Coming into the season, I thought this game could shake out to be a playoff eliminator in a primetime slot with the season on the line. A few months later, it’s fair to say... it’s not quite that.
Both the Wisconsin Badgers’ and Penn State Nittany Lions’ College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowl hopes died weeks ago, and primetime is far out of the question with today’s kickoff set for 11 a.m. Still, there is still a lot of intrigue in the betting market for this game.
This game opened with Penn State as an eight-point favorite, with the total opening at 51.5. Over the course of the week, the spread has remained around the 8 mark, with a few offshores putting out 8.5’s. The total has moved up rapidly and currently sits at 53, with the over receiving 75 percent of the total money and sharps betting almost 30 percent of the total money. Injuries have made these lines somewhat fickle, as the market is waiting for the status of both Alex Hornibrook and Trace McSorley. With so much up in the air in a game that means a lot for both teams in bowl positioning, here are some notable trends to help you decide which side you’re on.
- Wisconsin is 1–4 ATS in its last five games
- Wisconsin is 4–6 ATS in its last 10 games against Penn State
- Wisconsin is 1–4 ATS in its last five trips to Happy Valley
- Wisconsin is 12–4 ATS in its last 16 road games
- Wisconsin is 1–1 ATS as a road underdog this season
- Penn State is 14–4 ATS in its last 18 home games
- Penn State is 19–3 straight-up in its last 22 games at home
- The total has gone over in the last five match-ups between Penn State and Wisconsin
There aren’t a lot of trends that stick out in this game, but the one I really focused on is Penn State’s record when playing in Happy Valley. They’re 14–4 ATS over the last 18 and 19–3 SU in their last 22 at home. This stat is even more impressive considering where the program was at before James Franklin turned things around. Most college football fans consider Happy Valley a very tough place to play, and one could argue it’s one of the toughest crowds in the nation. No sport has more of a home-field advantage than college football and State College is a prime example of that. Today could be the biggest test the Badgers have faced this season.
The Pick: Penn State (-8.5)
In the look-ahead line from the preseason, this game was supposed to be -3 in favor of Penn State, so it’s pretty evident by the current spread that this season has gone a bit off the rails for Wisconsin. Its unfortunate we’ve gotten to this point, as normally I would always take Wisconsin as a large underdog, but I can’t see that as a promising bet this week.
With the loss of Olive Sagapolu on the defensive side, Penn State should have no issue running the football with Miles Sanders. Despite the uncertainty of McSorley, Penn State is still in a good spot at quarterback with Tommy Stevens. Many believe Stevens is actually better than McSorley, and I have a hard time arguing that at this point.
With Jack Coan likely making his second career road start, I have a hard time finding a bright spot in the Wisconsin offense. Sure, Coan played at Northwestern, but Happy Valley is a whole different animal. A one-dimensional offense just makes it that much easier for the opposing defense, and I don’t feel that Wisconsin can hang around if the offense stalls.
As I mentioned earlier, the professional bettors are hammering the over, and I have to assume they’re expecting a big offensive day for Penn State. In order to realistically hit the total, I would have to think you need at least 35 points from the Nittany Lions and in turn 20 from the Badgers. With the tendency for Franklin and co., to run up the score, I think 35 is very obtainable for the Nittany Lions. However, 20 points from Wisconsin could be a problem if Coan is the starter and Paul Chryst continues his overly conservative play calling. This total will end up getting very close to the mark, and I would lean over simply because the Penn State offense has some serious firepower and could make up for the Badgers’ lack of offense if it turns ugly.