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Expect desperate Badgers to handle Illinois

A month ago, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema had no worries. Everything was going exactly as he planned.

The Badgers were unbeaten and ranked as they rolled into the Big Ten part of their schedule. But the wheels fell off in a hurry, and Bielema now has more concerns than he can count.

After four consecutive losses, Wisconsin (3-4) desperately is in need of a win Saturday against Illinois. The Badgers are 21/2-point home underdogs at most sports books.

Sportsmemo.com handicapper Erin Rynning said the betting public likely is to back the Fighting Illini, but he recommends a wager on Wisconsin, especially if the line moves to 3 as expected.

“It’s kind of one of those ugly games. It’s a game where nobody is really going to be liking Wisconsin,” Rynning said. “I think the Badgers bounce back after two embarrassing losses.”

Wisconsin’s free-fall started with a 27-25 loss at Michigan on Sept. 27. The next week, the Badgers lost 20-17 to Ohio State on a late touchdown run by Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The losing streak continued in blowouts against Penn State and Iowa.

“After two heartbreaking losses to Michigan and Ohio State, things have just snowballed on the Badgers,” Rynning said. “But they outgained Iowa and Michigan, and Ohio State outgained Wisconsin by 1 yard, so it’s really not that bad.”

Illini quarterback Juice Williams leads the Big Ten in passing and total offense, but Rynning noted Illinois “still has some problems on defense.”

Badgers star running back P.J. Hill suffered an ankle injury last week against Iowa but is expected to play.

“Wisconsin rarely loses at home,” said Rynning, who analyzes another play for Saturday (home team in CAPS):

TULANE (-21/2) over Rice: The Green Wave is off a bye and off a loss before that, a situation I definitely like, and has the better rushing offense.

The Owls don’t play any defense. They have a hard time running the ball and stopping the run. Rice has allowed 103 points in its past two games.

Tulane can control the line of scrimmage and is led by standout running back Andre Anderson, who ran for 255 yards against Texas-El Paso two weeks ago.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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