Top sportsbooks have released their NCAAF odds for this week’s action. Two games immediately seem worth investing in when we consider early-week value: Wisconsin vs. Northwestern and Ohio State vs. Michigan State.
For reasons that I will explain, you should play the spread for both games at one of our best sportsbooks.
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Northwestern Wildcats
Saturday, October 08, 2022 – 03:30 PM EDT at Ryan Field
Wisconsin's Coaching Change
For Wisconsin, Paul Chryst was outed as head coach after a pair of dreadful blowouts, the first coming to Ohio State and the most recent one coming to an Illinois squad spearheaded by a former Badger head coach. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is now serving as the team's interim head coach.
It is often the case across major sports that a team plays with renewed energy when its head coach gets replaced. After all, players' position on the depth chart becomes uncertain because the man formerly in charge of their position on the depth chart is no longer there. Plus, there is the desire to impress the new head coach, and often a sense of liberation and a sense of having escaped from a negative situation for the players.
Even if this coaching change didn't happen, Wisconsin players were embarrassed by Illinois last week, so they will pridefully respond this week by proving what they can do. My contention is that these psychological factors provide a tremendous boost to my betting recommendation. But an equally important consideration is that Badgers' players have underachieved massively.
With new leadership, Badgers' players will play to their potential, and this expectation makes the current betting odds look very generous to Northwestern.
Wisconsin's Offensive Line
Last week, perhaps the most ridiculous level of underachievement was displayed by Wisconsin's offensive line. As part of the team's 34-10 loss to Illinois, Wisconsin allowed 5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss, the latter contributing to the fact that they mustered a total of two rushing yards.
For comparison's sake, Chattanooga likewise allowed 5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss but also achieved 93 rushing yards in its game against Illinois. Wisconsin's offensive line clearly underachieved against Illinois because it has much more talent than Chattanooga's.
This year's Badgers' o-line returned three starters from last year, Jack Nelson, Tyler Beach, and Joe Tippmann, while ensuring through competition among talented former prospects that strong options would occupy the rest of the offensive line.
Despite last week's debacle, running back Braelon Allen is still averaging 6.2 YPC, although he averaged 7.1 YPC as part of his 1,109-yard regular season output last season.
Northwestern's Run Defense
The Wildcats no longer have the defensive studs of prior years. On the contrary, they rank 103rd at limiting opposing rushing yards.
In their Power 5 competition, they were blasted by a Duke team that misses its superstar running back from last year and by a Penn State squad that struggles annually to run well.
In the Badgers' blowout wins, against an FCS school and a similarly lowly-ranked rush defense, they could simply keep running the ball down their opponent's throat, and this is what they'll do to Northwestern.
Northwestern's Troublesome Offense
It doesn't take too much defensive competence to stymy a Northwestern offense that ranks 109th nationally at scoring 18.8 points per game. Most recently, against Penn State, the Wildcats suffered the rare feat of mustering 7 points despite getting the benefit of 5 turnovers.
The Wildcats are led by a quarterback in Ryan Hilinski who has a strong arm but not much else. Struggling to complete 60% of his passes, his accuracy is marred by a lack of touch. Moreover, his high interception total reflects poor decision-making, and he won't scare anybody with his legs.
Problematically, he lacks support from a rush attack, the leader of which averages 4.3 YPC because he thrived against Nebraska and Southern Illinois while struggling against Duke, Miami of Ohio, and, except for one run, Penn State.
Malik Washington Against Jay Shaw
By far, Northwestern's leading wide receiver is Malik Washington. Hilinski's singular reliance on Washington is crucial because it suggests his inability to take advantage of a potential weakness in Wisconsin's defense generated by the relatively deleterious number of departures of starters from the secondary.
Jay Shaw, a transfer from UCLA where he was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, is Wisconsin's top cornerback. So, Shaw's ability to match up with Washington is crucial.
Shaw struggled against Illinois' Pat Bryant last week because Bryant is well-sized. Shaw cannot handle size because he is small. Washington, though, is himself 5'9. Thus, he cannot hurt Shaw by exposing his physical deficiencies.
Washington relies on his quickness, which is just the attribute that, in tandem with specific ball and coverage skills, Shaw depends on to lock down opposing wide receivers.
Wisconsin's Run Defense
A regularly pathetic Wildcats' rush attack will continue to struggle against a Badgers' front seven led by inside linebackers merely undone by a lack of energy, by preseason All-American Nick Herbig on the outside, and by rocks on the defensive line, such as star Keeanu Benton and Isaiah Mullens at defensive end.
Both Benton and Mullens regularly demand double teams, allowing the linebackers behind them sufficient operating space.
Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan State Spartans
Saturday, October 08, 2022 - 04:00 PM EDT at Spartan Stadium
I usually hate to play large favorites, but the odds are simply way off with this one. The Buckeyes are currently favored by 25.5 points, which really isn't a lot.
Michigan State has already lost by more than 25 points at home to Minnesota while Ohio State easily exceeded this number in each of its last four games.
Ohio State beat Michigan State by 40+ points in each of the past two seasons after beating a ranked Spartans squad by 24 in 2019.
Buckeyes' Pass Attack Faces No Resistance
Despite 40% of its games so far coming against MAC opponents, Michigan State's pass defense ranks 106th nationally at limiting opposing passing yards.
The Spartans' pass defense has made Washington and Minnesota quarterbacks the subject of unreal levels of hype on ESPN while Maryland's quarterback just completed 78% of his passes in his team's two-touchdown win.
Inhabiting a different galaxy of individual quality than Washington's Michael Penix or Minnesota's Tanner Morgan, Ohio State Heisman candidate CJ Stroud easily poses the toughest challenge of the season to Michigan State's already overwhelmed secondary.
Spartans Won't Keep Pace
Behind its interception-prone quarterback, Michigan State lacks the firepower to keep pace. With his team so far behind, Payton Thorne won't get to rely on his favored play-action and the like.
Obviously needing to pass, he won't do much against a Buckeyes' defense that, remaining sufficiently disciplined with a big lead, allowed a combined total of 184 yards (not including sack yardage) to Wisconsin and Rutgers quarterbacks in the last two weeks.
For itself, Michigan State has scored a combined total of 20 points in two Big Ten games (against Minnesota and Maryland). With your NCAAF picks, expect Ohio State to reach 50 points while Michigan State struggles to muster double digits.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.