Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Wisconsin Badgers, Saturday Sept. 5, 8 p.m. ET
How important is a quarterback? That is really what this game comes down to. As I sit writing this just two days before the game is set to kick off, Alabama has not announced who their starting QB will be. This isn't like Michigan, either - Jim Harbaugh isn't announcing his starter because he's Jim Harbaugh, but everyone including his opponents know who it will be. Here we have three guys who could start, and none who have seemingly grabbed the job as their own.
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Jake Coker, Cooper Bateman or Alec Morris could all get the start, and no one would be surprised. What is interesting, though, is how little this uncertainty seems to matter to bettors. At several programs the lack of clarity at QB would be impossible for people to overcome. At Alabama, though, people accept that the QB is a game manager at the helm of a ridiculously-talented squad. That's not always fair - A.J. McCarron was often more than just a warm body -- but it is the perception. It also helps that the public doesn't have a clear preference because all three guys are as anonymous as a potential starting QB at Alabama could possibly be.
As the week has dragged on, there has been no clarity in Nick Saban's plans for the position, yet the line has moved to make Alabama more of a favorite. The Tide are one of very few teams for which that could happen. The public says there is no reason to panic - even though an as-yet-undetermined QB faces a team that was fourth in total defense in the country last year. Whether the public is right is the question handicappers need to face above all others.
Alabama vs. Wisconsin Betting Storylines
Paul Chryst is thrilled to be coaching at his alma mater. That being said, there are probably about 125 teams he would rather be starting his Wisconsin career by facing than Alabama. Sure, the chance to be an instant legend exists with a win. It's getting that win that will be more than a little tough. On the plus side, there was no QB uncertainty here - Joel Stave is yet again the starter. Chryst has some work to do on that front, though, Stave was excellent two years ago, but he threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year and clearly wasn't in a good place. Can Chryst and his staff fix what ails Stave and get him ready for this massive test? Is he ready to face a defense that was sixth in scoring last year, and one that should be more than solid this year, too? That's a key question for bettors.
Despite the QB questions on both sides, this game is really all about the running backs. Alabama always can run the ball well, and in Derrick Henry they have yet another ferocious runner who will be very tough to stop. He had 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and that was without being the main man. He should be special this year. Wisconsin has lost all-World runner Melvin Gordon to the NFL, but they are loaded at the position, too. Corey Clement didn't get much press as he only got the ball when Gordon didn't, but with 949 yards and nine scores of his own he was clearly no slouch. Both teams love to wear down opponents with their bowling ball approach to moving the ball. Whichever team can establish themselves better on that front will likely come out on top here.
Alabama vs. Wisconsin Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Alabama favored by 10.5 points. Heavy action has, predictably, come in on the Tide, so the line has since shifted to 12 points. More movement is certainly possible, but it isn't likely to flirt with a key number. It will be important, then, to shop around for the best number you can find - for either team. The total sits at 49, down a field goal from the opening number of 52.
Alabama is 4-1 ATS in their last five games against the Big Ten. They have gone over the total in four of their last five nonconference games and in 13 of the last seven played on a neutral site. Between their typical neutral openers and the postseason, Alabama has as much experience on the road as anyone. The Badgers have gone 3-0-1 in their last four neutral-site games. The teams do not have a real history against each other, though Wisconsin did beat Alabama 15-0 in 1928 if that factors into your handicapping at all.
Free Expert College Football Picks: Alabama vs. Wisconsin Betting Predictions
My first reaction is that Wisconsin isn't getting enough credit here - a near-certainty when a Big Ten team plays a power team from the SEC. Wisconsin has key pieces on defense back, a QB who has plenty of experience, a run game that is consistently proven, and a new and better attitude thanks to a coaching change that was bizarre but which ended very well for the program. I am not convinced at all that Wisconsin can win this one, but 12 points is a lot, and it could be more by kickoff. There is value in the Badgers.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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