Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-0 SU, 4-2-1 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (5-2 SU, 6-1 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date/Time: Saturday, October 29 at 7pm ET
Where: Camp Randall
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NEB +8/WISC -8
Over/Under Total: OFF as of Monday, October 24
To be in control of your own destiny, as they say, is one of the best positions to be in for a college football team. A clear path to a conference championship or bowl berth is the reward for taking care of business in the early part of the schedule and not having to worry about ďneeding helpĒ is infinitely more preferable than the alternative. Two teams with firm control of their respective destinies tangle this Saturday in Madison when the Nebraska Cornhuskers meet the Wisconsin Badgers. The winner will emerge as the presumptive favorite to win the Big Ten West while the loser winds up with a lot of work to do to regain that precious control of fate.
Both schools have been strong performers this season straight up and against the spread. Camp Randall is a tough venue for any visitor and Wisconsin has been listed as 8-point favorites by the majority of online betting sites. These teams have squared off five times since Nebraska joined the Big Ten with Wisconsin winning four, including both games in Madison and Bucky is 4-1 against the spread in those meetings. The Huskers are 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games on the road but the Badgers enter the week undefeated against the spread in the last five games against a division foe. If you prefer the cold hard analytics, the Sagarin ratings have Nebraska ranked 24th, Wisconsin 10th and the predictor calling for a 20-10 Badger win. The over/under is off most boards in the early betting but expect a total in the low 40ís.
Wisconsin has shown nearly all of its cards while playing multiple top-tier opponents but the same cannot be said for Nebraska. You canít take anything away from a team that is undefeated at this point but the Huskers havenít exactly blown the doors off of Big Ten bottom dwellers like Indiana and Purdue. Nebraska has yet to face a top-30 opponent this season and the shine has mostly come off their win against Oregon now that the Ducks have slipped to 2-5. I think it is fair to say that this is the prove-it game for the Huskers and they will have to come up with a much better effort than they have put forth in two previous games at Camp Randall. Nebraska has been outscored 107-41 in their two previous trips to Madison and Wisconsin seems to have a strange ability to do something over-the-top when these two teams meet. It makes you wonder if there is a Herbie doll in Barry Alvarezís office with pins sticking out of it.
Wisconsin might be the best two loss team in the country but they will have to play up this weekend if they want to avoid loss number three. Their 17-9 win at Iowa last week included two missed field goals and a goal line turnover that kept the game in question for longer than necessary and the struggle to find consistent offense continued. Alex Hornibrook has the poise of an upperclassman but his play has been inconsistent overall, making good throws at times but missing open receivers a nearly equal amount. Hornibrook was replaced by Bart Houston after taking a hard hit last week but did return after Houston engineered a touchdown drive. There has been little said by Paul Chryst if there is a QB controversy or if there are plans to play both signal-callers but there really isnít much different for the Wisconsin offense no matter of who is in there. For the record, Houston has the stronger arm but it appears that Chryst favors Hornibrook for his current scheme. The Badgers need something dynamic out of the passing game as they have fallen to 90th in passing yards and 96th in scoring at 24.3 points per game. The running game for Wisconsin is productive in terms of winning the time of possession battle but the homerun has been lacking from the ground game. Corey Clement is averaging just 4.3 yards per carry and will run against a Nebraska defense that is a top-30 run-stopping unit, allowing 124 yards per game on average.
There are some significant injury notes for each team. Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp was listed as a starter on the depth chart, giving Nebraska a big boost in the passing game. Westerkamp may not be 100% but getting the team leader in touchdown receptions on the field is great news for the Huskers. The news is not positive for Wisconsin as LB Jack Cichy is reported as out for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Cichy has been a tremendous pass-rusher from the second level and stepped up his leadership role during Vince Biegelís absence. Biegel is back so perhaps the Cichy injury can be covered up but T.J. Watt is questionable as is CB Derrick Tindal. The Badgers have maintained their top-10 ranks despite various injuries this season but the breaking point might be getting closer.
It is not news to say this is a strength-on-strength matchup. Both teams rely on holding the ball for 34+ plus minutes behind a grinding run game with both teams solid against the run. Nebraska has the edge in total yards on offense by about 70 per game and scores about 10 points more per contest than Wisconsin. The Badgers counter with the statistically better defense, allowing opponents to convert on just 24.7% of third downs with the Huskers at 32.6% and Bucky allows almost a yard less per rush than their counterpart. All of that probably washes on a neutral field and youíre left with a pick Ďem game decided simply by the team that executes better on the given day. Having the game in Camp Randall, complete with the normally raucous primetime atmosphere gives a significant edge to Wisconsin but Iím skeptical that is worth the eight points. If this one comes down to details, the Badgers are likely the more disciplined team. UW was hit for zero penalties at Iowa, the second time they put in a clean game this season.
I believe this one is pretty simple on paper. Nebraska has an advantage at QB with Tommy Armstrong representing the kind of dual-threat that Wisconsin has sometimes struggled against. Terrell Newby and Corey Clement probably cancel each other out as do the overall receiving options for each team. Alonzo Moore for Nebraska and Jazz Peavy for Wisconsin have become solid targets in the passing game but neither offense has a consistent over-the-top option that is going to stress out the opposing secondary. No one will be surprised to see a back-and-forth game that should be hotly contested through the final possessions. Unless Nebraska is simply allergic to Camp Randall, I see them putting forth a solid effort that will get enough traction against this banged-up defense to get 20 points on the board. That puts the pressure on Wisconsinís inconsistent offense to push toward 30 to cover and I donít think they do it. Wisconsin is a good bet to do what it takes in a hard-fought game and get the win but the eight is too much so take Huskers and the points. Wisconsin 24 Nebraska 20
Evergreenís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Nebraska
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