NCAA Football Picks: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Northern Illinois Huskies Inside Soldier Field

No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers vs. Northern Illinois Huskies
Saturday, 9/17/11, 3:30 PM EST, TV:  ESPN3
Opening Point Spread:  Wisconsin -16.5
Current Betting Line:  Wisconsin -16.5
Opening Total:  60
Current Total:  63.5
Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

The Wisconsin Badgers take on their old defensive coordinator Saturday inside Soldier Field

Wisconsin is a legitimate contender to win the national championship and will put its streak of winning 30-straight regular-season non-conference games on the line.  “I’m very excited about Northern Illinois,” stated Badgers head coach Brett Bielema.  “I know our kids are excited about the challenge.”  The team will be facing its defensive coordinator from a year ago and also playing inside Soldier Field in Chicago.  Wisconsin’s stop unit has impressed early on without its former coordinator, including a 35-0 shutout win over Oregon State last week.  Over the last two-plus season, the program is 10-4 ATS after two or more consecutive wins.

The Badgers offense continues to play at an extremely high level and is one of seven units that is averaging at least 220 yards rushing and receiving in the nation through two weeks.  Wisconsin received a gift in transfer Russell Wilson from NC State, entering with the highest passing efficiency rating in the country.  He has accounted for 517 yards of total offense on 40 plays, which has averaged out to 12.9 yards a play, currently second-best nationally.  He trails only Houston’s Case Keenum and Boise State’s Kellen Moore in most career touchdowns passes for an active quarterback.

Northern Illinois dropped a heartbreaking 45-42 loss in Kansas last week, but also has an explosive option behind center.  Chandler Harnish dazzled in completing 27-of-33 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 89 yards and three more scores.  It was an unbelievable performance that ended up not being enough due to a defensive unit that allowed 534 yards.  “They made one more play than we did tonight,” commented head coach Dave Doeren after the game.  “Our defense didn’t get off the field on third down.”  Northern Illinois is 4-0 ATS in its last four games versus Big Ten competition.

The Huskies are certainly going to rely on Harnish’s talents heading into the biggest game of the season, as he also scored six combined touchdowns in a season-opening victory over Army.  It’s going to be much tougher against the Badgers to amass video game-type statistic, as they’ve held both of their opponents to under 300 yards of total offense.  Northern Illinois also trails in this series, 1-11, but four of the last five meetings have been decided by eight points or less.  Both teams enter the game with high-scoring offenses, but only once has a team scored over 40 points in the series.

Bettors will be interested in backing the Huskies due to their 4-1 ATS mark as underdogs of 10.5 or more points, while the Badgers are 3-6 ATS in September contests.

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