The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (8-3, 6-2 in Big Ten) visit the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4, 5-3) for their annual battle for the Paul Bunyan’s Axe trophy. The kickoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET and airs on Fox.
Wisconsin enters on a seven-game winning streak (5-2 against the spread) with the latest being a 35-28 home win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. But, the Badgers failed to cover as 10-point underdogs and the total soared Over the 43.5-point total. Wisconsin is 6-5 against the spread (ATS) and 6-5 Over/Under (O/U) with the eighth-hardest schedule in the country, according to USA TODAY’s Jeff Sagarin.
Minnesota broke out of a two-game slump by crushing the Indiana Hoosiers 35-14 as 8-point road favorites this past weekend. The Golden Gophers play a very similar style of football as the Badgers: Minnesota has the fourth-highest rushing rate in college football while Wisconsin has the sixth-highest. Minnesota is 6-4-1 ATS and 6-5 O/U with the 58th-toughest schedule, according to Sagarin.
The Badgers have beaten the Golden Gophers in three of their last four meetings including two straight. However, Minnesota is 2-2 ATS vs. Wisconsin over the past four seasons. In Wisconsin’s 20-17 overtime win over Minnesota last season, these teams were separated by four total yards and 58 seconds in time of possession. Both starting quarterbacks in this Wisconsin-Minnesota game started in last year’s contest.
- Opening Line: Wisconsin -7
- Current Line: Wisconsin -7
- Total (Over/Under): 39.5
According to Pregame.com, more than 70% of the action is on Wisconsin covering the spread at the time of publishing. But, we have a line freeze since Wisconsin’s price hasn’t budged off the opener.
As for the total, all the betting momentum is heading north. Roughly 90% of the cash has been wagered on the Over (Pregame.com). This one-way Over action has steamed the total up from the 37.5-point opener.
Head coach P.J. Fleck was hired by Minnesota in 2017. Since then, the Golden Gophers are 4-6-1 ATS vs. ranked teams, 22-18-2 ATS vs. Big Ten teams, and 6-5-1 ATS as home underdogs. Minnesota is 9-3 O/U as a home underdog, 7-4 O/U vs. ranked teams, and 24-17-1 O/U in conference games since Fleck became the coach.
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst took over the program in 2015. The Badgers are 18-6 ATS as a road favorite (+6.9 spread differential) and 31-29-1 ATS in conference play in the Chryst era.
Since these teams are mirror images of one another and a vast majority of the market is betting one side then I see value in the home underdog. In order for Wisconsin -7 to be a good bet, there has to be at least one strength-on-weakness edge in its favor. Especially in a rivalry game on Minnesota’s home turf.
But, I cannot find Wisconsin’s overwhelming advantage in this spot that would explain the Badgers being 7-point favorites. While Wisconsin has more talent and better efficiency, Minnesota executes better on 3rd-down and in the red zone. Furthermore, the Badgers rank 16th in net drive efficiency and 17th in net points per drive, according to Football Outsiders. The Golden Gophers, however, rank 30th in both net drive efficiency and net points per drive.
Also, these teams played a slugfest last season and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different. Again, both starting quarterbacks from last year’s game will be under center Saturday and Minnesota returned 20 starters this season. ESPN.com’s Bill Connelly said Wisconsin ranked 15th in returning production this year. What I’m getting at is these teams know each other and played a tight game recently.
Finally, not only does the line freeze suggest oddsmakers are comfortable accepting more Wisconsin wagers. But, this is typically a trap game for the public. I.e. a ranked road favorite playing in a conference game.
PICK: Minnesota +7 (-110 on DraftKings)
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