2019 Big Ten Win Totals – Overs
The 2019 season win totals for the Big Ten have been released! The following teams are the three schools I feel best about taking the “over” on and my rationale for feeling that way. The totals come from 5Dimes sportsbook. Please note, at this time, Rutgers is not being offered.
Illinois – Over 3 Wins
This number surprised me and I see absolutely no chance they do not at least push on this number. The Illini went 4-8 a season ago and there is a general buzz around the program that the talent level and overall depth is higher this season than it has been at any time in head coach Lovie Smith’s tenure. 2019 is a huge year for Smith and he needs to show growth. Thankfully for him, the schedule appears to be set up to cooperate and that’s the biggest reason for optimism and choosing the over. The non-conference schedule has Akron and Eastern Michigan coming to Champaign and they travel to East Hartford to take on a woeful UConn squad. Barring disaster, that is three wins and you’ve pushed by the middle of September. The Big Ten West is improving but Illinois gets to play East cellar-dweller Rutgers at home on November 2. They will be favored in that contest and the Illini should get their fourth win and go over the posted total. The rest of the schedule is not so kind: road games at Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State and Iowa will be very tough and they host Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern. There’s a chance they could be victorious in one or two of those contests but it will be imperative they don’t slip up against the four teams I mentioned earlier.
“I think we’ve been building for this year,” Lovie Smith told The Athletic. “Two years ago, we started 15 freshmen; they’re juniors now.” That experience should help and the Illini have recruited at a pretty good level in the past couple of seasons so the talent of their depth should be increasing as well. Another reason for optimism is the quarterback position. Illinois can turn to either Brandon Peters, a transfer from Michigan with immediate eligibility, or freshman athlete Isaiah Williams. Either of those options should be better than what they had in 2018. I like the running backs on the roster (Reggie Corbin, Mike Epstein and Ra’Von Bonner is a good group) and think the offense should actually be pretty good. The largest questions though remain on the defense. Illinois was 128th in total defense in 2018. Bobby Roundtree might have been the best player on the squad but he suffered a severe spinal injury that very well could end his football career and certainly means he won’t be playing this season. There is a lot of depth on the line but it’s unclear if there is actually any quality. The linebackers are athletic and the leading tackler from 2018, Jake Hansen, is back. The best part of the defense though is the secondary. Nate Hobbs is a very good defensive back and a pair of good young players will play opposite of him. The safeties are solid and Illinois should be at least decent against the pass. Bottom line, I think Illinois will be a little better than they were a season ago and I see four very likely victories on the schedule, making this a very solid over bet.
Nebraska – OVER 8 Wins
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are very much a public team and I am nervous about including them here but I think the offense could be terrific, the schedule is favorable and Scott Frost is proving to be a terrific head coach. In short, I would be quite surprised if Nebraska did not reach eight victories and I believe they have a good shot at going over the total.
You don’t have to go far to find the biggest reasons for optimism in Lincoln. Adrian Martinez returns for his sophomore season after setting Nebraska’s single-season record for total offensive yards per game (295.1). I think he is the best quarterback in the Big Ten and having him pulling the strings for this attack makes the Huskers a threat in every game. He’ll be throwing to a very good group of receivers, although inexperience is a concern. JD Spielman is the leader but watch out for the emergence of Wan’Dale Robinson. There is buzz from Lincoln that he has the potential to resemble the impact Rondale Moore had at Purdue in 2018. That’s ambitious but it seems very likely he provides a major boost. The running back position could be better than it was a season ago as JUCO transfer Dedrick Mills looks set to be the starter and freshman Rahmir Johnson brings explosiveness. The defense was a mess for much of last season but they should be improved in 2019. They have six good linemen and a veteran secondary that should be strengths. Linebacker could be a real weakness and they’ll need to figure out who can help senior Mohamed Barry.
The Huskers open with South Alabama before traveling to Boulder to play Colorado. They then close the non-conference season with Northern Illinois. Big Ten home games include Ohio State (where the Huskers should be 4-0…think that’ll be a raucous crowd?), Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa and they play at Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue and Maryland. They likely won’t be significant underdogs in any game and I see seven or eight games you’d feel really good about. If they could win a couple of toss-ups (at Purdue, at Minnesota, Wisconsin) or knock off the Buckeyes on September 28, this could be a double-digit win team.
The Michigan State Spartans have won fewer than eight games twice in the past three seasons (7-6 in 2018 and 3-9 in 2016) but they have not had back to back seasons of 7 wins or fewer since 2006-2007. I think that trend continues and the Spartans will reach eight wins in 2019. If they are to do so, they will need to protect Spartan Stadium because their road schedule is brutal. They go to Northwestern (a winnable game early), Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Rutgers (a must win). The home schedule is significantly more kind with home dates against Tulsa, Western Michigan, Arizona State, Indiana, Penn State, Illinois and Maryland. I see five very likely wins and a very realistic chance to go 7-0 in East Lansing. If they can do so and grab a win at Rutgers, you cover this bet. Michigan State is just 20-18 in the past three seasons so the Spartans have a ton to prove, I think they have the defense to cause some problems.
The offense must improve after a woeful 2018 campaign. Brian Lewerke is back, as are targets Darrell Stewart and Cody White. Lewerke was very good in 2017 so perhaps he deserves some benefit of the doubt for the performance last season. He battled an injury that eventually forced Rocky Lombardi into action and he was not able to do any better. The Spartans are hoping Connor Heyward can turn into a feature back after a frustrating 2018. The biggest issue for the offense is probably the offensive line, a group that has underwhelmed for a few seasons now. I think the offense will be improved but there is little to expect this to be even an above-average unit. No, this bet will be won because of the elite defense.
Michigan State was tremendous at times on defense in 2018. After some early struggles, they found their stride in October and held Penn State to 17 points. They then locked up Purdue and Maryland (13 and 3, respectively), held explosive OSU to 26, Nebraska to 9, Rutgers to 10 and Oregon to 7. Remarkably, they managed to lose two of those final three games, despite the great defense. The line is stacked as Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams, and the Panasiuk brothers will make it extremely difficult on opponents. Joe Bachie is one the best linebackers in the country and Josiah Scott and David Dowell are stars in the secondary. There is reason to project this as one of the best defenses in Mark Dantonio’s tenure. Despite several injuries and a truly horrendous offense, MSU lost three games by a combined seven points. Flip even two of those contests and you have a 9-4 campaign and an easy cover on this bet. I don’t think Michigan State is in for another improbable run to the Big Ten Championship Game but I do think they find a way to go over the total.