The Big Ten will take center stage this weekend in a battle between the no. 12 Michigan Wolverines and the no. 15 Wisconsin Badgers. Kickoff is set for 7:30 EST on Saturday, October 13, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.
The early betting line on this game has Michigan as a 7.5-point favorite at home. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s college football odds.
The Wolverines enter this game riding a five-game winning streak. Michigan lost their season opener to Notre Dame but have been close to unstoppable since then. To be fair, their schedule hasn’t been all that difficult, as their toughest games are all ahead of them, starting with the Badgers this week.
If Michigan can win out, they should have enough quality wins to put themselves in the College Football Playoff despite the loss to Notre Dame. A loss to Wisconsin this weekend would all but knock them out of contention for a Playoff spot. However, it wouldn’t necessarily end their hopes of winning a Big Ten championship with games against Penn State and Ohio State left to play.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Playoff hopes are thin after losing at home to BYU a few weeks ago. Heading into the season, the Badgers knew that they’d probably have to go undefeated to reach the four-team playoff. They’ll need to win out and get some help if they hope to get in with one loss.
To their credit, the Badgers have bounced back from that loss with wins against Iowa and Nebraska. They are 2-0 in conference play and still control their own destiny inside the Big Ten West. Odds are, Wisconsin can survive one loss in Big Ten play and still win the West division. But a loss this to Michigan this weekend would surely take away any margin for error with regard to getting back to the Big Ten Championship Game.
These two teams have met each of the past two seasons, although those are their only games against one another since 2010. The Badgers beat the Wolverines 24-10 last season, although Michigan won 14-7 on their home turf a couple years ago.
With the line at slightly more than a touchdown, it’d be awfully easy to lean toward Wisconsin to keep this game within a touchdown. But I don’t think these teams are as close as the polls say they are. I sold my stock on Wisconsin after their loss to BYU, and to be honest, I was tempted to do it earlier. They may have played better since, but I think Michigan is the better team. I’ll take my chances with the Wolverines covering the 7.5-point spread.
What I like about Michigan is how balanced they’ve been between offense and defense. People still don’t think of them as an offensive juggernaut, and I wouldn’t describe them as such either. However, the Wolverines have scored at least 42 points in all four of their home games. With the Wolverines also being stellar on defense, there’s enough to make me think they can cover the spread against a top-25 team.
The Michigan offense has been steady running the ball all season. Senior Karan Higdon has played in five games and rushed for over 100 yards in four of them, so the Wolverines are fine in the rushing department. The X-factor is quarterback Shea Patterson, who has had some growing pains with a new team and a new system. But he’s come along slowly and had his best game of the season last week against Maryland, who is probably a tick above average defensively.
Obviously, the Wisconsin defense will provide the Wolverines with the greatest challenge they’ve faced since their season opener against Notre Dame. But while the Badgers are only giving up 16 points per game, they haven’t faced any teams that are particularly explosive offensively. If Patterson can keep trending upward, the Michigan offense will actually provide the biggest challenge the Wisconsin defense has faced this season.
On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin has been a bit of a one-trick pony. As expected, Jonathan Taylor is carrying the team to the tune of 170 rushing yards per game all by himself. However, solid defensive teams like BYU and Iowa have held him to a reasonable rushing total. Plus, those teams aren’t nearly as talented as the Michigan defense. That’s a problem considering how up and down quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been this year. Against a top-10 defense on the road, I’m not betting on Hornibrook having a strong outing if Taylor is contained and the Badgers need their quarterback to carry them.
All things considered, I think the Wolverines will be better on both sides of the ball. To be fair, the Badgers will keep this a low-scoring slugfest. However, the Wolverines are a bigger threat to create the kind of explosive plays that will enable them to get separation and cover the spread. I’ll take my chances with Michigan being able to win this game by double figures.