Auburn Tigers (8-4 SU, 4-8 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (10-3 SU, 5-8 ATS)
Date and Time: January 1 – 12pm ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: AUB -6.5/UW +6.5
Over/Under Total: 63
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Nothing says New Years Day like hangovers and College Football. The Outback Bowl kicks off the Bowl game slate and features the Auburn Tigers against the Wisconsin Badgers. Both teams had a less than ideal finish to their respective seasons but Tampa on New Years Day is not a bad place to be. Big Ten/SEC games often come down to size versus speed and there is a little of that mixed into this matchup but both of these teams are soundly built and this should be a good game across the board.
It makes sense that Wisconsin would be an underdog after a 59-0 beatdown in the Big Ten Championship game and Auburn is currently a 6.5 point favorite, up from a 5.5 point opening line. This is just the second time this season that the Badgers are not favored to win a game. The other was the opener against LSU where Wisconsin was +3 but failed to cover, dropping a 28-24 decision. Auburn enters the bowl on a four game ATS losing streak but is 5-1 against the spread in their last six bowl games. Wisconsin has not fared well in the postseason, going 2-5 ATS in their last seven bowl matchups and is just 1-4 against the spread in their last five non-conference games.
Much of the news for both teams centers around coaching changes. After giving up 55 points to Alabama and at least 31 points in each of its last six games against Power 5 teams, Auburn fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Will Muschamp has been hired to take over the defense but Charlie Harbison will take the helm for the bowl game and the standard 4-2-5 scheme that Auburn ran all year will remain for one more game. Wisconsins Gary Andersen bolted for the West Coast shortly after the Ohio State season-ender and while the Badgers have welcomed Paul Chryst back from Pitt, it will be Barry Alvarez patrolling the sidelines for the Outback Bowl. That is familiar territory for Alvarez as he most recently coached the 2012 Rose Bowl after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. The Badgers dropped that game to Stanford but it wasnt really anything Barry as he is more figure-head with the coordinators running things. Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda remains to coach his 4th ranked Badger defense in this one.
After getting off to a strong start, Auburn lost three of its last four games to fall to 8-4 with a 4-4 conference record. The 55-44 loss to Alabama was particularly painful given the rivalry element and there is some question as to the level of motivation the Tigers will carry into this game. Im sure they expected to be in a more prestigious Bowl and anything less than 100% will put them at long odds against a very good Badger team. Nick Marshall leads the Tigers and will test the Wisconsin defense with his arm and legs. He threw for 2,315 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding 780 yards and 11 scores on the ground. He has two quality options to pass to in Dhaquille Williams and Sammie Coates with that duo combining for 1,447 yards and 9 touchdowns. Coates is the playmaker on the outside, averaging 23.9 yards per reception and he will be playing in his last collegiate game after declaring for next years NFL draft. Cameron Artis-Payne totes the rock when Marshall isnt legging it out and has 11 touchdowns on the year himself.
I think we all know what Wisconsin brings on offense and it is all goes through Melvin Gordon. The Heisman finalist finished with 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns while leading the Badgers to the 4th best rushing offense in the nation. Auburn allows 149 yards per game on the ground, good for just 46th, and UW is sure to test them there. Joel Stave has been the starting quarterback for most of the season and is a game manager at best. He has 1,229 yards with 8 touchdowns and can make throws if given time. He shared time with Tanner McEvoy under Andersen with McEvoy providing a spark on the ground, gaining 574 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. McEvoy has practiced at safety during the bowl prep, so it remains to be seen what kind of offensive impact he will have for the bowl. I doubt Alvarez will go to the sub package in the same way Andersen did.
Assuming Wisconsin gets the normal ground production it is looking for, this game will come down to the Badger defense against the Tiger offense. UW was humiliated against Ohio State in the B1G Championship but that was really their only defensive letdown at all this season. The Badgers enter the week 5th against the pass, 16th against the run and allow just 20 points per game and that includes the 59 that OSU hung on them. Auburn averages 489 total yards per game and they earned those yards against stout SEC defenses for the most part. Wisconsin is polished and intelligent on defense but has given up the big play here and there. Their biggest challenge will be limiting Marshalls running impact and shutting down Coates over the top. Devin Smith beat the Badgers deep on multiple occasions in Indianapolis and that is likely the reason why McEvoy is working back at safety.
The Badgers are tough but have often lost to teams that they arent better than on paper. Auburn is better than Wisconsin on paper and should have enough to get a W here if they are properly focused on the task at hand. The run-heavy style of both teams will make this game a relatively quick one but the 63 point over/under total suggests that the books are looking for a fair amount of scoring between two top-30 offenses. Melvin Gordon and the entire Badger offense are looking to go out with a better taste in their mouth than they currently have and I expect a classic Wisconsin effort here. That puts Auburn on the hook for something like 30 points to win outright. I do think they get it however, especially given the playmaking ability of the QB and wide receivers. It will be another close L for Wisconsin in a big game but you can take the Badgers and the points as 6.5 is too much for a quality team that is solid across both lines. Auburn 32 Wisconsin 30
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Wisconsin