2022 College Football Win Total Projections, Odds & Picks: Big 10

C.J. Stroud Ohio State

In the article below, college football expert Thor Nystrom projects the spread for every game using his ATL system (Adjusted Thor Spread). These spreads are from the perspective of the team in question — i.e., Army is a +2.5 underdog at Coastal Carolina and a -5 favorite hosting UTSA.

Here are his total win projections, odds, and picks for the Big 10.

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Ohio State Buckeyes
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 2 out of 131




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Notre Dame
Ohio St.
Sat, Sep 3
-16.5
0.998


Arkansas St.
Ohio St.
Sat, Sep 10
-45.5
1


Toledo
Ohio St.
Sat, Sep 17
-30.0
1


Wisconsin
Ohio St.
Sat, Sep 24
-21.0
1


Rutgers
Ohio St.
Sat, Oct 1
-36.0
1


Ohio St.
Michigan St.
Sat, Oct 8
-15.5
0.963


Iowa
Ohio St.
Sat, Oct 22
-21.5
1


Ohio St.
Penn St.
Sat, Oct 29
-13.5
0.9


Ohio St.
Northwestern
Sat, Nov 5
-31.0
1


Indiana
Ohio St.
Sat, Nov 12
-38.5
1


Ohio St.
Maryland
Sat, Nov 19
-24.0
1


Michigan
Ohio St.
Sat, Nov 26
-15.5
0.963

 

Last year’s 11-2 team was dominant offensively (No. 1 SP+), strong defensively (No. 20 SP+), and dominant on special teams (No. 3 SP+). The defense held seven opponents to 20 points or less but was ultimately the reason Ohio State didn’t qualify for the CFP. OSU was bullied up-front against Oregon and Michigan. In those two games, the Buckeyes combined for zero sacks and one TFL while allowing 566 rushing yards on 7.2 YPC.

Ohio State’s defense had two tree-top issues in 2021: It could struggle to get off the field, stealing precious seconds from the incredible offense (No. 81 in efficiency and No. 102 in three-and-out percentage), and it was poor in the red zone (No. 123 in red zone TD rate). Poor situationally and in big spots, HC Ryan Day pulled the plug on DC Kerry Coombs. OSU hired one of the game’s best defensive coordinators, Jim Knowles, this offseason. With eight starters returning, expectations are sky-high. When the media asked Knowles last week about Day’s comment that he expected a top-10 defense in 2022, Knowles replied that he wished Day had said top-5.

The offense, despite losing WRs Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson and TE Jeremy Ruckert, is going to be incredible again – perhaps even a little better than last year’s No. 1 unit. In 2021, Ohio State started freshmen at both QB and RB. QB CJ Stroud and RB TreVeyon Henderson spent the season making air-tight cases that they’re top-2 players at their respective positions. Now, both are battle-tested. Incredibly, the WR corps shouldn’t fall off much, seeing as though it has the nation’s best WR (Jaxon Smith-Njigba) and five-star sophomores WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, and Emeke Egbuka ready to assume prime-time roles.


Thor’s projected win total: 11.8
Las Vegas win total: 10.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

Ohio State has the luxury of playing eight home games. One of them is Notre Dame (the other two OOC games are cupcakes). Luckily, that game is the opener, before the Irish has established an identity under a new HC and with a new QB. In conference play, the Buckeyes get Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan at home. The two tricky road games are at Michigan State and Penn State. My numbers have Alabama and Ohio State clearly ahead of any other team – I expect to see those two meet in the CFP title game. Give me the over.

Michigan Wolverines
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 5 out of 131




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Colorado St.
Michigan
44807
-31.5
1


Hawaii
Michigan
44814
-33.5
1


Connecticut
Michigan
44821
-41.5
1


Maryland
Michigan
44828
-15.5
0.963


Michigan
Iowa
44835
-3.5
0.643


Michigan
Indiana
44842
-20.5
1


Penn St.
Michigan
44849
-6.5
0.724


Michigan St.
Michigan
44863
-7.5
0.781


Michigan
Rutgers
44870
-18.5
1


Nebraska
Michigan
44877
-9.5
0.811


Illinois
Michigan
44884
-23.5
1


Michigan
Ohio St.
44891
15.5
0.037

 

The Wolverines bounced back emphatically from 2020’s 2-4 disappointment to make a CFP run in 2021. That 12-2 team lost very little on offense over the offseason. The two losses of note – RB Hassan Haskins and RT Andrew Stueber – are replaceable. The RB duo of Blake Corum/Donovan Edwards should be just as productive as the Haskins/Corum duo. The Wolverines signed 2021 second-team All-American C Olu Oluwatimi to augment a line that returns four starters. This year’s offensive line should be even better than last year’s, and you should expect more explosive plays out of the Wolverines’ offense.

Michigan was hit much harder on the defensive side of the ball, with three top-45 NFL Draft picks moving on (including 1.2 pick EDGE Aidan Hutchinson). At least up front, the Wolverines should keep the good times rolling. DT Mazi Smith was recently named the No. 1 Freak on Bruce Feldman’s annual list. Interestingly, two more projected DL rotation pieces also made the list.

The questions for the defense come at linebacker and in the secondary. The Wolverines need to replace two starters at each. The replacements were all highly-touted prospects, and Michigan’s staff gets the benefit of the doubt on defense. But we’ll need games to start to know how far this group will fall off from last year’s defense.


Thor’s projected win total: 9.9
Las Vegas win total: 9.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

The Wolverines have about as easy a schedule as you’ll see a blueblood play. The three OC games are all pay-offs to cupcakes. The Wolverines get Iowa, Michigan State, and Nebraska at home in Big 10 play. There are only two losable road games on the schedule – at Iowa and at Ohio State. My system leans over, but I’m going to pass because it’s impossible to know exactly what the defense will be.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 13 out of 131




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Penn St.
Purdue
Thur, Sep 1
-4.5
0.673


Ohio
Penn St.
44814
-33
1


Penn St.
Auburn
44821
1
0.488


Central Michigan
Penn St.
44828
-23
1


Northwestern
Penn St.
44835
-20
1


Penn St.
Michigan
44849
6.5
0.277


Minnesota
Penn St.
44856
-9
0.807


Ohio St.
Penn St.
44863
13.5
0.1


Penn St.
Indiana
44870
-17
1


Maryland
Penn St.
44877
-12.5
0.887


Penn St.
Rutgers
44884
-15
0.956


Michigan St.
Penn St.
44891
-4
0.658

 

Penn State returns only 11 starters from a program that is 11-11 since 2020. That sentence portends pessimism, but there’s another story to tell here. The Nits actually started 5-0, beating Wisconsin and Auburn and reaching the top 5 of the AP poll. But the team had a fatal flaw – a bad offensive line and uninspiring RBs – and those came to the fore after QB Sean Clifford got hurt against Iowa. PSU stumbled to a 2-6 finish.

Because of the aforementioned issues, PSU’s offense last year often devolved into forcing targets at WR Jahan Dotson. Though Dotson has departed, WKU transfer Mitchell Tinsley (87 catches last year) joins Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith in what should be a strong WR corps. The No. 118 rushing attack from last year should be much better after adding five-star RBs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen. The problematic offensive line lost three starters but added two highly sought-after transfers – the only way to go is up.

Whereas the offense returns seven starters, the defense returns only four. DC Brent Pry left to become Virginia Tech’s HC, but HC James Franklin got a strong replacement in Manny Diaz. The secondary, led by prime NFL prospect CB Joey Porter Jr., is an enormous strength. There are more questions along the front seven, which must replace four starters.


Thor’s projected win total: 8.7
Las Vegas win total: 8.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

PSU’s fortunes this year will come down to three things: RB play, OL play, and whether the defense can stay anywhere close to as good as it was last season. The offense can’t help but take a big step forward from last year’s No. 72 SP+ finish, but how much might PSU drop from its No. 6 defensive standing? With my number so close to the Las Vegas line and too many unknowable questions, I’m going to pass.

Michigan State Spartans
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 15 out of 131




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Western Michigan
Michigan St.
Fri, Sep 2
-26.5
1


Akron
Michigan St.
Sat, Sep 10
-33.5
1


Michigan St.
Washington
Sat, Sep 17
-4
0.658


Minnesota
Michigan St.
Sat, Sep 24
-7
0.752


Michigan St.
Maryland
Sat, Oct 1
-6.5
0.724


Ohio St.
Michigan St.
Sat, Oct 8
15.5
0.037


Wisconsin
Michigan St.
Sat, Oct 15
-3
0.594


Michigan St.
Michigan
Sat, Oct 29
7.5
0.219


Michigan St.
Illinois
Sat, Nov 5
-14.5
0.949


Rutgers
Michigan St.
Sat, Nov 12
-18
1


Indiana
Michigan St.
Sat, Nov 19
-20.5
1


Michigan St.
Penn St.
Sat, Nov 26
4
0.342

 

Last summer, the Big 10 media selected Michigan to finish last place in the Big 10 East (significantly behind Rutgers!). Instead, the Spartans went 11-2, finished in the top 10, and awarded HC Mel Tucker with a 10- year, $95 million extension. Tucker’s breakout star, All-American RB Kenneth Walker, is now in the NFL, and three of the starting offensive linemen who helped pave the way for his 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns graduated.

Tucker rewound the clock in attempting to fill Walker’s enormous shoes, dipping into the transfer portal for Jarek Broussard (Colorado) and Jalen Berger (Wisconsin). Only five starters return on offense. To keep the good times rolling on offense, Tucker needs another developmental step from QB Payton Thorne (school-record 27 TD passes last year), the emergence of either Broussard (2020 P12 OPoY) or Berger, and the new-look offensive line to sort itself out.

The biggest weakness of last year’s team was the paper-mache pass defense, which finished dead-last in the nation in YPG allowed (324.8… the exact same number Alabama QB Bryce Young averaged!!). To be fair, MSU’s schedule featured five of the top 13 passing offenses in the country. Further, though MSU ranked a lowly No. 114 in yards per drive and No. 115 in three-out percentage, the Spartans finished No. 30 in SP+ defense in part by being awesome in the red zone, finishing No. 25 in points per scoring opportunity allowed and No. 19 in red zone TD rate. With nine starters returning on defense, including the entire secondary, expect overall improvement.


Thor’s projected win total: 8.3
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

The Spartans are aided by a forgiving three-game OOC slate. In the Big 10 play, Sparty avoids Iowa, Nebraska and Purdue but draws Wisconsin and Minnesota. In sum, my numbers projected MSU as underdogs in only three games. My system makes a case for the over. But with the variance that comes from half the schedule having projected spreads of 7.5-points-or-less, and with MSU enjoying considerable fortune last year that may normalize in 2022, I’m going to pass.

Wisconsin Badgers
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 18 out of 131




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Illinois St.
Wisconsin
Thur, Sep 1
-43
1


Washington St.
Wisconsin
Sat, Sep 10
-15
0.956


New Mexico St.
Wisconsin
Sat, Sep 17
-38
1


Wisconsin
Ohio St.
Sat, Sep 24
21
0


Illinois
Wisconsin
Sat, Oct 1
-18
1


Wisconsin
Northwestern
Sat, Oct 15
-12.5
0.887


Wisconsin
Michigan St.
Sat, Oct 22
3
0.406


Purdue
Wisconsin
Sat, Oct 29
-7
0.752


Maryland
Wisconsin
Sat, Nov 5
-10
0.836


Wisconsin
Iowa
Sat, Nov 12
2
0.465


Wisconsin
Nebraska
Sat, Nov 19
1
0.488


Minnesota
Wisconsin
Sat, Nov 26
-6.5
0.724

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Badgers have a star running back and a deep RB room, a top-5 national offensive line, poor quarterbacks, mediocre WRs, and a solid defense.

You should expect the offense to look as it always does. QB Graham Mertz has been a bust (19/16 TD/INT ratio) and hasn’t shown signs of development. RBs Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi have a good shot to surpass 2k combined rushing yards behind an awesome offensive line that returns five starters. Vicious power-run game with a shaky play-action passing game… the same story as always.

The defense is where things get interesting. Seemingly an annual top-10 defense, the Badgers were even better than usual last year, finishing No. 2 SP+. But that unit lost a metric ton this offseason, including eight of the top-10 tacklers. Eight starters departed, three of whom were drafted, four more of whom signed as UDFA. Only three starters return this fall. This fall, we get a referendum on whether the system can produce even with scant experience returning.


Thor’s projected win total: 8.5
Las Vegas win total: 8.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

The offense should be a little better, and the defense should be a little worse. But, overall, this team is very much in line with your older brothers’ Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin feels likely to finish 8-4 or 9-3. With my number exactly on the sportsbooks’, I have to pass.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 23 out of 131




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South Dakota St.
Iowa
Sat, Sep 3
-39.5
1


Iowa St.
Iowa
Sat, Sep 10
-9.5
0.811


Nevada
Iowa
Sat, Sep 17
-28.5
1


Iowa
Rutgers
Sat, Sep 24
-12.5
0.887


Michigan
Iowa
Sat, Oct 1
3.5
0.357


Iowa
Illinois
Sat, Oct 8
-13
0.893


Iowa
Ohio St.
Sat, Oct 22
21.5
0


Northwestern
Iowa
Sat, Oct 29
-17
1


Iowa
Purdue
Sat, Nov 5
-2
0.535


Wisconsin
Iowa
Sat, Nov 12
-2
0.535


Iowa
Minnesota
Sat, Nov 19
-1
0.513


Nebraska
Iowa
Fri, Nov 25
-3
0.594

 

The Hawkeyes managed to go 10-4 last season despite having a hide-the-women-and-children No. 94 SP+ offense. Iowa got up as high as No. 2 in the polls before a 4-4 skid to end the year. That was a regression to the mean, as Iowa finished with 8.2 second-order wins (-1.8). Which isn’t to say Iowa’s 10-win finish was fluky. Good coaching, consistently strong situational football, and an awesome defense and special teams have a way of allowing a program to punch above its perceived weight class.

That’s the plan again this year. Last season’s No. 5 SP+ defense returns seven starters, including three stars in LB Jack Campbell, LB Seth Benson, and CB Riley Moss. Stacked at all three levels, Iowa will have a top-10 defense again and perhaps a top-5 defense. The special teams that have ranked in the top-13 of Phil Steele’s rankings for the past four years must replace its kicker but get its huge-legged Aussie P Tory Taylor back.

The offense can’t help but be a little better this year. Last year’s offensive line was severely hampered by the shoddy guard and tackle play around C Tyler Linderbaum. So despite losing the excellent Linderbaum to the NFL, that group should be better overall. RB Tyler Goodson departed for the NFL. RB Gavin Williams won’t provide the receiving value Goodson did, but he might be the better pure runner of the two. TE Sam LaPorta is a star, and the TE room is deep behind him, so you might see more two-TE sets this season as you did during the Hockenson/Fant era.


Thor’s projected win total: 8.1
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

The OOC slate is ideal, with two cupcakes and a home game against down rival Iowa State. In conference play, my numbers project Iowa as double-digit favorites in three games and double-digit underdogs in one. The other five games feature projected spreads of 3.5-or-less either way, true coinflip games. If Iowa goes 3-0 in the OOC and beats its three-easiest Big 10 opponents (assuming a loss at Ohio State), the Hawkeyes would need to go only 2-3 in those “coinflip” games to go over. This is a pass at “8”, but I’m playing over at any number below that.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 31 out of 131




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Nebraska
Northwestern
Sat, Aug 27
-13.5
0.9


North Dakota
Nebraska
Sat, Sep 3
-39
1


Georgia Southern
Nebraska
Sat, Sep 10
-26
1


Oklahoma
Nebraska
Sat, Sep 17
2
0.465


Indiana
Nebraska
Sat, Oct 1
-18
1


Nebraska
Rutgers
Fri, Oct 7
-12
0.885


Nebraska
Purdue
Sat, Oct 15
-1.5
0.525


Illinois
Nebraska
Sat, Oct 29
-16
0.981


Minnesota
Nebraska
Sat, Nov 5
-4.5
0.673


Nebraska
Michigan
Sat, Nov 12
9.5
0.189


Wisconsin
Nebraska
Sat, Nov 19
-1
0.513


Nebraska
Iowa
Fri, Nov 25
3
0.406

 

In almost every instance, when staff goes 15-29 over its first four years, with no finishes .500 or better, it doesn’t see a fifth. But AD Trev Alberts decided to give HC Scott Frost one more shot on a restructured deal that converted $1 million annually of Frost’s previous salary into performance-based incentives. Alberts was no doubt spurred by the idea the Cornhuskers had merely been unlucky in 2020: Nebraska finished with 7.5 second-order wins, meaning, qualitatively, they were closer to a 7-5 or 8-4 team than the 3-9 team they actually were.

Frost knows he’s gone after this season if he doesn’t make a bowl game. So he had a bit of a “YOLO” roster and staff remake over the offseason. Fans didn’t like the offense? No problem! Frost fired four offensive coaches with two games left in the 2020 season after securing his agreement to return. Arguably his biggest move of the offseason was hiring Pitt OC Mark Whipple to turn around the offense. The other huge one was essentially trading QB Adrian Martinez for QBs Casey Thompson and Chubba Purdy in the portal. Thompson doesn’t provide the rushing value Martinez did, and he completes roughly the same amount of his passes as Martinez, but he’s far more effective down the field while turning the ball over less. Certainly, Thompson is a better fit for Whipple’s system.

While the offense returns seven starters, the defense returns only five. Last year’s unit was mediocre nationally in efficiency but superb in limiting explosive playa and in the red zone. Nebraska will miss LB JoJo Domann and DB Cam Taylor-Britt, but the rest of the departures are replaceable. In contrast to the offense, which should be better, Nebraska’s D might take a small step back. Where the ‘Huskers are really hoping to make up ground is on special teams. Frost finally hired an STC (the first time he’s had one at Nebraska) after year’s second-to-last FBS finish in Steele’s rankings. That unit lost Nebraska close games multiple times last year – cleaning it up is going to help in the coinflip games.


Thor’s projected win total: 8.5
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

Amusingly, the Vegas win total falls exactly on Nebraska’s second-order win total from last season. Theoretically, the normalization of luck alone will get Nebraska into that neighborhood. The schedule also helps. There are two OOC cupcakes and a winnable home date against down Oklahoma. Plus, Nebraska avoids Ohio State and Penn State in cross-over play and only has four true road games. The arrow is pointed up – can Frost take advantage?

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 36 out of 131




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New Mexico St.
Minnesota
Thur, Sep 1
-34
1


Western Illinois
Minnesota
Sat, Sep 10
-37
1


Colorado
Minnesota
Sat, Sep 17
-17
1


Minnesota
Michigan St.
Sat, Sep 24
7
0.248


Purdue
Minnesota
Sat, Oct 1
-3
0.594


Minnesota
Illinois
Sat, Oct 15
-9.5
0.811


Minnesota
Penn St.
Sat, Oct 22
9
0.193


Rutgers
Minnesota
Sat, Oct 29
-13.5
0.9


Minnesota
Nebraska
Sat, Nov 5
4.5
0.327


Northwestern
Minnesota
Sat, Nov 12
-13.5
0.9


Iowa
Minnesota
Sat, Nov 19
1
0.488


Minnesota
Wisconsin
Sat, Nov 26
6.5
0.277

 

The Gophers were going toe-to-toe with Ohio State in last year’s opener before star RB Mohamed Ibrahim suffered a season-ending injury. Minnesota ended up losing that game and stubbing its toe later in September against Bowling Green but rallied to finish the year on a 7-3 heater, including three outright upsets.

Ibrahim returns, as does sixth-year QB Tanner Morgan and his WR1 Chris Autman-Bell. The offensive line features arguably the best center in America with John Michael Schmitz. All four starters around Schmitz departed, including two NFL Draft picks. The Gophers were aggressive in the portal, trying to plug holes, signing transfers from Notre Dame and Michigan that are both projected to start. The biggest acquisition may have been OC Kirk Ciarrocca, who led the explosive 2019 offense before leaving for a doomed tenure at Penn State.

The defense, like the offense, returns six starters. The biggest questions come up front, where Minnesota lost NFL Draft picks Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomwewo. The linebacking corps returns two starters and is an above-average FBS unit. The secondary, which returns three starters, is a strength and arguably a top-20 unit nationally. Last year’s defense greatly exceeded expectations, finishing No. 8 SP+. Expect a little regression.


Thor’s projected win total: 7.7
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

Last year, Minnesota dominated in the trenches, helping to overcome mediocre QB play and a spate of RB injuries on offense and, on defense, hinder opposing run games and tee off in obvious passing situations (No. 1 nationally in passing down success rate last year). Minnesota has a veteran QB and solid skill talent – could they get undermined by an inexperienced OL? The Gophers are also strong in the second-and third-levels on defense, but will a new-look defensive line hold up? With so many questions, Minnesota catches a huge break with the schedule. My system projects the Gophers as 17.5-point-or-greater favorites in all three OOC, and Minnesota ducks Ohio State and Michigan in B1G play. With all these factors in mind, Vegas’ number is objectively right, so we must pass.

Purdue Boilermakers
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 39 out of 131




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Penn St.
Purdue
Thur, Sep 1
4.5
0.327


Indiana St.
Purdue
Sat, Sep 10
-37.0
1


Purdue
Syracuse
Satu, Sep 17
-2.0
0.535


Florida Atlantic
Purdue
Sat, Sep 24
-20.0
1


Purdue
Minnesota
Sat, Oct 1
3.0
0.406


Purdue
Maryland
Sat, Oct 8
-1.0
0.513


Nebraska
Purdue
Sat, Oct 15
1.5
0.475


Purdue
Wisconsin
Sat, Oct 22
7.0
0.248


Iowa
Purdue
Sat, Nov 5
2.0
0.465


Purdue
Illinois
Sat, Nov 12
-9.0
0.807


Northwestern
Purdue
Sat, Nov 19
-12.5
0.887


Purdue
Indiana
Sat, Nov 26
-11.0
0.871

 

Purdue returns 14 starters from last year’s breakthrough 9-4 squad. That team greatly exceeded expectations after being given a “5” win total last summer. You’ll recall HC Jeff Brohm’s first Purdue team, in 2017, also exceeded expectations (7-6 off a 3-9 year). Between 2018-2020, when preseason expectations were higher, Purdue struggled, going 12-19. With expectations high again, can Brohm flip the script on that narrative?

Brohm shined former walk-on QB Aidan O’Connell, into a top-20 national quarterback. O’Connell returns, as do three starting offensive linemen. RB Zander Horvath and the top-three WRs (including David Bell) depart, holes that Brohm filled in the transfer portal. RB Kobe Lewis and WRs Tyrone Tracy, Elijah Canion, and Charlie Jones should ensure that Purdue is no worse than treads water on skill talent.

Last year’s defense was a revelation, finishing No. 25 SP+. Though that group returns seven starters, it loses star EDGE George Karlaftis. The linebacking corps and secondary are both strengths, but the defensive line is likely to take a step back without its marquee player. One sneaky way Purdue could make up for a little defensive regression: A special teams that have finished bottom-20 in Steele’s rankings the past two years returns almost everyone while adding Jones, the former Big 10 Return Specialist of the Year.


Thor’s projected win total: 7.6
Las Vegas win total: 7.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

This number is spot on. I do think this year’s Purdue team will be a little better qualitatively than last year’s 9-4 squad. But the 2021 Boilermakers finished with only 7.4 second-order wins, a truer indication of their quality level and ironically right in line with both the Vegas number and my projected win total. This number is too sharp; I must pass.

Maryland Terrapins
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 49 out of 131




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Buffalo
Maryland
Sat, Sep 3
-18
1


Maryland
Charlotte
Sat, Sep 10
-16
0.981


SMU
Maryland
Satu, Sep 17
-2.5
0.545


Maryland
Michigan
Sat, Sep 24
15.5
0.037


Michigan St.
Maryland
Sat, Oct 1
6.5
0.277


Purdue
Maryland
Sat, Oct 8
1
0.488


Maryland
Indiana
Sat, Oct 15
-7.5
0.781


Northwestern
Maryland
Sat, Oct 22
-9.5
0.811


Maryland
Wisconsin
Sat, Nov 5
10
0.164


Maryland
Penn St.
Sat, Nov 12
12.5
0.113


Ohio St.
Maryland
Sat, Nov 19
24
0


Rutgers
Maryland
Sat, Nov 26
-9.5
0.811

 

Last season, Maryland snapped a streak of six-straight losing seasons by destroying Virginia Tech in the bowl game to finish 7-6. With 16 starters returning this year along with several key additions – WR Jacob Copeland, multiple projected starters on defense, along with the return of WR Dontay Demus, who missed the last half of 2021 with injury – have expectations higher than they’ve been for years in College Park.

Nine of the returning starters are on the offensive side of the ball, including veteran QB Taulia Tagovailoa and all five offensive linemen (this is the best OL of Locksley’s tenure). I have some questions about the RB room – someone needs to step up – but the nasty receiving corps is a top-10 national unit.

The defense that finished No. 74 SP+ last season has plenty of experience returning (seven starters) but did lose its best player S Nick Cross to the NFL. All starters return at DT, LB, and CB. If the Terrapins can find suitable replacements on the EDGE and at safety, the unit is likely to improve a little. It helps that the unit is stout between the tackles and has a strong corner duo.


Thor’s projected win total: 6
Las Vegas win total: 5.5
Thor’s bet: OVER

The OOC slate is forgiving – Maryland has roughly equal odds of leaving it either 2-1 or 3-0. But things get hairy quickly in Big 10 play, with home games against Ohio State and Michigan State and road games against Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State. My numbers see a 6-6 team against this schedule, and so do I. If the number is 5.5, I can endorse playing the over – at 6, pass.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 75 out of 131




Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds


Rutgers
Boston College
Sat, Sep 3
4.5
0.327


Wagner
Rutgers
Sat, Sep 10
-25.5
1


Rutgers
Temple
Satu, Sep 17
-11.5
0.882


Iowa
Rutgers
Sat, Sep 24
12.5
0.113


Rutgers
Ohio St.
Sat, Oct 1
36
0


Nebraska
Rutgers
Fri, Oct 7
12
0.116


Indiana
Rutgers
Sat, Oct 22
-4
0.658


Rutgers
Minnesota
Sat, Oct 29
13.5
0.1


Michigan
Rutgers
Sat, Nov 5
18.5
0


Rutgers
Michigan St.
Sat, Nov 12
18
0


Penn St.
Rutgers
Sat, Nov 19
15
0.044


Rutgers
Maryland
Sat, Nov 26
9.5
0.189

 

Rutgers finished 5-8 last year and technically made a bowl (a 38-10 loss to Wake Forest) for the first time since 2014 by having the best Academic Progress Rate of 5-7 teams. This year, six starters return on each side of the ball, and Rutgers signed a strong crop from the portal to augment them.

Last year’s offense finished a dreadful No. 109. The bad news is that the unit’s best players – RB Isaih Pacheco and WR Bo Melton – both got picked in April’s NFL Draft. The good news is that Rutgers finally has a quarterback it likes (four-star QB Gavin Wimsatt), and the Scarlet Knights finished off an offensive line returning three starters by adding two FBS starters from the portal. I expect the offense to crack the top 100 this fall, a tangible step forward.

The Scarlet Knights were led by their No. 46 SP+ defense last year. That unit loses five starters, but none of them were drafted, and five of the top-7 tacklers return. Expect another top-50 finish. Rutgers’ special teams have finished top-5 in Steele’s rankings for two-straight years and return the kicker, punter, and returner, while adding competition at K (the weak link of the group) in the portal.


Thor’s projected win total: 3.4
Las Vegas win total: 4.5
Thor’s bet: UNDER

This Rutgers team may be a little better than last year’s squad, but I highly doubt that they match last season’s five wins (the number needed to go over). The biggest issue is the schedule, which ranks No. 10 in Steele’s SOS rankings. The OOC is manageable, with two cupcakes at home and a road game at Boston College. Rutgers may be close to drawing-dead for five wins if it doesn’t upset BC. My numbers project Rutgers as underdogs of 9.5-points or more in seven of eight Big 10 games. In short: My system believes Rutgers will improve on the field (+9 in my power ratings from last year’s finish) while finishing worse (either 3-9 or 4-8).

Northwestern Wildcats
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 76 out of 131




Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds


Nebraska
Northwestern
Sat, Aug 27
13.5
0.1


Duke
Northwestern
Sat, Sep 10
-12.5
0.887


Southern Illinois
Northwestern
Sat, Sep 17
-26.0
1


Miami (OH)
Northwestern
Sat, Sep 24
-4.5
0.673


Northwestern
Penn St.
Sat, Oct 1
20.0
0


Wisconsin
Northwestern
Sat, Oct 8
12.5
0.113


Northwestern
Maryland
Sat, Oct 22
9.5
0.189


Northwestern
Iowa
Sat, Oct 29
17.0
0


Ohio St.
Northwestern
Sat, Nov 5
31.0
0


Northwestern
Minnesota
Sat, Nov 12
13.5
0.1


Northwestern
Purdue
Sat, Nov 19
12.5
0.113


Illinois
Northwestern
Sat, Nov 26
-3.0
0.594

 

The Wildcats averaged nearly eight wins per season in the decade between 2008-2018. In the three years since the surprise 7-2 finish in 2020 is sandwiched by a pair of 3-9 finishes. Last year’s only FBS wins were home games against Ohio and Rutgers.

Of the 14 returning starters, nine come on offense. QB Ryan Hilinski was an elite recruit who hasn’t taken off yet. He’ll have a better shot this year with an improved WR corps that was decimated by injury. The best news for the run-first team is that all running backs return along with four starters along the offensive line. The OL, which includes an R1 NFL Draft prospect in LT Peter Skoronski, is the team’s clear strength.

Last year’s defense fell off a cliff – from 15.9 to 29.0 PPG allowed – after losing CB Greg Newsome and returning only four starters. This year’s unit only returns five and received devastating news when stud S Brandon Joseph transferred to Notre Dame. The other three starters from last year’s secondary return. The front seven has one for-sure keeper in LB Blake Gallagher. Northwestern dipped into the portal for numerous replacement candidates – the jury’s out on how they’ll come together.


Thor’s projected win total: 3.8
Las Vegas win total: 4.5
Thor’s bet: UNDER

The Wildcats finished bottom-15 in the country in SP+ offensive and special teams rankings last fall. Both should be better, and the defense isn’t going to be worse. But Northwestern may get overcome by the title wave of a projected top-25 schedule. My numbers project the Wildcats as underdogs of 9.5-or-more in eight games. Lose those eight, it doesn’t matter what happens in the other four; you’ve gone under the total.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 79 out of 131




Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds


Wyoming
Illinois
Sat, Aug 27
-5
0.681


Illinois
Indiana
Fri, Sep 2
0
0.5


Virginia
Illinois
Sat, Sep 10
3.5
0.357


Chatanooga
Illinois
Thur, Sep 22
-26
1


Illinois
Wisconsin
Sat, Oct 1
18
0


Iowa
Illinois
Sat, Oct 8
13
0.107


Minnesota
Illinois
Sat, Oct 15
9.5
0.189


Illinois
Nebraska
Sat, Oct 29
16
0.019


Michigan St.
Illinois
Sat, Nov 5
14.5
0.051


Purdue
Illinois
Sat, Nov 12
9
0.193


Illinois
Michigan
Sat, Nov 19
23.5
0


Illinois
Northwestern
Sat, Nov 26
3
0.406

 

HC Bret Bielema’s first season at Illinois was a success. The Illini, which reached five wins only once during the five-year Lovie Smith reign, went 5-7. Illinois was noticeably more competitive, with four-of-seven losses coming by seven points or less. Bielema is only trying to do one thing – turn Illinois into a Kirkland-brand Wisconsin – and the early returns on that were solid.

Bielema wants big, mauling run-blockers on his offensive line and decisive, north-south running backs. He’s already installed that here, with an offensive line that averages 318 pounds per projected starter, as well as a deep stable of backs headlined by RB Chase Brown. This summer’s QB competition features a two-headed race of former ballyhooed recruits who didn’t pan out at previous stops, Tommy DeVito and Artur Sitkowski. Illinois is hoping for more out of the passing game after it didn’t get much last year.

Whereas Bielema’s first offense was a paint-by-numbers, vanilla attack (No. 92 SP+), his first defense and special teams were quite impressive. The defense finished No. 32 SP+, while the special teams finished No. 1. Illinois is going to miss S Kerby Joseph, but the rest of the defections are replaceable.


Thor’s projected win total: 3.5
Las Vegas win total: 4.5
Thor’s bet: Pass

My numbers don’t like Illinois. But I’m not able to fade them. Bielema’s ethos is keeping the game close while wearing you down and hoping to steal it late with special teams’ play and not turning the ball over. Illinois upset Penn State and Minnesota last year by ugly-ing-up games, and it would only take one or two similar upsets this year to totally flip the math on this total.

Indiana Hoosiers
Thor’s Preseason Power Ranking: 85 out of 131




Away
Home
Day
Spread
Win odds


Illinois
Indiana
Fri, Sep 2
0
0.5


Idaho
Indiana
Sat, Sep 10
-23.5
1


Western Kentucky
Indiana
Sat, Sep 17
1.5
0.475


Indiana
Cincinnati
Sat, Sep 24
18.5
0


Indiana
Nebraska
Sat, Oct 1
18
0


Michigan
Indiana
Sat, Oct 8
20.5
0


Maryland
Indiana
Sat, Oct 15
7.5
0.219


Indiana
Rutgers
Sat, Oct 22
4
0.342


Penn St.
Indiana
Sat, Nov 5
17
0


Indiana
Ohio St.
Sat, Nov 12
38.5
0


Indiana
Michigan St.
Sat, Nov 19
20.5
0


Purdue
Indiana
Sat, Nov 26
11
0.129

 

Indiana had a dream season during the 2020 COVID campaign, going 6-2 (all against Big 10 opponents). Last year came the nightmare. QB Michael Penix didn’t look physically right when playing, and he was officially knocked out for the year with an injury in early October. Not ideal when you’re facing the toughest schedule in the nation. Indiana went 2-10, with six of those losses coming to teams that finished in the top 18.

Indiana returns only five starters on offense, but a remake of that unit was probably necessary after finishing No. 112 SP+ last year. Penix transferred to Washington, a hole Indiana filled by signing Mizzou QB Connor Bazelak. Indiana’s quarterback play last year was an abomination – Bazelak will provide an upgrade by merely being competent.

The play on defense was more encouraging last year (No. 73 SP+), and Indiana returns seven starters on that side of the ball. A secondary that returns three starters in the strength of the unit. The front seven is a question mark, but HC Tom Allen added multiple transfers in the portal to attempt to fortify it.


Thor’s projected win total: 2.7
Las Vegas win total: 4.5
Thor’s bet: UNDER

Last year, Indiana played the hardest schedule in the entire nation. This year, things don’t get much easier, with Indiana slated to face Phil Steele’s No. 8 SOS. Indiana’s OOC isn’t ideal, with a likely loss coming at Cincinnati and a coin-flip proposition against WKU. My numbers project Indiana as double-digit favorites in six of nine Big 10 games. This team is a fade.

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College Football, Picks

Author: Jordan Lopez