Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Almost every prognosticator has Ohio State or Michigan State winning the Big Ten Conference championship. However, do not underestimate the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have a much easier path to the title game than last year.
Even though Iowa loses its top three tacklers, the offense will improve just enough to lift the club to the top of a very weak West Division, especially since Indiana, Maryland and Illinois replace Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan on the schedule. From there all the Hawkeyes need to do is to defeat the East winner, and at 12-1, the odds are in their favor.
Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with conference championship odds and regular season over/under totals courtesy of Bovada.
7) PURDUE (300-1) - The Boilermakers are 5-10 ATS in non-conference play the last four years. They gained a league worst 119 fewer yards inside the Big Ten compared to 2012. Opponents outscored them by 65 points or more in all four quarters. Purdue was a freshmen-oriented squad last year and it certainly showed. This season should be somewhat better considering many of the players are in their second year in the system. In addition, the Boilermakers get a break moving away from the old Leaders Division into the newly-formed West.
Final thought - Unfortunately, most of their easier games (Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana) are on the road. Over/under total - 3.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 3-9, 1-7.
6) ILLINOIS (200-1) - The Fighting Illini are 1-7 as road underdogs the last two years. They had the most improved offense in conference play of all the 12 teams (compared to 2012). The key was a passing game which jumped from 11th to second in the conference. The defense was a different story finishing 11th in both scoring and yards allowed. This year, the offense loses its top three receivers and the defense loses its top three sacks- and tackles-for-loss leaders.
Final thought - As is the case with Purdue, Illinois should be slightly improved but not enough to make a dent in the standings. Over/under total - 5. Predicted overall and conference records - 5-7, 2-6.
5) NORTHWESTERN (40-1) - The Wildcats are 6-1 to the under in their last seven games. They averaged just 37 fewer yards per game in league play compared to 2012 - the same number as Nebraska. However, the Wildcats scored 13 fewer ppg while the Cornhuskers averaged only two fewer ppg. One reason for the lack of scoring was their inability to reach the end zone inside the red zone. Even though they were third nationally inside the 20, they scored just 12 TDs in 27 chances. A sharp rise in points was expected this year prior to the news that Venric Mark will transfer and Christian Jones will miss the season due to injury, Defensively, the team should be stronger with the return of 12 of the top 14 tacklers.
Final thought - Between all the offseason union, transfer and injury concerns, what looked to be a promising season will now be a mediocre one. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 6-6, 3-5.
4) NEBRASKA (11-2) - The Cornhuskers are 7-3 to the under in their last 10 games. They were -11 in turnover differential last season, usually a sign of better things to come the following year. However, they actually outscored their opponents in points off turnovers so one could say they were extremely lucky in 2013. Nebraska also was a +5 in games decided by seven points or less. Don't expect the Cornhuskers to do that again, especially with an offense minus multiple starters and a defense ravaged by injuries and graduation.
Final thought - Nebraska will not win eight regular season games for the first time since Bo Pelini took over as head coach in 2008. Over/under total - 8. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 3-5.
3) MINNESOTA (66-1) - The Golden Gophers are 4-0 as home favorites the last two years. The defense held 10 of its 13 opponents below their season scoring average last season partly due to its play inside the red zone. Opposing league teams scored touchdowns on just half of their opportunities, good for third in the league. Two years ago, the defense ranked last in conference play in red zone touchdown percentage. Based on that statistic, Minnesota will allow more points in 2014. Nevertheless, the Golden Gophers should be a tough team to stop on offense, particularly when running the ball. Still, the passing game won't improve enough for them to be a major player in the league.
Final thought - Last season's quarterbacks completed over 54 percent of their passes in only four of 12 FBS games. Over/under total - 6.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 4-4.
2) WISCONSIN (9-2) - The Badgers are 22-12 ATS in conference play the last four years. They were the only FBS team in the country last season with two 1,000-yard rushers and one 1,000-yard receiver. They also broke their school record with over 480 yards per game. This season might not be as successful with the loss of 26 lettermen after losing only 11 in 2013. Head coach Gary Andersen wants his club to be more balanced offensively but that might be an issue with the loss of players who accounted for 18 of the team's 22 touchdown receptions.
Final thought - Even with the loss of eight defensive starters, nine of the top 15 tacklers are back so there might not be a huge increase in points allowed. Over/under total - 9.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 8-4, 5-3. Take under 9.5 wins at +110.
1) IOWA (12-1) - The Hawkeyes are 3-7 as home favorites the last two years. Just one season after being outscored 25-19 inside the Big Ten, they outscored their opponents 23-20. The nine-point turnaround was third-best in the league behind Michigan State and Ohio State. Iowa went 8-5 and the five losses came against teams with a combined record of 56-12. The offense should be better but the defense loses all three linebackers who combined for over 300 tackles.
Final thought - This will be the club's finest season since 2009 when the Hawkeyes won 11 games and the two losses came by a combined 10 points. Over/under total - 8.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 9-3, 5-3. Take them at 12-1 to win the Big Ten.
7) RUTGERS (200-1) - The Scarlet Knights are 17-8 as road underdogs the last eight years. The bottom fell out on them last year with just six wins after a 9-4 mark in 2012. The defense allowed 30 ppg (14 in 2012) due to dropping from first to next-to-last inside the AAC in red zone touchdown percentage. Rutgers also went from +10 to -12 in turnover differential. This year's squad is more experienced and should improve but must contend with a more difficult schedule.
Final thought - Even though the Scarlet Knights will not win many games, they should do much better against the spread. Over/under total - 4. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 2-6.
6) PENN STATE (Ineligible) - The Nittany Lions are 8-1 ATS off a straight up loss the last two years. Last year was a good one for the offensive line. Sacks allowed in league play improved from 18 (2012) to 12, and the team rushed for more total yards and a higher ypc average. Unfortunately, the line will be the weak link this year, along with an inexperienced wide receiver position. Nonetheless, the defense should be stellar with seven returning starters. Expect the points-scored total to fall but the points-allowed total to improve.
Final thought - The Nittany Lions have gone from 9-3, to 8-4 and 7-5 the last three years. Look for them to not drop any further as they remain at seven victories. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 4-4.
5) INDIANA (100-1) - The Hoosiers are 11-3 to the over in their last 14 games. Unlike Penn State, their record has improved the last two years from one win to four and finally to five in 2013. Is this the season Indiana finally becomes bowl eligible? It is all up to the defense. The Hoosiers were last in the league in scoring and total defense but that will not be the case in 2014, especially with 13 of the top 14 tacklers back in Bloomington.
Final thought - Indiana was one of only six FBS teams to rank in the top 30 in scoring, total offense, passing and rushing. If the defense improves even a little bit, the Hoosiers will be bowl bound for the first time since 2007. Over/under total - 5.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 4-4. Take over 5.5 wins at +110.
4) MICHIGAN (10-1) - The Wolverines are 9-19 ATS on the road the last six years. They averaged a full yard per play fewer inside the Big 10 last season compared to 2012. That was the largest decline of any team in the league. The defense also was an issue as it allowed 12 more ppg and just short of 100 more yards per game in conference play. This season should be better despite a very young offensive line. Still, even with a pair of top draft choices at the tackle position, Michigan ranked 121st nationally in tackles for loss allowed.
Final thought - Brady Hoke's job will not be in jeopardy after a nine-win regular season. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 9-3, 5-3. Take over 7.5 wins at -165.
3) MARYLAND (100-1) - The Terrapins are 7-14 ATS off a straight up loss the last three years. They outscored their opponents in each of the first three quarters last season but came unglued in the fourth to the tune of 114-54. Injuries to key offensive personnel and a defense that lost four of its top six tacklers proved too much as Maryland dropped five of its last seven games. However, with everyone healthy and the return of the top five tacklers, the Terps will surprise a lot of teams, including a few in their new conference.
Final thought - This is the best team head coach Randy Edsall has had since arriving at Maryland in 2011. Over/under total - 6.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 8-4, 5-3. Take over 6.5 wins at +115
2) OHIO STATE (10-11) - The Buckeyes are 26-13-1 ATS on the road the last nine years. They set a Big Ten record last season with 4,321 rushing yards. They also got the jump on their opposition outscoring them 229-69 in the first quarter. Ohio State was unbeaten during the regular season but fell flat versus Michigan State and Clemson in the final two games. This year, the Buckeyes have their fewest number of returning lettermen this decade. If the young offensive line comes together quickly, they will be just as dangerous as they were the last two years. If not, there will be plenty of disappointed players and fans in Columbus.
Final thought - Ohio State will be undefeated after eight games but lose two of its final four contests. Over/under total - 10.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 10-2, 6-2.
1) MICHIGAN STATE (15-4) - The Spartans are 15-4 ATS on the road the last four years. One thing is for certain - it is doubtful they will have as good a season this year as they did in 2013. However, they still are the class of the Big 10 and will only get better offensively. Connor Cook's three best games all came late in the season and the majority of his weapons are back. The only question mark is how this team handles success. The 2012 club failed to do it going 7-6 after an 11-3 season. Expect this year's group to be better focused.
Final thought - The Spartans three toughest conference games - Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska - are all at home. Over/under total - 9.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 10-2, 7-1.
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