The No. 4 ranked Wisconsin Badgers will get their 2018 season underway with a home contest against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Kickoff is set for 9:00 EST on Friday, August 31st at Camp Randall Stadium and will be televised on ESPN.
Oddsmakers currently have the Badgers listed as a massive 34.5-point favorite with the total set at 51 points. This has pretty much stayed right on the original number, as Wisconsin opened as a 34-point favorite. Click here for a full Week 1 betting schedule with game odds and links to our free pick previews.
Vegas Game Preview & Betting Odds: Western Kentucky vs Wisconsin
The Badgers went a perfect 12-0 in the regular-season and were on their way to making the 4-team playoff until they lost 21-27 to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin would go on to beat Miami (FL) 34-24 in the Orange Bowl to finish up at 13-1, setting a new school record for wins in a single season.
With 13 starters back the expectations are sky-high going to the 4th year under head coach Paul Chryst. A lot of the excitement around this team is driven by what they have coming back on offense. They have a legit Heisman contender in running back Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 scores as a true freshman last year. They also get back starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who is entering his junior season with 23 career starts under his belt. They also have all 5 starters back on what many are calling the best offensive line in the country.
Things aren’t looking as promising for Western Kentucky, who took a big step back in the first year under head coach Mike Sanford Jr. The Hilltoppers finished 6-6 and made a bowl, but would end up at 6-7 with an ugly 17-27 loss to Georgia State in their bowl game. It was the first losing season since 2010.
You have to wonder how much of that was a result of losing head coach Jeff Brohm (left to become head coach at Purdue), who went 31-10 in his three years on the job, including a 23-5 record the final two seasons. With just 10 starters coming back, including just 3 from an offense that has to replace one of their all-time passing leaders in Mike White, simply getting back to a bowl would be quite an accomplishment.
Free College Football Pick & Predictions: Wisconsin -34.5
This is probably one that I’ll stay clear of, but if I was forced to make a play on the spread or total, I would have to lean towards laying the points with Wisconsin. As difficult as it is to beat a team by five touchdowns, I think there’s a big enough gap here in talent to roll the dice.
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One of the biggest things you have to take into consideration with these massive spreads is how motivated the favorite will be and whether or not they have a game on deck they might be looking forward to. With this being the first game of the season and it being played under the lights at Camp Randall, I would be shocked if Wisconsin didn’t show up to play. There’s also no reason to look ahead, as they got another cupcake on the schedule in Week 2 with a home game against New Mexico.
Another factor that I couldn’t ignore is how dominant the Badgers have been in this spot. Wisconsin has won 22 straight home openers with the average margin of victory being by 26 points. The last 3 years have really been impressive. In 2015 they were a 31-point favorite against Miami (OH) and won 58-0. In 2016 they were a 23-point favorite against Akron and won 54-10. Last year they were a 27-point favorite against Utah State and won 59-10.
If they continue the trend of scoring 50+ points in their home opener, they are going to have an excellent shot at covering this spread. Given how loaded they are on offense, I don’t know how the Hilltoppers are going to be able to stop them from scoring at will.
I know the Badgers have just 4 returning starters on defense, but were talking about a program that hasn’t allowed more than 21 ppg in a single season since 2009. Last year they only gave up 13.9 ppg, which was almost two full touchdowns below what their opponents were averaging.
This Western Kentucky offense is also an ideal opponent for them to start out against. In the three years under Jeff Brohm the Hilltoppers lowest output for a season was 44.3 ppg. Last year without Brohm they only managed 25.5 ppg and that was with a top-tier talent at quarterback. With White gone the passing game is going to take a step back and that’s a major concern, given they only averaged 61.0 yards/game and 2.0 yards/carry on the ground. They also have just 1 of 5 starters back on the offensive line, which I believe gives them little to no chance of moving the ball against this physical Wisconsin defense.