Network Notebook: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State

BIG DRAMA IN BIG 10 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME WHEN WISCONSIN AND OHIO STATE BATTLE

It was a tough call deciding which game to preview this week here in JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK. We decided against Auburn/Georgia because we talked about them in the first meeting (both teams have stout run defenses, turns out Auburn's more versatile on offense). We decided against Miami/Clemson when the Hurricanes lost to Pittsburgh this past Friday (besides, Miami isn't really a "top four" caliber team, and it would be a crime if they upset Clemson and sneak into the brackets).

Clearly the MOST drama for the teams involved was in play for Wisconsin/Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game.

*Wisconsin is undefeated, yet an UNDERDOG to Ohio State
*Wisconsin is in the Final Four if they spring the upset
*Ohio State has a chance to crash the Final Four if they win
*Ohio State is Power-Rated in Las Vegas as a top TWO team nationally

Early lines have Ohio State favored in the range of -6 points over Wisconsin. By the time you read this, a number will have settled into place more firmly. Its already clear that the general public is going to back the Buckeyes. Many computer gurus also get gradings on OSU because they win so impressively when things are going well. But, professional wagerers are looking to get Wisconsin as a value dog, particularly if a line of +7 or better comes into play. Last week you could have bet Ohio State at low limits as low as -3.5 or -4 in Vegas stores that offered advance betting.

For Wisconsin to spring the upset and reach the Final Four, they must:

*Hit open receivers on short passes, the way Michigan could NOT do, but Iowa and Oklahoma did with ease while beating the Buckeyes surprisingly comfortably. The problem for Wisconsin is that their passing game is only slightly less erratic than Michigan's. The recipe is there...but can Alex Hornibrook bake the cake?

*Contain the running potential of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett (or backup Dwayne Haskins if Barrett's knee injury flares up). It's like Michigan decided to focus on everybody BUT Barrett last Saturday, who repeatedly ran to open space to convert third downs or otherwise get out of trouble. The Badgers need to have a shadow that takes that potential completely away. Make Barrett beat you in the air. It was surprising that OSU couldn't rally very well from behind against Oklahoma nor Iowa. They did score some, but not enough. Wisconsin isn't likely to build a big lead...so they have to play smart defensively for the full 60 minutes.

*RUN CLOCK! The longer Wisconsin takes to do its work, the shorter the game will be. Underdogs need to limit possession counts for favorites, particularly those with so many playmakers.

Ohio State is one of those teams that can lose outright or win by four touchdowns. If you're betting on the Buckeyes to cover this spread, you're going to need:

*A victory in turnover differential, because it's very hard to win a big game on a neutral field by more than a touchdown unless you're gaining an advantage in cheap points. Barrett is interception prone when pressured...so Buckeyes backers need their QB to play clean. They also need to hope Hornibrook gets rattled (which is fairly common in the rare times Wisconsin actually faces a dangerous defense).

*Defensive stops! If you can get Wisconsin off the field quickly, their run-based offense won't be able to develop any rhythm or set up pass plays against the grain. Losses got out of hand for Ohio State because they couldn't get Oklahoma nor Iowa off the field. Oklahoma is understandable. Hardly anyone gets them off the field! Iowa? Well, that wasn't a potent offense. But, it was a smart one that took advantage of what OSU's defense was giving.

JIM HURLEY has all week to decide how he's going to play this one for customers. The good news is that line value may not end up mattering much here. Though we're near a key number...Wisconsin is clearly capable of winning the game outright. If the Badgers can't do those things, then a double-digit loss may be in the offing. As we mentioned at the top, many sports betting sources believe Ohio State is "really" the second-best team in the country behind Alabama (in Power Ratings) because of its blowout potential regardless of the two losses. Figure out who's going to execute, and the line might not matter.

For all of CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK, you need a WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER!

Build your bankrolls with a few days of basketball, including the Big 10-ACC challenge in the colleges. Then, get our biggest releases from this college football card:

FRIDAY
Pac 12 Championship: USC vs. Stanford

SATURDAY
American Athletic Championship: Central Florida vs. Memphis
Mid-American Championship: Akron vs. Toledo
SEC Championship: Auburn vs. Georgia
ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Miami
Big 10 Championship: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State
Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma vs. TCU

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The annual TURKEY SHOOT is behind us. Now, TIS THE SEASON TO MAKE MONEY with PROVEN WINNER JIM HURLEY!

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