2015 Outback Bowl Picks: Auburn vs. Wisconsin Odds and Expert Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 12/15/2014
Thursday, Jan. 1, Noon ET - Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay
If you had suggested at the end of October that this matchup was coming in bowl season, I probably would have been pretty excited. Both teams were in decent form then. But then the wheels fell off. Auburn lost three of their final four and looked pretty lousy doing it. Wisconsin suffered a humiliating, historic defeat and has been mired in soap opera drama since. Now we are left with a showdown between two flawed teams in transition - and if they were being honest, both programs would probably rather just skip this game and move on to brighter days next season. There is a chance, then, that this game will be a total dud. There is enough to like, though - Wisconsin's run defense, and their stout overall defense when they aren't playing Ohio State, Auburn's creative offense and big-game experience - that regardless of what is going on, this is a game of great interest.
Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin Storylines
Wisconsin is facing a huge transition heading into this game. Gary Andersen shocked the college football world when he bolted from Wisconsin after just two seasons to take over at Oregon State. Rumors are flying about the reasons why it happened, but when a guy leaves so soon for a lesser program you know that things weren't good in Madison. Paul Chryst from Pitt, who was a former Wisconsin assistant, has apparently been hired to replace him, though that hasn't been officially announced as I write this. What is official is that legendary Wisconsin coach, and current athletic director, Barry Alvarez will coach the team for this game, just like he did when Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas. With the shock of Andersen's departure and the challenges of an interim coach, this team is certain to be distracted. The remaining coaching staff will be, too. They have to prepare for this game while the new coach works in the same building getting ready for next year. It is never an ideal scenario.
As if that isn't already enough to deal with, Wisconsin has two other big issues to deal with. First, it has already come out that all-world running back Melvin Gordon is turning pro ahead of schedule. It's no surprise, but it won't help the team -- and the media will certainly be interested in the storyline of his final college game. More significantly, the team has to rebound as best they can from a truly humiliating 59-0 beatdown at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Shaking something like that off would be next to impossible in ideal situations, but in these less-than-ideal ones it's a major concern.
Wisconsin isn't having all the fun when it comes to coaching changes. Gus Malzahn obviously isn't going anywhere, but his defensive staff has had an overhaul. Ellis Johnson was dismissed as defensive coordinator when the season was barely over. The team was 59th in scoring defense, and worse in several metrics, so the change was no surprise. Now former Florida head coach Will Muschamp has been hired, and he'll be paid more than at least 60 FBS head coaches. It's a massive impact hiring, but it likely means that more changes are coming on the defensive staff. Plans for coaching for the bowl game haven't been released as I write this, but you can be sure that this transition will be somewhat of a distraction for the team.
All the coaching drama seems insignificant next to the tragedy that hit Auburn the morning of Dec. 14. Freshman tight end Jakell Mitchell was shot and killed near campus. He was redshirting this year, so his death won't directly impact the game on the field, but the passing will obviously have an impact on the players. It's impossible to know how positive -- will they rally around and play for his memory? -- or negative it will be. One thing that is certain, though, is that is another factor that makes this a game that neither team is eager about playing.
You can break the game down in countless ways, but ultimately only one thing matters most. Wisconsin, with Gordon at the helm, is an elite running team. Auburn is only an average defensive team against the run -- and that was before the coaching changes threw the defense into turmoil. It should be a mismatch. Ohio State obviously decoded how to shut down the Wisconsin run game, though -- in the Big Ten Championship the Badgers ran 37 times but only amassed an almost impossibly-bad 71 yards. Can Wisconsin rediscover their mojo? Or can Auburn learn from Ohio State's success? That right there is your ball game.
Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin Betting Odds and Trends
The game opened with Auburn favored by 5.5 points, and that has since climbed slightly to 6.5. The Tigers have, not surprisingly, drawn a significant majority of the action in this one, so it wouldn't be shocking to see the line move through the key number of seven -- though their coaching chaos will limit the inflation somewhat. The total sits at 62 -- just up from the 61.5 it opened at.
Auburn is 0-4 ATS in their last four games overall and 0-6 ATS in their last six played on grass. They are, however, 5-1 ATS in their last six bowl games. Wisconsin is just 2-5 ATS in their last seven games bowl games and 5-11 ATS in their last 16 games overall. They have failed to cover their last four spreads in neutral-site games.
2014 Outback Bowl Picks: Auburn vs. Wisconsin Expert Betting Predictions
It's hard to love either of these teams right now. Ultimately, though, I feel better about the Badgers. Alvarez is around the program all the time, so he should be able to manage the team -- and they can rally around the changes they face. I don't trust Auburn's ability to stop the run, so Wisconsin should be able to move the ball on the ground. If the Badgers can show that they have some pride then they should make this one interesting. I'll wait as long as I can in hopes of a rising line, and then I'll take the Badgers in a search for value.
Doc's Sports is offering a great deal for new clients - you can get $60 worth of free college bowl game picks with no obligation. No credit card is needed, and you will never have to deal with a salesman. See what all the hype is about with $60 worth of free college football picks by clicking here . Also, get three handicappers for the price of one when you sign up for a full-season football package! Click Here for details.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
Get all of this Weeks College Football Picks
Get all of this Weeks guaranteed Expert College Football Picks