Wisconsin Badgers(11-0 SU, 7-4 ATS) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-6 SU, 4-6-1 ATS)
College Football Week 13
Date and Time: Saturday, November 25 at 3:30pm ET
Where: TCF Bank Stadium
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WISC -17/MINN +17
Over/Under Total: 43
It is rivalry week in the Big Ten and while MIchigan v. Ohio State is the matchup everyone likes to talk about, the most played rivalry in all of college football is Wisconsin v. Minnesota. The Badgers and Gophers will tangle for the 127th time this weekend and they battle for one of coolest trophies in all of sports, Paul Bunyans axe. The series is tied at 59-59-8 overall but Wisconsin has won the last thirteen meetings and eighteen of the last twenty. Wisconsin has failed to reach 31 points just once in the last ten between these teams and Minnesota is in trouble if they give up that many Saturday as the Badger defense isnt likely to be as accomodating.
Wisconsin has won just three of the last ten ATS against the Gophers despite a spotless straight up record over that span and they have a lot of points to overcome this Saturday with Minnesota listed as 17-point dogs. The favorite is just 2-7-1 in the last ten in this series but Wisconsin is 9-1 against the spread in their last ten as visitors. The over has hit in 15 of the last 17 games between these teams. Wisconsin is the 3rd ranked team by the Sagarin metrics with Minnesota at 56th. Those computers are modeling a 30-12 Badger win. The football outsiders run a different metric that ignores the schedule and focuses on offensive and defensive efficiencies. That S&P+ ratings has Wisconsin at 4th, Minnesota at 85th and has the Badgers 19.9 points better.
For most of the season, Wisconsin has fought a nationwide perception that they were benefitting from an overly soft schedule but consecutive wins against Iowa and Michigan have the Badgers on the doorstep of the College Football Playoff. A win this weekend plus a win over Ohio State in Indy would give Wisconsin a 99% chance of making the final four according to Nate Silver. One could assume that the Badgers would be looking past the 5-6 Gophers but that isnt likely for a team that is as blue-collar as their coach, Paul Chryst. The Wisconsin defense has been the showstopper all season and enters the week 2nd in the country in total yards allowed and surrenders just 13.1 points per game. They are top-5 with 37 sacks and hold opponents to less than 30% on third down. Minnesota has struggled for much of the year on offense but they have a legit running game that ranks 41st in the nation. Wisconsin is #1 against the run and allows 79 yard per game on the ground. It could be a very long day for the Gophers if they cant find a way into third and short scenarios.
The Wisconsin offense is powered by the 21st ranked rushing game and Jonathan Taylor enters the weekend as the 3rd leading rusher in the nation. At 1,657 rushing yards, Taylor has a shot to get to 2,000 by the time bowl season comes around and his 7.0 yards per carry is a big reason why Wisconsin is at 50% in third down conversions. Alex Hornibrook has been mercurial at QB for Wisconsin as he has thrown baffling interceptions followed by NFL-level throws all season. He has at least one interception in every conference game this season and he likely holds the key to Wisconsin beating the likes of Ohio State or anyone they would potentially face in a playoff game. The Badgers have been beat up at wide receiver but have covered the injuries nicely with A.J. Taylor (4 TD) and Danny Davis both over 17.5 yards per catch since leading receiver Quintez Cephus was lost for the season. Tight end Troy Fumagalli remains the reception leader on the team with Hornibrook looking to him on third down and in play action. Wisconsin is not flashy on offense as usual but they have been efficient in racking up 35.2 points per game. Minnesota ranks 27th in total yards allowed but is weaker against the run and slips to 36th in points per game allowed at 22.1 per contest.
The Minnesota offense in really in hot water this weekend. The Gophers are ranked 121st out of 130 Division I programs in total offense and 121st in passing yards per game. No one has been able to run the ball against Wisconsin with any kind of regularity and that puts a ton of pressure on the arm of Demry Croft. The scrambling QB is 2-3 as a starter but he has thrown for just four touchdowns against seven interceptions while averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. For comparison, Alex Hornibrook is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt and he is the weak spot on the Badger offense. Croft can certainly extend plays with his legs and even crease the defense with designed runs but Minnesota will have to air it out if they fall behind and that looks to be a big advantage for a Wisconsin team that can get after the quarterback. Most troubling is potential loss of leading receiver Tyler Lawson who is questionable with a wrist injury. Lawson missed last week and it showed in a 39-0 loss against Northwestern. He is virtually the only receiving threat on the team and a hard climb gets tougher without him Saturday. Rodney Smith leads Minnesota with 895 rushing yards and has found the endzone three times. He is one of four Gophers with at least three rushing scores so there is no doubt they can finish when they get down close, but can they get there against the Badgers?
The biggest knock on Minnesota this week is actually more about three other teams in the Big Ten and what they have done against Wisconsin. Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan have tried to out-Wisconsin the Badgers to less than successful results. Minnesota is cut from the same, run-first and play defense mold that all of the above teams are cut from but Wisconsin is doing it better than anyone right now. Going back to last season, Wisconsin handled LSU using the same formula so they are on another level at the moment. The three Wisconsin losses over the last two seasons have come because either Wisconsin could not score (Michigan) or they couldnt stop top-end playmakers (OSU, PSU). Minnesota is missing next-level playmakers on offense and Wisconsin is improved on offense over last season. There have been plenty of close games in this rivalry over the years but most of those have been when the teams were much closer in the rankings. Wisconsin has had a relatively easy go of as they have ascended in recent years and there is little to suggest that will change this weekend. Too much Badger O-Line and too much Taylor will have Wisconsin controlling the clock and that stranglehold defense will keep Minnesota under wraps. It feels like a lot to lay but take the Badgers and look for a 31-13 win.
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