Perhaps no college football coach is more eager for the 2014 season to kick off than Ohio State's Urban Meyer. He enters this year on a rarity for him: a two-game losing streak. The Buckeyes are -140 favorites on NCAA football odds to win the Big Ten.
Meyer certainly thought his Buckeyes were National Championship-worthy last season. OSU avoided an upset at Michigan in the regular-season finale to stay unbeaten with a thrilling 42-41 victory when Ohio State intercepted a 2-point conversion pass from UM quarterback Devin Gardner with 32 seconds left. The Buckeyes were then solidly favored in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. After blowing a 17-point lead, Sparty scored the last 17 points of the game for a 34-24 victory to end OSU's 24-game winning streak (Meyer's first defeat at the school). That sent the Spartans to the Rose Bowl, which they won, and Ohio State from the BCS title game to the Orange Bowl, which it lost to Clemson. You could sort of see that the Buckeyes were a little disinterested against the Tigers with their National Championship hopes dashed.
The Buckeyes are set to return 12 starters, led by one of the Heisman Trophy favorites at sportsbooks in quarterback Braxton Miller (+800 on NCAA football odds), the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. The offensive line was decimated by defections and OSU also lost one of the nation's top running backs, Carlos Hyde, to the NFL. Miller can't afford to get injured like he did early last year, because his veteran backup, Kenny Guiton, is gone. Now it's untested Cardale Jones. The two big losses on defense were linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby. OSU is still stacked on that side of the ball.
Ohio State opens the season as a 19-point favorite on NCAA football odds at Navy (in Baltimore) and then hosts Virginia Tech, Kent State and Cincinnati before kicking off Big Ten play Oct. 4 at conference newcomer Maryland. The Buckeyes will be favored in every regular-season game other than maybe Nov. 8 at Michigan State. The Spartans get an extra week to prepare for that one as well.
Sparty is part of the field to win the Big Ten title game at +100. MSU brings back just five starters off one of the nation's top defenses but was able to keep coordinator Pat Narduzzi from taking a head coaching job. It's only a matter of time before he does, but as long as Narduzzi is around the Spartan defense should be terrific. Perhaps the offense will have to carry the load early with starting quarterback Connor Cook (+3300 to win Heisman) and tailback Jeremy Langford (+8000 for Heisman) part of eight returning starters. Michigan State plays one of the non-conference games of the year Sept. 6 at Oregon, but the Big Ten slate is about as good as MSU could have hoped for with Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State all having to visit East Lansing and no Wisconsin.
The Badgers will be the betting favorites to win the West Division (no more Leaders and Legends, thank God), which is much, much weaker than the East. Wisconsin returns just nine starters and only three of those on defense. UW does have a terrific running back in Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 scores in 2013. He is +2600 to win the Heisman.
Wisconsin opens Aug. 30 in a great matchup in Houston against LSU, which is a 6.5-point favorite at sportsbooks. The Badgers don't play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan. The West Division likely will be decided Nov. 15 when Nebraska visits Madison and Nov. 22 when UW goes to Iowa.
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Michigan State beats Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game to earn a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff. To make that playoff is +400 for Sparty on NCAA football odds. However, the Big Ten's national title drought continues.