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Will the Big Ten Return to the College Football Playoff?




The Big Ten Conference is expected to be the best in the country this season, but after getting shut out of the CFB Playoff last year, can they return to vie for the National Championship this season?

Big Ten East Division is Now Best in College Football

The first full week of the college football season kicks off this week, and the sports books are ready for the betting action. The Big Ten Conference is expected to be the best in the country this season, as many experts and power rating pros believe the Big Ten is slightly stronger than the perennial power of the SEC this season.

While the focus during the football season should be on team performance and betting on lines, totals, props and in-game wagering for those more astute bettors, there is plenty of discussion and interest in looking ahead to the college football playoff. Futures odds have been posted for months on which teams will win each conference, advance to the 4-team college football playoff, win the national championship along with season over/under win totals and individual prop odds like the Heisman Trophy. 

Legalized sports betting in the U.S. is generating more interest in the games, and college football will join the NFL this season with record-breaking wagering. Here’s a look at the Big Ten teams and opening week games, along with the favorites to win the conference and make a run at the college football playoff.

Betting lines taken from leading reduced juice sportsbook 5Dimes.

Purdue (-2.5) hosts Northwestern in a Big Ten West division battle on Thursday, Aug. 30. Minnesota (-21) also plays Thursday as a big non-conference favorite, while Michigan State (-23.5) and Wisconsin (-35.5) open their seasons on Friday as huge home favorites in non-conference play. 

Saturday, Sept. 1 has a big slate of games and the remaining Big Ten teams are all favorites in non-conference action. Ohio State (-37.5), Penn State (-24), Nebraska (-24.5) are expected to roll based on linemaker expectations, while Illinois (-16.5) and Rutgers (-16), both picked to finish last in the Big Ten East and West divisions, are laying more than 2 touchdowns. Indiana (-10.5) and Michigan (+1) open on the road, while Iowa (-10.5) completes the Saturday conference favorites. Maryland (+13) is a big underdog in non-conference play, although Michigan did open a 7-point road underdog at #11 Notre Dame more than three months ago at the South Point sports book in Las Vegas before being bet down sharply to +1.

Big 10 top conferenceThe Big Ten has five teams ranked in the top-15 of the Amway Coaches Poll – Ohio State (3), Wisconsin (7), Penn State (9), Michigan State (12) and Michigan (14). Four of those teams play in the East Division of the Big Ten Conference. Those five teams are also expected to field the top 5-or-6 defenses in the Big Ten this season. The strength of the Big Ten East now rivals the SEC West, which has dominated the NCAA championship hunt for the past decade. The Big Ten, and specifically the East Division has earned the respect. The conference went 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS in bowl games last season, and all seven wins came against Power 5 conference opponents including four over ranked opponents.

Based on various sets of power ratings, a number of top experts ranked the Big Ten as the No. 1 conference in college football at the conclusion of the 2017 season, despite not placing a single team in the college football playoff. The Big Ten looks poised to perform at a high level again in 2018, but that doesn’t mean the best teams will be a big money-maker in the betting market. Researching and analyzing the games, stats, match-ups, scheduling and situational factors is part of the process to produce profit when wagering on college football. That includes understanding motivation and when a team may suffer a letdown and not play at peak performance. 

The 4-team College Football Playoff started following the 2014 regular season. Ohio State went on to win the national championship after beating Alabama 42-35 in the semi-finals and Oregon 42-20 in the championship game. The Buckeyes were the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and won both games as an underdog of 6-8 points.

Michigan State represented the Big Ten in the 2016 CFB Playoff, but the Spartans were smacked in the national semi-finals by Alabama 38-0. Ohio State returned for the 2017 CFB Playoff, but the Buckeyes were buried in the national semi-finals 31-0 by Clemson. Last season the Big Ten was shutout of the CFB Playoff when undefeated Wisconsin could not rise up to the challenge and suffered a form of letdown in losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game to eliminate the conference from a national title shot. 

In June, the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas released opening odds for teams to make the 4-team College Football Playoff. Ohio State (5-4) and Michigan (3-1) were two of the top five favorites to reach the CFB Playoff. The current odds now have Ohio State (4-5) and Michigan (3-1) the favorites followed by Wisconsin (4-1), Penn State (5-1), Michigan State (8-1), Nebraska (25-1), Iowa (80-1), Northwestern (125-1), Purdue (125-1), Minnesota (125-1), Indiana (500-1), Maryland (500-1), Rutgers (2,000-1) and Illinois (2,000-1).  

Is the Big Ten ready to return to the College Football Playoff? The odds at the leading online sportsbooks suggest yes.

You can bet on it.

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay