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Big Ten: Leaders Division Preview

Braxton Miller and the Ohio State Buckeyes are favorites to win the Big Ten.

Braxton Miller and the Ohio State Buckeyes are favorites to win the Big Ten.

A year from now the revolving door that is conference realignment will once again take hold of the Big Ten, bringing the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights with it. From there, the 14-team conference will introduce two new divisions (East, West) to replace the oft-mocked Legends and Leaders partitions. Before all these changes roll in though, there’s the small matter of a season of football to play. That season is now less than two weeks away.

We start our Big Ten preview with a look at the soon to be extinct Leaders Division and one of the favorites to win it all this year.

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes

Big_Ten_standings_2012Last seasons, the Ohio State Buckeyes paid a hefty price for NCAA sanctions placed against the school in 2011. A Bowl ban saw the Buckeyes miss out on postseason play. Having finished the season12-0, Urban Meyer’s team should have gone to the BCS National Championship Game. But, as we all know, ‘should have’ means exactly squat.

The Buckeyes now face the tough task of proving that an undefeated season was not a fluke. We know the school can win games, but can it win them when they matter? The bookmakers certainly seem to think they can. At the time of publication, odds of the Buckeyes winning a national championship this season stand at 6/1. Only the Alabama Crimson Tide (5/2) is preferred.

In terms of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes are a runaway favorite. Odds of the school winning the Leaders Division stand at 1/5, while odds of winning the conference are currently at 5/6. Nobody even comes close.

In the wake of the ongoing Johnny Manziel investigation, Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller has been inserted as the Heisman favorite at 5/1 on Bovada’s College Football Player Props list. It’ll be down to Miller to lead the Buckeyes on the field. The team will only go as far as he can lead it.

Heading into the season, it looks like he can lead them a long way, not least because of a fairly light schedule. Outside of Big Ten play, the Buckeye’s only potentially tough game will be against the San Diego State Aztecs, a team that finished last season with nine wins. That is a very winnable game.

No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten titles.

Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten titles.

The Wisconsin Badgers secured a third consecutive Big Ten title last season, albeit by virtue of NCAA sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State. A 4-4 conference record was, to put it bluntly, appalling. The school must try harder when action resumes at the end of this month.

After head coach Brett Bielema decided to make a beeline for the Arkansas Razorbacks and the SEC, the school recruited Gary Anderson to take over the reins. Anderson led the Utah State Aggies (11-2, 7-0 WAC) to a conference championship and Potato Bowl victory last season. Now the Badgers will look to win a fourth straight conference title. Adapting to a new coach will be just one of the hurdles the Badgers face.

In a division with OSU, advancing to the Big Ten Championship Game isn’t going to be easy. The bookmakers certainly agree. Despite being second favorite to win the division, Wisconsin is 3/1 to be crowned Leaders Division champs. That’s a significant drop-off from the Buckeyes. Furthermore, the two clubs meet on September 28, which means Anderson’s side could be out of contention less than a month into the season. But an upset win there would really put the cat amongst the pigeons.

Wisconsin is 15/2 to win the Big Ten outright and 66/1 to win the national title.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Bill O'Brien will hope for continued success at PSU.

Bill O’Brien will hope for continued success at PSU.

Entering Year 2 of a four-year ban, the Penn State Nittany Lions aren’t eligible for anything this season but bettors will still need to keep one eye firmly on what’s happening at State College.

The Nittany Lions will be a threat week in week out, as evidenced by last year’s shocking (yes, shocking) 8-4 record. The school could have collapsed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky Child Sex Scandal, but somehow Bill O’Brien battened down the hatches and led PSU to a better-than-respectable season, including a 6-2 record in conference play. Penn State really has the opportunity to play spoiler in the Big Ten this season.

O’Brien’s side will face the Michigan Wolverines on October 12 before taking a week off to prepare for a trip to Ohio Stadium. The Wolverines and Buckeyes could both be in trouble there. However, there’s a sense that last season’s success may have been buoyed by an ‘Us Against the World’ approach. A season on, can Nittany Nation keep rolling on emotion?

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana will look to improve in 2013.

Indiana will look to improve in 2013.

In the world of College Football, the Indiana Hoosiers are an afterthought at best. With just two conference football titles (1945, 1967) to their name, the last of which was a shared title, nobody expects much of the Hoosiers, ever.

Thanks to the bans facing PSU and OSU last season, the Hoosiers were still in with a shot of winning the Leaders Division as late as November 10 last season, when the school lost to eventual winners, Wisconsin. Expect none of that this season. In fact, expect a repeat of last year’s eight losses in 10 games to close out the season.

Bovada has the Hoosiers at 15/1 to win the Leaders Division, ranking the school third behind OSU and Wisconsin. The school is currently 50/1 to win the Big Ten outright.

Outside of conference play, the school makes a bold(ish) move and plays the Missouri Tigers on September 21. A win there could be the highlight of the season, excluding a win over their intra-state rivals that is.

Purdue Boilermakers

Darrell Hazell takes over the reins at Purdue.

Darrell Hazell takes over the reins at Purdue.

The Purdue Boilermakers enter the season behind the Hoosiers in bookmakers’ estimations, despite finishing with a superior 6-6 record last year. There’s change afoot in Wes Lafayette, Ind., though.

After leading the Boilermakers to a 22-27 (13-19 Big Ten) record over four years, the school parted ways with head coach Danny Hope following last season. He will be replaced by Darrell Hazell who led the Kent State Golden Flashes (11-3, 8-0 MAC) to the MAC Championship Game last season.

The Boilermakers face a tough out-of-conference schedule, facing a Cincinnati Bearcats side that has potential to challenge in the American Athletic Conference, and a Notre Dame Fighting Irish side looking to repeat last year’s success. All of that before beginning a Big Ten campaign that includes games against the Michigan State Spartans and Nebraska Cornhuskers in inter-divisional play. Life is looking tough for the team in black and gold.

Bovada has the team at 28/1 to win the Leaders Division and 75/1 to win the Big Ten title. Those odds may be too respectful.

Illinois Fighting Illini

2012 was a nightmare for the Fighting Illini.

2012 was a nightmare for the Fighting Illini.

We close out our preview of the Leaders Division with last year’s doormat, the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Last season, the Illini put together a woeful 2-10 record, failing to pick up a win within the conference in the process. Nobody expected the school, which finished 7-6 a year earlier, to struggle quite to that extent. This year, the team is expected to struggle.

Odds of the Illini winning the division stand at 33/1 while bookmakers have the school at 100/1 to win the Big Ten. Any chance the school has looks likely to be shot early; the Illini faces Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State in its first four conference games.

Still, as the old adage goes, anybody can win. So even Illinois will be looking to make a go of it as the Big Ten prepares to make changes next season.

* * * * *

Click here for the BettingSports.com preview of the Big Ten’s Legends Division and see how the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska will fair come kick-off.

The Big Ten season commences Thursday August 29 with a pair of games at 7:00 p.m. ET. The Hoosiers host the Indiana State Sycamores of the FCS’ Missouri Valley Conference, while the Minnesota Golden Gophers welcome the Mountain West’s UNLV Rebels.

Conference play begins September 21 with Purdue at Wisconsin.

For Bovada’s latest conference odds across College Football, click here.

For the latest team props, click here.

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