College Football Odds & Picks for Wisconsin vs. Michigan: What Bet to Target in Big Ten Showdown
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Leo Chenal.
- No. 14 Michigan eyes its first victory at Wisconsin since 2001.
- The Wolverines are coming off a win over Rutgers and are undefeated, while the Badgers were crushed by Notre Dame and are 1-2.
- Our staff breaks down the game and offers up their best bets for the conference duel.
Wisconsin vs. Michigan Odds
-115o / -105u
-115o / -105u
Wisconsin was maybe worth a bet when it was a one-point underdog. But since it’s been bet to -2.5, all the value has been sucked out.
If Graham Mertz steps out on the field Saturday at noon as the starter, there is no way I’m backing him. In fact, I’m going to fade him six days and twice on Saturdays — and I’ll happily take 2.5 points while doing so.
The Michigan running game took a step back last Saturday but only in the second half, and Blake Corum is still the highest graded Power Five running back, per PFF.
Plus, Michigan returned 78% of its offensive production from last season, per TARP, including four of the five starting offensive linemen from last year. These big guys are experienced and prepared to open lots of running lanes.
The Badger defense is elite. But Michigan is going to put up points, and Wisconsin simply won’t if Mertz walks out on that field again — especially considering the Michigan defense grades out eighth in FBS, per PFF’s ratings.
I am going to just go ahead and “8 Mile” Tanner’s argument here. Yes, Graham Mertz sucks. He has thrown more touchdowns to the other team than his own team. We get it. He is bad.
But Cade McNamara isn’t exactly Chad Henne back there either.
McNamara has attempted just 53 passes in four games this season and has a 51.6% completion percentage against Power Five opponents. He has no turnover-worthy plays this season but also has just four big-time throws, all against MAC opponents.
As bad as Wisconsin’s passing attack has looked, it ranks 49th in Passing Success Rate, which is actually better than the Wolverines, who rank 61st in Passing Success Rate this year.
The Michigan offense has become completely one-dimensional. It has averaged just 16.3 passing attempts per game, which ranks 127th in the country and is trailed only by the three Service Academies, which run the triple option.
We saw last week against Rutgers, when a team takes away the Wolverines’ ability to run the ball, the offense becomes dormant. The Scarlet Knights held Michigan to just 2.9 yards per carry, and in turn, the Wolverines managed just 275 total yards of offense in the close win.
That is going to be a problem because this is still Wisconsin we are talking about. The Badgers are a brick wall and have the best run defense in the nation, allowing a miniscule 23.0 yards per game and just 1.0 yards per carry.
Jim Leonhard’s defense leads the country in Havoc on defense and ranks second in Line Yards. It’s going to live in the backfield and shut down the Michigan rushing attack, which is all that offense has.
McGrath: If Mike wants to be Slim Shady, let him be. But B Rabbit only had to defend living in a trailer with his mom. Defending Mertz is much, much tougher than that.
PFF has graded 204 college quarterbacks this season, and Mertz ranks sixth-to-last. He’s literally right next to both UConn quarterbacks, who have combined to complete, like, 40% of their passes.
Mertz and the Badger offense may rank higher in Pass Success Rate, but Mertz has posted a whopping 3.3 adjusted yards per attempt, per Sports-Reference. As such, Wisconsin ranks dead last in Passing Explosiveness and overall Offense Explosiveness — by a whole lot.
So, Mike mentioned how Mertz is “bad,” but he hasn’t been bad. He’s been brutally bad. The Badger offense literally can’t move forward.
Meanwhile, McNamara hasn’t been Henne, but he hasn’t been asked to. He doesn’t get many opportunities, but he’s shown promise in a small sample size. He averages over 10 yards per attempt and grades out as PFF’s 27th-best college quarterback among players who have dropped back at least 50 times.
Michigan stalled last week vs. Rutgers, but the Wolverine offense had a 67% Success Rate on passing downs in the first quarter. That’s against a Scarlet Knight defense that ranks fifth in the nation in Defense Passing Success Rate.
Either way, Michigan is going to be able to create scoring opportunities throughout the game, something Mertz and the Badgers are incapable of doing. As elite as the Badger defense is, you still have to score points, as the football team with the highest number of them wins the game.
Ianniello: Yes, these odds have swung a bit as the week’s gone on. Wisconsin was listed as an underdog on Monday but is now favored because all the smart people (no offense, Tanner) are betting Wisconsin.
As of writing, 62% of the public is on Michigan, but 59% of the money is on Wisconsin. The Badgers have triggered seven sharp moves in our Action PRO Report already.
Again, yes, Mertz has not been good. But he doesn’t need to be.
This is Wisconsin. This game is going to be the quintessential Big Ten football game. Mertz, Jack Coan, Alex Hornibrook, Bart Houston, Joel Stave, Tanner McEvoy, Scott Tolzien. It doesn’t matter who the Badgers quarterback is. They run the football, play elite defense and win 10 games.
Need I remind you that the “brutally bad” Mertz was the quarterback for Wisconsin last year when it went into Ann Arbor and hung 49 on the Wolverines in a 49-11 rout? Mertz had just 127 yards passing but threw two touchdowns, and the Badgers ran all over the place for 341 yards and five touchdowns
Michigan’s defense ranks just 52nd in Success Rate against the run this year. Defense might not win championships anymore, but it still wins Big Ten football games.
McGrath: I can’t take any offense, Mike. Your team doesn’t have one to give.
You say that Wisconsin is going to run the football, but it hasn’t been all that good at it so far. Michigan ranks 52nd in Success Rate against the run, but Wisconsin ranks just 43rd in Rush Success Rate. And its offensive line ranks outside the top 80 in Line Yards.
If we’re playing a quintessential Big Ten football game, Blake Corum, Hassan Haskins, and the Wolverines have the edge in the running game.
This year isn’t like last year, and it’s going to be tough for the Badgers to win 10 games when they’re 1-2 and have nine regular-season contests left. Wisconsin’s “run the ball and play defense” game plan was embarrassing against Notre Dame and Penn State, and I’m not expecting the Badgers to flip the script this week.
Ianniello: Tanner keeps acting like Michigan’s offense is just going to have no problem scoring on Wisconsin. Are we sure?
This defense has been dominant. The Badgers rank fifth in Rushing Success and 13th in Pass Success. They create the most Havoc in the country and have allowed the second-fewest offensive touchdowns in the country, behind only Georgia.
Michigan was shut out in the second half against Rutgers last week and managed just two first downs and 47 total yards after the break. With the running game shut down, the Wolverines were unable to move the ball at all and are likely to face a similar situation against this Badgers front seven.
Sure, Michigan has looked pretty good so far this season. But this is what Michigan does. It beats up on the bad teams and then loses to better competition.
In Jim Harbaugh’s career he is just 14-20 against the spread as an underdog. Even further, he is just 7-13 ATS as a road underdog and 3-7 as a dog since he has been at Michigan.
McGrath: Bet Michigan +2.5
Michigan’s run game hasn’t been this talented in years. This defense is playing better than it has in years. Meanwhile, Mertz and the Wisconsin offense has taken a massive step back this season.
But despite being 4-0 straight up and 3-1 ATS, Michigan’s getting points. This is a no-brainer, don’t-think-just-go pick.
Don’t be the guy with a Wisconsin -2 ticket when Mertz throws another red-zone interception.
Ianniello: Bet Wisconsin -2.5
Michigan started its season with four straight games in Ann Arbor. Its first time playing in a hostile environment in almost two years will be Camp Randall Stadium, one of the best atmospheres in college football.
Michigan has not gone into Wisconsin and won since 2001.