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Wisconsin football vs. Michigan: betting preview

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Can the Badgers cover the spread as a slight home favorite?

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NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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The Badgers are back this week for a game with massive Big Ten implications. Both No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 11 Michigan will look to take their first step in Big Ten action and get a huge win to start the conference season.

The Badgers come into this game 2-0 against the spread (ATS), and we’ve been on the right side of that in the betting preview out of the gate. That record is much better than my Big Ten Bye Week Betting Special that had a 1-2 week. Still, the betting preview column sits at 4-3, so we’re sitting in the green as we head into week four.

The Badgers opened this game as a 2.5 point favorite, but odds-makers quickly adjusted that number to -3.5 in favor of Wisconsin. The over/under opened at 42.5 and has fluctuated between that and 43 during the course of the week. It’s an interesting number that speaks to both the success of Wisconsin and the struggle of Michigan to start the season. We’ll dive into both figures, but first, some notable trends:

  • Michigan and Wisconsin have split the last ten meetings
  • Wisconsin is 4-0 against Michigan in its last four trips to Camp Randall
  • Wisconsin is 7-2-1 ATS in its last ten meetings with Michigan
  • Michigan is 0-6 ATS in its last six games
  • Michigan is 0-5 ATS in its last five trips to Wisconsin
  • Michigan is 1-5 ATS in its last six road games
  • The total has gone under in six of Wisconsin’s last eight games
  • The total has gone over in four of Michigan’s last six games

ATS Pick: Wisconsin (-3.5)

I’ve rode with the Badgers ATS in each of the last two weeks, so I don’t know why you’d expect anything different here. While it is somewhat a gut feeling, it’s also a data driven pick in my opinion. If you look at the trends above, you see only one logical play and that’s with the Badgers.

Michigan and Wisconsin have split their last ten meetings, but in those games Wisconsin has covered the spread in seven of them. In addition, Michigan is 1-5 ATS in its last six road games which only continues to add to the idea that Michigan is a different team outside of the Big House. That compounds even more when Michigan takes on ranked teams on the road, as the Wolverines are 1-17 on the road against ranked opponents since 2006. That is a glaring number not only for the Harbaugh era, but for the Michigan program as a whole.

Home field advantage is most prevalent in college football, and you see that evidence in full force when these types of trends start taking place. I believe Michigan will keep this game tight, but I think the Badgers cover and win this game late. Obviously 3 and the hook is a little harder to cover, so if you can find this at 3 I would grab it. 61 percent of the money is currently on the Badgers, so it may not ever get to that point, but I don’t see it climbing any higher than 3.5 either.

Over/Under: Under 43

67 percent of the money is coming in on the under, and I think that is probably the smarter play. Yes, Wisconsin’s offense has fired on all cylinders so far, but you have to expect at least some sort of slow-down against a quality Don Brown defense. The Wolverines defense has not been the problem for Michigan, so I expect it to mitigate the Wisconsin attack more than we’ve seen the first two weeks.

Michigan’s biggest problem has been on offense both in the turnovers and just getting on the same page. It’s implementing a new offense and has looked shaky in each of the first two weeks. The Wolverines haven’t thrown the ball very well yet, so I expect a heavy dose of the run game both with the stable of backs and with Shea Patterson.

Additionally, Wisconsin will look to control tempo in this match up. Last year the Badger lost the time of possession battle by nearly 16 minutes, which was the biggest differential of any loss from 2018. To improve on that, Jack Coan will have to be more efficient and convert some tough third down throws. If Wisconsin wins, it will have to sustain drives and play a typical slug-fest type of game. I think the number of 43 is as sharp as you can get, and it should end up very close to that figure. Still, with two good defense’s and run first teams I am going to take the under, but i’d be prepared to sweat it out.