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Badgers face first real test

Against a soft September schedule, Wisconsin rocked every opponent in its path as quarterback Russell Wilson rolled up near-perfect passing stats. But the pillow fights with nonconference patsies are in the past.

The scene is set for college football’s “Animal House.”

It’s time for the Badgers to initiate Nebraska into the Big Ten Conference, and those of us who follow sharp money are being led to believe the Cornhuskers could be in for a hazing Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is playing the part of Kent “Flounder” Dorfman as he prepares to join the fraternity. The disrespected underdog role is not one Pelini plays often, either.

“Wisconsin was certainly highly touted, and they have not disappointed,” Wynn Las Vegas sports book director John Avello said. “But I guess they get their first test this week.”

Avello opened the Badgers as 7-point favorites before money quickly moved the line to 9½. On Thursday, San Francisco statistician Bob Stoll, known as Dr. Bob of DrBobsports.com, released a play on Wisconsin that pushed the line to 10 at several books.

“Wisconsin has beaten no one. I thought 7 was plenty to give up in that game,” Avello said. “There should be support for Nebraska at some point.”

The Cornhuskers are 8-2 on the road the past two seasons, losing by one point at Virginia Tech and by three at Texas A&M, and Pelini has covered five consecutive games as a ‘dog.

But Wilson is Wisconsin’s wild card. The senior transfer from North Carolina State arrived to considerable hype and is worthy of it all, completing 75.8 percent of his passes for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns with one interception.

It’s one thing to pile up those numbers on UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota. Nebraska’s defense is a different animal.

For the first time this season, the Cornhuskers (4-0) will have their top three defensive players — tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard — in action together.

Wilson is complemented by running backs Montee Ball and James White, a mammoth offensive line and one of the nation’s top wideouts in Nick Toon. The Badgers are 10-1 against the spread in their past 11 games.

“At the beginning of the year, I had Nebraska rated as the better team,” said handicapper Erin Rynning of SportsMemo.com. “But if you go by the numbers and what you have seen, a double-digit line is about right.”

Nebraska, 1-3 ATS, will need huge efforts from quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead.

Avello is posting college openers at the Wynn around 3 p.m. each Sunday, beating the offshore books to the punch and taking $2,000 per shot, and some of his numbers move dramatically.

The Nebraska-Wisconsin line move has been minor compared to today’s Utah State-Brigham Young game. Avello opened BYU at minus-13½ and the number is down to 7½.

Hawaii opened as a 2½-point favorite at Louisiana Tech, but the Bulldogs are now 4-point favorites.

“I put a lot of thought into each game to see where I think the numbers should be, and I use a couple of consultants to get their opinions,” Avello said. “I feel confident in my numbers. The numbers run a little bit, but there’s always going to be some volatility when you put them up first. We write a lot of business, and I would say most of the business is the guys who do the work in making their own numbers.”

The Wynn posted Alabama as a 6-point favorite over Florida, and the Crimson Tide is now laying 3½ to 4. What’s the right number?

“I don’t know how good this Florida team is,” Avello said. “There’s going to be plenty of Alabama money.”

■ CLOSING NUMBERS — This is not exactly digging ditches or driving a garbage truck, but it’s hard work to find winners this week. I’m 13-8-1 for the season, and here are six plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):

Northwestern (+10) over ILLINOIS; Western Michigan (+3) over CONNECTICUT; LOUISIANA TECH (-4) over Hawaii; Nebraska (+10) over WISCONSIN; Notre Dame-PURDUE (Over 48); FRESNO STATE (-3½) over Mississippi.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.

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