Wisconsin Badgers(7-0 SU, 4-3 ATS) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5 SU, 2-5 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date and Time: Saturday, October 28 at 12pm ET
Where: Memorial Stadium
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WISC -26/ILL +26
Over/Under Total: 49
The Big Ten conference has a marquee matchup this weekend between Penn State and Ohio State with many onlookers ready to tab the winner for a final four appearance. The West side of the conference is a little less crowded at the top and Wisconsin heads to Illinois this week with a spotless record and every win moves them closer to the Big Ten Championship game. Should that happen, and the Badgers knock off a top-5 PSU or OSU, then Wisconsin becomes a factor in the playoff selection process. That would be the ultimate goal for Wisconsin but there are a few hurdles left to clear and a couple of trap games, including this weekend in Champaign.
Wisconsin has owned the last decade of this series, going 9-1 straight up since 2005 but just 5-5 against the spread. They have often struggled to cover large point spreads and they will battle that scenario again as nearly every online betting site has the Badgers as 26-point favorites. The game opened with Illinois at +24 but early action has pushed that line up two points by the end of Monday with the over/under in the 49 point range. Wisconsin enters on an 8-0 ATS run as visitors and have won 10-of-15 against the spread in conference. Illinois is just 2-8 ATS in their last ten home games and 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games overall. After a 2-0 start to 2017, the Illini have looked a bit lost in losing five straight. Wisconsin is the 8th rated squad according to the Sagarin computers with Illinois a long way back at #118. The offense-defense computer models are calling for a 40-7 Wisconsin win.
My knee-jerk reaction is to take Wisconsin in this one, simply based on the 48-3 throttling they put on Illinois last year. The Badgers ran for 363 yards in Madison and picked off four Jeff George Jr. passes on the way to an easy win and most of the principals are the same for this game. Wisconsins running game is 16th in the nation and will run against the 108th ranked run defense. George is still at the helm for the Illini and his 4-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio shows he has not suddenly become accurate or careful with the ball. If anything, Wisconsin has upgraded the offense behind better play from Alex Hornibrook and freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor looks to be another stud back in pantheon of standout Badger runners. Mike Epstein was churning out 6.1 yards per carry in the Illinois backfield but is likely out for the remainder of the year with a foot injury. RaVon Bonner has moved into the lead back role and leads the team with four rushing touchdowns but is averaging just over three yards per carry. Wisconsin is the 5th best run-stopping defense so more tough sledding is ahead for the freshman Bonner.
Wisconsin has had a different defensive coordinator in each of the last three seasons but it has simply not mattered in terms of the on-field production. The Badgers are no worse than 16th in yardage allowed categories and enter the week 6th in points allowed at just 13.3 per game. Compare that to the 29.6 points that Illinois allows and you begin to see how uphill the statistical battle is. The Illini are 96th or worse in offensive yardage categories and the first question you should ask is just how many points can Illinois get on the board? Wisconsin is top-5 in sacks and hold opponents to a 30% conversion rate on third down.
The quarterback matchup was close on paper last season as the redshirt freshman Hornibrook did not appear to be ready for primetime in most games. George Jr. still has the better arm of the two but Hornibrook has developed and thrived behind an offensive line that allowed just eight sacks in seven games. Illinois has allowed 18 sacks overall and that constant pressure has led to some ill-advised throws from both George and Chayce Crouch. The Badgers are as run heavy a team as you will find but Quintez Cephus has emerged as a playmaker, averaging 17.8 yards per catch while TE Troy Fumagalli does the dirty work underneath. Illinois has a couple of dependable pass-catchers in Ricky Smalling and Mike Dudek but the big plays have been few and far between with the duo at five touchdowns combined. Dudek missed last weeks game with a banged-up knee and may be out again this Saturday. Wisconsin has an advantage at running back in most weeks, but they likely have the edge in the pass game as well.
The methodical nature of the Badgers running game has them at just over 35 minutes in time of possession. The clock is moving almost always and they lead the NCAA with a 55.2% conversion rate on 3rd down. That frustrates the opposing defense and keeps the Badger defense fresh. All in all, Wisconsin does typical Wisconsin things and no one has really done anything to stop them. Penalties and turnovers have kept a few games close as UW has gone 7-0 but they still do enough right to beat the teams they are supposed to beat. Illinois is certainly a team that Wisconsin is supposed to beat but the Badgers will need to be ultra-efficient to score enough if the Illini can find a way to get to 14 points. Wisconsin needed a last minute field goal to cover the 24 against Maryland in what looks like a similar game to this one.
I do think the Badgers clean-up their turnovers, limit the penalties and run all over Illinois. Jonathan Taylor is averaging 7.5 yards per carry this season and has the big play potential to let Wisconsin score quickly. George isnt likely to stay clean in the interception department and any short fields will lead to more Wisconsin points. The Badger defense has accounted for as many points as they have given up in the second half of games so do not look for a late comeback to spoil the cover. Badgers win by a 40-10 score.
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Wisconsin – Bet this game for FREE by taking advantage of a FAT 100% bonus up to $1000 at MyBookie! (Use Promo Code: PRDCT14)