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What Vegas Oddsmakers Think About How Gophers Fit in the Big Ten West

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How the division looks through the eyes of the odds-makers.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Last week I got an e-mail with the Over/Under win totals for college football teams (per Bovada) and I decided to take a look a the Big Ten West teams.  I wanted to see where Vegas thinks the Gophers will fit in, as they typically set a number that makes things interesting.  A year ago the Gopher number was 5.5, to which Gopher fans (including myself) thought was too low for a team coming off back-to-back 8-win seasons and a very experienced defense.  Turns out things hit the fan, players got hurt, coach retired midseason, pet's heads were falling off and the Gophers fell under with 5 regular season wins.

The Big Ten West win totals at a glance...

  • Nebraska - 9.5
  • Iowa - 8
  • Wisconsin - 7.5
  • Minnesota - 6.5
  • Northwestern - 6.5
  • Purdue - 6
  • Illinois - 4.5

Nothing terribly surprising here right?  Well besides Nebraska, but I'll get to that in a moment.  Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin are projected to be atop the West.  Minnesota and Northwestern are the next ones in line with a shot.  Purdue at 6 is a little high, but then Illinois lagging far behind is as expected.  But let's get into each team with a GN lock for your betting pleasure.

NEBRASKA - 9.5

I'm not sure what more to say about this one other than, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

So the Huskers are coming off a 5-win season and these Vegas odds project them to a 5-win increase over last year.  Must be a really easy schedule coupled with a returning starter at QB right?  WRONG (at least about the easy schedule part, they are returning their starting QB)!  Yes, I know they lost a lot of close games and their turnover margin very unfortunate.  But Losing close games one year doesn't translate into winning close ones the next.  Especially when you consider their schedule.

Nebraska gets Oregon in the non-conference and then @Ohio State, @Iowa and @Wisconsin.  So before we get into their other 8 games on the schedule, lets do a little math.

They play 12 total games and can only lose 2.  And they travel to Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin...plus they host Oregon.  The rest of their schedule is fairly easy, I'll give them that.  Fresno State, Wyoming, Illinois, @Indiana, Purdue, Maryland are all considered wins for them.  Their two games in the toss-up range would be @Northwestern and hosting Minnesota.

  • WINS (6) - Fresno, Wyoming, Ill, @Ind, Pur, Maryland
  • TOUGH CALL (4) - @Northwestern, @Wisconsin, Minnesota, @Iowa
  • LOSS (2) - Oregon, @Ohio State 

The only possible explanation for this number is that Vegas is understanding the mindset of the Husker fan.  The nation sees more like 7-8 wins, Husker Nation sees 10...so the number is 9.5.  They obviously improve upon their 5 wins from last year, but 10 is a pretty big jump.  If they manage to win 3 of those difficult 4 and go without stubbing their toe in the other 8 games...they can have my money.  I'm taking the UNDER here.

IOWA - 8

The 12-win team from a year ago that dodged every possible landmine and managed to get into the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl.

Their season should start off with a number of wins, hosting Miami (OH), Iowa State and North Dakota State with the latter two games being potential missteps but I doubt it.  Then they go to Rutgers to start the Big Ten season before things start to get interesting.

Hosting Northwestern seems like a win but they have a thing with losing to the Wildcats.  Then a rivalry road game in Minnesota.  A bye week trip to Purdue and then another big game hosting Wisconsin.  Then at Penn State, home to Michigan, at Illinois and then ending with Nebraska coming to Iowa City.

  • WINS (6) - Miami (OH), Iowa St, NDSU, @Rutgers, @Purdue, @Illinois
  • TOUGH CALL (5) - Northwestern, @Minnesota, Wisconsin, @Penn St, Nebraska
  • LOSS (1) - Michigan
  • So the Hawkeyes have a number of those toss up type games and they have to win 3 of the 5 to get over the 8 win total.  Can they do it?  Am I underestimating the Hawkeyes like everyone did a year ago?  Maybe.  Those lucky dawgs get Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan at home.  I really think 8 is their number and nine is possible.  Their trip to Minnesota might be the one that makes the difference on this bet.  This one is going to be a push I think so I'm not sure where to bet here.  UNDER if you think the injury gods and laws of returning the mean will play out.  OVER if you think their schedule is just too good for their own good and something Hawkeye fans don't deserve.  I'm not making a call here.

    WISCONSIN - 7.5

    Unlike Iowa, Wisconsin's season is front-loaded with some tough games and then it doesn't get much easier.  The task of getting to 8 wins is going to be as much about getting over what may be a slow start and building some momentum in the middle of the schedule to get them through to 8.

    Their first four games are LSU on neutral field, Akron and Georgia State will be sacrificed before the Badgers go to Michigan State.  A 2-2 record in the first third of the schedule is very possible.  So what is the path to 6 more wins in the final 8 games?

    Oh WAIT...it gets even tougher!  Up next? At Michigan, hosting Ohio State, at Iowa, Nebraska and at Northwestern.  So through 9 games, even if I'm generous the Badgers are looking at 4-5ish.  Then things calm down a bit with games against Illinois and Purdue (does location really matter) and then a season ending game with Minnesota coming to town.  At this point the Badgers might be fighting to get bowl eligible or maybe they've secured a lower-tier bowl and are just playing for The Axe after an unusually down year in Madison.

  • WINS (4) - Akron, Georgia St, Illinois, @Purdue
  • TOUGH CALL (5) - @Michigan St, @Iowa, Nebraska, @Northwestern, Minnesota
  • LOSS (3) - LSU, @Michigan, Ohio St
  • 4 guaranteed wins makes it tougher to get them to 8 especially with so many road games in that toss-up bucket.  I think Michigan State and Iowa are most likely losses and I'd give them the edge over Minnesota and Northwestern with Nebraska being a true toss up.  Six or seven seems like the number here so I guess I'm taking the UNDER again.

    MINNESOTA - 6.5

    Trying to be only slightly homerish here, but this is a Gopher blog and every fan of their own team is typically optimistic in August...so sue me.  I've heard it around here often that 8 wins is the mark for whether or not this season is a success.  Vegas says 7 would be a successful one and 8 would be pretty significant.

    The Gophers get a major break this year from the Big Ten schedulers getting to drop Michigan and Ohio State (Thanks, Jim) and we did ourselves a favor by replacing TCU with Oregon State who won just 2 games last year. But the Gophers really have their schedule broken up into four 3-game sets.  Two of which should all be wins and the other two sets are in the toss-up bucket.

    Set 1 - Oregon State, Indiana State, Colorado State...all home and all should be wins.

    Set 2 - @Penn State, Iowa, @Maryland...could they win all three? Sure.  Could they lose all three?  Yeah, I'm afraid so.  This is the key three-game stretch in my opinion.  Win two here and the rest of your season sets up very nicely.

    Set 3 - Rutgers, @Illinois, Purdue...this really has to be three wins.  Yes, they are all Big Ten teams and shit happens, but these have to be wins.

    Set 4 - @Nebraska, Northwestern, @Wisconsin...by now the Gophers could be 7-2 or better (or worse, but go with me here) and getting three games to clinch a Big Ten West title.

    Back to the number and bucketing as I bucketed the rest...

  • WINS (6) - Oregon St, Indiana St, Colorado St, Rutgers, @Illinois, Purdue
  • TOUGH CALL (6) - @PSU, Iowa, @Maryland, @Nebraska, Northwestern, @Wisconsin
  • LOSS (0) - none
  • So here's the deal with Minnesota, to hit 7 and make the over, they really only have to win one of those 6 games and none of them are inconceivable.  I would "lean" loss in a few of those but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them win 2 of those in the middle.  When we play Nebraska, they'll be coming off trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin while we just finished up playing Illinois and Purdue.  Iowa and Northwestern are home games.  And Wisconsin in the final game of the year may not be playing for anything other than pride after getting beat up on a brutal schedule.

    With 6.5 as the number I feel OK calling for the OVER for the Gophers.  In my mind the final number will be 7 or 8.  Winning two games in the second set of games would really give them a ton of confidence to finish out the rest of the season.

    NORTHWESTERN - 6.5

    A very similar situation to the Gophers in that they will have three non-conference wins and then a number of toss-up games in the middle.  The on caveat with the Wildcats is that they get trips to Ohio State and Michigan State on their schedule (while the Gophers get Rutgers). Straight to the buckets...

  • WINS (6) - Western Michigan, Illinois St, Duke, Indiana, @Purdue, Illinois
  • TOUGH CALL (4) - Nebraska, @Iowa, Wisconsin, @Minnesota
  • LOSS (2) - @Michigan St, @Ohio St 
  • Again...like Minnesota...they have six games that really should be wins.  Four against the other good B1GW teams and then two likely losses.  Can they squeak one win in there?  I think probably, I just don't see any of these five teams pulling away.  They will all beat each other once or twice.  For the Wildcats, I'd take the OVER.

    PURDUE - 6

    Maybe you are like me and think UNDER without even looking at the schedule...that seems like a big number for Purdue. This team has 6 wins in the last three years combined and Vegas thinks 6 is the right numbers?  This one seems a little off as well but we should look at the schedule.

    Yes, I know they have a very experienced roster returning.  Yes, they also get to drop Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State...that's all great news for the Boilermakers.  But in the non-conference they scheduled Cincinnati...that's not going to help them get to 6 or 7 wins. I'll go to the bucketing and be generous.

  • WINS (3) - Eastern Kentucky, Nevada, @Illinois
  • TOUGH CALL (3) - Cincinnati, @Maryland, @Indiana
  • LOSS (6) - Iowa, @Nebraska, Penn St, @Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin
  • This team really could (should) start off 3-2 with even a decent chance at 4-1.  That kind of start and confidence will go a long way towards that magical 6th win to earn an extra game.  And I know that we can count on Purdue-harbor happening and you can move one of their "losses" into a win.  But even with that I just don't see how 7 wins happens here.  This would be my second biggest lock behind Nebraska and I'd say the UNDER here.

    ILLINOIS - 4.5

    Can the Illini get to 5 wins under new head coach Lovie Smith?

    They didn't follow the Jerry Kill plan and ditch North Carolina from their schedule.  The Tar Heels have an over-under at 9 wins and that would indicate to me that they will have a legit team.  The other two non-conference foes should likely be wins for Illinois.  But the B1G schedule isn't exactly favorable.  Michigan and Michigan State are on the slate with Rutgers on the road and Purdue at home as winnable conference games.

  • WINS (2) - Murray State, Western Michigan
  • TOUGH CALL (2) - Purdue, @Rutgers
  • LOSS (6) - North Carolina, @Nebraska, @Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan St, @Wisconsin, Iowa, @Northwestern
  • So if everything breaks their way and they manage an upset or two, Illinois is capable of hitting 5 wins.  I'm not even very confident in their toss-up games so I just can't do anything here except call for the UNDER.

    So, I realize that I took the under an awful lot here.  But looking at the lines, there are going to have to be more unders than overs or the math just doesn't work (unless the Big Ten West dominates the East, including Ohio State and Michigan).  And considering that there is not a lot to differentiate the top 5 teams, there is going to be a little bit of beating each other up here.  There are just going to be more unders than overs.  Nebraska (under), Wisconsin (under) and Purdue (under) are your best bets.  Minnesota with the over seems to be an OK bet and the rest I wouldn't feel strongly enough to actually place money.