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Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Over-unders: Legends Division

By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

The season is rapidly approaching now, so we're unveiling some of our official predictions, beginning with the always fun over-under picks.

Here's how this works: Bovada Sportsbook provided baseline totals for regular-season wins only for every Big Ten team. We decide (without actually betting money) if we think each team will finish above or below that baseline -- or hit it exactly, in some cases.

We'll start off with the Legends Division.

Iowa

Over-under: 5.5 wins

Brian's pick: Under. By saying over, of course, you're saying Iowa will get back to a bowl game this year. I think that's a realistic outlook for the Hawkeyes this season, especially with a strong running game expected to lead the way. Still, I see a lot of bumps in the road in conference play for Iowa, and I wonder if there are enough playmakers on the defensive line. So I'll go with the under, as a 5-7 season in a loaded division seems more likely.

Adam's pick: Under. I went back and forth on this one as 5.5 really is the perfect opening number for the Hawkeyes (well done, Bovada). Iowa's Big Ten home schedule includes no gimmes (Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan). While an upset or two wouldn't surprise me, I also think Iowa stumbles once in non-league play and loses to a team it shouldn't. Just too many question marks for a team playing in the better division. Iowa ends up at 5-7.

Michigan

Over-under: 8.5 wins

Adam's pick: Over. Like many Big Ten teams, Michigan should have a rather spiffy record entering the month of November. If the Wolverines can get at least a split against Notre Dame and Penn State, they'll be 6-1 as they begin a season-defining stretch. Depth is a concern as Michigan lacks it at quarterback, wide receiver and on the interior lines. Part of me thinks Michigan's roster remains a year away from greatness, but I expect at least nine wins from Brady Hoke's crew.

Brian's pick: Over. I really like the schedule, which includes most of the big games (Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State) at the Big House, where Hoke is undefeated as head coach. I think the Wolverines could easily be a 10-win club and will definitely get at least nine victories in 2013.

Michigan State

Over-under: 8.5 wins

Brian's pick: Under. The Spartans should increase their win total over last year, when they got a whole bunch of bad breaks (some, admittedly, self-inflicted) in close games. Their defense will keep them highly competitive each week. But I've still got major questions about that offense, and I don't think the quarterback play is going to be good enough for them to finish better than 8-4.

Adam's pick: Over. Maybe I should have learned my lesson from last year, and I agree that the Spartans' offense has some major questions to address. But it wouldn't surprise me if Max Bullough and the Michigan State defense is even stingier than it was in 2012 (tough to do). Some of those close games will go Michigan State's way, and the schedule allows the offense some time to figure things out before the stretch run. I have MSU upsetting Notre Dame on the road (final score: 10-9) and going 9-3.

Minnesota

Over-under: 5.5 wins

Adam's pick: Over. I nearly went the other way here as I don't see many victories in Minnesota's final seven games. But Jerry Kill will record a signature win of sorts along the way, and Minnesota could start 4-0 or 5-0 before the Jug game at the Big House. I see the Gophers finishing 6-6 again but having a better team than in 2012.

Brian's pick: Over. The Gophers are a potential surprise team this season, although they've got to stay afloat in a hostile division. This should easily be Kill's best team, and a soft nonconference schedule should lead to a six-win season at worst.

Nebraska

Over-under: 9.5 wins

Brian's pick: Over. It wouldn't shock me if the Huskers went 11-1 or if they finished 8-4. This has become an unpredictable bunch, even more so this year because of a wildly inexperienced defense. But Nebraska has a great chance to start 7-0 and only has two intimidating road games (at Michigan and at Penn State). Bo Pelini guided last year's team to 10 regular-season wins against a tougher schedule, and I say he does it again.

Adam's pick: Over. This is a fairly easy pick because of the schedule, which sets up for Nebraska to start at least 7-0, provided it gets past UCLA in Week 3. The Huskers will stumble a bit in November as the competition level goes up, but barring major injuries, they'll record double-digit wins for the fourth time in the past five seasons.

Northwestern

Over-under: 8.5 wins

Adam's pick: Over. I'm pretty bullish on the Legends division, especially in non-conference play, and I envision another strong start for Pat Fitzgerald's crew. Northwestern is a better team playing a tougher schedule, and there are five featured games: Ohio State (home), Wisconsin (road), Nebraska (road), Michigan (home) and Michigan State (home). Even if Northwestern goes 2-3 in that stretch, I see it winning the games it should and finishing 9-3.

Brian's pick: Under. The Wildcats could make me look silly here, as they have the talent and experience to win the Legends Division. But the schedule, which includes crossover games versus Ohio State and at Wisconsin along with the Legends powers, is unforgiving. And it makes me think Northwestern will finish 8-4 this season.