Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Wisconsin Badgers Preview and Pick

Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-3) +14 at Wisconsin Badgers (5-5) -14 Saturday, November 15, 2008 3:30pm ET, ABC Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin
by Matt of Predictem.com

The Battle for Paul Bunyans axe takes this place this weekend in Madison as the Wisconsin Badgers welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers to Camp Randall . Minnesota has seen the shine come off their 08 season with consecutive losses in the last two weeks, but look to deal the Badgers bowl hopes a serious blow by stealing one on Saturday. This Big Ten tangle kicks at 3:30 pm ET with ABC on the coverage.

The Badgers are heavy favorites in this one, currently listed at -14 at most college football sportsbooks. Check in at your favorite offshore book through the week for the updated money line and over/under totals.

The Gophers were riding high at 7-1 after a win at Purdue, but back to back losses against Northwestern and Michigan derailed their Cinderella bid to win the Big Ten. They currently sit at 3-3 in the conference, 2.5 games behind Big Ten leader, Michigan State . Minnesota has played well on the road this year, going 3-1 away from Minneapolis with a 4-0 against the spread road mark. The Gophers are 6-3 ATS overall this year and have a 6-2 mark against the spread in their last eight conference games. But are 0 for the last 4 ATS in games played in Madison.

The Badgers have been a bit of a disappointment in 08, coming up short of most expectations on the way to their .500 overall record and 2-5 conference mark. Still, the Badgers are coming off a 55-20 beat down of Indiana last week and have played well in defeat, losing three Big Ten games by a combined six points. Wisconsin is 3-2 at Camp Randall this season straight up, with a 2-3 against the spread mark at home and a 5-5 overall ATS record. The home team has taken 6 of the last 8 ATS in this series.

Minnesota isnt flashy on offense, relying on strong execution to move and control the ball versus big play strikes. The Gophers are 75th in the NCAA in total yards at 343 per game, combining 226 passing and 116 rushing yards on average. Minnesota has a tendency to stall on drives as well, averaging a 66th best, 24.9 points per game and converting on only 62.5% of field goal attempts. The defense is pedestrian on the stat sheet as well, ranking outside the top-60 in rushing and passing yards allowed, but has held opponents to a respectable 19 points per game.

Adam Weber leads Minnesota from the quarterback spot, hitting on 65% of his passes for 2,256 yards while throwing 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. DeLeon Eskridge leads the team with 615 yards rushing and although his 3.9 yard average is nothing to write home about, he has found the endzone on seven occasions. The true playmaker for the Gopher offense is wideout Eric Decker, leading the team with 74 receptions for 892 yards and 6 TDs. Decker missed the Michigan game with a variety of injuries, but was not officially listed prior to that game. He is not currently listed for this week, either and there are no other issues with the Minnesota injury report.

Wisconsin is again employing a very run-heavy system that leads to an average of 224 yards on the ground, good for 10th in the country. The Badger passing attack chips in 182 yards per game for a 407 total yards average and Wisconsin converts to the tune of 27.3 points per game. The Badger D is only marginally better than Minnesota , allowing 197 and 122 yards to the pass and rush respectively and allowing 23.6 points to the opposition, ranking outside the top-40 in all categories.

Wisconsin changed quarterbacks mid-season, with Dustin Sherer now running the offense in place of Allan Evridge. Sherer is completing 52.5% of his passes for 770 yards, 3 TD’s and 4 INT’s since stepping under center. The Badger running game is clicking, with P.J. Hill wearing down defenses and John Clay providing the speed option. Hill leads the team with 845 yards and 9 scores, with Clay adding 703 yards and 6 touchdowns. David Gilreath has stepped up in Travis Beckum’s absence to become the playmaker for the Badgers, grabbing 22 balls for 329 yards, rushing for 290 more and crossing the goal line on 5 occasions. The Badgers are clean on the injury report, with no significant starters added this week.

My Pick: The Badgers are coming off their best effort of the season against Indiana and the Gophers may be trending down, but this game has been close in years past as most border battles are. If Decker is in for the Gophers, I’d take Minnesota and the 14, but the Badgers are the pick should Decker not play, running it all day and keeping a punch-less offense from putting up enough points.