Wisconsin Badgers vs. South Florida Bulls Pick 8/30/19
Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. South Florida Bulls (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date and Time:Friday, August 30 at 7pm ET
Where:Raymond James Stadium
Point Spread:UW -13/USF +13 (5Dimes)
Week zero gave us a little taste of things to come in this 150th season of College Football, and those ready for more won’t even have to wait until the weekend as Week 1 features a nice slate of Thursday and Friday games. One of the few ranked teams in action on Friday is the Wisconsin Badgers, and they head south to take on the South Florida Bulls. Wisconsin is a trendy pick in the Big Ten West, but questions at quarterback will need to be answered in a positive manner if the Badgers are going to improve on their 8-5 mark from last year. The Bulls were one of the early season surprises after a 7-0 start, but injuries piled up and USF finished on and 0-6 skid. The Bulls are healthy again and looking to put in a complete season.UW Going with Coan
It took all camp to name a starting quarterback in Madison but Paul Chryst announced that junior Jack Coan would get the start over true freshman Graham Mertz. Coan made a handful of starts last season, so he has some experience, but UW limited his chances, and he wound up with just five touchdown passes. Coan was a Notre Dame lacrosse recruit before coming to the Badger football program, and he is a much better athlete than his negative-33 yards career rushing total would have you believe. Mertz is one of the highest QB recruits in Wisconsin history, so I believe Coan is legitimately the better option at the moment, and we all know UW is going to be run-heavy anyway. Coan has two preseason All-American O-linemen on one of the best overall lines in the nation to protect him and a nice complement of receivers, including newly reinstated Quintez Cephus. If he can simply take care of the ball, a Wisconsin run game that averaged 273 rushing yards per game in 2018 should be able to do most of the heavy lifting.Accentuate the Positive
Finishing 0-6 is what many Bulls fans remember from last year, but 2018 was a tale of two seasons. The USF averaged 36 points per game while QB Blake Bennett was healthy and only 17 points when he was out or playing while hurt. That iffy finish was enough for South Florida to bring in Kerwin Bell to run the offense. Bell was the OC at DII Valdosta State, and the Blazers averaged 52 points per game last year. We will see how his DII experience translates to the FBS, but playmaking ingredients are present in the form of RB Jordan Cronkite and WR Randall St. Felix. Like the offense, the Bulls defense did well early, allowing 25.2 points per game during the first seven games but gave up 35.3 points over the final six games. That defensive slide started when LB Nico Sawtelle was sidelined with an injured shoulder. Sawtelle notched 7.5 tackles for loss in just six games and is back to lead a defense that fell to 104th in yards allowed without him. USF might not be as good as their 7-0 version, but they also aren’t as bad as what they showed when going 0-6. A healthy overall team, playing at home, should be a solid test for a Wisconsin team that could be very one-dimensional on offense.
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The best player on the field Friday is Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. The junior tailback rushed for 2,194 yards last season and did so while routinely facing stacked boxes. Wisconsin averaged just 157 passing yards per game last season, but Taylor’s production helped the Badgers average 29.7 points per game. Taylor cracked 200 yards against a Miami Hurricane defense that entered the Pinstripe Bowl ranked in the top-5 in just about every defensive category, and now he gets to run against a USF defense that allowed nearly 250 rushing yards per game in 2018. He will get the volume to go over 200 yards on Friday night, and his Heisman campaign might get a nice boost if the Bulls can’t find a way to limit him early. If USF sells out to stop the run, Wisconsin’s receivers group gets to see single-coverage. Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and TE Jake Ferguson aren’t volume pass-catchers, but all are dangerous in space, especially in the play-action game. The entire offense begins and ends with Taylor, and he is the toughest runner to stop in 2019.Trend Watch
It is going to be a challenge to have the trends help us this week as there are competing data points for both teams. Wisconsin has been good on the road lately, going 13-4 against the spread in the last seventeen as the visitor but is just 4-9 ATS in their last thirteen games overall. South Florida has handled the Big Ten well, going 5-2 ATS in their last seven against that conference but have lost each of their last five ATS at Raymond James. One trend that is in agreement has to do with the total as the under has hit in five of the last six overall for Wisconsin and the underpaid in five of those seven games USF games against a Big Ten opponent. I think the under is going to be the correct bet this week as both teams like to run and if nothing else, that keeps the clock moving and the total number of plays at or below average.
I will give Blake Bennett the slight edge at QB over Jack Coan. Bennett is an Alabama transfer and looked the part last season while Coan showed he is an average college signal-caller at best. Jordan Cronkite did hit 1,100 rushing yards last year and is poised to improve in his senior season. He can’t expect to out-duel Taylor, but he can help USF keep the ball away from Wisconsin if he approaches his 6.8 yards per carry mark from last year. Johnny Ford (787-8) is a nice complementary back for USF and is literally hard to find while standing five-foot-three. Randall St. Felix averaged 20.6 yards per catch to give the Bulls a big-play option, but he and all of the USF skill guys will face a tough Badger D that allowed just 22.6 points per game and finished inside the top-30 in points allowed.
Add it all up, and USF has some nice pieces and plenty of speed, but Wisconsin still has the better offense and defense so they should be able to win, even if the attack is almost entirely made up of Jonathan Taylor runs. I do like the Bulls, and the 13-points as UW took a clear step back in 2018 from what they were in the two years prior and maybe a very similar team in 2019. I’m predicting a 27-16 Wisconsin win.
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread:USF