2021 Big Ten Football Picks & Predictions
The Big Ten should return to a normal football existence in 2021, a year after it canceled its season, un-canceled it, and then played a choppy eight-game league schedule packed with cancelations. It will be a welcome return for the league’s players and coaches, and also for bettors looking for value amid a little less uncertainty than 2020 presented.
Here are six futures bets to consider ahead of kickoff this fall. If you don’t mind letting a sportsbook hold your money for a few months, futures are a fun way to track the action over the course of a season. They can also be a good place to find value. Let’s try to do both here.
Alex Kirshner's Best Big Ten Football Futures Picks
Ohio State to win the conference (-220)
I like this bet a lot more than betting the over on the Buckeyes’ win total (11), because they have a losable non-conference game against Oregon. But I don’t think they’ll lose more than once in the Big Ten, and avoiding multiple losses should once again punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game, where they should win for a fifth year in a row. Generally speaking, I don’t advise taking negative juice on a futures bet. But the gap between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten has gotten so large that even a shaky performance by new QB C.J. Stroud will not be enough for the rest of the league to catch up. There are few “safe” investments in college football betting, but betting on Ohio State to beat the Big Ten is among the safer wagers you could place. And the rate of return isn’t so bad if you view this futures bet as an investment.
Maryland: Under 5.5 wins (+115)
The Terps have the talent of a seven-win team. But they are relying completely on keeping their quarterback, Taulia Tagovailoa, healthy. They have zero depth at the position, and their offensive line looks bad enough that I’m concerned they won’t be able to keep Tagovailoa on the field. (I’d very much like to be wrong about this, even if it means losing a futures pick.) The line should be one of the worst in the Big Ten. The defense has one of the best safeties in the country in Nick Cross, but the front might get bulled against the league’s beefier teams. In a tough East division, it’s hard to see Maryland getting to six wins unless it goes 3-0 in non-conference play, and that slate has two potential losses in West Virginia and MAC upstart Kent State. My bet here is that the Terps are a year away from returning to a bowl.
Michigan State: Over 5 wins (+100)
A lot of people, including some smart ones, think MSU is going to be terrible this year. They might be right. But the Spartans are right near the national average in overall returning production, and I expect them to look a little more put-together than they did during the 2020 pandemic season. For one thing, the circumstances of the year made it hard for anyone to build continuity, so I don’t make too much of a 2-5 record. For another, head coach Mel Tucker was a late hire, coming aboard from Colorado in February, one month before the world stopped. I think he’ll have things in better order this fall. The quarterback situation is unclear and not great, but then again, it hasn’t been great for years at this point. I also see a lot of potentially bad teams on this schedule, including Northwestern, FCS Youngstown State, Nebraska, Western Kentucky, Rutgers, Purdue, and Maryland. A 5-2 record in those games is not an unreasonable ask. Then, all we’d need for the over is a stolen game against Michigan, Penn State, or Miami –– three talented teams that have plenty of problems. I expect to see a 6-6 MSU record.
Minnesota: Under 6.5 wins (+105)
The Gophers have their QB back in Tanner Morgan, but their offense should look unrecognizable from the one that took the conference by storm two years ago. Receiver Rashod Bateman has joined tandem-mate Tyler Johnson in the NFL, and the offense doesn’t seem to have the playmakers it did when Morgan and those two wideouts were so dominant in 2019. The Gophers are going to have a hard time winning four games in the Big Ten, so they’ll need to go 3-0 in non-conference to bust this total. Unfortunately, I think at least one of Colorado and Miami (Ohio) is going to beat them, which would leave the under in tremendous shape.
Purdue: Under 5 wins (+105)
I like getting good juice on futures bets –– well, on any bet, but especially on futures bets –– and I’m not sure why we should expect Purdue to get to bowl eligibility. Jeff Brohm is a smart schematic mind, but the Boilermakers have slipped consistently the last two years. The program does not have a clear answer at quarterback, though either Aidan O’Connell or Jack Plummer could turn out to be OK. The secondary is probably going to be mega-bad, and the defensive front is uninspiring outside of talented edge player George Karlaftis. The offense will rely a ton on the health and consistency of one player, receiver David Bell, and could crumble rapidly if one or two things fall out of place. I think there’s a good chance the Boilers lose at home in Week 1 to Oregon State, in which case this bet will immediately look excellent.
Indiana to win the conference (+2000)
If you’re interested in buying a lottery ticket, you could do worse than taking IU at such favorable odds, where a $100 bet would return $2,000 in profit. No, the Hoosiers probably will not win the Big Ten. But they have the league’s best proven QB in Michael Penix Jr., and they have one of the conference’s best wide receiver groups as well. The Hoosiers are a long shot but not an impossibility, and that makes them an intriguing play at this number.
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