Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan Wolverines, Saturday Oct. 1, 3:30 p.m. ET
This battle between Top 10 teams halfway makes sense. Michigan is supposed to be here. They came into the season with tremendous talent and plenty of hype, and they haven't yet played a particularly good team - though beating Colorado looks better after the Buffs beat Oregon last week. If you had told me that Wisconsin would be in this spot before the season, though, I would have flat out called you stupid. The Badgers, after all, had to open against LSU, and then played at Michigan State the week before this game. If they came into this game with just one loss it would have been stunning. Yet all they have done so far is get Les Miles fired and crush the soul of the Spartans. Improbable. And impressive. But mostly improbable. This is the toughest test Wisconsin has faced yet, but clearly they aren't bothered when the going gets tough.
Wisconsin at Michigan Betting Storylines
Above all else, this is a defensive war. Wisconsin ranks second in defensive efficiency in the country behind only Boston College. Michigan ranks fourth, separated from Wisconsin by only Alabama. To make it even more impressive, both teams are doing it with new defensive coordinators. Michigan's Don Brown was with Boston College - who has continued along well without him - and Justin Wilcox was with USC. The difference between the two is that Brown did a lot with nothing at B.C. and is one of the great minds in college football, while Wilcox has underwhelmed wherever else he has been. What Wisconsin has done so far has been impressive, and Wilcox had a great foundation to work with when he arrived, but if it comes down to Xs and Os then I would take Brown enthusiastically and without hesitation. Combine that with the edge in talent that Michigan has - especially on the defensive line and in all-everything star Jabrill Peppers - and you have to put the defensive checkmark on the Michigan side.
Wisconsin is a very seasoned team at this point - probably the most seasoned in the country. No team has faced a tougher schedule and come out without a loss yet. It's why they have rocketed up the rankings as they have so far. Michigan, on the other hand, has hardly been tested. Hawaii, Central Florida and Penn State were toothless foes who were dispatched handily. Colorado was a much better opponent, and they were a much tougher out for the Wolverines. Striking in that game, though, as well as all the other games, was the second-half adjustment. Defensively, the team has had some concerns in first halves each game, and they were looking really rough against Colorado, After regrouping at the half and adapting to what they have seen, the opponents have been able to do virtually nothing in the second half. Again, that adjustment is why I hold Brown in such high regard. The other question, though, is whether this offense - which has scored at least 45 points in every game - can find the holes in the Wisconsin defense that others haven't. LSU and Michigan State both struggled mightily, but then both have far more offensive issues than Michigan has.
Turnovers are going to be interesting to watch here. Michigan QB Wilton Speight threw an interception on his first pass of the season and hasn't thrown one since. The Wolverines protect the ball very well. The biggest key to the win over the Spartans for Wisconsin, meanwhile, was turnovers. They recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, and they had three big interceptions of Tyler Cook as well. Can Wisconsin find a way to replicate that? Will they need to?
Wisconsin at Michigan Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Michigan favored by 10.5. It briefly flirted with 11 but has since settled back at 10.5 in early action. A small majority of bets have been on the Badgers, so it is possible the line could drop - though likely not too much as things sit because 10 is a key number.
The Badgers are 5-1 ATS in their last six overall and 4-1 ATS in their last five against teams with winning records. They have not carried momentum forward well, though - they are just 1-5 ATS in their last six following wins of 20 or more points. The Wolverines are 4-1 ATS in their last five and 4-1 ATS in their last five following a game in which they scored at least 40 points.
Wisconsin at Michigan Predictions and Picks
Michigan is the better team here, and I don't think it's particularly close. That's not to disrespect the Badgers - they are playing great. They had a huge game last week, though, and getting up for a big game for the second week in a row and the fifth time in five weeks is a lot to ask. I also find it easier to trust Michigan's offense in this tough situation than I do Wisconsin's. Wisconsin also feels like they have played to the very best of their ability so far, while it feels like Michigan has plenty of room to grow. Michigan will win. But by how much? This is a lot of points. Given the defenses, the reasonable play is to take Wisconsin and the points. There is still plenty of room for Michigan to win handily and not cover.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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