In case you missed it, check out my columns on the MAC Win Totals, Sunbelt Win Totals, Mountain West Win Totals, Conference USA East and West Win Totals, AAC Win Totals , ACC Atlantic and Coastal Win Totals, Big 12 Win Totals, PAC 12 North and South Win Totals, and the SEC East and West Win Totals.
We’re only about a week away from the start of College Football! We’ve gone through every conference in the nation and have saved the Big Ten for last. You can view my breakdown of each team in the Big Ten West here. Without further ado, here’s the Big Ten East.
Big Ten (East) Favorite Plays:
Maryland: 5.5 Wins (O-135 / U+115)
HC Mike Locksley has a career head coaching record of 8-43. In his two years at Maryland, the Terrapins have gone 3-9 and 2-3. I understand the guy can recruit and he has improved the overall talent in College Park, but what has Locksley done to make one think he can go .500 and make a bowl?
Taulia Tagovailoa is back at QB after starting four games a season ago. It was feast or famine for Tua’s little bro: in wins over Penn St and Minnesota, Taulia threw for a combined 676 yards and 6 TDs to 1 INT ; in losses to Indiana and Northwestern, he only threw for a combined 335 yards and 1 TD with 6 INT’s. It goes without saying that his consistency needs improvement.
QB1 📈@tauliaa12 is on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Watch List.
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) August 19, 2021
The Terps will have to replace RB Jake Funk and a couple starters from the O Line, but should have a top-notch group of pass catchers. It’s a veteran unit led by Dontay Demus that should give secondaries fits. It might all come down to Tagovailoa and if he’s taken his game to another level.
Defensively, the Terrapins were not very good a season ago. They finished towards the bottom of the conference, giving up 430 yards and 32 points per game. On the bright side, 10 starters return so at least there is experience. With two 300+ pounders in Mosiah Nasili-Kite and Ami Finau anchoring the interior, there’s no good reason why opponents ran for 230 yard per game last year. Stopping the run will be of utmost importance if this D is going to improve.
Reviewing the schedule, there’s a big non-con game vs WVU at home. If the Terps can pull the upset, a 3-0 start outside of the conference would be a huge step in making a bowl. However, I tend to lean Mountaineers in this game.
Within the Big Ten schedule, getting Minnesota and Iowa from the West is a stroke of bad luck. Additionally, the more beatable teams in the East (Rutgers and Michigan State) are both on the road. Conference wins will be hard to come by – I’m on the Under and I’m getting plus juice.
My Prediction: UNDER
Rutgers: 4 Wins (O-110 / U-110)
All things considered, Greg Schiano’s return to Rutgers has to be deemed a success. The Scarlet Knights only went 3-6 but 2020 was tough for all first year coaches. Even with those challenges, Rutgers still managed to be competitive in every game with the exception of the Ohio State blowout. Additionally, Schiano has the recruiting wheels in motion like never seen before in New Jersey.
Offensively, all 11 starters return including QB Noah Vedral. If this offense is going to take it up a notch, Vedral needs to limit his turnovers and he needs better protection from his offensive line. Bo Melton and Aron Cruickshank are nice options at wideout and Isaih Pacheco is a serviceable RB. The roster isn’t yet filled with next level talent, but this is a rock-solid group that should improve in Year 2 of Schiano’s system.
On the defensive side of the ball, Rutgers lost a couple starters to graduation and some reserves have transferred but the majority of the unit is back. Schiano, a former LB himself, has one of the best linebacker units in the East with Olakunle Fatukasi, Tyshon Fogg and Mohamed Toure destined for big years. Additionally, the Scarlet Knights have a couple CBs who should push for all Big Ten honors.
03 has been named to the Butkus Award watchlist.
— Rutgers Football (@RFootball) July 26, 2021
Looking at the schedule, Rutgers was able to register three wins a season ago with a first year Head Coach while playing only Big Ten games. It’s a welcomed sight this year to find Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware on the slate. Worst case scenario has Rutgers going 2-1 in these games while 3-0 is a distinct possibility.
Within the league, MSU, NW, Illini, and Maryland are all winnable games. Split those and win the out of conference games and we’re on the Over. Rutgers has a real chance of going bowling this year. Gimme the Over.
My Prediction: OVER
Big Ten (East) Solid Bets:
Michigan: 7.5 Wins (O-115 / U-105)
Although it’s become commonplace to criticize Jim Harbaugh, he’s actually had the Wolverines over 7.5 wins in every full season at Michigan. 2020 was a mess and I understand he hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, but the program is in a better place than it was under Brady Hoke or Rich Rodriguez. With that said, it’s a huge year for Harbaugh. Anything less than 8 wins would be a major disappointment and might cost him his job.
One of the main reasons why Michigan hasn’t competed for Big Ten titles is the underwhelming QB play over the last few seasons. Joe Milton and Dylan McCaffrey have transferred out leaving Cade McNamara and Texas Tech-transfer Alan Bowman to compete for the starting job. Simply put, the Wolverines need better quarterback play from whoever is named the starter.
The offensive line brings back four starters and should be rock-solid entering 2021. Hassan Haskins emerged as the top RB a year ago and should be in-store for an excellent season. Additionally, three of the top four wide receivers from last year are back. This is a solid offense across the board but it lacks star power.
Defensively is where Big Blue really struggled last season. The Wolverines finished 12th in the conference, giving up 34.5 points and over 434 yards per game. That should not happen in Ann Arbor. There’s a new DC in town who is transitioning to a 3-4 alignment but the linebacker position doesn’t look to be a strong suit. That could be an issue especially for a defensive alignment that requires strong LB play. The DL should be fine and the secondary has potential to be great, but in general there’s too many unknowns entering the season.
🚨 OUR 2021 SCHEDULE 🚨 pic.twitter.com/VxQWrpguUn
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) February 5, 2021
Looking at the schedule, there’s a big week 2 matchup at home vs Washington. It’s a 50/50 game but if UM can get the W, they should start 4-0. The cross-divisional games at Wisconsin and at Nebraska will also be challenging. Then, of course, there’s the game vs Ohio State who have completely owned the Wolverines of late. It won’t be easy and we’ll have to sweat it out, but Michigan will get to 8. I’m on the Over.
My Prediction: OVER
Indiana: 8 Wins (O+110 / U-130)
The Hoosiers had an excellent 2020 and now expectations are through the roof. For a program not accustomed to success, can they repeat last year’s performance? Tom Allen has done a great job in Bloomington but the schedule is tough this year. Plus, now instead of being the hunter, they may be the hunted.
QB Michael Penix should be back from a bad knee injury a season ago and has a couple nice pass catchers returning in (WR) Ty Fryfogle and (TE) Peyton Hendershot. The Hoosiers will also have to replace RB Stevie Scott and there may be some changes to the line but this offense looks just fine.
Other than the Ohio State game, the Indiana defense really stepped up a season ago, only giving up 20 points per game. Much like the other side of the ball, the D loses a couple key players but the majority of the talent and experience returns. I’d expect another solid season for the IU D led by LB Micah McFadden and three returning starters in the secondary.
While the roster is in place for a special season, the schedule is a nightmare. Within the first five weeks of the season, the Hoosiers have road trips to Iowa and Penn State and a home matchup vs Cincinnati. That’s three potential top 10 schools all before mid-October and we haven’t even mentioned the annual game vs Ohio State.
Additionally, road games at Michigan and at Purdue will be battles and home matchups vs Minnesota, MSU, and Rutgers could pose problems. Welcome to life in the Big Ten East, I suppose. Overall, I like what Tom Allen is doing at IU but a 7-5 record is more likely than 9-3. I’m on the Under.
My Prediction: UNDER
Michigan State: 5 Wins (O+100 / U-120)
All first year head coaches in 2020 get a pass, but with that said, Mel Tucker and Michigan State did not impress. Sparty finished 2-5 with each loss coming by double digits. Losing by 42 to Iowa and getting blanked 24-0 vs Indiana shouldn’t happen. Furthermore, it’s not like Tucker did anything at Colorado to give me faith he’ll turn it around this season.
The offense ranked dead last in the Big Ten, only putting up 18 points and 330 yards per game. However, all five offensive lineman return and the wide receiver unit is at least above average. Temple-transfer Anthony Russo comes in to compete for the starting QB gig and Wake-transfer Kenneth Walker should be the main RB. As bad as they were last year, there’s hope for improvement this season.
While the offense struggled to score, the MSU D gave up 35 points a game. Not exactly a recipe for winning football. Tucker hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in a slew of players, especially in the secondary. Given the fact that he’s a defensive coach and with the influx of new players, there’s also hope for improvement on this side of the ball.
Looking at the schedule, MSU has some sure-fire wins vs Youngstown State and Western Kentucky out of conference. The only guaranteed losses are Ohio State and Penn St. Sparty also dodges the best teams in the West and gets a rebuilding NW team in Week 1. There’s a clear path for six wins and a bowl berth. I’m on the Over.
My Prediction: OVER
Big Ten (East) Least Favorite Plays:
Ohio State: 11 Wins (O-115 / U-105)
The Buckeyes haven’t lost a regular season football game since October 20th 2018. HC Ryan Day, who took over for Urban Meyer, does not get the credit he deserves for keeping Ohio State at the pinnacle of the Big Ten. Yes, the Buckeyes have lost a lot from a season ago, but just like Alabama and Clemson, they’ll reload.
Obviously with Justin Fields now on the Bears, the QB position is the biggest question mark. The race is down to CJ Stroud, Jack Miller, or the newly enrolled Quinn Ewers. Regardless of who is under center, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson form the best WR combo in the country and will make it easier for the new signal caller. While the backfield and O Line lost some guys, I’m not concerned about those positions. This is Ohio State and they’ll quickly plug those holes.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) July 19, 2021
Defensively, Ohio State only finished 9th in the conference in Scoring D and was dead last in Passing D, giving up over 300 yards per game through the air. To make matters worse, only five starters from 2020 return. While talent is never an issue, there’s some obvious question marks entering 2021 on this side of the ball.
For a team that’s breaking in a new QB, the majority of a new OL and more than half of their defense, there’s tough tests right out of the gate. The Week 1 game at Minnesota might be more difficult than people are expecting and there’s the Week 2 matchup vs Oregon in the Horseshoe.
The Big Ten, following the SEC blueprint, has given OSU a cushiony soft schedule that includes Nebraska and Purdue from the West with zero back-to-back road trips. Additionally, they have a bye week before one of the more difficult away games on the slate, at Indiana. Either way, I don’t think this Buckeye team goes undefeated. At the end of the day, Ohio State probably goes 11-1 this year.
My Prediction: UNDER
Penn State: 8.5 Wins (O-125 / U+105)
The Nittany Lions are one of those teams in the Big Ten where we can throw last year out the window. James Franklin’s gang lost their first five games of the year before rebounding to win their last four. This year’s edition should more closely resemble the 2019 team that went 11-2. Franklin is an outstanding coach and he’ll have Penn St contending for the East.
Sean Clifford is back at QB and is entering his third year at the helm of the Nittany Lion offense. The skill position players led by WR Jahan Dotson and RB Keyvone Lee are some of the best in the conference and the OL should be improved from a year ago. There may be some shuffling in the middle of the line, but the two tackles are set, and they’re excellent. As long as Clifford plays more consistently, this O will crank out the points.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions may be in rebuilding mode. Last year’s squad finished 3rd best in the Big Ten, only allowing 328 yards per game. However, a handful of those guys are now in the NFL. There’s a ton of talent to fill those gaps, but the guys stepping up are young and inexperienced. They’ll need time to gel and grow into their roles so expect a decline in production compared to last year.
We’re going to get a feel on how good Penn State is right out of the gates. Within the first three weeks of the season, PSU travels to Wisconsin and welcomes Auburn into Happy Valley. Other tough games include road trips at Iowa and at Ohio State. I trust Franklin and this program to split those games, edge out an Over, and possibly contend with the Buckeyes for a berth in the Big Ten title game.
My Prediction: Over