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Embarrassed Big Ten & Blighted Irish Look for 2017 Rebound

Alex Kilpatrick

by Alex Kilpatrick in College Football

Updated Jan 17, 2018 · 9:38 AM PST

Photo by Antonella Crescimbeni (CC License)

With kickoff roughly two weeks away, time is running out for those of us in the long-range prediction game to make bold prognostications about the 2017 season that we’ll never be held accountable for. Today, the Big Ten goes under the microscope. The conference cognoscente often make a big a hullabaloo about the Big Ten being the best conference college football. They’re not doing that this year for some reason. Weird.

Before we get to our Big Ten deep-dive, Notre Dame gets its (undeserved) time in the spotlight. As an independent, Notre Dame doesn’t fit nicely into our conference previews. But since the Irish arrive to the 2017 season with tail squarely between legs, it makes sense to plunk them in with the Big Ten. That’s sure to annoy all of our Notre Dame fans, but if you want your own preview, you have to at least make a goddamn bowl game.


Notre Dame had a really bad season last year, going 4-8 and taking some unfortunate losses along the way. You don’t want to be the only FBS team Michigan State figures out how to beat, and you certainly don’t want to be splitting that honor with Rutgers. You don’t want to lose all three of your rivalry games. You don’t want to beat one service academy by 28 points and lose to the other one on your schedule by one. You really, really, don’t want to miss out on a bowl game.

As much as I hate to make excuses for Brian Kelly — Lord knows he does that enough for himself — this wasn’t a 4-8-quality team. The offense was solid when it wasn’t sharing a stadium with Hurricane Matthew. The defense improved a lot after Brian VanGorder got fired. The team lost five one-possession games and only won one. They lost by one point to Navy, in overtime to Texas, and by a field goal to Virginia Tech and Duke. Part of that is coaching. Part of that is not throwing the ball 26 times in a hurricane. But another big part of that is lousy luck, which should correct itself in 2017.

Despite losing Deshone Kizer to the NFL, Notre Dame is set up pretty well for 2017. The offensive line returns four starters, Josh Adams is an efficient and effective running back, and the skill positions are loaded. On defense, the front seven looks solid, even strong, and there are a lot of options in the secondary. Perhaps the biggest question is at quarterback, where former five-star Brandon Wimbush looks ready to take the starting position in his junior year. He doesn’t have the most experience, having only three completions and a rushing touchdown to his name, but with this roster, he won’t be under extreme pressure. If anyone has been put in a position to succeed, it’s Wimbush.

The pieces are all here, which is why these are the shortest odds you’ll ever see on a 4-8 team going against a schedule replete with national powers. The team will be favored against everyone except Stanford, USC, and probably one of Georgia or Miami.


  • Over/Under wins: 7.5
  • Over/Under points allowed per game: 23.5
  • Over/Under number of games in which Notre Dame is an underdog: 2.5
  • Odds Notre Dame beats Georgia, USC & Stanford: 11/1
  • Odds Notre Dame loses to Georgia, USC & Stanford: 21/4


  • Odds coach Brian Kelly does not return in 2018: 7/3
  • Over/Under games started for QB Brandon Wimbush: 8.5
  • Over/Under TD passes for QB Brandon Wimbush: 22.5
  • Over/Under rushing yards for RB Josh Adams: 950


After spending the end of last season figuring out how to get four Big Ten teams in the playoff, the conference suffered something of an embarrassment as Ohio State was shutout 31-0 by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Not a good look. Next time the committee will be more likely to pick the conference champion, or maybe even look elsewhere, since the Big 12 is no longer shooting itself in the foot. There are still a lot of great teams in the conference, but the competition might not be deep enough to adequately prepare for the playoff; these great defenses won’t see the same level of offenses they’re bound to encounter come New Year’s.


  • Ohio State: 11/9
  • Michigan: 3/1
  • Penn State: 4/1
  • Michigan State: 19/1
  • Indiana: 30/1
  • Maryland: 50/1
  • Rutgers: 100/1

Ohio State is still the favorite to win the East (and the conference); being one of the two largest programs in the country will do that for you. Not far behind: the Michigan Wolverines, who are experiencing such a renaissance under Jim Harbaugh that they’re nearly fluent in French, Dutch, and Flemish. Penn State, the best team* in college football, rounds out the true contenders.

*to watch


  • Wisconsin: 3/2
  • Nebraska: 4/1
  • Northwestern: 5/1
  • Iowa: 8/1
  • Minnesota: 10/1
  • Illinois: 30/1
  • Purdue: 100/1

Wisconsin’s a heavy favorite in the West, being the only team in the division with a truly elite defense and some interesting options on offense. For longer shots, Minnesota’s a value pick, as they’re a nine-win team that’s just now starting under the high-energy coaching of PJ Fleck. Fleck, who comes to Minneapolis from Western Michigan, hasn’t lost a regular-season game since November of 2015 (and hasn’t slept or sat down since October of that year) and is inheriting one of his strongest rosters ever.


  • OSU: 3/1
  • Wisconsin: 4/1
  • Michigan: 9/2
  • Penn State: 11/2
  • Nebraska: 16/1
  • Northwestern: 16/1
  • Iowa: 20/1
  • Minnesota: 33/1
  • Michigan State: 50/1
  • Indiana: 100/1
  • Maryland: 100/1
  • Illinois: 200/1
  • Purdue: 200/1
  • Rutgers: 200/1


  • Trace McSorley (Penn State): 3/1 
  • JT Barrett (OSU): 6/1
  • Saquon Barkley (Penn State): 8/1
  • Justin Jackson (Northwestern): 15/1
  • Mike Weber (OSU): 15/1

Trace McSorley is the favorite because his first read is the deep ball and he makes that throw with consistency, somehow. If everything goes his way, he’ll put up Air Raid-esque numbers and win a lot of games with a program everyone is happy to see back to national relevance. Saquon Barkley is probably the best offensive player in the conference, but running backs don’t get the same love with major awards that they used to, notwithstanding that Barkley is the reigning champ. While I have you here, I’d like to make sure that you’ve seen this run, where Barkley wiggles his way through the USC front seven, and then jukes the entire secondary, most of the coaching staff, the band, the bulk of the student body, and the mayor of Pasadena.

Maybe this is the year JT Barrett turns all of his talent into results? Maybe. But probably not.


  • Rashan Gary (Michigan): 3/1
  • Marcus Allen (Penn State): 5/1 
  • Tyquan Lewis (OSU): 8/1

I’m scared of Rashan Gary, and you should be too. The consensus #1 recruit spent a lot of 2016 sitting on a bench behind Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton, but now that they’ve gone to the NFL, it’s all eyes on Gary. If Michigan’s defense is all it’s stacked up to be, Gary will be the star of one of the best units in the country, and awards and exposure will follow him around.

Marcus Allen will be trying to anchor a Penn State secondary that loses a lot of talent, but with 83.5 tackles last year, he’s certainly reliable enough to keep the unit respectable. Tyquan Lewis racked up more than ten tackles for loss and eight sacks for Ohio State’s defense, and if he can improve on those numbers, he’ll be among the favorites for more than just Big Ten awards.

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