devine Redding so it will be interesting to see who steps up in his place. 3 of 5 starters return along the offensive line which should help the running game find its rhythm to balance the offense.

Like I previously mentioned, the strength of this Hoosiers team is likely to be their stop unit. Last year Indiana allowed just 27 points per game, racked up 33 sacks and allowed only 52.5% completion percentage. Couple those stats with the fact that they are returning 9 starters from last years unit and you have all the makings of a potential shut down defense. LB Tegray Scales isn’t a household name yet but he could very well be at the end of this upcoming season. Scales had 126 tackles, 7 sacks, and a whopping 23.5 tackles for loss in 2016. The secondary is going to be a huge strength of this team, returning all 4 starters including star DB Rashard Fant who was 2nd team Big Ten a season ago.

The schedule looks to be very favorable for the Hoosiers this year especially when you notice they only have back to back road games once all season. I like Indiana to make a strong push for the postseason where they will look to get their first bowl win since the 1991 Copper Bowl. 6 wins is a very accurate line and that happens to be exactly how many wins I think they get but I have to pick a side and I’m only slightly more confident that they get 7 wins as opposed to 5 this season.

T.J.’s Pick: OVER 6 WINS

Iowa Hawkeyes

2016 Regular Season Record: 8-4

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 6.5

Starting QB, a 200 carry RB, 3 out of 4 starting WR’s and TE, an All-Conference LT, both starting CB’s, and both starting DE’s. That’s what Iowa has to replace from last years team that managed 8 wins in the regular season. Kirk Ferentz is going on his 74th year (KIDDING) as head coach of the Hawkeyes and he certainly has his work cut out for him in 2017. Will Ferentz find his way to his fifth straight successful season with having to replace so much talent? Let’s see.

Iowa finished 13th in the conference last year in passing offense and that was with experienced QB CJ Beathard leading the offense. The starting QB battle is still up for grabs but no matter who wins, Iowa will be sorely lacking experience at the position. Whoever emerges as QB1 will be throwing to a WR group that doesn’t return a single player who had more than 20 receptions in 2016. Ultra-talented Matt Vandeberg returns at WR after missing most of 2016 with injury issues and he will be heavily relied upon this season. The good news for the Iowa offense is that RB Akrum Wadley returns after a 1,081 yard 10 TD season and the Hawkeyes also added former Nevada RB James Butler to the mix. Butler racked up 1,336 yards and 12 TD’s in 2016 and the Iowa offensive line looks very good which should result in Iowa having one of the top rushing attacks in the conference. It’s up to the QB’s to produce and keep this offense balanced so that they can put some points up consistently.

Iowa’s defense was very good in 2016, giving up just 18.8 points per game but they had their struggles against opposing rushing attacks at times. The front seven looks really solid this year and they will be led by LB Josey Jewell who earned 4th team All-America honors last year. A total of 8 starters return from 2016 but the loss of star CB Desmond King to the NFL will be a huge impact on a defense that allowed just 50.4% completions last season. The front seven will be the biggest strength of the defense and they will look to make life easier for an inexperienced secondary. The Hawkeyes also have to replace King’s superb punt and kick returning abilities that led to incredible field position.

Iowa starts off with three games they should win on paper vs Wyoming, @Iowa State, and vs North Texas but as we saw with their loss versus North Dakota State last year, Iowa can easily go 1-2 over those 3 games to set themselves up for a disastrous season. The week 4 matchup at home against Penn State will be the best barometer for how this team measures up this season. Iowa has the tendency to play up to their tougher opponents but also play down to the level of their weaker opponents and that can lead to a 4-8 season for Kirk Ferentz. I believe that the absolute ceiling on this team is 8-4 and think they finish squarely 6-6 in 2017 so I’m taking the under here.

T.J.’s Pick: UNDER 6.5 WINS

Maryland Terrapins

2016 Regular Season Record: 6-6

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 3.5

As I predicted in this article last season, the inaugural season of the DJ Durkin era was a lot better than most of the experts expected. A Charmin soft schedule to open the year helped the Terps gain momentum under Durkin before they ran into the buzzsaw part of their schedule which saw them drop back to back games vs Michigan and Ohio State by a combined 121-6 score. Maryland rebounded and put forth a strong effort in the entertaining Quick Lane Bowl versus Boston College where they fell just short by a 36-30 score. Can the Terps take another step up towards the middle class of the Big Ten East or will they suffer a sophomore slump under Durkin?

On offense, Maryland needs to get back to the good old days of 2010 which is the last season that they were able to average over 30 points per game. Last year the Terps were 10th in total offense and 8th in scoring in the conference but had an incredibly effective ground attack that ranked 4th in the Big Ten, averaging 200 yards per game on the ground. They return the dangerous tandem of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison at RB this year after they combined for over 1,600 yards and 11 TD’s in 2016. Johnson averaged a whopping 9.1 yards per carry while Harrison boasted a 7.2 yards per carry average. The return of those RB’s combined with 3 of 5 offensive line starters tells us that the rushing attack will mainly be how the Terps will rely on finding the end zone this season. The quarterback battle is still waging deep into fall practice and nobody seems to know who will take the first snaps of the season yet. Whoever ultimately wins the job will be faced with passing behind an offensive line that allowed a staggering 49 sacks last year, good for dead last in the conference and second to last in the FBS. WR DJ Moore is a threat to score any time he touches the ball and the passing attack will go through him.

Durkin is a defensive specialist and improved the Terps scoring defense by 5 points per game in his first year in College Park but they still allowed almost 30 points per game. Durkin’s great recruiting combined with his coaching should see the defense step up as a whole and it might not be long before they’re one of the best defensive units in the conference. The Terps return 7 starters this year including their top 3 tacklers from 2016. The defense will be led by senior Butkus Award Watch List MLB Jermaine Carter who hit the 100 tackle mark last season. DL Jesse Aniebonam led the team in sacks a year ago and returns to improve on the teams 37 total sacks from 2016. In the secondary, Maryland returns 3 out of 4 starters from a unit that only allowed 56% completion percentage a year ago. The loss of dynamic CB/KR Will Likely will hurt some but they have a host of 4 star talent ready to fill in, including Markquese Bell who could find the field from day 1. If the defense takes a predicted step forward, Maryland can find themselves in some games nobody thinks they have a prayer in.

Maryland faces a very tough schedule in Durkin’s second year which plays into why the win total is so low at 3.5. On paper this team appears ready to improve in every way from a year ago but it will be a tall order to return to the postseason. If they can get above average play from the QB position though, I think this team has a legitimate shot at 5 wins including 1 or 2 games where they completely shock the world. This is one of my strongest picks of the preseason (as they were last year as well).

T.J.’s Pick: OVER 3.5 WINS

Michigan Wolverines

2016 Regular Season Record: 10-2

2017 Over/Under Wins: 9

The only thing that stood between Michigan and an undefeated season in 2016 was five points. After starting the season 9-0, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines dropped three of their final four games including a classic Orange Bowl against Florida State to end their season with a 10-3 record. In their two seasons under Harbaugh, Michigan has collected twenty wins. The question now is whether they can take the next step and permanently place themselves among the elite teams in the country.

Before Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines averaged just 21 points per game and have improved to 31 points per game in 2015 and 40 last season while using a very balanced attack. The offense this season returns just four starters but the major piece is QB Wilton Speight who was very efficient last season despite making some ill-timed mistakes and suffered an unfortunate injury late in the season. Michigan loses their top 3 targets in the receiving game from last season including WR Amara Darboh and TE Jake Butt. The Wolverines have done a great job on the recruiting trail and will need their younger weapons to develop quickly in order for this offense to run efficiently. Keep an eye out for highly-recruited WR Donovan Peoples-Jones because he is going to be a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later. On the ground, the Wolverines lose 2016’s top rusher in De’Veon Smith but have a stocked stable of RB’s who can step in and replace that production. The offensive line loses a bit of experience and just like the receiving threats, they have a ton of young talent that needs to grow up quickly in order to produce.

Michigan’s defense was flat out dominant least season, allowing just 14 points per game and 262 yards per game which put them alone with Alabama in the top two of those categories in the entire FBS. The problem this season is the fact that they return just one starter from that unit a year ago and obviously have a lot of talent to replace. Just like with the offense, the recruits that Harbaugh has brought in are loaded with raw talent and you know they’re going to get top notch coaching from DC Don Brown, it’s just a matter of these young guys maturing quickly enough. One big concern for me is Michigan will have freshmen at both Kicker and Punter which is always a red flag because you never know how these young kids will respond to the pressure of kicking in big time situations. Losing Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers as your do it all kick returner will hurt their field position mightily as well this season.

Michigan is ranked 127th in the FBS this year in terms of experience. This isn’t exactly a harbinger of death since the team has so much young talent but experience is very crucial in college football. The schedule isn’t exactly kind with Florida and Air Force in the out of conference portion and they end the season with back to back games versus Wisconsin and Ohio State which is a very tall order. 9 seems like the correct number here and I’m having a hard time picking the over or under for this team just like I did last season. So much of their success is dependent on development of young talent so I have a slight lean to the under here and I think 2018 is the year Michigan makes a real run at things.

T.J.’s Pick: UNDER 9 WINS

Michigan State Spartans

2016 Regular Season Record: 3-9

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 6.5

Wow. Talk about a fall from grace! Michigan State followed up their 2015 appearance in the College Football Playoff with an unfathomable 3-9 record in 2016. A lot of their losses were by very close margins, however 3-9 is not what Mark Dantonio is all about. Will the Spartans rebound in 2017?

On offense, Michigan State absolutely must get better production from the QB position if they want to have a bounce back year. 24 points per game isn’t going to cut it in the Big Ten East and it looks like sophomore Brian Lewerke will take the reigns of the offense and he will be throwing to a very inexperienced group of WR’s and TE’s. The strength of the Spartan offense will be the RB tandem of LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes. Scott and Holmes combined for over 1,400 yards and 11 TD’s on the ground in 2016 but the bad news is that the offensive line returns just two starters from a year ago. Unless Sparty can work a miracle in the passing game, it’s hard to imagine them taking a huge step forward from last year on offense.

Michigan State’s defense was decisively average last season, finishing among the middle of the conference in total defense and they only return four starters from 2016. An astounding stat is the fact that the Spartans only registered 11 sacks in 12 games a year ago. That is really bad considering the fact that the next team with the fewest sacks – Rutgers – was able to get 21 sacks, almost double what Sparty was able to do. 2016’s leading tackler Chris Frey will lead the defense but other than him and some big interior linemen, this defense looks like it’s going to be pretty subpar in 2017.

Michigan State faces a brutal schedule in 2017 until they’re able to close out with Maryland and Rutgers. I’m having a hard time finding positives for the Spartans in 2017 aside from Dantonio’s coaching and the rushing attack. I really feel that the teams absolute ceiling it 7-5 and that’s if they get above average production from the QB position and the defense really over-performs. After a team bottoms out like Sparty did in 2016, it’s usually not a quick path back to the top, especially after watching how much they played down to their opponents level last season. I feel pretty comfortable going with under 6.5 wins here.

T.J.’s Pick: UNDER 6.5 WINS

Minnesota Golden Gophers

2016 Regular Season Record: 8-4

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 7.5

Minnesota has been secretly decent over the past five years, reeling off 6+ wins in each season under a combination of Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys. Claeys was let go during the offseason stemming from a rash of suspensions that occurred just before their bowl game win over Washington State. Minnesota made what most consider to be a home run hire by hiring former Rutgers assistant coach PJ Fleck. Fleck comes over from being the head man at Western Michigan to try and lead the Golden Gophers in his row boat to the promised land.

The Golden Gophers recent success in the past few seasons have come despite the complete lack of a passing attack from the offense. Minnesota will have to move on from the gritty Mitch Leidner and replace his leadership with either Conor Rhoda or Demry Croft at the QB position. New offensive coordinator (and a name Rutgers fans will remember) Kirk Ciarrocca is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to put together some semblance of a passing attack. The Gophers lost number one WR target Drew Wolitarsky and will need a primary weapon to emerge early or it could be more of the same from the passing game. The strength of the offense is once again going to be the running game with the 1-2 punch of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks coming back. The combo of Smith and Brooks put up over 1,800 yards and 21 TD’s in 2016 and they look to pick up right where they left off behind an offensive line that returns 3 out of 5 starters from a year ago.

Despite only returning 5 starters from a 2016 defense that ranked 4th in the conference in total defense, defensive coordinator Robb Smith will have some nice weapons to build his defense around. DL Steven Richardson recorded 7 sacks and 11 tackles for loss last year and LB Jonathan Celestin ranked 2nd on the team in tackles and they’re both back for 2017. Both starting safeties return to a squad that held Mike Leach’s Washington State team to just 12 wins in their bowl game so the potential is there for the defense to be solid again in 2017. Minnesota also returns one of the best kickers in the country in Emmit Carpenter, who hit 22 out of 24 attempts last year including a perfect 10 for 10 from 40+ yards.

This will be a very interesting season for PJ Fleck and the Gophers as they try to rise up in the Big Ten West to go alongside Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska as contenders. Looking at the schedule, it isn’t out of the question for Minnesota to open up 7-0 or 6-1 which would be incredible for the teams momentum. I love the running game and the defense but it’s hard to get completely behind a team with such a huge hole at QB. I think they land squarely between 7 and 8 wins as the latter part of their schedule is brutal but I’m a big believer in PJ Fleck and that makes me lean towards the over here but I’m not very confident. Minnesota has the lowest floor and highest ceiling of any team in the conference. Nothing from 4-8 to competing for the West would shock me.

T.J.’s Pick: OVER 7.5 WINS

Nebraska Cornhuskers

2016 Regular Season Record: 9-3

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 7

Last year Mike Riley’s Nebraska team started off red hot, winning 7 straight to open up the season before losing a heartbreaker against Wisconsin in overtime that would’ve put them at 8-0. The following week they went to Ohio State and the wheels fell off of the wagon when veteran QB Tommy Armstrong got taken out with a devastating injury in the first half. A 9-4 record is nothing to scoff at when you consider how beat up the veteran QB was and the fact that they didn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher or a 600 yard receiver.

The Huskers have to replace Armstrong at QB which is going to be no small task. Armstrong took a lot of heat from fans but he was a flat out gamer and he will be sorely missed in 2017 in Lincoln. Tulane transfer QB Tanner Lee figures to take over and he was reportedly very impressive at the Manning Passing Academy during the offseason. The rushing attack will miss Armstrong’s legs as well as leading rusher Terrell Newby who had close to 900 yards last season. The offensive line returns 3 out of 5 starters from 2016 and hopefully they can help the new QB and RB’s get this offense to the next level in 2017.

The Huskers certainly weren’t the juggernaut Blackshirts we’ve seen in the past but they were decent enough, allowing 148 yards rushing per game but also allowing 60% completions and registering just 26 sacks. Nebraska will be without the top two tacklers from last years unit and they won’t have Thorpe Award watch list CB Chris Jones for most of the season. Look for the defensive line and safeties to be the strength of the defense but expect more of the same in terms of points per game from last season when they allowed 24 per game.

Mike Reilly looks to be in for a rough season in 2017 with their inexperience on both sides of the ball and a schedule that doesn’t offer much in terms of easy wins. They can start the season 4-1 and still have a difficult time finding 3 more wins. This just has all the makings of what seems to be a down year for the Huskers and I’m pretty confident they go under 7 wins in the regular season. Looks like a 5-7 season to me.

T.J.’s Pick: UNDER 7 WINS

Northwestern Wildcats

2016 Regular Season Record: 6-6

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 8

Northwestern started the 2016 season 0-2 which included a loss to 1-AA Illinois State but they managed to claw their way back to grab bowl eligibility in the final week of the regular season versus Illinois. They turned that win against the Illini into a Pinstripe Bowl win against a talented Pitt team and have a lot of momentum heading into this season. Pat Fitzgerald is looking to get back into the discussion of competing for a Big Ten title and he seemingly has all the tools to make that happen in 2017.

The Wildcats come into this season with an ideal situation at QB where Clayton Thorson will lead the offense after throwing for over 3,100 yards last season to go along with 22 touchdowns. Thorson will look to take another step forward this season but it could prove to be difficult with his top target Austin Carr moving onto the NFL after posting 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. The ground attack will be led by one of the best RB’s in the conference in Justin Jackson who rushed for over 1,500 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground last season. The offensive line will return 4 of 5 starters which will allow the ground game to flourish but the line has to improve on their pass protection as they gave up 39 sacks in 2016.

On defense, Northwestern will return a ton of experience with 8 starters coming back to a unit that only allowed 22 points per game in 2016. 3 out of 4 starters along the defensive line are back and they have some serious size on the interior line which will help out against some of the better rushing attacks in the conference. The secondary has all 4 starters back from last season which includes safety Godwin Igwebuike who led the Wildcats in tackles in 2016. Northwestern should be able to match or even improve upon that 22 points per game allowed this upcoming season.

All of the ingredients are here for Pat Fitzgerald to have a monster season with this squad. A 3-0 start looks all but certain and then they get to play fresh in Madison, Wisconsin after a bye week. If Fitzgerald can lead the Wildcats to a win over the Badgers, it’s full steam ahead towards a Big Ten West title. Northwestern checks all of the boxes in things I look for in successful college football teams: solid QB, great running game, solid defense. I think 8 wins could very well be attained entering the final two weeks with a chance to get to 9 either at home versus Minnesota or one the road against Illinois. Give me the over.

T.J.’s Pick: OVER 8 WINS

Ohio State Buckeyes

2016 Regular Season Record: 11-1

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 11

As I predicted last year, Ohio State did their thing in the regular season, picking up 11 wins and going well over the posted total of 9.5 with their only loss coming at Penn State. The Buckeyes were a bit embarrassed by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl but an 11-2 record is a great building block for what many considered was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Ohio State. Urban Meyer has created a monster in Columbus with a program that is a threat to win it all year in and year out.

Last season the Buckeyes were first in the conference in total offense, racking up 39 points per game and they will return 9th year (kidding) QB JT Barrett who, along with Tracy McSorley, has to be considered one of the best QB in the conference. Last season Barrett threw for 24 touchdown passes and rushed for over 800 yards. If Barrett can improve a bit on those numbers and leads Ohio State to another playoff appearance, he will be right in the thick of the Heisman discussion at years end. The problem with him improving his numbers is the lack of experience that returns in the receiving game as the Buckeyes have no WR’s who had more than 20 catches in 2016. TE Marcus Baugh is the most experienced receiving threat and he only caught 24 passes in 2016. The rushing attack will be heavily relied on and the man who will lead that attack is sophomore Mike Weber who had 1,096 yards in his freshman year and will look to improve on that this year. Keep an eye on freshman JK Dobbins and don’t be shocked if Dobbins takes the reigns and becomes the Buckeyes leading rusher at years end. Dobbins is a fully developed physical specimen who looks like he could play on Sunday’s already. Ohio State returns 4 out of 5 starters on the offensive line from 2016 which will help this offense run like a well oiled machine all season long to the tune of another 40 points per game under new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.

In the past two seasons, the Ohio State defense has allowed around just 15 points per game. This year they return 7 starters including almost the entire front seven, minus all world LB Raekwon McMillan who moved onto the NFL. Look for DL Tyquan Lewis to have another big year after racking up 8 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2016. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, three out of four members of their secondary from 2016 were selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft but Urban Meyer recruits the best of the best and they should be fine in the secondary. The fact that Greg Schiano is the defensive coordinator for Ohio State and gets to coach up the recruits that they attract is just flat out unfair. The defense might take a slight dip from their 2016 production but they will still be a force in the conference.

Since Meyer took over at Ohio State, they have an incredible +33 turnover margin. Even more impressive is the fact that the Buckeyes have recorded 11 wins in each of Meyer’s 5 seasons in Columbus. The posted total here of 11 wins seems to be begging you to take the under but I can’t see Ohio State losing more than 1 game this season. Kevin Wilson is a colossal hire to run this offense and with Schiano running the defense, Ohio State has a legit shot to go undefeated in the regular season so I will take my chances here and bet on 12-0.

T.J.’s Pick: OVER 11 WINS

Penn State Nittany Lions

2016 Regular Season Record: 10-2

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 9.5

I just got done throwing up thinking about the Big Ten Championship Game versus Wisconsin that I wagered quite a bit on and now it’s time to eat my crow about 2016 Penn State. James Franklin seemed to have passed a lot of game day responsibilities onto his coordinators and things worked out beautifully for the Nittany Lions last year when they reeled off nine straight wins to finish the regular season at 10-2. They had USC against the ropes in the Rose Bowl but couldn’t close it out yet they still ended up with their first double-digit win season since 2009. Sorry guys but I think Penn State is back and they’re here to stay. Ugh.

Penn State will be led on offense by a guy I completely dismissed as a trash bag last year, QB Tracy McSorley. McSorley had himself quite a year in 2016, throwing for over 3,600 yards with 29 touchdowns while adding another 7 scores with his legs. Pretty good call by me, huh? Last years top receiving target WR Chris Godwin is gone but they bring back a strong group of WR’s and they also have the incredibly gifted Mike Gesicki back at TE. Gesicki had a nice 2016 reeling in 48 catches for 679 yards for 5 touchdowns and he will probably do more of the same in 2017. This is going to be a sore spot for Rutgers fans but former Scarlet Knight verbal commit Saquan Barkley is back and he is arguably the best RB in the country. Barkley rushed for almost 1,500 yards last season to go along with his 18 touchdowns. The offensive line is returning 4 of 5 starters and has incredible size which puts to rest the past concerns about the line from a few seasons ago. Penn State averaged 38 points per game in 2016 under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and I expect Moorhead to have them firing on a similar level this upcoming season.

The definitive weakness of the Penn State team was their defense last season as they were up and down all year and finished 8th in the conference in total defense, allowing 368 yards per game. They finished second in the conference in sacks but lose 3 out of their 4 top sack producers from 2016. The experience at linebacker and in the secondary will help things a bit and I believe Penn State’s stop unit will take a step forward from last season and be more of a compliment to their juggernaut offense than a hindrance. On special teams, the Nittany Lions return kicker Tyler Davis who made 22 of 24 field goals last year, punter Blake Gillikin who averaged over 42 yards a punt, and their starting return men. All of the pieces are in place for a monster season in Happy Valley.

It absolutely pains me to type this, but this team feels like the real deal. The offense will compete with Ohio State in terms of being the top of the scoring in the conference and the defense should rise to the upper third of the conference in terms of points allowed. Penn State is a team that can beat every single team on their schedule and absolutely destroy the bottom feeders of the conference. If Nick Saban were their coach instead of James Franklin, I would say they were a lock for 11 wins but Franklin is still there and I have a hard time thinking they easily get over the 9.5 wins. I can see this team sleepwalking through a game they’re supposed to win but I still think they finish 10-2. Forgive me.

T.J.’s Pick: OVER 9.5 WINS

Purdue Boilermakers

2016 Regular Season Record: 3-9

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 2.5

It’s safe to say the days of Drew Brees and Kyle Orton are long gone for Boilermaker fans. Over the past four seasons, Purdue has compiled a woeful 9-39 record with 2016 culminating with seven straight losses to close out the campaign. Jeff Brohm is coming over from Western Kentucky to take over as the new head coach to try and get Purdue back to a level of respectability.

Purdue actually has a legitimate quarterback with David Blough who threw for 3,352 yards and 25 touchdowns a year ago. Blough’s weakness is in his decision making as he threw for a whopping 21 interceptions last season. Jeff Brohm is a very good QB coach and I think he can definitely help Blough take care of the football more in 2017. The bad news for Blough is that Purdue is going to have a completely new group of WR’s to catch the ball this year so chemistry may be in short supply. The running game was atrocious in 2016, averaging just 96 yards per game which was good for last in the conference by a wide margin. The offensive line returns just two starters from 2016 and they will likely struggle while adapting to a new offensive system.

In the last two seasons, Purdue has given up 38 and 36.5 points per game so there really isn’t anywhere to go but up for Brohm on this side of the ball. Eight starters are returning from last year’s defense so they are expecting quite a large step forward in terms of being able to stop their opponents from scoring in 2017. The defensive line has great size and the linebackers will be led by 2016’s leading tackler in Markus Bailey. The secondary has good experience at cornerback as well so this unit should be able to shave 5 or so points off of their points allowed per game in 2017.

With just three Big Ten wins in the past four seasons, Jeff Brohm shouldn’t have much in terms of heavy expectations for his first year or so in West Lafayette. With a solid QB and an experienced defense, Brohm should have this team playing with more confidence as the season goes on. The schedule isn’t very kind however as I only see 3 to 4 winnable games so if they win half of those they will still go under the 2.5 total.

T.J.’s Pick: UNDER 2.5 WINS

Wisconsin Badgers

2016 Regular Season Record: 10-2

2017 Over/Under Regular Season Wins: 10.5

It seems like you can just pencil in Wisconsin for 10 wins every year lately doesn’t it? The Badgers came very close to winning the conference and of their 3 total losses to Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State, they only lost those three games by seven points each. Fans were definitely down after the heartbreaking loss to Penn State in the conference championship game, but they’re in good hands with Paul Chryst as they start another campaign towards a possible conference title in 2017.

You, me, your girlfriend, and your neighbor’s cat named “Butch Catsidy” all know that the Wisconsin offense is going to rely mainly on running the ball a vast majority of the time. The offensive line this season looks great on paper and they are absolutely gigantic. The Badgers will be without their top two rushers from last season including star RB Corey Clement who had 1,375 yards and 15 TD’s in 2016 but we all know they will just reload in the backfield. RB’s Bradrick Shaw and Chris James will look to replace the productivity that Clement is leaving behind. Wisconsin was able to win 11 games last year with inexperienced freshman QB Alex Hornibrook starting most of the time. Hornibrook had a pedestrian season, throwing for 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions but I expect him to take a nice leap forward due to his ability to rely on the rushing game and having two great weapons in WR Jazz Peavy and TE Tony Fumagalli.

Wisconsin’s defense has been outstanding over the past two seasons, ranking 7th and 2nd in total defense in the entire FBS and they make life a living hell for opposing offenses who look to establish the run. Former Badgers safety Jim Leonhard will take over as the new defensive coordinator and he will look to continue the dominant run from the past few seasons. Seven starters are back from 2016’s defense including all 3 along the defensive line in their 3-4 scheme. 2016’s leading tackler LB TJ Edwards is back and the secondary will return 2 out of 4 starters from a year ago. If they can keep opposing passing attacks at bay this has all the makings of another top 10 defense in the country.

The Badgers look ready for another really good season and are the odds on favorite to win the Big Ten West. I expect the West to be a little more competitive this year with Minnesota and Northwestern lurking in the shadows to step up and 10.5 wins is a huge total for any team. All of the pieces are in place for an 11 or 12 win season, it’s just up to them to deliver. I’m a little too gun shy about going over a massive 10.5 win total so I’m going to bank on the fact they sleep walk through a game they shouldn’t and finish the regular season at 10-2.

T.J.’s Pick: UNDER 10.5 WINS

Here are the 6 picks in which I am the most confident in and would consider risking my own money on, in order of most confident:

1) Maryland OVER 3.5 wins

2) Nebraska UNDER 7 wins

3) Illinois UNDER 3.5 wins

4) Michigan State UNDER 6.5 wins

5) Northwestern OVER 8 wins

6) Penn State OVER 9.5 wins