WHAT THE WISCONSIN UPSET MEANS FOR THE BIG TEN WEST
Wisconsin's 16-14 upset of LSU as a (+12) underdog had a lot of immediate consequences. It put a major blow in LSU's status as a national championship contender and raised significant questions about Les Miles' future in Baton Rouge. One question that hasn't been asked yet is what this means for the coming race in the Big Ten's Western Division.
The Badgers, in spite of being this division's most consistent winner over the last several years, were not considered a serious candidate to win the West. Iowa was the 5-4 favorite, with Nebraska not far behind at 2-1. If you believed in Wisconsin to reach the conference championship game in Indianapolis, you could have had a 5-1 price before the season began.
Wisconsin's win came while Nebraska and Iowa each played narrowly below Vegas expectations. The Cornhuskers were a (-29) favorite at home over Fresno State and missed the cover in a 43-10 win. It's noteworthy that Nebraska took a long time to dispatch an undermanned opponent, leading only 14-10 at halftime and 21-10 after three quarters before their superior physical strength finally broke down Fresno. Iowa played better, jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead over Miami-Ohio, but still ultimately missed the cover in a 45-21 win as a (-27.5) favorite.
So if the Badgers are playing significantly above expectations, while their two principal rivals are well below, doesn't it follow that Wisconsin becomes a value bet at 5-1? It's possible, but there are some caveats, starting with the importance of monitoring the market to see how long that price stays available.
Wisconsin's defense played exceptionally well, but some of that does have to be attributed to the incompetence of the LSU passing game .The game-clinching interception was a case in point. An open receiver was completely missed on a terribly misthrown ball. Meanwhile, LSU's running back Leonard Fournette was able to run the ball, gaining 138 yards. While Nebraska and Iowa don't have running backs as good as Fournette, they can be optimistic about running the ball against the Badgers.
Offensively, Wisconsin showed the capacity to move the ball against a very good defense, but the potential problems at quarterback were still there. Bart Houston is a first-year starter and he threw two interceptions, one of them in the end zone. It was the most egregious of several missed opportunities for the Badgers that kept them close early, a time when Wisconsin had the chance to build a big early lead.
Finally, one of the reasons for the preseason pessimism about Wisconsin was the brutal conference schedule. Teams play three games against the opposite division and the Badgers drew Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State...all in succession to begin Big Ten play. Neither Iowa or Nebraska have to play all three Eastern Division powerhouses.
Wisconsin is worth keeping a close eye on. If Houston eliminates the mistakes—something a new starter may well do in the early weeks of the schedule, the Badgers might pull off navigating the tough schedule. If the betting market is asleep at the wheel and leaves (+500) on the board as the price for any length of time, it's worth a modest flyer. But in the big picture, the deck is still stacked against the Badgers winning the Big Ten West.
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