Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-3 SU, 4-5-2 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (9-2 SU, 9-2 ATS)
NCAA Football Week 13
Date/Time: Saturday, November 26 at 3:30pm ET
Where: Camp Randall
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MINN +14.5/WISC -14.5
Over/Under Total: 44
Rivalry week in the Big Ten and while no other game rises to the level of Ohio State v. Michigan, there is another matchup that has a longer history. Minnesota heads to Madison this week to meet Wisconsin for the 126th edition of the most played rivalry in college football. They used to play for a slab of bacon but they now play for Paul Bunyans Axe and there is a lot more on the line for the Badgers. A win this weekend sends Wisconsin to Indy for the Big Ten Championship game and perhaps a final four berth if they win the conference. The Gophers are going bowling this year with their record already at 8-3 but ending a 12-game losing streak to their next door neighbors would mean a lot more than just that ninth win.
Wisconsin plays the favorite this weekend with the online betting sites installing UW at -14 and a half. The underdog is 7-2 against the spread in the last nine between these teams and Minnesota is 5-0-2 ATS in their last seven as the visitor. Wisconsin is 8-1 ATS in the last nine against a Big Ten foe and the over has hit in the last eight at Camp Randall in this series. The Badgers are 8th in the Sagarin ratings with the Gophers at 44th. UW sports the 18th toughest schedule to date with Minny at 70th and the Gophers are 0-3 against the top-30. Wisconsin has played three top ten opponents, going 1-2 in those games, while Minnesota will be facing its first such opponent this weekend. The offense-defense method is calling for a 29-13 Wisconsin win.
The weight of trying to win back the Axe has to be a borderline distraction for Minnesota. Wisconsin has won 19 of the last 21 games in this rivalry and you have to go back to 1993 to find the last time the Gophers beat a ranked Badger squad. These teams share geography, potential recruits and style of play so having such a lopsided win-loss ratio is almost inexplicable. Minnesota has found ways to beat Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan and everyone else at some point over the last decade but they just cant crack the Wisconsin code. Winning this weekend will be tough as this will be the toughest opponent Minnesota has faced and the Badger trend is upward. It is almost like Wisconsin lent Minnesota the playbook on how to win consistently in the Big Ten but ripped out the last few pages.
As always, Wisconsin will go as its run game goes. The Badgers are up to 200 rushing yards per game after three straight vintage efforts and they have found three quality backs to tote the rock. Corey Clement and Bradrick Shaw are thumpers that grind out yards and wear down defenses while Dare Ogunbowale is more slippery and found a role as a third down pass catcher. That trio has accounted for 18 total touchdowns so far and will almost certainly crack 2,000 rushing yards at some point Saturday. Minnesota is 16th against the run and allows just 3.3 yards per rush but much of that production has come against lesser competition and more passing-centric systems. It wont be easy for Wisconsin to go up and down the field as the Gopher D is solid and more importantly healthy but it is hard to see a scenario where the Badgers have to go pass-heavy as a necessity.
Minnesota is going to run as well. They average 191 yards per game on the ground with Rodney Smith already over the 1,000 yard mark and he leads the team with 15 touchdowns. Mitch Leidner adds to the run game as a mobile quarterback but he has more rushing scores this season than passing touchdowns and seems to have regressed in the dropback scenarios. Wisconsin is 5th in the country against the run and allows just 13.4 points per game on average. Smith is not a homerun hitter out of the backfield so Leidner is going to need to find some more success through the air t convert those key third down situations. Drew Wolitarsky has been the ace receiver for the Gophers with 57 grabs for 711 yards but another consistent target has yet to emerge and that leaves Minnesota at risk of being shutdown if a defense can take away the well-known options.
Somehow, Wisconsin is making the most of a two-quarterback system. Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston have traded series through the last five weeks and it has seen the Badgers succeed as each QB brings a little something different. They have combined for 2,003 passing yards with 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions but the production seems to be increasing each week they stick with playing both. Houston is the stronger armed and the more mobile of the two and comes in to relieve the starter Hornibrook. Paul Chryst left Houston in for a while longer than normal against Purdue as he had the hot hand so look for a similar pattern if one signal caller really gets things going. Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli lead the Badgers receivers group and while there isnt a ton of big play production from the passing game, Wisconsin has seen more and more open looks as the running game draws defenders.
Wisconsin has played the big brother role so well in this rivalry and I dont expect that to change in Madison this weekend. Fourteen-plus looks like a heavy spread to cover against an eight win team but those victories have come against the bottom half of the conference. Minnesota hasnt faced Ohio State or Michigan and has come up short against Nebraska, Iowa and Penn State. Wisconsin is likely a step up from those teams and there just isnt the offensive juice on the Minnesota side to overpower the stout Badger D. The UW offense is gaining steam and should be able to stay on track against a good but not great Gopher defense. Minnesota is a good pass rushing team but that will not matter if they cant put Bucky in a position to throw the ball often. Look for a close game at half that Wisconsin grabs a hold of as the second half wears on. The Badger run game sees continued success and the home team heads to a conference championship game after a 31-14 win.
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Wisconsin
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