Last week the Badgers... do we really need to talk about last week anymore? Fine, the Badgers lost in one of the most embarrassing losses in recent history. Obviously, they didn’t cover and the lack of defense allowed that game to go over. To add insult to injury, this column was on the opposite side of both for an 0-2 week. Fire that game into the sun.
As if things couldn’t get grosser the Badgers now travel to the House of Horrors that is Ryan Field for a meeting with the 1-4 Northwestern Wildcats. Wisconsin has not faired well in Evanston over the last 20 years as they’ve gone just 1-6 in their last seven road trips there. Despite that, Wisconsin still sits as a 10-point favorite in this contest with a total of 44.5 points. Let’s dive into both.
(Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.)
ATS Pick: Northwestern (+10)
Overall, I think there are so many variables in play that this contest is a tough one to handicap. On one hand, you have a Wisconsin team that should be highly motivated after two embarrassing losses and wanting to make a statement after the firing of their Head Coach. Based on the reaction on social media I think this Wisconsin team is pretty upset and will want to prove themselves.
In theory, it makes sense to back a team that might have extra motivation but the numbers actually say the opposite. Since 2018 teams are 10-21 ATS and 7-24 straight up in the game after a coach has been fired. While there is added motivation, it’s also a tall ask given the circumstances of game prep and focuses on other areas.
Additionally, as bad as Northwestern has been this year every game has been within 10 points or less. The largest margin of victory has been just 10 and that came last week when Penn State survived 17-7 at home against the Wildcats as 27-point favorites. Given that, and the woes of Ryan Field, it’s hard to make a true argument for the Badgers here.
Over/Under? Over 44.5
I know what you are thinking, this game looks like a plain ole easy under. However, I think there might be more points here than one might expect. Offensively, I think Wisconsin will come out motivated to prove themselves and be a little hungry to put up some points. Northwestern’s run defense historically has been great, but this year they are ranking 82nd in defensive rushing success rate allowed. Much lower than usual. Additionally, PFF grades Northwestern 115th in terms of coverage grades this season.
On the other side, Wisconsin has been a bit of a mess on defense. This week, rather than having to focus on buttoning up his defense Jim Leonhard has had to focus on settling down a locker room, managing a coaching staff that is likely uneasy, and talking with recruits about the future. Northwestern’s offense has been dreadful, but they might be able to take advantage of that here. Additionally, Northwestern moves as a much quicker pace than in years past. Currently, they rank 14th in seconds per play so they are playing a much more up-tempo offense. That gave Wisconsin issues last week and might cause issues here too.
Last little point, Jim Leonhard is coaching for a permanent job and trying to get confidence back in his guys after a tough few weeks. Style points matter. Not saying JL is going to run it up if he gets a lead, but a blowout win would do A LOT of people A LOT of good.