2019 Big Ten Win Totals – Unders
The 2019 season win totals for the Big Ten have been released! Last week I wrote about the three teams I thought offered the best value to go OVER the posted totals here. The following teams are the three squads I feel best about taking the “under” on and my rationale for feeling that way. The totals come from 5Dimes sportsbook. Please note, at this time, Rutgers is not being offered.
Iowa Hawkeyes – Under 7.5 Wins
My first pick is a result of two things: Iowa lost four starters to the NFL and their schedule is very difficult. There is no question that they could excel in close games and find themselves with eight or nine victories but they could also drop a couple of 50/50 contests and struggle to reach a bowl game. Let’s start the analysis by looking at the personnel. Iowa brings back Nate Stanley, the most-experienced quarterback in the Big Ten. He has improved each season but struggles in the fourth quarter haunted the Hawkeyes in 2018. According to The Athletic, Stanley was only 44 of 90 with one touchdown and two interceptions in the fourth quarter last season. If that does not improve, Iowa will struggle mightily against this tough schedule.
The biggest surprise concerning this program in the past couple of seasons has been the struggle of the Iowa running game. In 2018, they rushed for only 3.9 yards per carry (94th). This was a continuing theme from 2017 and it is fair to question whether they can fix the issue. Mekhi Sargent, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young will again be the backs and the offensive line is mostly the same group. If the personnel stays the same, will the run game improve? Stanley will be throwing to a new crop of pass-catchers as top receiver Nick Easley and top tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are all gone. I don’t believe they have the talent to fill the holes at tight end and I don’t think Brandon Smith or Ihmir Smith-Marsette are top-end number one threats at receiver.
The Hawkeyes lost four starters on the defensive line and although they have a lot of talent returning, including All-Big Ten end A.J. Epenesa, the depth is now questionable. The linebackers were a weak spot in 2018 and there is no reason to expect anything different in 2019 and they lost Amani Hooker in the secondary. Iowa feels good about the guys stepping up in the secondary but still, it is another large question mark.
The schedule is very difficult, especially on the road. Iowa has road dates at Iowa State, Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Even if they go unbeaten at home, they would need to steal one of those road contests to go over this total. Miami (Ohio), Rutgers, Middle Tennessee and Illinois seems like fairly easy wins at home but Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota could be difficult. For context, Wisconsin has beaten Iowa six of the past times and Northwestern has knocked off Iowa three straight times.
Wisconsin Badgers – Under 8.5 Wins
I don’t believe Wisconsin is falling apart but there is little doubt they have slipped a bit over the past couple of seasons as the offense has struggled mightily to find a consistent passing threat. While I believe the Badgers will be a tough out this season and end up with a solid season, I think there is good value on the under (+110) given the difficult schedule. They begin with a trip to South Florida to play the Bulls on August 30 and have games against Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue in Madison and trips to Illinois, Ohio State, Nebraska and Minnesota. They will get wins against Central Michigan, Kent State and likely at Illinois and at South Florida (although those are not guarantees). However, they are probably underdogs against Michigan, at Ohio State and at Nebraska and games against Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue and at Minnesota will be toss-ups.
The Badgers will lean heavily on Jonathan Taylor and that’s a great place to start. Jack Coan seems the most likely starting quarterback but freshmen Graham Mertz and Chase Wolf have higher ceilings and either would be the more exciting choice. Whichever signal-caller ends up starting will be throwing to a good group of receivers as A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor return. The tight end group is not particularly strong outside of Jake Ferguson but he’s a good one. The biggest area of concern on offense is unquestionably the offensive line as the Badgers must replace four starters. Outside of center Tyler Biadasz, the Badgers have lots of questions. While I’m sure there is talent and lots of size in the group, they will be green. The defensive front seven will have a lot of new faces and the secondary is deep but without an All-Big Ten level star. I think seven or eight wins is much more likely than nine or ten.
Penn State Nittany Lions – Under 8.5 Wins
I don’t think Penn State is falling off of a cliff but they have lost a ton of talent in the past two off-seasons. All the juice is on the over with an ambitious total set at 8.5 victories, so you may be able to find 9 at a different sportsbook.
The offense now belongs to redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford after the surprising transfer of Tommy Stevens and the departure of former starter Trace McSorley. The graduated McSorley’s athleticism and ability to extend plays will be missed by this offense. They are hoping the big arm and deep passing of Clifford makes up for that. Clifford won’t be able to hand the ball off to Miles Sanders (who was underappreciated last season) and the Nittany Lions will be relying on more of a committee approach in 2019. While they are publicly saying they like that approach, it’s always nice to have a bell-cow star to lean on. Clifford can toss it to a deep group of wideouts, albeit one without an established go-to guy. KJ Hamler is electric and Pat Freiermuth is a very good tight end but again, they will be playing a lot of new faces here. The offensive line will be fine but they do have to replace two players that are now in the NFL.
The other side of the ball is much more established and if Penn State gets to nine or ten wins it will be because of a dominant defense. Yetur Gross-Matos is a star defensive end, Micah Parsons could be one of the better linebackers in the country by the end of the season and they have pretty good depth there as well and the secondary has very few question marks with established regulars like John Reid, Tariq Castro-Fields and Garrett Taylor.
I like the under here because of the value and the schedule mixed with the inexperience all over the offense. PSU has a relatively easy start before a tricky Friday night road game at Maryland then they host Purdue, Michigan, Indiana and Rutgers and have a road games at Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State. They will be underdogs in at least two of those games and very possibly in as many as four of them.