Ohio State is ranked second behind Alabama in the USA Today preseason coaches' poll. The Buckeyes also are even-money to win the Big Ten Conference.
Despite those two facts, there are six teams quite capable of taking home the conference title and Ohio State is just one of those six. Don't forget, half of the Buckeyes' 12 wins a year ago came by seven points or less. Two victories were in overtime and two more came by a combined four points.
Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with predicted straight- up (overall and conference) records for those wagering on over/unders for total team victories. The over/under number posted is for the entire season, not conference totals. In addition, all statistics provided in the offensive and defensive sections are from conference-only play unless otherwise indicated (all odds to win the league title and totals courtesy of 5Dimes).
6) MINNESOTA (85-1) - The Golden Gophers are 3-6 against the spread (ATS) in their last nine games.
Offense - Trending up. Minnesota moved up one spot (from last to 11th) in scoring and total offense. Despite offensive line injuries over the summer, quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner should lift the scoring average over the 20-point mark for the first time in the Jerry Kill era.
Defense - Trending down. Minnesota had its best run defense a year ago since 2009 and its best pass defense since 2002. However, that was with Illinois and Purdue on the schedule. This year, the Golden Gophers take on Penn State and Indiana.
Prediction - Bet against Minnesota early and often. Over/under total - 5.5 (3-9, 1-7). Take under 5.5 wins at -120.
5) IOWA (50-1) - The Hawkeyes are 3-11 ATS on the road the last three years.
Offense - Trending up. Iowa began last season with uncertainty in the backfield. This year, the running game is its strength. In addition, even with a new starting quarterback the passing game can't be as bad as it was in 2012 when James Vandenberg threw just seven touchdown passes in almost 400 attempts.
Defense - Trending steady. Even though the Hawkeyes ranked seventh in scoring (25 ppg) last season, they were dead last in sacks, third down efficiency and quarterback completion percentage. Improvement is expected but the scoring average won't dip down into the low 20s with Ohio State and Wisconsin added to the schedule.
Prediction - Iowa is 8-19-1 ATS in its last 28 games, good for a 30 percent winning percentage. The Hawkeyes will top that number in 2013. Over/under total - 5.5 (7-5, 3-5). Take over 5.5 wins at -120.
4) NORTHWESTERN (9-1) - The Wildcats are 3-7 as road favorites but 13-4 as road underdogs the last five years.
Offense - Trending steady. Northwestern outgained its opponents by a single yard yet outscored them by a 32-25 margin. One key factor was an offensive line that allowed just six sacks and a league-leading 5.3 yards per carry average. All the skill players return in 2013, but the Wildcats lost three linemen who accumulated 97 career starts.
Defense - Trending down. The defense improved from 10th to sixth in scoring, giving up eight points fewer per game. Similar to Iowa's situation, look for the numbers and rankings to rise with Ohio State and Wisconsin replacing Penn State and Indiana.
Prediction - The last six times the Wildcats finished above .500 ATS, they were either .500 or below the following season. Northwestern was 11-1 ATS last year. Over/under total - 8.5 (7-5, 4-4).
3) NEBRASKA (7-1) - The Cornhuskers are 0-3 as road underdogs the last two years.
Offense - Trending up. Taylor Martinez improved from ninth to fourth in quarterback efficiency, but his touchdown/interception ratio was still 7-7 over the final six games. Thankfully for Nebraska, Illinois and Purdue replace Ohio State and Wisconsin, so look for better overall numbers in 2013.
Defense - Trending steady. The Cornhuskers defense will be tested with the loss of eight of its top 10 tacklers. In most years, the defensive numbers would rise given this situation. However, with the Fighting Illini and Boilermakers taking over for the Buckeyes and Badgers (a combined 90 points allowed), Nebraska will allow the same 24 points per game it gave up a season ago.
Prediction - The Cornhuskers were 8-4-1 to the over last year. Expect similar numbers this season. Over/under total - 9.5 (9-3, 5-3).
2) MICHIGAN (5-1) - The Wolverines are 7-16 ATS on the road the last five years.
Offense - Trending steady. Michigan ranked first in yards per play (6.2) but finished seventh in total offense. That's because the Wolverines ran the least number of plays (492) in the league. Expect more of an aerial attack in 2013 with Devin Gardner at quarterback but the same scoring numbers.
Defense - Trending down. The Wolverines finished second in pass defense but ninth in quarterback completion percentage. It is doubtful they'll stay in the second spot this season with Indiana and Penn State on the schedule replacing Illinois and Purdue, considering those two teams combined for just 186 passing yards against them.
Prediction - Michigan is 9-18 SU and 8-17-1 ATS away from home (including neutral sites) over the last five years. Bet against the Wolverines in all five road games in 2013. Over/under total - 9.5 (8-4, 5-3).
1) MICHIGAN STATE (8-1) - The Spartans are 10-2-1 as road favorites the last five years.
Offense - Trending up. Michigan State averaged only 14 fewer yards per game (than in 2011) despite scoring nine fewer points per game. The main reason for the drop was a last-place finish in red zone touchdown percentage (44 percent). With an improved percentage in 2013, the Spartans will score more points this season even with the loss of Le'Veon Bell.
Defense - Trending steady. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense. They also allowed a total of 27 points (over 13 games) in the third quarter. Seven starters return so look for Michigan State's defense to be the only one in the conference to hold opponents below 20 points per game.
Prediction - A less-than-stellar ATS mark (5-8) was expected after going 10-3 in 2011, Look for a rebound in 2013. Over/under total - 8.5 (8-4, 5-3).
6) ILLINOIS (200-1) - The Fighting Illini are 8-2 as road underdogs but 1-6 as road favorites the last four years.
Offense - Trending up. Not much went right for the Illini last year as they finished 122nd nationally in both scoring and total offense, 115th in sacks allowed and 121st in tackles for loss allowed. The hiring of coordinator Bill Cubit should assist the offense and bring the scoring number over 20 points per game.
Defense - Trending down. It's amazing to think that Illinois finished in a tie for first in total defense just two years ago. The Illini finished 10th last year, and with more lettermen lost than returning in 2013, that ranking could be even worse.
Prediction - The Illini went 6-5 to the over last year. Look for more than six overs this season. Over/under total - 3.5 (3-9, 1-7).
5) PURDUE (100-1) - The Boilermakers are 1-6 ATS in non-conference play the last two years.
Offense - Trending down. Purdue averaged the same 24 points per game it did in 2011 even though eight starters returned. With just four coming back this season, expect a drop in production.
Defense - Trending steady. The Boilermakers allowed 33 points per game and 433 yards per game, good for 10th and 11th in the conference, respectively. Not much will change this season, especially with the loss of their top player, Kawann Short.
Prediction - It took head coach Darrell Hazell two years to turn Kent State around. It will take longer for him to get Purdue back on the map. Over/under total - 5.5 (3-9, 2-6).
4) INDIANA (50-1) - The Hoosiers are 18-6-1 to the over in their last 25 games.
Offense - Trending steady. Indiana improved its scoring average 11 points last year primarily due to 10 more red zone touchdowns. The line worked its magic, allowing just 12 sacks in 371 passing attempts compared to 19 sacks in 230 attempts in 2011. Expect more of the same with 10 returning starters.
Defense - Trending up. The defense ranked last in scoring for a third straight season. Still, the Hoosiers ranked 19th nationally in tackles for loss. Only two starters depart, giving them their most experienced defense since 2009. Don't forget, Indiana allowed nine fewer points per game that year compared to 2008.
Prediction - The Hoosiers are 21-21 ATS in their last 42 games. The win column will take control after this season. Over/under total - 5.5 (6-6, 3-5).
3) PENN STATE (ineligible) - The Nittany Lions are 11-3 as road favorites the last five years
Offense - Trending down. Can Bill O'Brien work his magic once again, this time with an inexperienced quarterback? The odds are in his favor, but with road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin, look for the scoring average to fall from 33 ppg down into the high 20s.
Defense - Trending steady. The loss of coordinator Ted Roof and four of the top five tacklers will hurt. However, there is enough talent still on board for the Nittany Lions to maintain their numbers from a year ago.
Prediction - Don't be surprised if Penn State finishes above .500 ATS for a second straight season. Over/under total - 8.5 (10-2, 6-2). Take over 8.5 wins at +150.
2) OHIO STATE (1-1) - The Buckeyes are 2-5-1 as road favorites the last three years.
Offense - Trending up. The Buckeyes posted similar numbers last year compared to their 2010 campaign (Terrelle Pryor's final season). The lone category that needs improving is quarterback completion percentage, which should pick up in Braxton Miller's third season as a starter.
Defense - Trending steady. Ohio State did not play up to expectations on this side of the ball last year. With eight of its top 12 tacklers gone, one would expect another disappointing campaign. However, the last time the Buckeyes had a sharp decline in returning starters, they actually allowed fewer points per game.
Prediction - The Buckeyes are a very good team but not a great one. Bet against them on a weekly basis, especially early in the season. Over/under total - 11.5 (10-2, 6-2). Take under 11.5 wins at -210
1) WISCONSIN (10-1) - The Badgers are 15-7 ATS off a SU win the last two years.
Offense - Trending up. A drop in scoring was expected with the loss of Russell Wilson. Even with the 12-point reduction, the offense still averaged only 36 fewer yards per game than in 2011. One thing is for certain, the Badgers will not finish 94th nationally in third down efficiency as they did in 2012. Improved quarterback play and a more experienced line will increase production.
Defense - Trending steady. Wisconsin has allowed between 18 and 19 points per game the last two seasons, both times with six returning starters. Six come back once again in a new 3-4 defense, which should help a run defense that has not been spectacular in recent years.
Prediction - Wisconsin finished 6-6-1 ATS last season. Look for the club to go over the .500 mark for the fourth time in five years. Over/under total - 8.5 (10-2, 7-1).