Ohio State Buckeyes at Wisconsin Badgers, Saturday Oct. 15, 8 p.m. ET
The Big Ten is rolling right now. They have four teams ranked in the Top 10 in the AP Poll, which is far ahead of where even the most optimistic fan of the conference would have imagined them to be at the halfway point in the season. Two of those teams meet here in a big conference battle.
Make no mistake, though - the conference is still about the two teams it usually is. Michigan and Ohio State seem to be rolling towards an epic unbeaten showdown in Columbus to close out the season, and games like this are what stand in the way. The rivalry is as intense as ever between those two storied programs. Two weeks back Ohio State crushed Rutgers 58-0. You can be certain that that score was a big motivation as the Wolverines went out last week and beat Rutgers 78-0. While Ohio State was toying with Rutgers, the Wolverines were beating this Wisconsin squad 14-7 in a defensive battle that wasn't quite as close as the score. Ohio State knows that, and you know they'll want to do even better. That's not to say that Wisconsin doesn't have anything to play for here or that they aren't relevant. An upset here would not only shake the foundations of the playoff picture this year, but it would keep their hopes of a playoff berth alive - if somewhat on life support because it would still require them to win their division, beat Michigan or Ohio State in the conference title game and then hope for the best.
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Ohio State at Wisconsin Betting Storylines
The gap in talent between these two teams is immense. There is no denying that. What has been very impressive this year, though, is that the gap in coaching isn't nearly as wide as one might have assumed. Urban Meyer is obviously as good as it gets - both at running a program and during games themselves. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has gone through a rocky road of late. Bret Bielema left before he was shown the door. Gary Andersen was supposed to be a savior, but personality clashes cut his time short. Paul Chryst then came back to where he both played and previously coached in the role as savior. It seemed like he had an uphill task to get back on track. All he has done, though, is go 14-4 in a season and a half at the helm, upset LSU and really help get Les Miles fired, absolutely destroy and humiliate Michigan State, and generally achieve far more than anyone could possibly have expected this year. He's the right coach for a program who desperately needed someone just like him. He's also had the luxury of a bye week following the setback at Michigan. The team ran into issues with an exceptional defense in that one, but with an extra week to learn from that and get his players believing in themselves and the program again they could again be in better shape here than we expect.
The most interesting matchup in this one is Ohio State's passing game against Wisconsin's pass defense. The Badgers are solid-but-not-exceptional against the pass - 201 yards allowed per game puts them 35th in the country. The Ohio State passing attack, led by J.T. Barrett, though, has been toothless lately. Against Indiana, which isn't as good against the pass as Wisconsin and which wasn't really doing anything special to disrupt Barrett, the Buckeyes QB went just 9 for 21 for 93 yards. He wasn't nearly as good as he should have been against Tulsa, either. You can be sure that Chryst and company spent a lot of time this past week looking at ways to ensure that this isn't the week in which Barrett rediscovers his passing mojo.
Ohio State at Wisconsin Odds and Betting Trends
Early action has been relatively evenly split between the two teams - the Buckeyes have the edge, but only a slight one since they have drawn less than 60 percent of early bets. The line movement isn't shocking, then - Ohio State opened as 10.5-point favorites and are now at 11 points. Barring a major change we aren't expecting to see a dramatic line movement.
The Buckeyes are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games. They are a stellar 41-16-1 ATS in their last 58 road games and 5-2 ATS in their last seven against teams with a winning record. The Badgers are 6-1 ATS in their last seven overall and have covered their last four against winning teams. They are 14-3 ATS in their last 17 following a bye week. They are 5-2 ATS in their last seven conference games.
Ohio State at Wisconsin Predictions and Picks
I'm tempted to take Wisconsin. They are well-coached, they are at home, and they are rested and presumably well prepared. In the end, though, I can't do it - not when the spread is below two touchdowns. Ohio State is just plain better - more talented, hungrier, more experienced in big games, and still better coached. The Buckeyes are the pick.
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