A snake-bitten team last season, Wisconsin lost six one-possession games, including three in overtime. But 14 starters returned for new coach Gary Andersen, and the results have been better.
Anderson, who led Utah State to an 11-2 record straight up and against the spread last season, guided the Badgers to blowouts against two cupcake opponents — Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech — by a combined score of 93-0.
A much tougher test is in store today, when the Badgers travel to face Arizona State. I made this line pick ’em, but most books are showing the Sun Devils as 5-point favorites.
Gamblers should not downgrade Wisconsin because of the loss of the program’s second all-time leading rusher, Montee Ball.
The Badgers have two dynamite running backs in veteran James White and explosive sophomore Melvin Gordon. Gordon is averaging 12.9 yards per carry this season, with 284 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. White has 252 rushing yards and two TDs on 33 attempts.
Sophomore quarterback Joel Stave has thrown five touchdown passes. He has one of the Big Ten’s top wide receivers in Jared Abbrederis, who has 10 receptions for 184 yards and three touchdowns.
Arizona State could be without two key players in its defensive secondary, as senior Chris Young and junior Damarious Randall are listed as questionable with injuries.
Whether Young and Randall play or not, look for the Badgers to pound the Sun Devils on the ground. Stave and Abbrederis will make enough plays through the air to force Arizona State to respect the passing attack.
Take the points with Wisconsin and also grab plus-180 on the money line for a smaller play.
Four more plays for today (home team in CAPS):
■ TEXAS A&M (+9) over Alabama — I made the Crimson Tide 3½-point favorites, so I’m confident the line value is with the underdog.
Alabama usually has a significant coaching advantage against every opponent, but that won’t be the case when Nick Saban goes against Kevin Sumlin. Much has been made about the Aggies’ struggles on defense, but they will get back six players who have been serving suspensions.
What about the struggles of the Tide’s offensive line? Alabama generated only 206 yards of total offense against Virginia Tech, failing to open holes for running back T.J. Yeldon. I think this is a toss-up game in terms of who wins, so I’ll take the home team getting more than a touchdown.
■ Bowling Green-INDIANA (Over 63) — The Hoosiers’ first two games totaled 108 and 76 points. Indiana ranks seventh in the nation in scoring, averaging 54.0 points, but it can’t stop anybody. Bowling Green is averaging 37.5 points.
I think this goes over the total in the third quarter.
■ PENN STATE (-5) over Central Florida — There seem to be a lot of pundits thinking upset in Happy Valley this weekend. I disagree. This is a big step up in competition for the Golden Knights, who have victories over Akron and Florida International. The coaching advantage goes to Bill O’Brien, and his Nittany Lions should pull away late to win by double digits.
■ MIDDLE TENNESSEE (-7½) over Memphis — I’m going to continue to go against this horrible Tigers team at these inexpensive prices. Middle Tennessee lost 40-20 at North Carolina last week, but that was with quarterback Logan Kilgore throwing three interceptions and playing hurt. He’s healthier this week and will lead the Blue Raiders to a cover.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread
Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.