Northwestern Wildcats vs. Wisconsin Badgers Pick 9/28/19
Northwestern Wildcats (1-2 SU, 0-3 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (3-0 SU, 3-0 ATS)
NCAA Football Week 5
Date and Time:Saturday, Sep. 28 at 12pm ET
Where:Camp Randall Stadium
Point Spread:NW +23.5/WISC -23.5 (SportBet)
Every team has an opponent that gives them fits every year, regardless of rank or record. For Wisconsin, that opponent has been Northwestern, and the Badgers welcome the Wildcats to Madison this weekend for what they hope something a little less stressful than what these games have been in years past. These teams have split the last six meetings in the series with Northwestern winning four of the previous six against the spread, but this is perhaps the weakest Wildcat team in recent memory with Wisconsin newly minted inside the AP top-10. The ‘Cats snagged a 31-17 upset win at home last season but duplicating the result in Camp Randall will require something we haven’t seen yet from this Northwestern squad.
No one was really sure what to make of the Badgers after 49-0 and 61-0 wins to start the season. They were certainly impressive in those victories, but the competition was likely below average, and Wisconsin opened Week 4 as small underdogs to Michigan. We all saw how easily the Badgers dispatched the Wolverines and they can now make a further statement by putting away what looks to be an undermanned Northwestern team. If Wisconsin rolls again this week, there will be little doubt left that Ohio State is their only true competition inside the Big Ten and the October 26th matchup against the Buckeyes will essentially declare the conference front-runner for a potential playoff bid. Wisconsin enters as the 21st ranked overall offense at 506 yards per game while averaging a 7th best, 48.3 points per game. Those are gaudy numbers but nothing compared to the what the nation’s best defense is putting up. That Badger D is 1st in total yards allowed, 1st in rushing yards allowed and went nearly eleven full quarters before finally allowing their first points on the season.
Enough in the Tank?
Northwestern has been the thorn in many teams sides due to their disciplined approach and just enough playmaking to maximize on any mistakes their opponents made. The discipline is probably still there, but after losses to Stanford and Michigan State, it appears that the playmaking is mostly absent. QB TJ Green was lost for the season in the opener, and back-up Hunter Johnson has struggled to find consistency while completing just 48% of his passes. Bennett Skowronek (12-141) is a legitimate receiving threat, but he is listed as questionable for Saturday, and the Wildcats have no viable replacement if he doesn’t play. Kyric McGowan and Riley Lees are the leading receivers behind Skowronek, but that duo has just 79 receiving yards combined this season and a yards per catch average just above six. Northwestern is ranked 120th (of 130) in total yards gained through three games, and they haven’t faced anything like the Wisconsin defense.
Predicting a shutout in any week is somewhat silly - Clemson and Alabama have none this season - but Wisconsin could be ready to put another zero in the scorebook. The Badgers have allowed just 32 rushing yards per game so far, and Northwestern is a pedestrian 64th in yards on the ground, averaging just four yards per carry. The Wildcats are 123rd in passing, 128th in points per game and are typically facing long down-and-distance scenarios. Their third-down conversion rate is not terrible at 37%, but Wisconsin leads the nation in allowing a 10.5% conversion percentage. One thing that could help Northwestern is that UW will be without starting safeties Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson for the first half after both were flagged for targeting last week.
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Taylor for Heisman?
I am five paragraphs deep in this preview and haven’t even talked about a Wisconsin offense that is averaging nearly 50 points per game. Jonathan Taylor rushed for 200 yards last week in less than three quarters and scored his tenth touchdown against Michigan. If UW is going to cover this reasonably large spread, the offense will need to be as efficient as they have been to start the season, but that seems entirely plausible with Taylor averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Jack Coan looks efficient while completing 77% of his passes and he enters the week with seven total touchdowns and no interceptions. Quintez Cephus is averaging 18.6 yards per catch, and six different Badgers have at least one catch in all three games so far. This offense is suddenly versatile and should be able to stay on track against a Northwestern defense that is outside the top-40 in yards and points allowed.
Northwestern has been tough against conference opponents, running up a 20-8 record against the spread over the last few years in the Big Ten but is just 1-5 ATS in their last six games overall. Wisconsin is riding a 4-0 ATS streak dating back to Bowl season, and the home team is 12-4 ATS in the last 16 meetings between these schools. The line for this game opened with Wisconsin as 21.5-point favorites but has been bet to -23.5 with the Badgers still getting 65% of the early action.
I think Wisconsin is very much for real this season and Northwestern seems to have taken a step back. The Wildcats are averaging 15.7 points per game, and I don’t think they even reach that against a Wisconsin defense that is allowing less than two yards per carry. Wisconsin leads the nation in time of possession at nearly 39 minutes per game. That keeps the defense fresh but also saps the opposing defense and allows that offensive line to open holes for Taylor and the run game. I think this line is going to continue north so grab the Badgers now if you can, they pick up a 38-10 win.
Ted’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Wisconsin minus the points! Bet the Badgers at -13.5 or -3.5 by inserting them into a GIANT 20 point NCAA football teaser found at Wagerweb!
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