MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (8-2)
at WISCONSIN BADGERS (10-0)
Camp Randall Stadium – Madison, WI
Kickoff: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Line: Wisconsin -7.5, Total: NA
#5 Wisconsin finally picked up a statement win last week. Can they get another against Michigan on Saturday?
Prior to last weekend, the now-10-0 Wisconsin Badgers' biggest win of the season was a single-digit home victory over Northwestern in September. For a team looking to qualify for the College Football Playoff, that's a problem. Fortunately, the Badgers had a chance to impress this past Saturday when hosting an Iowa team that had just blown out Ohio State. And impress the Badgers did, winning 38-14 over the Hawkeyes to maintain their undefeated record. Plus, losses for teams like Georgia, Notre Dame, TCU and Washington also increased Wisconsin's playoff odds. Now, with a visit from Michigan this week, coach Paul Chryst's team has another opportunity to take down a strong opponent. After suffering two losses in three weeks at midseason, the Wolverines have flown under the radar with decisive wins over Big Ten non-contenders. For the first time since a blowout loss to Penn State, they'll be on the national radar when they take the field at Camp Randall for a noontime start on Saturday. Since 1992, favorites of 3.5 to 10 points allowing 14.0 PPG or less (WIS) are 16-44 ATS after allowing no more than 17 points in five straight games. Over the last 10 seasons, home favorites having allowed no more than 17 points in two straight games (WISC) are 37-78 ATS against an opponent coming off a win of 21 points or more (MICH). But since 1992, Wisconsin is 11-3 ATS against Michigan.
Thanks to their cupcake schedule, Wisconsin has received less attention than most Playoff contenders. For the same reason, star RB Jonathan Taylor has also gone underappreciated on a national scale. The true freshman is among the very best backs in the country, as he's first in the Big Ten and third in all of FBS football with 1,525 rushing yards. He has nearly 500 more yards on the ground than any other B1G back, and he leads the league with 12 touchdowns. He's seventh in the nation in carries with 219 on the year, a mightily impressive workload for someone who was dominating high school fields this time last year. The Badgers certainly got their money's worth out of him against Iowa, handing him the ball 29 times for 157 yards. He also received 29 carries a week earlier at Indiana, and hopefully Chryst is mindful to not overwork the young star. In typical Wisconsin fashion, the offense is a little unexciting outside of a stellar running back and stud offensive line. But while QB Alex Hornibrook may come across as a "game manager" type, the label doesn't fit: He leads the conference with 9.0 yards per attempt, but has also thrown the second most interceptions with 12. He threw three against Iowa, and it's a testament to the Badgers' defense that the team still pulled away at the end fairly easily. The team announced last week that it had lost leading WR Quintez Cephus for the season, which represents a significant hit to the offense. That leaves TE Troy Fumagalli as easily the foremost pass-catcher, and he has 33 grabs after catching three balls on Saturday. (Cephus ended his season with 30 catches). Freshman WR Danny Davis III stepped up against Iowa with four catches for 74 yards. He now has at total of 12 receptions this season, but should be expecting many more targets immediately.
The single fact that best speaks to the difficulty that Michigan has had in finding effective quarterback play this season is this: The current starter, redshirt freshman QB Brandon Peters, got his shot when John O'Korn got yanked from the first quarter of a game against Rutgers. O'Korn was in for original starter Wilton Speight, who suffered a cracked vertebrae against Purdue (and is somehow back practicing this week). But, for now, Peters is the starter, and he's actually played pretty well. He's thrown four touchdowns and no picks in his near-three games as a starter, and has led the Wolverines to 21-plus-point wins in all of them. He did his job against Maryland last weekend, completing 9 of 18 passes for 145 yards and two scores. It's unclear whether or not there's much talent at the receiver positions for Michigan, as receivers obviously haven't had much consistency in terms of who's throwing the ball their way. WR Grant Perry is the main guy, but he's been banged up lately and has only topped four catches once this year. Freshman WR Donovan Peoples-Jones game in highly touted, and he's clearly talented, but he's gone catchless in two of the Wolverines' last three games. TE Zach Gentry led the team in both receptions and yards against Maryland last week with three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. RB Chris Evans led the way out of the backfield with 15 carries for 80 yards and two scores, while RB Karan Higdon had 10 carries for 50 yards. Higdon has rushed for 150+ yards in three of Michigan's last five games.