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Big Ten win totals: Why Northwestern should be on your radar

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You know who could really use a big year in college football? The Big Ten.

The conference only has one championship over the last 17 years as it takes a comfortable backseat to the SEC. It's expected to be Ohio State and everyone else in the Big Ten for 2020 - again - but thankfully, we're not here to try to pick a conference winner.

Our job is to find edges in the win total market, which means all 14 teams are in play. After dishing out our SEC preview Monday, here's the latest installment of 2020 win totals, featuring the Big Ten.

Big Ten win totals

Team Win Total Over Under
Ohio State 10.5 -210 +175
Michigan 9.5 -210 +175
Wisconsin 9.5 -170 +150
Penn State 9.5 -160 +140
Minnesota 8.5 -110 -110
Nebraska 7.5 -170 +150
Iowa 7.5 -130 +110
Indiana 7.5 -110 -110 
Purdue 5.5 -145 +125
Northwestern 5.5 -110 -110
Illinois 4.5 -160 +140
Michigan State 4.5 -125 -105
Maryland 3.5 -160 +140
Rutgers 2.5 -160 +140

There aren't a ton of gimmes for the Big Ten inside or outside of conference play. Thirteen of the 14 schools rank top 50 in schedule difficulty for 2020, with Illinois right there at No. 51.

Strength of schedule

Team National SOS Rank
Michigan State 1
Purdue 3
Nebraska 5
Iowa 6
Michigan 11
Wisconsin 12
Maryland 14
Ohio State 18
Rutgers 21
Northwestern 24
Indiana 33
Penn State 35
Minnesota 49
Illinois 51

Luck factor

Luck can come in all shapes and sizes. Turnover margin, Pythagorean wins, second-order wins, and other metrics can all be implemented to depict not only which teams were lucky or unlucky, but how.

Using a combination of turnover margin and second-order wins - a postgame win-expectancy metric - here were the luckiest and unluckiest Big Ten teams in 2019.


Iowa: +10 TO margin, 9 actual wins, 6.7 expected wins
Penn State: +9 TO margin, 10 actual wins, 8.9 expected wins
Illinois: +9 TO, 6 actual wins, 5.4 expected wins


Northwestern: -10 TO margin, 3 actual wins, 4.7 expected wins
Purdue: -8 TO margin, 4 actual wins, 4.4 expected wins

Best bets

Northwestern over 5.5 (-110)

Considering Murphy's Law visited Evanston and decided to stay there all season, this is an optimal buy-low spot on Northwestern. We know about the turnover margin and missed wins already, but they don't summarize just how dreadful the Wildcats were in 2019.

The offense was simply unwatchable. Only two teams in the nation finished with a worse yards-per-play average than Northwestern (4.1), which didn't score 30 points against a single Power 5 opponent. Some teams that were more successful than Northwestern on a per-play basis? Rutgers, Bowling Green, Vanderbilt, Rice, Texas State, and UTEP.

There's some hope for the Wildcats in 2020. Not only does the schedule line up nicely, but they also bring back arguably more production from last year than any other team in the nation. If last year's woeful squad was expected to bag an estimated 4.7 wins, this team could easily shatter the number. I'm banking on a huge bounce-back from head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who had won at least seven games in four years straight before last season's 3-9 performance.

Iowa under 7.5 (+110)

In a way, Iowa has become the model of consistency in college football. Head coach Kirk Ferentz hasn't taken his team to a New Year's Six bowl game since 2015, but can you really be discontent with about eight wins a year plus bowl bids in 11 of the last 12 campaigns? Still, I'm not sold on Iowa for 2020.

The Hawkeyes have one of the toughest slates in the country, including home games against Iowa State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin and roadies at Ohio State and Penn State. In terms of returning production, the Hawkeyes bring back fewer than half their starters on both sides of the ball.

A year after owning one of the top turnover margins in the country and going 5-3 in one-score games, Iowa should regress in the win column.

Alex Kolodziej is a betting writer for theScore. He's a graduate of Eastern Illinois who has been involved in the sports betting industry for 12 years. He can quote every line from "Rounders" and appreciates franchises that regularly wear alternate jerseys. Find him on Twitter @AJKolodziej.

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