Last weekend was an utter disaster for the Big Ten, without question. Yet on Monday there was a bit of a rainbow through the storm clouds when the NCAA lifted its sanctions off Penn State. So let's look at the Lions' NCAA football futures odds.
More Like Little Ten
Perhaps we should start saying there are only four power conferences in college football: the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. That's because the Big Ten clearly isn't one at the moment and any chance the conference had of winning its first national title in 12 years vanished with some shocking results last weekend.
You had conference favorite Michigan State giving up 28 unanswered points to lose 46-27 at Oregon. OK, not much shame there but still a black eye for a very good MSU defense. There was Ohio State, considered the second-best team in the conference, losing a stunner at home to unranked Virginia Tech. Michigan was embarrassed 31-0 at Notre Dame. Purdue lost by 21 at home to Central Michigan Northwestern lost by eight at home to Northern Illinois. Nebraska was rather lucky to beat McNeese State, Iowa was very fortunate to edge Ball State and Illinois squeaked by Western Kentucky. Maryland had to rally in the fourth quarter to win at South Florida.
So while the national media was piling on the Big Ten and saying that no conference team has a shot at the College Football Playoff, the NCAA threw the conference a bone with Monday's announcement for Penn State. Of course the school was delivered unprecedented punishments in July 2012 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Strict scholarship limits and a postseason ban were both supposed to be in place until the 2016 season, but those both have been waived. It was the right decision as the current PSU players didn't deserve to be punished for what one rogue, sick coach did years ago.
The $60 fine still stands as do 112 forfeited wins, but it's a major victory for new coach James Franklin. Penn State is relevant again. Franklin is will profit from this not just in recruiting but also financially. His contract includes a $200,000 bonus for making a bowl game and $250,000 for simply playing in the Big Ten title game. Another $100,000 for winning it. I can assure you any bowl would take Penn State this year because the Lions' fans will travel en masse.
Most sportsbooks haven't done Penn State season previews the past two years because the school couldn't play in the conference title game. I don't think this team is good enough to run the table in the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff, but suddenly winning the Big Ten East isn't impossible.
5Dimes lists Penn State at +1000 to win the Big Ten Championship while Bovada has the Lions at 100/1 to win a national title. PSU opened the season with a 26-24 win over a good Central Florida team in Dublin, Ireland, as kicker Sam Ficken won it with a 36-yard field goal. Last week, the Nittany Lions beat Akron 21-3. The Zips are a pretty good MAC team.
Penn State opens Big Ten play this week at Rutgers, in what will be one of the biggest home games in Rutgers history in its conference debut. PSU is a 3.5-point favorite on college football odds and -165 on the moneyline. The total is 53. The Rutgers defense has looked very shaky in allowing 38 points to Washington State and 25 to Howard in starting 2-0.
Should Penn State win that, it should be 5-0 entering an Oct. 11 game at Michigan. After Rutgers, Penn State hosts UMass back out of conference and then a terrible Northwestern team. The Lions will be solid favorites in both. Last year, PSU beat Michigan 43-40 in four overtimes in State College. UM proved against Notre Dame it's very beatable again. After that, the schedule is about as easy as Penn State could want. Ohio State, Maryland and Michigan State all visit State College (so does Temple). The only road games are at Indiana and Illinois, two bottom-feeders.
College Football Picks: No Big Ten title this year. Lions cover against Rutgers, finish 9-3 and get a very nice postseason game because bowl representatives know what a catch PSU would be in terms of fan support and public relations. Look out next year with a very good recruiting class coming and star QB Christian Hackenberg back.