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Nebraska Football: Why Wisconsin Covering the Spread Isn't a Sure Thing

Nebraska Cornhuskers WR Stanley Morgan Jr.

Nebraska Cornhuskers WR Stanley Morgan Jr.

If you’ve been watching Nebraska football this season and enjoy wagering on the college game, picking Wisconsin to beat the Huskers straight up this week seems like a near lock. However, history has shown you may want to be cautious about dropping too many ducats on the Badgers doing the amount of damage the sizable spread suggests.

As of this writing, Wisconsin is an 18.5-point favorite which almost seems a bit low considering how poorly Nebraska has played. Then you take the Badgers’ 6-1 record versus the Huskers in Big Ten games into account coupled with the fact that this contest will be played in the raucous confines of Camp Randall Stadium after the sun sets. Those factors spell out a potential plastering.

That said, more often than not, the Badgers have usually more than earned their wins against the Big Red regardless of the final margin of victory. Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska has lost to Wisconsin by three touchdowns in half of the games played. The remaining losses were by a combined eight points. Let’s review why the Badgers likely win but may upset those who drop money against the spread with Nebraska being just tough enough when all is said and done.

Only one game between the two teams in Big Ten play was decided early on and yes, it’s the one you’re thinking of. In the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin racked up 539 rushing yards on a Husker defense that looked like it’d never defended a jet sweep in its life. It was such a pounding that it often causes people to gloss over the fact that Nebraska actually beat that same Badger team 30-27 earlier in the year.

Now that we’ve gotten the Huskers’ lone win over Bucky in their new conference out of the way, it’s time to break down Wisconsin’s remaining dirty work. The Badgers were the first team Nebraska ever faced in Big Ten conference play and eventually sent the Huskers home with a 48-17 loss. A victory was still within the visitors’ grasp at the half with Wisconsin holding a 27-14 lead. A 14-point third quarter would ice the game for the Badgers.

After 2012, the two teams didn’t meet again until two years later in Madison. It was another blowout with Wisconsin winning 59-24. The home team led at the half by the same margin it did in 2011 and, in similar fashion, put the pedal to the metal in the third quarter by unleashing Melvin Gordon, who scored three touchdowns himself.

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Things would get hairier upon Wisconsin’s trip to Lincoln the following year. A 55-yard run by Nebraska’s Andy Janovich gave the Huskers a 21-20 lead with 3:38 left in the contest. Badger kicker Rafael Gaglianone followed up a 41-yard field goal earlier in the quarter with a 46-yarder with just four seconds left on the clock to secure the win for Wisconsin.

In 2016, the two teams staged a thrilling game in Madison that saw Nebraska score 10 points in the final stanza while keeping Wisconsin scoreless to force overtime. In the extra period, Badgers running back Dare Ogunbowale sprung loose for an 11-yard touchdown run on 2nd-and-8 to give Wisconsin the lead. Defensive back D’Cota Dixon then swatted away a fourth-down pass attempt to Stanley Morgan Jr. to seal yet another win for Bucky’s boys.

Last year gave us the perfect microcosm of this phenomenon. The two teams were tied at 17 until 4:56 left in the third quarter when Alex Hornibrook connected with Quintez Cephus on a five-yard touchdown pass. Wisconsin would score two more touchdowns, giving them a 21-point victory, but again, the Badgers had to grind Nebraska down to get it.

Setting the Indianapolis massacre aside, the Badgers have gone into halftime against Nebraska with an 18-11 lead on average. They then manage to widen the gap in the third period, outscoring the Huskers 11-4 on average. Wisconsin seems to take its foot off the gas in the fourth quarter (7-5 on average), which translates to a 36-20 score. With this Nebraska team off to a historically bad start, bettors must root for one of two scenarios: another massive third quarter by Wisconsin with head coach Paul Chryst not letting up in the fourth or a mental breakdown by the Huskers.

The Badgers currently rack up .458 points per play (32 per game) and it should be noted that they haven’t gotten off to the fastest starts this season. What gives Nebraska hope is that Wisconsin has scored a total of 17 points in the first quarter this season or 13.2 percent of their total output (128 points). If the Huskers can score right out of the gate as they did against Purdue, that’s a major first step. However, there’s the danger of the Badgers’ powerful offensive line punishing Nebraska’s defensive front seven to the point of breaking things wide open in the second quarter. If that happens, expect the Huskers to mentally collapse and for the dam to rupture.

In terms of the eventual spread, if the Huskers are still hanging around in the fourth quarter, stay tuned. Nebraska could’ve quit entirely in the second half versus Purdue last week, but didn’t and Wisconsin will see a Big Red depth chart with several changes across the board. In other words, barring another injury to Adrian Martinez, a straight-up bet is far more assuring. If the spread continues to dip towards 17 or fewer points, you may consider dropping a sawbuck or two, just in case.

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) plus keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts and stat-filled features on his Patreon page.