Northwestern at (10) Wisconsin
Time: 11 AM (CT), Saturday
Spread: WISC -14.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The No. 10 ranked Wisconsin Badgers have rolled through its first three matchups. Wisconsin most recently disposed of BYU last week 40-6, to improve to 3-0 on the season. It will begin its Big Ten stretch by hosting Northwestern this week as 14.5-point favorites at 11 AM (Central) on ABC. College football oddsmakers have set the over/under at 49 points, at bookmaker 5dimes.
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Wisconsin has been something of a surprise this season, with freshman Jonathan Taylor becoming the No. 1 back on a deep by-committee backfield. He rushed for 146 yards per game to start his NCAA career, and he has plenty of help from a bevy of talented Badgers backs.
Chris James and Bradrick Shaw each have over 100 yards, but it has been Taylor who’s carrying the ball when it’s time to go into the endzone. Taylor has five of the Badgers’ eight rushing TDs, and the Badgers have rushed for 826 yards as a team, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on its amazing 148 rush attempts thus far.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has also been very accurate. Hornibrook has 701 yards on 70 percent passing and is good for 10.01 yards per attempt. He has eight TD passes and just one pick, and an outstanding passer rating of 189.0. Wisconsin has been rolling offensively, and the backfield makes it that much easier on Hornibrook, who is having his best season since throwing just 58.6 percent for completion last year as a freshman. While plenty of that improvement has been Hornibrook himself, his receivers are making his job much easier, and defenses are kept guessing with a multifaceted Badgers offense capable of inflicting damage in various ways.
The 49 point over/under could be set low, in light of this, as the Badgers have the potential to run up the score in this as heavy favorites. Even if Wisconsin jumps to a commanding advantage, the deep backfield will keep pounding it in a game that could very easily get out of hand for Northwestern.
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Northwestern is 2-1 this season after defeating Bowling Green last week and Nevada in Week 1. Its Week 2 loss to Duke, however, was a bad one, as it fell to the Blue Devils 41-17. Given that Duke was the only quality opponent of the three, it hardly bodes well as it faces such a talented Wisconsin team this week.
Unable to control the high-powered Duke offense, it will have significantly more problems this week against Wisconsin in all likelihood. Wisconsin may have held Nevada and Bowling Green in check, but both those programs are fairly weak and the 14.5-point spread this week is actually about the most respectful the Wildcats could have dreamt of.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson has been effective, but Northwestern’s backfield entirely lacks depth and Justin Jackson has been doing it all for the Wildcats once again. Jackson has 248 yards and four TDs, but no other Wildcat has seen much success carrying the football. Thorson has thrown 62 of 97 for 842 yards, but has thrown nearly as many picks (3) as touchdowns (4). Last year, Thorson threw for 3,182 yards but he was good for just a 58.6 percent completion ratio and averaged only 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
The picks this season are the source of greatest concern given his 22:9 TD/INT ratio a year ago, and he also has already incurred seven sacks this year, with almost no success when he functions as a ball carrier. Northwestern’s offense is as bad as it is predictable, and its defense will not be enough to slow Wisconsin’s backfield. We expect the Badgers to defeat Northwestern by closer to three-touchdowns, despite the 14.5-point spread set by college football oddsmakers at 5dimes.