One team is holding out hope of a conference championship while the other is just trying to reach a bowl game as the no. 14 Wisconsin Badgers hit the road to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a Big Ten rivalry game. Kickoff is set for noon EST on Saturday, November 16 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Fans can find the game on the Big Ten Network.
If we check the Week 12 college football odds, the Badgers are favored by 14.5 points on the road. This game also has an over/under of 51.5 points.
The Badgers are fresh off a win over Iowa last week, snapping a two-game losing skid. Wisconsin was able to stop a 2-point conversion try late in the game to preserve a 24-22 win over one of their rivals and preserve their Big Ten title hopes in the process.
Of course, with those two losses in late October, the Badgers have no margin for error if they want to play in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers will have to win the next two weeks while hoping that Minnesota loses at least one game during that span. If that happens, Wisconsin will travel to Minnesota to play the Golden Gophers the final week of the season with the Big Ten West on the line. But a loss by Wisconsin this week or next week will hand the West division title to Minnesota.
The Cornhuskers, on the other hand, are desperate to get a win this week for different reasons. Nebraska is in the midst of a three-game losing streak that could force Scott Frost to begin his tenure at his alma matter with back-to-back seasons without a bowl game. For what it’s worth, the Cornhuskers have been competitive in recent weeks, losing to both Indiana and Purdue by a touchdown or less.
Despite a few close losses, Nebraska is 4-5 on the season and just 2-4 in Big Ten play. They’ll need two wins in their final three games to become bowl eligible. Unfortunately for Frost and company, Nebraska’s schedule includes home games with both Wisconsin and Iowa with a road game against Maryland sandwiched in between. That means the Cornhuskers must pull off at least one upset over a ranked team in order to qualify for a bowl.
In addition to Nebraska’s bowl hopes, the Freedom Trophy is also on the line in this week’s rivalry game between the Badgers and Cornhuskers. While this rivalry has blossomed after Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, it’s been dominated by the Badgers. Wisconsin has won seven of the eight head-to-head meetings between the two teams since 2011, including a 70-31 win in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game and a 41-24 win last year in Madison.
On paper, Wisconsin should win this game by a comfortable margin and most likely cover the spread. But with their backs up against the wall, I think Nebraska will pull out all of the stops to keep their bowl hopes alive. The Cornhuskers are home and desperate for a win, which can be a dangerous combination for road favorites. I don’t know if Nebraska can pull off the upset, but I like them to keep it close enough to beat the spread.
The biggest reason to believe that Nebraska has a chance in this game is the recent return of quarterback Adrian Martinez. The Cornhuskers were without Martinez for most of October, which is a big reason for their struggles in Big Ten play. Martinez wasn’t quite himself in the loss to Purdue, but he was able to shake off some rust and show flashes of what he can do. With two full weeks of practice since that game, I expect Martinez to get back to being one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten and elevate the performance of the entire Nebraska offense.
Admittedly, the Wisconsin defense is one of the best in the country. Keep in mind the Badgers held four shut outs in their first six games of the season. But things have changed over the last month. The Badgers couldn’t close out a win against Illinois. They barely hung on last week against Iowa. There was also a blowout loss against Ohio State. Those games have put enough doubt in my head to make me think Wisconsin probably won’t go on the road and dominate Nebraska with their defense, especially with Martinez back.
Of course, the X-factor in this game is the Nebraska defense. Like most teams, the Cornhuskers will likely have their hands full with running back Jonathan Taylor, who is fresh off a 250-yard performance against Iowa. Plus, the Nebraska defense isn’t exactly trustworthy, giving up over 30 points in each of their last three games.
However, I think the Cornhuskers will benefit from playing at home and getting the home crowd behind them in a rivalry game. Also, the Wisconsin passing game is somewhat limited with quarterback Jack Coan. That means the Badgers aren’t likely to strike quickly and create explosive plays unless Taylor breaks loose. That should help prevent Wisconsin from pulling away.
I have little doubt that the Badgers are the better team on paper. However, the return of Martinez, the home crowd in Lincoln, and Nebraska’s desperation for a win are all X-factors that could sway this game toward the Cornhuskers. I think all of that is enough to keep Nebraska within striking distance and at least beat the 14.5-point spread.