According to sportsbooks and analysts, when it comes to the 2021 Big Ten football season, there’s Ohio State and then everyone else.
At DraftKings Sportsbook, Ohio State is a -200 favorites to win the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin (+600), Iowa (+900) and Penn State (+900) round out the top four with MI sports betting odds nowhere close to the Buckeyes.
Michigan comes in at sixth at +1600, while Michigan State is further down the board at +6000.
Here’s what to watch for as both the Wolverines and Spartans start their seasons this weekend.
An inconsistent offense plagued Michigan football last season (2-4 Big Ten, 2-4 overall), despite the offense averaging 382 yards and 28 points per game.
Cade McNamara was recently named the starting quarterback by coach Jim Harbaugh. Last season, McNamara played in four of Michigan’s six games last season as a redshirt freshman, converting on 61% of his passes and throwing five touchdowns to no interceptions. McNamara edged out five-start recruit J.J. McCarthy for the starting job.
“Cade’s got these traits of being very talented,” Harbaugh told the Big Ten Network. “But also the competitive traits he has, I don’t see him giving that up.”
The Wolverines have experience all around the offense, with four starters back on the offensive line and the leading wide receiver, Ronnie Bell, returning for another year. Bell has hauled in 82 passes for over 1,300 yards in his college career, averaging nearly 16 yards per reception.
Defensively, Michigan needs to rebound after recording the third-worst defense in the Big Ten last season. The Wolverines allowed 434 yards and 35 points per contest.
Michigan will benefit with the return of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who missed half of last year with a leg injury. Hutchinson had his breakout year in 2019 with he recorded 68 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Many draft analysts project him as a first-round pick, with ESPN’s Todd McShay forecasting Hutchinson as a top-10 selection.
The first year of the Mel Tucker era as Michigan State football coach had some highlights. There was the upset win at rival Michigan, 27-24, with the Spartans entering as three-touchdown underdogs. MSU also recorded another upset when it took down No. 8 Northwestern, 29-20. But other than that, there was nothing worth remembering from 2020, with the Spartans losing all five of their other games.
MSU needs to improve on last year’s inept offense. The Spartans ranked last in the conference in yards (330) and points (18) per contest. Not good.
The one reprieve MSU fans have is that the team returns plenty of experience. All five offensive linemen are back, while the backfield added Kenneth Walker from Wake Forest. He ran for 1,158 yards and 17 touchdowns in 20 games over the last two seasons before transferring to MSU.
It remains to be seen whether Anthony Russo, a transfer from Temple, or Payton Thorne will earn the starting quarterback job. Thorne threw three interceptions and three touchdowns as part of the bad MSU offense last year, while Russo is a pro-style passer who led Temple to a 16-10 record as a starter.
Defense wasn’t much better for the Spartans last year. The team gave up a Big Ten-worst 35 points per game, which is appalling given Tucker’s background as a defensive coach.