Once again, I’m picking every over/under regular season win total for all 130 schools in college football. I’ll try to keep the odds/injuries/suspensions as current as possible, but I’m doing this in pieces, so it is what it is.
1* through 5* based on confidence. I’ll be betting anything 3* and higher.
Ohio State – over 10 (-130) – 1*
Aside from the Luke Fickell season, it’s been 15 years since Ohio State has lost three regular season games. Obviously, things are a bit different now with Ryan Day taking over. There’s no way of knowing whether Day is any good as a head coach or not. This could be akin to Lincoln Riley taking over for Bob Stoops or it could be a Will Muschamp taking over for Urban Meyer situation. Nobody really knows.
What’s true is that only four starters are coming back on offense. Justin Fields comes in with a lot of hype, but he still has to prove it. He did well in a change-of-pace role at Georgia last year, but a lot is riding on his shoulders this year. The O-Line replaces four starters this year and they didn’t set the world on fire in the run game last season. They also lose three of their top four pass-catchers.
Even if Fields does set the world on fire like OSU is hoping, they’re going to be holding their breath every time he’s knocked down. He’s being backed up by a guy that couldn’t beat out Terry Wilson at UK and Chris Chugunov, a former backup at WVU that’s known for his inaccuracy.
Defensively, the Buckeyes have much more certainty. They return nine starters and 17 of their top 19 tacklers. They had a bit of a slide last year as an inexperienced unit, but now they start 11 upperclassmen and should return to being one of the top defenses in college football.
OSU has a strong schedule, but they get Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin at home. They do have to go to the Big House for The Game, but they’ve won by double digits their last two trips there, so I wouldn’t expect them to be intimidated. Road games with Northwestern and Nebraska won’t be a walk in the park either.
Michigan – under 10 (+105) – 2*
We’ll start with the defense because it’s easy: they’ll be somewhere between very good to elite. They’ve never really been the problem under Don Brown, regardless of who’s been back and who hasn’t. With that said, it’s worth noting that they lose some big playmakers in Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, etc.
When the offense is going to show up has always been the mystery under Harbaugh. On the surface, they’ve averaged over 33 PPG in his tenure. That should work when they’ve only given up 17 PPG.
But if you look at the Wolverines 14 losses over the past four years, they’ve only scored 18 PPG in those games. Ten times they’ve been held under 20 (they won one of them). For comparison’s sake, OSU has only had that happen four times in the same time frame.
Much of the blame has deservedly been thrown on Harbaugh’s shoulders for his overly conservative style of offense. It’s a fair criticism. It hasn’t worked well against the best teams on the schedule. They’re 1-9 against Top 10 teams and they’ve only been over that 33 PPG average one time against a Top 10 team.
Last year, Shea Patterson was supposed to be the answer to this problem. Harbaugh finally had a good quarterback. Patterson had a decent season, but still only averaged 200 passing yards per game. He only averaged 6.5 YPA and had 4 TDs and 4 INTs against the three best teams on their schedule, all which resulted in losses.
This year, new OC Josh Gattis is supposed to be the solution. Gattis comes from Alabama and is allegedly bringing their uptempo offense they’ve been using the past few years. This all sounds great and will be great if properly implemented, but this is also the first offense that Gattis has ever controlled on his own. He’s got eight starters coming back, but the offense will be new to all of them.
The Wolverines get Ohio State and Michigan State at home this year. It’s better than the alternative, but Harbaugh is 0-4 against OSU and MSU at home, so take it for what it’s worth. They’ve also got tough home games against Notre Dame and Iowa. On the road, they’ll face Wisconsin, Penn State, and Indiana, who’s played them tough every year.
The Wolverines very well might be favored in every game this year. They were last year as well. It’s worth noting that UM has never won as an underdog under Harbaugh and only twice when they were favored by less than five. That’s a 2-9 record. They’ve lost as a favorite nine times in four seasons.
Penn State – over 8.5 (-110) – 3*
Based on hype, predictions, and betting odds, you would think that the Big Ten East is merely a two-team race between the rivals listed above. You could profit nearly quadruple the amount on Penn State’s odds to win the division than you would on either OSU or Michigan.
But consider the fact that the Nittany Lions have only lost six Big Ten games the past three years and four of those losses have come by a combined six points. Michigan has lost seven in the same time frame. OSU only three, but Urban Meyer is not walking through that door. PSU has nearly an identical number of starters returning and have recruited at very similar levels the past few years.
So why the win-and-a-half difference between PSU and the favorites? Is it the schedule? No. Phil Steele rates UM’s schedule as the 9th most difficult, OSU the 17th, and PSU the 42nd.
The Nittany Lions do have to replace Trace McSorley, but McSorley wasn’t all that great last year due to injury anyway. Sean Clifford is a talented guy, played well in the spring, and apparently isn’t a stiff in the pocket. The offense is young as a whole with only one projected senior starter, but they are loaded with talent.
Defensively they had some guys move on to graduation and the NFL Draft, but based on who’s filling those spots it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they were closer to the 2017 defense that only gave up 16.5 PPG. Micah Parsons might be the best linebacker in the conference as a sophomore.
They do have to travel to OSU, MSU, Minnesota, and Iowa, but they avoid the trip to Ann Arbor this year, the Big House being the only place Penn State has gotten their asses kicked the past few years. Michigan might be the only close contest they play in Beaver Stadium this year.
Michigan State – over 8 (-115) – 1*
It’s hard to have a lot of faith in the Spartan offense right now. They only averaged 18.7 PPG last year. Nine starters are back though, including the entire offensive line. One of those nine is not Felton Davis, however. Davis got hurt in the Michigan game last year. In games he finished they averaged 26.2 PPG. Nothing impressive, but two touchdowns better than the 12.3 PPG they put up without him. Davis played less than half the season and still finished with the second-most receiving yards and the most receiving TDs.
So where do the Spartans go offensively? Mark Dantonio began with an unprecedented move by rearranging his entire offensive staff. Just gave them all different jobs. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t think that’s gonna solve a lot.
From a more positive angle, all five starting offensive linemen are back and MSU has a shiny new toy at running back in Anthony Williams. I’m not sure any of these things will make a huge difference, but if the offense can just get back to averaging in the mid-20s, they’ll be a pretty good team.
Why? The defense should be one of the best in the country. They only gave up 17 PPG last year and return eight starters. They only gave up 2.6 YPC (!!!) on the ground and their entire starting D-Line is back, as well as leading tackler, LB Joe Bachie.
The schedule didn’t break the best for MSU this year. They obviously have to play the other big three in the East and only get one of them at home (Penn State). They also draw road games with Wisconsin and Northwestern in their crossover games. By nature, the Spartans are kind of always in close games with decent teams, so home games with Indiana, Arizona State, and Maryland are must wins. They can’t afford another slip-up like the 9-6 loss to Nebraska last year.
Indiana – under 6.5 (-125) – 4*
You know, as much as college football changes every year, things pretty much stay the same. Every year 3,000 players move on and a new 3,000 move in, coaches are moving all over the country, and conferences may even realign. But at the end of the day, Clemson and Alabama are going to be playing for the title, Lee Corso is going to don the headgear every Saturday morning, and Indiana is going to win somewhere between 4-6 games. As Bill Connelly points out, it’s happened 11 times in 14 years.
So when you see their win total set above that range you have to ask yourself, “Why?” The Hoosiers do have 13 starters coming back, but that’s nothing extraordinary. They’ve had more and they’ve had less and they ended up in relatively the same spot.
The skill guys on offense are probably the strength of their team and they certainly have some good ones. But ever since Nate Sudfeld left after the 2015 season, it seems like IU has had a never-ending QB competition going on and it still hasn’t resolved itself. The O-Line is replacing three starters. Similar to the record, the offense has been remarkably consistent since Sudfeld left, averaging 25.8, 26.8, and 26.4 PPG the last three seasons.
Defensively, they’ve got seven starters back, but do lose their top two tacklers. But overall depth is on the defense’s side. They had a significant drop-off in pass rush last year though and that needs rectified. They’ve also been pretty consistent the last three years, allowing 27.2, 25.3, and 29.9 PPG.
Given the consistency of the win total, offensive, and defensive production, IU’s trend line is as flat as you can find in college football. Which still leaves me curious on how this win total is over the trend line.
The last frontier is the schedule. The non-con is three tomato cans, but that doesn’t really move the needle much. To increase their bowl chances and combat playing in the Big Ten East, the Hoosiers frequently schedule easy in the non-con. They’ve only lost one game outside Big Ten play in the last four years, so a 3-0 record doesn’t put them ahead of schedule.
They have road games with Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, and Maryland and home games with Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern. They’ll beat Rutgers at home, but you still have to find three wins out of those eight I just listed. They might be small favorites in two of them and will likely be double digit dogs in a few of them.
This seems like a good time to point out that IU hasn’t beaten a Big Ten team with a winning conference record since 2008.
Maryland – under 4 (+105) – 2*
I guess we can start with new boss Mike Locksley, who is 3-31 as a head coach. That’s an unavoidable fact. I’m not even going to get into the off-the-field stuff Locksley was involved with at New Mexico. It’s not really relevant to this season.
His OC is Scottie Montgomery, who takes the job after going 9-27 in three years as ECU’s head coach. His offense got progressively worse every year that he was there. He kept playing Gardner Minshew on-and-off his first two years up until the last four games of the 2017 season when Minshew lit it up just enough to be recruited by Power 5s as a grad transfer, choose Washington State, throw for nearly 4,500 yards, win the hearts of America with his mustache, and be invited to the Heisman ceremony.
In all fairness, Scottie did pretty well as Duke’s OC prior to the ECU job.
Jon Hoke is the DC after spending the last three years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary coach. As a fan of the Bucs, I can assure you that secondary was horrendous. They finished 26th, 32nd, and 22nd in pass defense in Hoke’s three years. This is only Hoke’s second year in college football since 2001. He was the co-DC (not the play-calling kind) for an average South Carolina defense in 2015.
The Terps only return nine starters and play a Top 15 schedule.
So, yeah, not over the moon about Maryland’s squad this year.
Rutgers – under 3 (-105) – 3*
Rutgers opened 2018 with a 35-7 win over Texas State. After that, they lost 11 straight games by a combined 22.1 PPG, only scoring 11.5 PPG themselves. They threw for five touchdowns all year, while managing 22 INTs. Not an ideal ratio. In positive news, they were never shutout.
Defensively, they really weren’t that awful. That’s not to say they were good by any means, but the pass defense is in the average range. Unfortunately, they’ve only got five starters coming back on that side of the ball, so they may regress.
They should beat UMass and Liberty at home, but you can’t take much for granted here. This is a team that got its doors blown off by Kansas and Buffalo last year. Outside of that, I think the only winnable games are at Illinois and home against Maryland. Minnesota and BC at home have the potential to at least maybe be close.