Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-1 SU, 6-2-1 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (7-2 SU, 4-5 ATS)
College Football Week 12
Date and Time: November 15 - 3:30pm ET
Where: Camp Randall
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NEB +6/WIS -6
Over/Under Total: OFF
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With so much focus on the new NCAA playoff rankings, it can be easy to overlook some matchups that dont include the top four or five teams. The push to a conference championship game is on for many teams and the Big Ten West division picture will be clearer this week after the Nebraska Cornhuskers square off with the Wisconsin Badgers. Both teams sit at 4-1 in conference play and control their own path to Indianapolis. Madison is a tough place to play, as Nebraska found out during a 48-17 loss in 2011, but these teams are very equally matched and this should be a close contest.
The online betting sites and Vegas seem in agreement for the most part on this one and have Wisconsin (#22) as a six point favorite. Nebraska (#11) enters the week riding a six game ATS winning streak on the road while Wisconsin has gone 9-4 against the spread in their last 13 games at home.
The biggest news item through this week will be the health of Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. The Heisman candidate sprained his MCL two weeks ago against Purdue and while there is optimism that he will be able to play, no official report has been made and he will be considered a game-time decision. That news might be a ploy in part as Bo Pelini stated he expected Abdullah to return off the bye week but regardless, the Huskers will need all the help they can get against the NCAAs top ranked defense in terms of yards allowed.
Wisconsin hasnt played many offensive juggernauts but they have absolutely shut down the opposition to this point. Since losing to Northwestern, the Badgers have allowed just 51 points in the following four games and now sit 3rd in points allowed at 14.3 per game. Offensive consistency and quarterback play remains an issue for UW but it definitely helps when you are holding down the opponent so well.
Since joining the Big Ten, these teams have met three times. Each has won in their own building and Wisconsin dominated the 2012 B1G Conference Championship game, winning 70-31. This will be the first time that Gary Andersen and his coaching staff have faced Nebraska but these squads are near mirror images of each other so there is a high level of familiarity from an Xs and Os standpoint.
Nebraska enters as the 10th best rushing team in the nation, averaging 280 yards per contest. Obviously, they are better with Abdullah toting the rock but will be okay with back-up combo of Imani Cross and Terrell Newby. That duo has accounted for 603 yards and 9 touchdowns to this point and we havent talked yet about the running production from the quarterback. Tommy Armstrong is the second leading rusher on the team with 571 yards and four touchdowns. He averages 203 pass yards per contest but hits on only 53% of his attempts with eight interceptions so he is most dangerous running the ball. Wisconsin will counter the Husker rushing attack with the 5th best run defense in the land and the Badgers give up only 94 yards per game on the ground. Jordan Westerbrook and Kenny Bell are big play receivers, each averaging over 17 yards per catch and are likely the best duo the Wisconsin secondary has seen so far.
Wisconsin averages 325 rushing yards per game, good for 5th in the country. Melvin Gordon has gained 1,501 yards already with 19 touchdowns, adding another two receiving scores. Andersen has gone with a two-QB system that has Joel Stave doing most of the passing work and Tanner McEvoy running mostly read-option plays. It hasnt been perfect but in two of three games since the switch, Stave had a TD pass while McEvoy ran one in. Corey Clement spells Gordon and the Badgers dont lose much when he is in there. Clement averages 6.3 yards per carry with seven touchdowns and it gets a bit scary for defenses when both backs are in the game. There arent many gamebreakers at receiver for Wisconsin but Alex Erickson and Sam Arneson are reliable options that have seen success off of play-action and seam routes.
There isnt much intrigue or nuance ahead of us for this one and fans that love the passing game might not be so entertained by what promises to be a smashmouth, throwback style game. Even with Abdullah in there, the Huskers will have some trouble moving the ball against a fast-rallying Badger defense that is playing well. Nebraska is solid against the run in their own regard but there arent many run attacks like Wisconsin and the Gordon/Clement/McEvoy trio will be too much to handle. Stave isnt wowing anyone right now but is seasoned enough to make a few key throws and keep the chains moving. Camp Randall was a house of horrors for Herbie the first time around and it wont get much better this weekend. Wisconsin 31 Nebraska 21
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Wisconsin