The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

June 25, 2014

OSU favored to be in title chase

Buckeyes tabbed to be in the hunt for national crown

COLUMBUS — A few tips for visitors to Las Vegas this summer: Double down on 11, stand on 17, and ... yes on Ohio State.

As the top sports books begin to release their betting lines for this college football season, oddsmakers are buying the Buckeyes as one of the country’s top title contenders — and a favorite to appear in the first four-team playoff.

That is, if they can vanquish their new nemesis. Just like old times, forecasters see the Big Ten coming down to Ohio State and its rivals to the north, except this year it’s the team a tad farther north.

The Golden Nugget Casino casts the Buckeyes as heavy favorites in all but one game: their Nov. 8 trip to reigning Big Ten champion Michigan State. In a rematch of last year’s league title showdown, OSU has been installed as a one-point underdog.

Golden Nugget sports book supervisor Aaron Kessler said the ground-rattling atmosphere at Spartan Stadium will offset the Buckeyes’ narrow edge in talent.

“Even though MSU has a lot of losses on defense, we feel that they will provide a tough task for Ohio State,” Kessler said in an email.

“Combining that with the homefield advantage, it put us in a position where we felt that OSU was the slightly better team, but we couldn’t make them a favorite in the game. We felt  (MSU) had to be favored, but couldn’t do it by much.”

Others agree, projecting the most anticipated game of the Big Ten season as a virtual pick ’em while anointing Ohio State the precarious favorite in a top-heavy league.

Though OSU and Michigan State each lose six starters from their top units, the Spartans may feel the bigger wallop. They must replace the heart of their national-best defense from last year’s Rose Bowl champions, with cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough among four outbound all-conference selections. Ohio State, which went 12-2 last season, has Heisman-dreaming quarterback Braxton Miller to shepherd a rebuilt offense and the expectation of a vastly improved defense.

The Buckeyes opened as at least a touchdown favorite in every other game on the board, per Golden Nugget. OSU is giving eight points in in the home finale against Michigan and nine points in a primetime trip to Penn State while oddsmakers view the rest of the schedule as a multiple-choice, take-home quiz. That includes the season opener at Navy in Baltimore (-14) and home dates against Virginia Tech (-18) and Cincinnati (-21). On average, the lines yet to be released for the Buckeyes’ second tier of games will be even more lopsided.

Michigan, meanwhile, must literally defy the Vegas odds to reverse its decline. The Wolverines are underdogs in each of its three rivalry games, including at Notre Dame (+3) on Sept. 6 and at Michigan State (+7 1/2) on Oct. 25.

They are an early seven-point favorite in their Oct. 11 home night game against Penn State.

Nationally, OSU is viewed as the league’s most credible threat. Like most sports books, 5Dimes gives OSU (+1300) the fourth-best odds to win the national title — a $100 bet would pay out $1,300 — behind defending champion Florida State (+540), Alabama (+800), and Auburn (+1200). Michigan State is close behind (+2700), followed in the Big Ten by Wisconsin (+5,000), and Michigan (+8,000).

Another representative sports book, Bovada, made OSU (-105) a big favorite to make the four-team playoff, meaning a $105 bet would earn $100 if the Buckeyes are among the final four teams. The same bookie gives Miller 6-1 odds of winning the Heisman Trophy, behind last year’s winner, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (3-1), and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (11-2). Bowling Green State University star quarterback Matt Johnson has the 22nd-best odds at 66-1.

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