Besides Ohio State retaining its status as a juggernaut, the first two weeks of the Big Ten football season have been unpredictable and filled with sports betting drama.
On opening weekend, Indiana upset No. 8 Penn State and Rutgers dominated Michigan State as 10-point underdogs. MSU (+22) then turned around the next week to shock No. 13 Michigan in their annual rivalry showdown. And there was Maryland — 18.5-point underdogs — topping Minnesota in OT after the Golden Gophers missed the game-tying extra point.
“All the big conferences in college really have made a heavy impact on our handle,” said Matt Cosgriff, director of retail wagering & VIP at Roar Digital/BetMGM. “It’s gone very strongly, especially in the state of Michigan and especially last week with the biggest upset of the college year with Michigan State beating the Wolverines.
“The Michigan State spread was 25 to 21 on game day, so it was very much a popular win for the bookmakers.”
The upsets and unpredictability have forced books to reconsider some of those teams. In the opening week, Michigan trounced Minnesota on the road 49-24 before losing to MSU. The win over the Spartans gave Rutgers its first Big 10 win since 2017.
That’s not to mention Wisconsin’s status going forward as it deals with a rise of positive coronavirus cases within its program. All of these factors have played pivotal roles in how sportsbooks are setting the conference’s lines week to week.
“I supposed everyone is going back to the drawing board on a few teams,” Cosgriff said. “I think Ohio State is going to be too strong; that’s a given. But it wasn’t too bad for us. A lot of games and a lot of spreads haven’t been as predictable as the bookmakers thought they would, so some of the results have actually been quite good for us here.”
Ohio State is 2-0 against the spread so far, covering -17 in a 52-17 win over Nebraska and -10.5 in the 38-25 victory against Penn State. Landing on a line with a team as dominant as Ohio State forces sportsbooks to consider numerous factors.
“You usually find it a one-sided game that a good team tries to get off to a good start,” Cosgriff said. “Then you got to try to work out whether they go on and put the foot down or they actually put the cue in the rack and let the game come back to a little more equal playing field. But you usually find that these teams get off to a very good start and if they get behind, they usually find a way to break through, especially when you got a team like Ohio State.”
In its first game, Wisconsin looked every bit a college football playoff contender with its 45-7 win over Illinois on Oct. 23. But since then, the Badgers have been struck with the coronavirus, forcing the team to cancel its Oct. 31 game with Nebraska, and on Tuesday, the school announced Saturday’s matchup with Purdue would also be canceled. If Wisconsin is forced to miss another game, it won’t be eligible for the Big 10 title.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, the school announced there were 27 active cases of coronavirus since Oct. 24, including 15 student-athletes and 12 staff members.
“It’s massive,” Cosgriff said of the challenges of adjusting lines during a pandemic. “Because you have to try to figure out how it’s going to evolve after it’s happened, so whether you’re going to replay the game or if it gets canceled and how things move on. Then how that affects the standings as well, and then look at their schedule and figure out if there will be more games coming up. There’s a lot of work that goes into the back end of doing that.”
The latest projections from the Michigan Gaming Control Board point to a potential late November launch for its mobile sports betting and online casino gaming platforms. With the Big 10 back to playing, Cosgriff finds the timing of the state’s launch fitting for its sports fans.
“I think it’ll be a sensational time to start it,” he said. “Obviously from what we’ve seen, we’ve had a good experience through the retail sportsbook and the relationship with the regulator where we’ve been able to find some more sports in recent times to wager on. I think the time is right to launch, and it’s a pretty exciting time with BetMGM because we just launched in Tennessee and especially in the months coming forward, it’ll be quite substantial and Michigan will be one of them given the impact that it will have.”