University of Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), 8:00 p.m. EST, Week 1 NCAA Football, Thursday, September 1, 2011, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis., TV: ESPN
by Badger of Predictem.com
Point Spread: UNLV +35/Wis -35
Over/Under Total: 56
The UNLV Rebels will certainly improve in year two under head coach Bobby Hauck, but it probably wont look that way in their season opener September 1st when they travel to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to take on the 11th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
The Rebels struggled to a 2-11 season in Haucks first year, and with 23 freshman and sophomores listed in the Rebels two-deep roster, it might be better to judge their progress at the end of the 2011 campaign instead of right from the get-go on Thursday.
But this is Division 1 major college football and mercy is a four-letter word, and you certainly wont hear Hauck complain about the Rebels tough task in the season opener at Madison in primetime on ESPN.
The task for the Rebels got much harder back in June, when former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson announced he would transfer to Wisconsin to play out his final year of eligibility for the Badgers. The addition of Wilson immediately moved the Badgers up the list of the Top-25 to just outside the top-10, making the 11th-ranked Badgers in instant contender in the new Big Ten Conference by turning a position of expected weakness into a strength.
How big of a strength you may ask? Well, oddsmakers in Las Vegas opened this game with the Badgers as huge 35-point favorites at home. With a point spread that large it has yet to move in either direction, likely because no one is touching it right now.
The over/under total opened at 55.5 and it quickly moved up to 56, where its still listed on the board at most betting sites right now.
Originally the Badgers were expected to rely on their power running game to spark the offense, after all they are bringing both Montee Ball (996 yds., 18 TD) and James White (1,052 yds., 14 TD) back from last season as well as three-fifths of the starting offensive line. They also return two of their top four receivers from last year (Nick Toon and Jarad Abbrederis), so the fact that they went out and got Wilson to throw it to them when they do decide to go play-action should translate into another strong season for the Badgers on offense.
When UNLV has the ball it will be sophomore Caleb Herring calling the shots at QB. Herring won the starting job over junior Sean Reilly in the spring, despite the fact he has only threw 56 passes in eight games last season. Herring does have a couple of talented running backs to hand off to, as both Tim Cornett (3.8 yd. ave., 6 TD) and Bradley Randle (4.4 yd. ave., TD) return. He also will have his top two options at receiver back in Phillip Payne (17.2 yd. ave., 5 TD) and Michael Johnson (11.2 ypc., 5 TD), although Johnson is currently hurt and might miss the game. The struggle for the Rebels will be along the offensive line, where they dont have a single senior in the ranks and theyre set to start two redshirt freshman.
The Rebels will also need to shore up their defense, in a hurry. UNLV gave up 222.7 yards a game on the ground, a bad sign when youre playing Wisconsin, and the Rebels front seven is vastly inexperienced including all new starters at the three linebacker spots. They also gave up 39.7 points per game, another aspect of the Rebels defense that will need to improve throughout the season that the Badgers might take advantage of in the opener.
Wisconsin returns seven starters to a defense that finished in the top-25 in the country in most defensive categories last season. It will be worth watching how the unit performs after losing its coordinator at the end of the year (Dave Doeren took the N. Illinois job), but the Rebels offense might not present as much of a challenge as the teams in the Big Ten will later in the season.
Last year the Badgers opened with a 41-21 victory over the Rebels, but lost in that score was the fact that the Rebels only trailed 17-14 at halftime last season. The Badgers nearly came back in the second half to cover the 20.5-points they were favored by in that game, but if they sleep walk through the opening stages of Thursdays opener they certainly wont cover the larger number of 35 this season.
There are a few interesting betting trends with this game too.
UNLV is a solid 4-0 ATS in their last four Thursday night games. The underdog is also 4-0 ATS the last four times these two teams have clashed, so the Rebels to tend to play Wisky tough.
The over/under trends are all over the place with the over sporting some attractive numbers (over is 6-0-1 in Rebels L7 non-conf. games; 5-2 in Badgers L7 games in Sept.), but the under also has some valid stats too (under is 4-0 in UNLV L4 Thur. games; 7-1 in Badgers L8 vs. an MWC team), so choose which way youd like to lean there on your own.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Take UNLV plus the points.
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