Wisconsin Badgers (6-2 SU, 6-2 ATS) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (4-4 SU, 5-3 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date/Time: Saturday, November 5 at 12pm ET
Where: Ryan Field
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WISC -6.5/NW +6.5
Over/Under Total: 44
As the calendar moves to November, it becomes crunch time in college football. Bowl berths and playoff paths are on the horizon, making every week a must-win for nearly every team. The Wisconsin Badgers head to Northwestern this Saturday to take on the Wildcats in what has routinely been a very difficult matchup for Bucky. Northwestern has won six of the last ten meetings and Wisconsin has not won in Evanston since 1999. These teams go about their business in very similar fashions and perhaps that gives the Wildcats the edge that has seen them handle the Badgers so easily in years past. Wisconsin has a boatload to play for as they came out in the 8th spot when the first playoff rankings were released. A win this weekend sets up a potential run to the Big Ten Championship game and perhaps a final four spot should things break their way. The gauntlet that featured LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska now finishes up with Northwestern looking to play that familiar spoiler role.
With Wisconsin firmly established as a top team in the NCAA, it was probable that they would be a moderate favorite this weekend and the online betting sites installed them at -5.5 to open with the line getting pushed to -6.5 after early betting. The home team is 8-1 against the spread in this series but Wisconsin enters on a four game ATS win streak as a visitor and have won 8-of-10 ATS overall. Northwestern has four straight ATS wins against Big Ten opponents. The Sagarin Computers rank Wisconsin as the 11th best team in the land with Northwestern 38th. The rating produce a Badger advantage of 6.5 points so the line is right on with that but the offense-defense method is predicting a 21-13 win for Wisconsin, a slight two point bump from the raw point spread.
The Badgers are coming off an overtime thriller that saw them knock Nebraska from the list of unbeatens and they have positioned themselves to make a run at a conference title. Wisconsin needs to be on top of its game and get out to a lead as Northwestern has won the close games between these teams while the blowouts have gone UW’s way. Paul Chryst is looking for some consistency out of the quarterback position, leading to a rotation with Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston both playing significant snaps in each of the last two games. That trend will continue this week although Hornibrook has been tabbed as the starter. It doesn’t matter who is at QB in terms of offensive gameplan but something has to improve as the two signal callers have combined for nine touchdowns against ten interceptions. The Badgers are just 96th in total yards gained and that is putting a lot of pressure on the defense. That top-10 D has been up to the task so far but how many times can they answer the bell, especially as injuries continue to mount.
After a pretty shaky start, Northwestern has figured it out to a large extent and put together a fantastic effort against Ohio State last week in Columbus. The Wildcats were on the wrong side of a 24-20 decision but they had the Buckeyes tied at 17 in the third quarter and took OSU to limit as massive underdogs. There is rarely much flash with Pat Fitzgerald’s teams but they wore down Ohio State and made life difficult for J.T Barrett, something Wisconsin couldn’t accomplish in Madison. Much like the Badgers, the Cats are less than dynamic on offense but employ a very strong overall defense that enters the week 31st in points allowed and 39th in run stopping.
Wisconsin has been doing just enough on offense in the last two weeks to grab the win. Corey Clement is a thumper with a nose for the endzone but the ground game is rebounding with WR carries and back-up RB Dare Ogunbowale finding success on draws and stretch plays. UW is averaging 179 rushing yards per game and that has helped the Badgers hold the ball and rest the defense. Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli are tough matchups when the quarterback play is on point and Wisconsin converts a respectable 42% on third down. The defense remains the MVP however by allowing just 309 total yards per game and a 3rd best 14.9 points per game. T.J. Watt is becoming more than just J.J’s little brother and the secondary is playing very well at the moment. The defense gets off the field over 75% of the time on third down. It will be tough for Northwestern to see consistent offensive production.
The Badgers might have plenty of quarterback concerns but Northwestern does not share that concern with Clayton Thorson emerging as a standout dual threat. Thorson has thrown 15 touchdowns so far but also contributes on the ground with four more scores. He is the second leading rusher on the team and there will be lanes for him to escape against a blitz happy Badger defense. Justin Jackson is the hardworking kind of runner that gets better as the game wears on and he will need to a little something to keep the Wildcats ahead of the sticks and force Wisconsin to defend third-and-short. Austin Carr leads the team with an impressive 58/878/9 stat line as a receiver. He is probably the number one conversation in UW’s defensive meetings but Northwestern will find ways to hurt Wisconsin if they overplay Carr.
There is no doubt that Wisconsin has been the better team on paper in every recent meeting with Northwestern but there is just something that the Badgers cannot solve, especially at Ryan Field. I really don’t expect that to change in a clear or obvious way given the offensive struggles by Wisconsin and this one has all the makings of a close, four quarter battle. The Badger defense is nearly inexplicable in how completely it can shut down an opponent and that almost always means Wisconsin is playing from ahead early. I see much of the same this weekend with UW getting on the board with a touchdown early and a lead at half. Northwestern isn’t going to go away and hide however and the teams are ripe to trade scores in the second half. A very close game could be trouble for Wisconsin as their kicking game is unsettled with Andrew Endicott missing a field goal and extra point during the Nebraska game. It won’t come to that as Wisconsin finds a way to exorcise the Northwestern demons and leave Evanston with a long overdue win. I’m taking the Wildcats and the points as I think they continue the good play that they have shown over the last month. They score late to make it a 21-16 margin.
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Northwestern
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