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Can Short-handed Wisconsin Trample WKU?

Jonathan Taylor Wisconsin

Wisconsin will only go as far as Jonathan Taylor takes them – and the Heisman Trophy candidate might see even more work than expected as the Badgers kick off the season Friday night against visiting Western Kentucky. Taylor, who rumbled for nearly 2,000 yards as a freshman, is the favorite to win the Heisman at a handful of books, and he’ll have every opportunity to make his case Friday night as he leads a Wisconsin team that will be without a pair of starting wide receivers. Quintez Cephus has been suspended indefinitely while Danny Davis was given a two-game ban for their roles in an alleged sexual assault. But the Badgers likely won’t miss a beat without them, as they’re favored by a whopping 33 points against a Hilltoppers team that got off to a fast start last season but stumbled late, dropping five of their final six games. The total for this one has held steady at 51 despite the suspensions of Cephus and Davis.

SHARK BITES
  • The total has gone UNDER in five of Wisconsin’s last seven games in August.
  • The total has gone OVER in six of Western Kentucky’s last eight games.
  • Western Kentucky is 6-0 SU in its last six games in Week 1.

View the Wisconsin vs WKU matchup page here

BADGERS A BAD OPENING-WEEK COVER OPTION...

If Wisconsin does falter without the services of two of its top receiving threats, it would extend what has been a distressing run of slow starts dating back more than a decade. The Badgers come into their season-opening game having covered just three of their previous 10 Week 1 games – and though they’ve fared better of late, having covered back-to-back openers, that trend is worth remembering with the heavily favored hosts facing two significant absences on offense. The Hilltoppers aren’t quite in the same league as the nationally ranked Badgers, but they’ve asserted themselves well in season openers, coming into this one having won six straight – albeit against much easier opposition. And while Western Kentucky has been a terrible road cover – going 1-6 ATS in its previous seven games away from Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium – they’ve been no pushover, covering 31 times in their past 44 overall games as an underdog.

...BUT DON’T EXPECT THIS ONE TO BE CLOSE

Being a five-touchdown underdog is probably a difficult pill to swallow for a Western Kentucky side that played in the Cure Bowl less than eight months earlier. But this line is a lot more about Wisconsin’s utter dominance at home than it is about anything on the Hilltoppers’ side of the ledger. The Badgers have ripped opposing teams apart at venerable Camp Randall Stadium, having reeled off 10 consecutive straight-up victories with an average winning margin of more than 21 points. The Badgers exceeded 30 points seven times over that stretch, while holding opponents to 14 or fewer points on seven occasions (Of note: Wisconsin went a modest 5-4-1 ATS in those games). It should come as no surprise that the Badgers have won 16 consecutive games as a double-digit favorite – and it will be even less shocking to learn that the Hilltoppers, for as good as they’ve been at covering as an underdog, have won just three of their past 31 games SU when getting 10 or more points. 

WILL TAYLOR TERRORIZE THE HILLTOPPERS?

The Hilltoppers will do their best, but slowing Taylor down could prove to be a tall task. Wisconsin will need to lean heavily on their superstar running back – and if they do, good things will likely happen. The Badgers dominated games in which Taylor was at his best, going 6-0 SU, 4-2 ATS and prevailing by an average margin of 21.5 points in the six games in which Taylor gained at least 140 yards on the ground. He also posted eight games with 20 or more carries; his rushing yard totals in those games: 223, 249, 219, 126, 183, 157, 149 and 130. In other words, if the Badgers put him to work, he’s going to make a mess of the Hilltoppers defense. Western Kentucky boasted a middle-of-the-pack run defense last season, allowing 170.3 yards per game on the ground (good for 69th in Division I) – but it also allowed 27 rushing scores, more than all but 26 FBS programs. There’s a good chance that Taylor won’t play all four quarters in this one, but if he’s on, he won’t really have to.