“The Big House” will be rocking on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., ABC) as the Michigan Wolverines (5-1) host one of their arch rivals in the Big Ten, the Wisconsin Badgers (4-1). Michigan is the consensus favorite at 8.5 points, while the betting total hovers around 49 points.
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Wisconsin has owned this rivalry of late, going 8-1-1 in the last 10 meetings against the spread and sweeping the last four tilts (3-1 straight up) in the process. But the tide appears to be turning as the Badgers bring in a 1-4 against the spread record into Saturday night’s showdown. Their once-mighty defense is just 41st in the country in yards per game allowed and 99th in yards per play allowed (despite an 11th-best mark in points per game allowed), and is suffering various injuries heading into this week. Cornerbacks Travian Blaylock, Deron Harrell and Caesar Williams are all considered questionable.
Running back Johnathan Holder is the straw that stirs the drink for the Badgers’ offense. He’s accumulated 849 yards and 8 TDs on 126 carries this year. But he looked human when he faced Michigan last year, rushing for 132 yards. The Wolverines defense, led by defensive lineman Chase Winovich, looks to have taken a step forward this year. Winovich leads the Big Ten with 10 tackles for loss this season, per USAToday.
If Holder is held in check, Wisconsin will be in big trouble. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has struggled in his prior two games with Michigan, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, per Sports Illustrated. And the Wolverines’ fearsome pass rush is sacking quarterbacks at a robust 12.8 percent of dropbacks, which is fifth in the nation.
With Michigan’s number-one defense by yards per game doing their part, the focus shifts to the offense. Shea Patterson is under center for Jim Harbaugh’s squad, and he’s completed nearly 69 percent of his passes this season. The aerial attack balances well with Karan Higdon’s ground game (5.8 yards per carry on 101 attempts). Though the Wolverines’ offense holds a modest ranking by yards per game (54th), they are efficient, as they’re 31st in points per game and 29th in yards per play.
This spread seems a bit too large at first glance, but Michigan’s home field advantage gives them a serious edge. The crowd should really be into it for this night game, especially if the Wolverines’ defense makes the early (and late) stops like it should. Take Michigan to cover the 8.5-point spread, and consider betting the under as well, as the Badgers should be hard-pressed to score all game long.
Prediction: Michigan wins, 31-14
The play: Michigan -8.5, Michigan v. Wisconsin Under 49 points.