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Analyzing some season-long Northwestern betting lines

A look at Las Vegas’ estimations of Northwestern’s chances in 2020.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

With sports betting now legal in Illinois, Northwestern students and fans alike are finally entering the world of gambling! Okay, maybe that’s not the reality of the timeline, but who cares, because a number of NU-related lines are available, and it’s always fun to take a look at how bookies peg Northwestern’s squad before the year starts. With that being said, let’s jump into some interesting opportunities to put your faith in the Wildcats, with some commentary on each bet’s likelihood of cashing.

Over/Under Wins: 5.0

Bet winnability percentage: 55 percent

Northwestern’s total is dead in the middle of the Big Ten, with Ohio State’s total of 8.5 leading the pack and Rutgers’ 1.0 at the bottom. It’s easy to say that NU is a consistently underrated team, and based on the program’s results versus their preseason win totals, that checks out. Before the Wildcats won a lowly three games in 2019, they hit the over on their previous four seasons. Though this is a particularly unique season, there are some reasons to believe that overall trend will continue, but also some places for caution.

On the optimistic side, this is going to be a completely revamped Northwestern offense with one of the easiest schedules it could possibly have. There isn’t a game on NU’s schedule that is seemingly unwinnable, and home games against Maryland and Illinois could be surefire wins. With Peyton Ramsey now at the helm and Mike Bajakian leading the offense, we could be in store for a scorching season.

But if you’re a Northwestern fan, you also know the flip side to what I just said. There isn’t a game on the schedule that is seemingly impossible to lose, especially early in the year. If NU gets out to a typical slow start, dropping a game to Maryland could prove deadly for the win total. At the end of the day, it’s hard to know exactly what type of team the COVID-iteration of Northwestern football will be, but I’m cautiously confident in Peyton Ramsey.

Big Ten West Champions: 6/1

Bet winnability percentage: 20 percent

Here’s the issue with these odds: They’re greatly deflated due to Northwestern’s fairytale run to Indianapolis in 2018. Prior to that trip, no pundits would have given NU a legitimate shot at a division title, and now the team’s odds are likely shorter than they should be. With that being said, there’s no definitive winner in the West this year, and that should inspire optimism in this bet.

Wisconsin lost starter Jack Coan to a foot injury, and Minnesota is unlikely to replicate its success of last year. Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern are all teams that can compete with the former two for the division crown, and it’s much easier to trust Fitz and co. rather than Scott Frost, who has yet to break .500 at UNL, or Kirk Ferentz and Iowa, who are embroiled in a massive scandal. This bet just might be worth it, even if it’s not likely to hit.

Big Ten Champions: 43/1

Bet winnability percentage: Two percent

As winnable as the Big Ten West is, there is nearly no shot that this team can compete with the likes of Ohio State or Penn State in a one-game championship. There is merely too much of a talent discrepancy, especially with the former, to justify this bet. I’d love to be remarkably proven wrong, but there isn’t much to say here.

National Champion: 300/1

Bet winnability percentage: Zero percent

If you’re even considering this bet, your name is probably Darren Rovell, who places this wager every year. But there’s a reason he might be the only person on the planet that places it. Realistically, if you think Northwestern has a chance to win the title, you should be taking the NU moneyline in every game on its path to get there rather than banking on a national title. They’ll be 6-1 or more underdogs against teams like Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia, and they’ll likely have to go through three teams of that caliber to even win the CFP, so you might as well take it game by game.

*Bonus Bet* Peyton Ramsey to have the most passing yards in the Big Ten after Week 1: 9/1

Bet winnability percentage: Zero percent

Justin Fields and Tanner Morgan rightly have the shortest odds at 4/1 and 9/2 respectively, but if you want me to talk you into considering this wager, I can try. New offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian typically operates with an up-tempo offense, and he’ll be looking for his squad to send a message in his first week in charge of the offense. Additionally, Peyton Ramsey is a talented quarterback with tons of experience, and a Maryland defense that is expected to be soft will be a prime opportunity for the duo to get off to a great start.