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Wisconsin vs. Penn State football betting preview

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Where should you put your money to head up week one?

Wisconsin at Penn State
Will Danny Davis help you win some money this weekend?
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

After a long off-season, we are finally back to football which means we are finally back to betting on college football! Week 0 was a nice appetizer but now it’s time for the full meal with a hefty amount of games in week one. For Badger fans, the slate is headlined, obviously, by their opening contest with Penn State.

Both teams are looking to rebound after seasons that were well below where these programs have been in years past. With neither seeming to be as bad as the record indicates this matchup is very intriguing and one that could play a big role as the season moves on. Win here and you’re in a really great spot out of the gate. Lose here and your back is already against the wall.

In terms of betting action, this game has been on boards for months with Wisconsin opening as a 3.5 point favorite. Currently, the spread sits at 5.5 in favor of the Badgers. The over/under opened at 52.5 but currently sits at 50 according to Draftkings, the official odds provider of SB Nation. We’ll dive into both of those numbers, but first some stats and trends.

  • Penn State was 4-5 ATS in 2020
  • Wisconsin was 3-4 ATS in 2020
  • The total was 4-4-1 in Penn State contests last year
  • The total was 3-4 in favor of the under in Wisconsin contests last year
  • Wisconsin is 24-25-1 as a home favorite in the Paul Chryst era
  • Penn State is 4-5 as a road dog in the James Franklin era
Illinois v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

ATS Pick: Penn State (+5.5)

Early in the season betting on college football can be a very dangerous game. You have very little to go on other than preseason reading and last year's stats which never tell the whole story. In some games, you can look at data points and find a feel for something, and in some games, you truly have no idea and are making an educated guess. For this contest, it's the latter.

Oddsmakers seem to agree with that sentiment, as spreads of 5 to 5.5 don’t get floated out there all that much. Generally, if it does get to that number, it means that they don’t have a clear picture on either side. With both of these teams having a lot of uncertainty and changes I don’t love any play on the spread all that much.

The one data point I do have is my power ratings and in my ratings, these two teams are dead even meaning I would make the spread a pick-em on a neutral field. Camp Randall does provide some home-field advantage and some injuries have popped up for Penn State so the opening line of 3.5 is probably where I would have it right now. At 5.5 I think it’s a few too many points so I will take the Nittany Lions but I do not love it at all and I am not going to pretend I do. It’s a long season.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Over/Under? Under 50

This matchup is fascinating to me because I feel like three of the four sides of the football between the two teams have major question marks that need to be answered. The side I feel good about knowing is the Badger defense.

The Badgers ranked No. 5 in total defense a year ago, and they return most of the production that led them there. If the sack numbers get better, this group should be even stronger so I don’t see Penn State putting up huge points on the Badger defense, especially when breaking in a new offensive system.

In turn, the Wisconsin offense struggled last year. While I do think they’ll be much more competent, I can't say they’ll come out and throw up major points out of the gate. Yes, the front line of Penn State is new, but they’re talented and the back seven should clean up some of their slack.

Really it comes down to do you think a team gets to 30 in this contest, and I don’t quite think so right now. I think this game shakes out to be somewhere in the 27-21 range, so I’ll take the under in this spot to start the season. With so much unknown, I’ll bank with the Badger defense which seems to be the most stable at this point.