Big Ten Brawl
When Wisconsin looked at its Big Ten schedule this season, it couldn't have been thrilled to see it was the first team to ever open with the conference's three highest-profile programs.
Perhaps the Badgers can take solace in the fact that playing Michigan this season doesn't mean what it used to.
Ninth-ranked Wisconsin will hope to take advantage on Saturday, when it looks for its first win at the Big House in 14 years in the first matchup between a ranked Badgers team and an unranked Wolverines program in nearly a half-century.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Wisconson -6 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 89% of bets for this game have been placed on Auburn –6 (View College Football bet percentages).
It likely won't take Wisconsin (3-0) long to find out whether it's a real contender for a BCS bowl bid, having to open conference play by facing three opponents that have combined for 20 national championships and 77 Big Ten titles.
But while Ohio State and Penn State - Wisconsin's opponents in prime time on Oct. 4 and 11, respectively - are both currently ranked in the top 15, Michigan has struggled in its first season under coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines' streak of 22 straight victories in Big Ten home openers appears to be in jeopardy.
That's because the Badgers have surged into the top 10 behind a staunch defense and a relentless running game. The last time they were ranked and Michigan wasn't when the teams met came in 1959.
Both teams are coming off bye weeks, with Wisconsin's occurring at a good time after a physical 13-10 win at then-No. 21 Fresno State on Sept. 13.
"We only won by three points, but we still won," quarterback Allan Evridge said. "At the at end of the day, that's the most important thing. It means a lot. We showed we were able to handle adversity."
Evridge, a transfer from Kansas State, has provided efficient play, completing 60 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one interception in his first three games.
The strength of the Badgers offense, however, remains the ground game. P.J. Hill ran for 112 yards against Fresno State, giving the junior 379 of Wisconsin's 716 rushing yards this season behind the team's massive offensive line.
The defense held Fresno State to its lowest point total at home in more than 20 years, led by linebacker DeAndre Levy, who had four tackles for a loss and an interception.
"There's no weaknesses," Rodriguez said of Wisconsin. "It's a big, physical team. A typical Wisconsin team. They're going to run the ball right at you.
"I've been watching more of their defense, a very physical, active defense. Their front is outstanding. Their safeties make plays, their linebackers are active. There's no question they're one of the better teams in the country."
That can't be said about the Wolverines (1-2) after their slow start, which included a 25-23 home loss to Utah in the season opener and a 35-17 defeat at Notre Dame on Sept. 13 before the bye week. They're the only Big Ten team with two losses.
While Wisconsin's smash-mouth style has not changed, Michigan is in the midst of a transformation under Rodriguez as the former West Virginia coach implements his spread offense.
It hasn't been a smooth transition, as quarterback Steven Threet has completed just 54.5 percent of his passes, while backup Nick Sheridan has also seen action, throwing three interceptions in 29 attempts. The Wolverines turned the ball over six times against the Fighting Irish.
"If we're not dwelling on that game anymore, we'll improve our chances," defensive tackle Terrance Taylor said. "If we didn't let that go or are still thinking about losing to Utah at home, it's going to hurt us because Wisconsin is really good."
Michigan has seen the Badgers' toughness first-hand the last few years. Wisconsin hasn't won at Michigan Stadium since 1994, losing its last four visits to fall to 6-26 there, but it has beaten the Wolverines twice in the last three seasons at home. Michigan was No. 13 when it lost 37-21 in Madison on Nov. 10.
Wisconsin also went 2-0 against West Virginia while Rodriguez was coach, including a 24-17 win in Morgantown in 2003.
None of that will make Badgers coach Bret Bielema breathe any easier going into Saturday's matchup, which will be the 500th game at Michigan Stadium.
For one, the Wolverines bounced back from two losses to open last season to finish 9-4. Also, Michigan's run defense ranks 12th in the nation (65.3 yards per game), giving the team hope of countering the Badgers' biggest offensive strength.
"Their record in Big Ten play is 0-0," Bielema said, "and that's what we're concentrating on."
KEY INJURIES FOR THIS GAME
[DE] Kirk DeCremer out for the season - Back - 08/31/08
[CB] Aaron Henry missed last game - Knee - 09/13/08
[OL] Elliot Mealer is expected to miss entire season - Shoulder - 08/24/08
[OG] Cory Zirble is expected to miss 6-8 weeks - Knee - 08/28/08
[OL] Mark Ortmann missed last game %27?%27 - Elbow - 09/13/08
BETTING TRENDS FOR THIS GAME
WISCONSIN is 8-2 against the spread versus MICHIGAN since 1992
MICHIGAN is 7-4 straight up against WISCONSIN since 1992
7 of 9 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
WISCONSIN is 1-0 against the spread versus MICHIGAN over the last 3 seasons
MICHIGAN is 1-1 straight up against WISCONSIN over the last 3 seasons
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
WISCONSIN is 3-1 against the spread versus MICHIGAN since 1992
MICHIGAN is 4-1 straight up against WISCONSIN since 1992
3 of 4 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
MICHIGAN is 0-0 against the spread versus WISCONSIN over the last 3 seasons
MICHIGAN is 1-0 straight up against WISCONSIN over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
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