Michigan Wolverines (8-2 SU, 4-5-1 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (10-0 SU, 6-4 ATS)
College Football Week 12
Date and Time: Saturday, November 18 at 12pm ET
Where: Camp Randall Stadium
by Evergreen , Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH +7.5/WISC -7.5
After a couple of weeks that saw chaos regarding the makeup of the College Football Playoff final four, this week should be relatively quiet. Alabama is playing Mercer, Clemson has the Citadel and the new hotness Auburn faces Louisiana-Monroe. That doesnt leave many must-watch matchups on the schedule but the Big Ten can save the day with the Michigan v. Wisconsin tilt. The ESPN Gameday crew will head to Madison and that should have the atmosphere pretty hot, even though the game time temps will be awfully close to freezing. Maybe the Badger student section will be able to get to the game on time they are notorious late arrivers with so much on the line for Wisconsin and without much to play for, Michigan has taken the role of formidable, would-be spoilers.
Michigan enters the week at #18 and will be the highest ranked team Wisconsin has faced all year. The online betting sites floated the Badgers as 10-point favorites to open but the line has already been bet down to UW -7.5 with nearly 85% of the early money coming in on the side of the Wolverines. Wisconsin has had the ATS edge in this series, winning eight of the last ten against the spread, including each of the last four in Madison. Neither of these teams have done well against winning teams with Michigan just 1-5-1 ATS in the last seven against an opponent over .500 with Wisconsin just 1-4 ATS in the last five when they play a winning team at Camp Randall. The metrics compiled by the Football Outsiders (S&P+) have Wisconsin 7.4 points ahead of Michigan with the Sagarin computers calling for a 24-15 Badger victory.
Michigan had high hopes this season but injuries at QB and a general lack of offensive production left them essentially unable to beat anyone the defense couldnt shutdown all together. October losses to Michigan State and Penn State derailed any thoughts of a relevant postseason but the Wolverines have kept their head above water since, beating the bottom of the Big Ten with relative ease. They enter the week just inside the top-100 in total offense and that is a big problem considering Wisconsin leads the NCAA in total defense at 247 yards allowed per game. Michigan is not without a stout defense of their own as they rank inside the top-10 in yards and points allowed but the lack of offense has been the issue Jim Harbaugh has not been able to correct. The Wolverines are on to their third starting quarterback with sophomore Brandon Peters starting the last three games. His 60% completions and 4-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio is just fine but he has attempted just over 15 throws per game. He will have to do more as Michigan will likely not see a ton of rushing success against the Badgers top-ranked run defense that allows 81 yards per game.
Wisconsin has a similar make-up to Michigan but have been doing things just a bit better. The Badgers are 18th in the country in rushing and their defense clocks in at 3rd with 13.4 points allowed per game. They are coming off a nearly flawless defensive performance against Iowa where they surrendered just 66 total yards to the Hawkeyes with all 14 Iowa points coming from their defense on pick-sixes. The injuries have been no big deal to Wisconsin over the course of the year but the turnovers remain the potential downfall for this team. Alex Hornibrook is completing nearly 65% of his passes and has 17 touchdowns but also has 12 interceptions and has thrown at least one in every conference game. Michigan is the 2nd ranked pass defense in the land so Hornibrook will be best served to end that streak if Wisconsin wants to remain unblemished. Jonathan Taylor is averaging seven yards per carry and has scored twelve times for Wisconsin but he has lost four fumbles already, including one last week. Taylor, and the other Badger backs, will look to test Michigans 9th ranked run defense in what should be the key matchup this weekend. The advantage is squarely with Wisconsin if they can run consistently but Michigan will be in position to control the pace if they make the Badgers go to the pass.
The Wolverines are looking for some good news regarding two running backs. Karan Higdon leads the team with 854 yards and 10 touchdowns but may be limited by an ankle injury. There are two other talented Wolverine runners but Ty Isaac is also banged up. Isaac and Chris Evans have combined for over 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns to give Michigan one of most talented trios in the game but all of them will need to be performing at a high level if the Wolverines are going to produce in the run game. Any limitations on in the running game will spell serious trouble as there are few playmakers in the Michigan passing game. The UM offensive line play is also key as Michigan has allowed 26 sacks to this point with Wisconsin notching 35 sacks for another top-10 ranking.
Both teams are run-oriented and they rely heavily on time of possession. Wisconsin is averaging nearly 36 minutes per game with Michigan at 32-plus. The team that gets closest to their average likely sees a large edge emerge late as the opposing defense will be sucking wind. The Badgers lead the NCAA in 3rd down conversions at 52%. That rate is almost certainly due to all the 3rd-and-short scenarios they see so it will be a big benefit to Michigan if they can force 3rd and four or longer. Wisconsin is not nearly as efficient when they have to throw for those conversions and they are without their main WR Quintez Cephus. Troy Fumagalli remains the prime 3rd down and redzone target in the passing game but Michigan should be able to account for the tight end without proven options elsewhere in the Badger air attack.
Ultimately, I think Wisconsin stays unbeaten this week. Playing in Madison is no treat for the visitor and Wisconsin is doing all their normal Badger things at a very high level. Michigan wants to the very same things for the most part but that hasnt worked out for teams like Iowa and Nebraska this season. Both tried to out Wisconsin the Badgers but no one has proven that is a possibility this year. Without top-end playmakers on Michigans offense, they are likely to see the same lack of production that nearly everyone else has seen when they face the nations top defense. The penalties and turnovers are apparently who Wisconsin is this season as well. What would normally derail other teams is just not leading to Ls for UW and oddly, those shortcomings appear to only motivate the team in the moment. That is the sign of a mature and steady team, much like Paul Chryst preaches. This was a 14-7 Michigan win when these teams met in Ann Arbor last season. Wisconsin is better overall, Michigan is likely not as good as 2016 but they are still darn good on defense. This was the week to be on the ball for early betting as the 10.5 opening line was a no-brainer bet in Michigans favor. The 7.5 or 8 point line that exists now is still a nice play for the Wolverines as both teams are going to have a tough time scoring. Look for just enough out of Michigans offense to get 14-17 points on the board and Wisconsin in the 21-23 range. 23-14 obviously pays the Badger side but I think it more like 21-16, take the Wolverines and the points.
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan. Bet this game for FREE by taking advantage of a FAT 100% bonus up to $1000 at MyBookie! (Use Promo Code: PRDCT14)