Wisconsin Badgers (10-2 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1 SU, 7-5 ATS)
College Football Week 15
Date and Time: December 6 - 8:17pm ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium
by Evergreen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread:WIS -4/OSU +4
Over/Under Total: 52.5
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Well, we have breezed right through the college football regular season and stand at conference championship time. The Big Ten Conference Championship game features the Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU stands to gain the most with a win this weekend as the Buckeyes remain playoff hopefuls even with the loss of their superstar QB J.T. Barrett. Cardale Jones replaces Barrett and much of the news this week will surround his ability to replicate the offensive production that Ohio State has enjoyed thus far. The game also features Heisman hopeful and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Melvin Gordon. UW has produced another legend at the running back position and the Gordon v. OSU run defense matchup will be a key to deciding the outcome Saturday night.
The Barrett injury is having a huge impact on the betting for this game as the Badgers have been installed as four point favorites. Reports are that the Buckeyes would have been around five point favorites if Barrett were in the game, making his absence worth nearly ten points. Wisconsin is just 1-5 against the spread in their last six games played on neutral fields and 1-5-1 ATS in their last seven against Ohio State. The underdog is 3-0-1 ATS in the last four meeting between the schools.
Here is what we know about Cardale Jones. He is big. (65, 250 lbs. big) He isnt as fast as Barrett but is a capable runner and likely has the strongest arm of any OSU quarterback. He has seen only mop-up duty this year so it is hard to gauge how he will handle the starting job pressures but all the tangibles are there for success. His arm accuracy is mostly untested and OSU may want to ease him into the game plan but at some point, they will have to set him loose to run the full offense. Wisconsin allows the fourth fewest points per game and gives up just 156 yards passing per so this is really as tough as it could have been for a first time start.
Wisconsin has had QB issues of its own throughout the year but have won seven in a row under Joel Stave. Stave has battled back from mental confidence issues to lead the Badgers to their third Big Ten Championship game appearance but we all know that the run game gets it done for UW. Wisconsin enters the week ranked 3rd in the nation at 334 rushing yards per game. Gordon is the bell cow with 2,260 of those yards (26 touchdowns) but Corey Clement (709/6) and QB Tanner McEvoy (572/6) complement the lead back well and make defending the run more than just stuffing nine in the box. Ohio State is pretty average at defending the run, allowing 145 yards per game so look for Gordon and Co. to have plenty of success, especially as the game wears on and that massive offensive line starts to dominate the line of scrimmage.
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There hasnt been a Big Ten Championship game that hasnt had either Wisconsin or Ohio State as a part of it. UW won the first two B1G Championships and OSU dropped a 34-24 decision to Michigan State last year. That was the last time the Buckeyes lost a conference game. Ohio State has won three straight against Wisconsin and six of the last seven, only losing in Madison in 2010.
The Badgers will use a two-QB system this weekend, as they have for the last five or so weeks. Stave will handle nearly 100% of the passing work with McEvoy sprinkled in to run the read-option or simply give the defense something else to key on other than Gordon. There isnt much that Wisconsin does in the passing game that your typical high school team doesnt do but Stave has made key third down throws in the past few weeks and play-action is always a threat with such a run-heavy team. Look for a relative no-name to chip in for UW as seven different Badger receivers have at least one TD despite only 13 total touchdowns thrown.
Ohio State might get into some interesting looks this weekend in order to give Jones some help in deciphering the defense. Wildcat or max-protect packages should slow the defensive pressure and if nothing else, Jones can use his big body to go right up the gut and earn yardage against a solid but small-ish defensive front seven. Ezekial Elliott sits at 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns entering the week. Urban Meyer will use Elliott to carry the mail but look for play-action off of that as Jones can certainly use his deep-ball prowess to find Devin Smith, averaging 25.5 yards per catch.
I was a bit surprised to see the Badgers as four point favorites. They are a super-solid team overall but the general lack of consistency at QB makes them very shaky favorites to even win the game straight-up, much less cover the spread. Four point in Madison sounds about right but given that this on is in Indy, OSU looks like the better play. The Buckeyes would have to be an absolute disaster on offense under Jones to not be competitive at least, making this one a four-quarter, one-possession game. I think this is a coin-flip for the straight up win and Gordon will get his yardage but Ohio State gets my money.
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Ohio State