Like Clemson in the ACC and Oklahoma in the Big 12, Ohio State has been a step above the rest of its competition in the Big Ten in recent years.
The Buckeyes have won three straight Big Ten titles, going a combined 25-2 in conference play in the process. In 2019, the transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day was seamless. Having a quarterback like Justin Fields transfer in from Georgia helped, too.
Fields meshed perfectly with Day’s offense, carving up Big Ten foes on a weekly basis and finishing as a Heisman finalist before OSU ultimately lost a heartbreaker to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Entering 2020, the Buckeyes again are the favorite to finish atop the Big Ten standings, according to odds from BetMGM. There is a significant gap between Ohio State (-250) and its top challengers, Michigan (+550), Penn State (+900) and Wisconsin (+900).
Full Big Ten conference title odds, via BetMGM
Ohio State: -250
Penn State: +900
Michigan State: +4000
Note: Sportsbooks in New Jersey do not make Rutgers available for betting
The first takeaway here is the perceived strength at the top of the Big Ten East. Many publications have pointed to Penn State as Ohio State’s top challenger yet again in the division, but MGM has Michigan at +550 and the Nittany Lions at +900 (curiously, the Big Ten East divisional odds favor PSU).
Michigan is losing a ton of production from a 2019 team that went 9-4. Things started to click offensively under new coordinator Josh Gattis late in the year, but the Wolverines were completely overmatched against Ohio State and Alabama in the last two games of the season. Don Brown’s defenses have always been strong, but will an offense with a bevy of new faces (including at quarterback) be able to finally overtake the rival Buckeyes? I’m a little skeptical and think PSU poses a bigger threat.
Big Ten East odds
Ohio State: -200
Penn State: +325
Michigan State: +8000
If you’re confident in Ohio State, BetMGM’s Big Ten East division odds can give you a little more bang for your buck (-200 vs. -250) without worrying about a potential upset in the conference championship game. Elsewhere, wagers on Penn State or Michigan to win the division would return a nice payday. Indiana, Michigan State and Maryland are considered long shots.
Big Ten West odds
Since the Big Ten switched to an East and West divisional format, a team from the East division has won the Big Ten championship game every year. That is six consecutive seasons in all, with four of those titles coming from Ohio State with Penn State and Michigan State each winning it once apiece.
That history makes it tough to confidently bet on a Big Ten West team to win the conference, so a divisional bet is a safer investment. Wisconsin, a four-time Big Ten West division champion, is the favorite and is a low-risk play at +160.
Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota are not too far behind. Iowa has consistently finished near the top of the division standings, but the recent turmoil in Iowa City could understandably make you want to stay away from an early wager. Nebraska has been a disappointment under Scott Frost so far. Minnesota is thriving under P.J. Fleck and is coming off a historic 11-2 season in 2019.
Best bet: Ohio State to win Big Ten East (-200)
With the amount of talent coming back and the amount of talent stockpiled all throughout the depth chart, it’s hard to confidently bet on a team other than Ohio State. And the fact that you can get better odds on a division title (-200) compared to the conference as a whole (-250) makes this a pretty safe investment. There will be unproven players at key positions in 2020 for OSU, but when a program recruits at this high of a level, those perceived holes do not bring the same level of concern that they would at an average program.
Best value: Penn State to win Big Ten (+900)
If you’re looking for a potentially substantial return on your investment, Penn State is the way to go. The Nittany Lions return an abundance of talent, especially on defense. The secondary is full of experience and the linebacker group led by Micah Parsons is explosive. Offensively, PSU could have the most running back depth in the country and has four returning starters on the offensive line. PSU will play Ohio State at home this year, too. The Nittany Lions are worth throwing a few dollars at, especially at +900.
Sleeper pick: Minnesota to win Big Ten (+2500)
Could Minnesota’s out-of-nowhere 11-win season in 2019 have been a flash in the pan? Sure. But a team coming off an 11-2 season that was capped off with a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl getting 25-1 odds to win its conference is a long shot bet worth making. And if you want something a little more realistic, go with the Gophers to win the Big Ten West at +525. With Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman back on offense, Minnesota is going to be tough to handle yet again.
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