|8.5 NW (-122) @ Fanduel|
My 9* Ultimate Underdog is on Northwestern at 3:30 ET.
Paul Chyrst was hired at Wisconsin in 2015, after leading Pitt to three straight bowls from 2012-14 but note his overall record was only 19-19. He led the Badgers to FIVE straight bowl games, winning the first four, before losing 28-27 to Oregon in last season's Rose Bowl. His overall record with Wisconsin is 52-16 (.765) entering 2020. Pat Fitzgerald played at Northwestern and was an assistant coach from 2001-05 until his promotion to head coach after the unexpected death of Randy Walker in June 2006. He was just 10-14 in his first two seasons but then led the Wildcats to NINE bowl in the next 12 years, winning 10 games in 2012, 2015 and 2018. Northwestern fell to just 3-9 last season but the Wildcats are off to a 40-0 stat in the Big Ten in 2020, for the first time since 1996.
Wisconsin expected that RB Jonathan Taylor (2,003 rushing yards in 2019) would leave a year early for the NFL but Paul Chryst couldn't have planned for the loss of QB Jack Coan (69.6% / 2,727 yards / 18 TDs and just five INTs in 2019) to a foot injury on Oct 10. However, redshirt freshman Graham Mertz got the start on Oct 23 vs Illinois and completed 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards with five TDs and no INTs in the Badgers 45-7 rout. Then came a COVID-19 outbreak that included both Mertz and head coach Chryst. Wisconsin's next two games were canceled but the Badgers returned to play last Saturday at Michigan and routed the Wolverines 49-11. Mertz was pretty average vs Michigan (12 of 22 for only 127 yards with two TDs and zero INTs) but Wisconsin ran all over Michigan (341 rushing yards on 6.7 YPC) and after two early INTs by the defense set up two quicks TDs, the game was never in doubt.
Northwestern QB Ramsey has been OK but hardly special (65.8% for 723 yards with six TDs and four INTs). The running game averages 174.0 PPG, almost 100 yards less than Wisconsin's 261.5 YPG on 5.0 YPC. In the first five seasons of the "Chryst era" at Wisconsin, his 'stop units' have allowed 13.7, 15.6, 13.9, 22.6 and 16.9 PPG. It's been just two games in 2020 but Wisconsin is No. 1 in scoring D (9.0 PPG) and No. 1 in total D (218.5 YPG). That said, don't dismiss the Northwestern D, which is allowing 14.0 PPG (7th) on 301.8 YPG (4th).
I'm still not quite sure how good Wisconsin really is because Illinois is an awful team and Harbaugh's Michigan team is a joke! How good is Mertz, really? Northwestern's graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey had his best game for the Wildcats, throwing for three TDs and 212 yards at Purdue and history tells us that the Wildcats have been especially successful against the Badgers at home, winning FIVE of the past six matchups at Ryan Field. This game has earned the title of a de facto Big Ten championship semifinal, with the Wildcats (4-0) and Badgers (2-0) tied for first place in the division and the winner controlling its own destiny to play next month for the conference title at Indianapolis. Can the Wildcats pull the upset? I thinks so but will be SURE to take the points!