The SEC and Big Ten were the story of the college football offseason, as each league sits in position to become a “super conference” in the next decade. Given the quality of the programs currently in each conference, the two leagues could be the on-field story of the 2022 season as well.
From a sports betting perspective, most recreational bettors will have their eyes glued to the SEC and Big Ten. In the SEC, Alabama and Georgia figure to be not only conference title contenders, but also national title threats. In the Big Ten, a similar two-horse race could break out between the storied Michigan and Ohio State programs.
Buckeyes a big favorite
Surprise, surprise: Ohio State is expected to win a bunch of college football games! It feels like every season in recent memory involves a handful of the same programs contending for national titles, and the Buckeyes are once again on the list of preseason favorites. DraftKings and FanDuel list Ohio State at +300 to win the national championship, the second-lowest odds behind Alabama, which hovers around +175 at most sportsbooks.
Led by Heisman frontrunner (+200 on FanDuel and +225 on DraftKings) C.J. Stroud, the Buckeyes’ offense figures to be among the nation’s best. The dynamic quarterback has an arsenal of offensive weapons at his disposal, as wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. should terrorize opposing secondaries. Running back TreVeyon Henderson recorded over 1,500 rushing and receiving yards to go with 19 touchdowns a season ago, making him one of the best rushers in the Big Ten.
Marvin Harrison Jr.
– 5 career catches entering the game
– 5 catches and 3 TDs in the Rose Bowl
– 4-star recruit
Even when schools like Alabama or Ohio State lose players to injury or opt-out, their backups could start almost anywhere in the country.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) January 2, 2022
The key to a national title may come on the other side of the ball, however, as Ohio State’s defense struggled toward the end of last season. In the regular-season finale against Michigan, the Buckeyes allowed 42 points and 487 yards. In their bowl game, the Buckeyes allowed 45 points and 463 total yards.
“It’s no mystery – ranking 59th in total defense won’t cut it for a program hoping to compete for titles year in and year out,” JD Yonke, a college football analyst and contributor for Covers, told US Bets in an email interview. “Jim Knowles was brought in from Oklahoma State as the new defensive coordinator. He’s highly regarded in the coaching community and led the Cowboys to a top-5 finish in total defense, rushing defense, and yards per play a year ago.”
Ohio State is -235 to win the Big Ten at PointsBet, a number similar to that at other mobile sportsbooks. Yonke doesn’t see a ton of value in taking Ohio State’s win total of 10.5, but does think there’s some intrigue in betting on an undefeated regular season, which has +130 odds on DraftKings.
Michigan among group of contenders
Opinions on Michigan’s 2022 potential differ from analyst to analyst. Brad Crawford, a college football writer with 24/7 Sports, isn’t bullish on the Wolverines’ potential to reach the College Football Playoff again in 2022, citing personnel losses to the defense, including star defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.
“Everything went right last fall and I don’t see another special season coming for Jim Harbaugh’s squad,” Crawford told US Bets via email.
Yonke feels more confident in Michigan’s potential. He shares some concern about the defensive losses, but loves what the Wolverines bring back offensively.
“They have one of the top offensive lines in the country — the best, if you ask me — and two great running backs in Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, so their identity won’t change a bit,” Yonke said. “As a bonus, receiver Ronnie Bell is arguably the most talented pass catcher on the roster and returns from injury to lead a deep group.”
While just about everyone agrees Ohio State should be elite, the discussion around Michigan contains significantly less clarity. There’s potential for a strong season, but defensive personnel losses could keep the team from a conference crown. Michigan is +700 to win the Big Ten at PointsBet, and its national title odds go as high as +6000 at FanDuel.
Dark horse contenders
Can any team outside of Ohio State or Michigan win the Big Ten? It’s a possibility, especially with Ohio State and Michigan in the same division within the conference.
“I hesitate to call the teams in the West Division a dark horse, but there’s a clear path to the conference championship game,” Yonke said. “Wisconsin is the obvious name and Iowa is right there with them. I expect this division to be highly competitive, so it’s possible a team like Minnesota or Nebraska emerges, but I view the West as more of a toss-up.”
Wisconsin is +1000 on PointsBet to win the conference, while Iowa is +2000 and Nebraska checks in at +1400. Interestingly, Caesars Sportsbook has Wisconsin at +6000 to win the national title, which puts them in a similar price range as Michigan at +5000. Road games at Ohio State and Michigan State will be massive tests, but a West Division schedule coupled with a soft non-conference schedule makes the Badgers an interesting longshot candidate from the league.
Preseason media poll for Big Ten football is out.
1. Wisconsin (31 first-place votes)
2. Iowa (3)
3. Minnesota (2)
1. Ohio State (36)
3. Penn State
4. Michigan State
— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) July 25, 2022
As for another contender alongside Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East, Crawford and Yonke think Penn State (+1600 to win the Big Ten on PointsBet) is a reasonable option. Home games against Ohio State and Michigan State could help the cause, and quarterback Sean Clifford is borderline elite when fully healthy.
“James Franklin just signed one of the most impressive recruiting classes of his tenure and has several key veterans back on defense,” Crawford said. “The schedule is tough, but Penn State does get the Buckeyes and Spartans at home, which always helps.”
Barstool Sportsbook actually gives Penn State the second-shortest odds to win the Big Ten East at +600. The mobile sportsbook lists Michigan at +650, while Ohio State leads the way at -500.
Worthwhile win totals
Looking to bet on team win totals? Crawford suggests looking at Michigan State over 7.5 wins, which FanDuel has at -120.
“The Spartans aren’t going to win the conference, but it filled notable holes in the transfer portal and should be at least a touchdown favorite in six games, with a good chance at winning two others to get to eight,” Crawford said.
He also believes there’s value in Indiana under four wins, which is available on FanDuel at +100. Indiana has a pair of winnable non-conference games against Idaho and Western Kentucky, but a road game at Cincinnati plus a gauntlet of a conference schedule might lead to a disastrous season in Bloomington.
“The Hoosiers are going to struggle once again on both sides of the football without much depth, and the schedule is treacherous,” Crawford said. “I don’t see Indiana sniffing bowl eligibility.”