Livescore Sunday, April 21

The 2023 season will be the last one for the Big Ten in its current form. Though the league will again consist of 14 teams playing in two seven-team divisions based on geography, that will not be the case in 2024 when UCLA and USC join the league. How future schedules will look and how the league will be aligned haven’t been decided yet, however. 

For now, we enter a new season with the same general thought process we’ve had for years: The East will be won by Michigan, Ohio State or maybe Penn State. The West will be won by somebody — anybody. It’s a division full of at least one surprise every season, and sometimes two or three. Then, either Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State will meet the winner of the West in the Big Ten Championship Game and beat them. It’s a tale as old as time — or at least as old as 2014 when the league got rid of the Leaders and Legends divisions.

Knowing all of that, which wagers should we make to win the league? We’ll get to that momentarily. First, let’s look at the conference title odds from Caesars Sportsbook: 

Best bet — Michigan (+175): Since the Big Ten went to East and West divisions for the 2014 season, Michigan or Ohio State has won the league seven times. This is pretty much how the conference has worked for a long time, so my honest advice here would be to bet both Michigan (+175) and Ohio State (+200). You’ll end up winning something, if not a jackpot. However, the powers that be will only let me choose one team, and if that’s the case I’m going with Michigan.

Not only have the Wolverines won the league the last two seasons, but I have fewer questions about them in 2023. Their starting quarterback, J.J. McCarthy, is back, as is one of the best running backs in the country, Blake Corum. While they’ve lost key players at other positions, Michigan has recruited and developed well enough in recent years that I’m confident the replacements will be just as good, if not slightly better.

I feel the same way about Ohio State for the most part, but there’s one key difference: I don’t know who Ohio State’s quarterback is. I assume it’ll be Kyle McCord, and I assume he will put up numbers because he will be playing in that Ohio State offense with those Ohio State receivers. Still, I haven’t seen McCord do it yet. I have seen Michigan do it with McCarthy. Ultimately, that’s enough to tip the scales in Michigan’s direction for now.

Worst wager — Wisconsin (+700): “Worst” is an aggressive term, but it’s the one given and Wisconsin is the one that fits. Don’t get me wrong, the Badgers can win the West. There will be no surprise on my end if it does. But I’m not going to bet on a conference championship happening in 2023. While I believe the Luke Fickell hire will prove to be successful in the long run, the changes being made at Wisconsin are too drastic to not expect any bumps in the first season.

The program is changing its offense and, in some ways, its entire identity. New offensive coordinator Phil Longo has always done an excellent job of conforming his offensive philosophies to the talent on hand, but even in the age of the transfer portal it’s going to take a couple of years to adjust this roster. Finally, while I believe he’s a great choice to give the offense a solid floor and buy a season, quarterback Tanner Mordecai is not good enough to win the Big Ten.

Best value — Penn State (+650): Quarterback Sean Clifford was always better than he was given credit for (he was a fifth-round NFL Draft pick, after all), but he was never good enough to get Penn State over the Ohio State and Michigan hump in the East. The last Penn State quarterback to finish among the top three Big Ten passers in yards per game was Trace McSorley, who did so in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, Penn State won the Big Ten. The following year, it finished 11-2 with both losses coming by a combined four points to Ohio State and Michigan State, and finished in the AP top 10. 

I’m telling you all this not because I loved McSorley (I did), but because Drew Allar has a chance to be Penn State’s best quarterback since McSorley. We’ve seen what Penn State can do when it has one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Penn State also has potential No. 1 overall draft pick (tackle Olu Fashanu) and a defense that will once again be one of the league’s best.

Long shot — Iowa (+800): Long shots don’t exist in this league. If it’s not Michigan or Ohio State, Penn State is the most likely other winner. That said, you don’t have to be a great team to reach the Big Ten Championship Game from the West, and from there it’s just winning one more game. 

It’s easy to make fun of Iowa’s defense being its best offense, but I believe this program has been sincere with its offseason efforts to get better. Otherwise, the transfer portal additions of quarterback Cade McNamara and tight end Erick All from Michigan, among others, don’t make sense. So take a moment and think about how many games Iowa has won over the years while scoring 17 points. Now ask yourself what might be possible if it routinely scores in the mid-20s. If you’re looking for a long shot in this conference, this is as far down the board as you should go.

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