Michigan football returns from a surprisingly much-needed bye week after the first to games of the season for by far its toughest challenge yet in the form of a trip to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers to kick off Big Ten play.
Both teams were off in Week 3 after having starts to the season that could not have been any more different. The Wolverines handled Middle Tennessee State pretty thoroughly, but left a lot to be desired in a 40-21 season-opening win and then were pushed to the brink of an early-season loss when Army came to town, as they needed double overtime to win 24-21 despite being three-score favorites.
The Badgers have two wins as well, but they were extremely dominant and well-executed bouts against the likes of both South Florida, whom they beat 49-0, and Central Michigan, who they destroyed 61-0.
And therein lies the most fascinating juxtaposition about this matchup. Two teams, both with two wins, but who’s arrows were clearly pointing in different directions after the first two weeks of the season.
The question that begs to be asked is how the bye week will affect both of these squads. The Wolverines are a missed block, a drop, or a bad read here and there from feeling like they have got this figured out, and maybe the bye week helped them to sharpen some of those things up. The Badgers are firing on all cylinders despite blowing out a pair of horrible football teams, but is that really sustainable?
The edge might need to be given to the Badgers in this game simply because through two games, regardless of competition, they have proved themselves capable of playing clean and disciplined football. And they are playing at home in one of the most difficult places to win in the Big Ten, regardless of kickoff time.
Championship teams win games like this. If Wisconsin is a Big Ten contender, they will take care of business at home. If Michigan means business, they will have flipped the switch and won in a place they have not as a program since 2001 and under circumstances which they never have under Jim Harbaugh. This is set to be the seventh time the Wolverines enter a game as an underdog under him and they have yet to win a single one of those.
Michigan wins if: It might not feel as simple as eliminating turnovers and mental mistakes, but that sure would go a long way to victory. If they play a mostly clean game and use the playmakers they have (here’s to hoping Donovan Peoples-Jones returns), they have the goods to not only get this done, but to win impressively. If they can go on some long drives and convert on scoring chances, they will be just fine. They do not need to completely shut down Jonathan Taylor, but the focus will be on containing him and taking away Jack Coan’s ability to be successful through the air.
Wisconsin wins if: Michigan continues to play sloppy and unsure of itself. Is there a scenario in play where Taylor goes off like Saquon Barkley did in the 2017 game at Penn State? There sure is because he’s a dual threat and can catch the ball out of the backfield now, too. All it could take is a three-and-out or quick turnover from the offense to start the game for the wheels to be in motion for a long day for the Wolverines in Madison.
As of now, the nod has to be given to the team that has played better football and has its home crowd behind them.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Michigan 17
Teams: No. 11 Michigan Wolverines (2-0) at No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0)
Date: Sept. 21, 2019
Location: Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Radio: 950 AM in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, see affiliate stations here
Spread: Wisconsin -3.5 over/under set at 45 points
- Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt and Jenny Taft will be on the television broadcast for FOX on Saturday.
- Michigan has won 12 of its last 13 Big Ten openers and 35 of the last 37 Big Ten openers overall.
- Michigan leads the all-time series between the two teams by a margin of 51-15-1.
- Jim Harbaugh is 2-1 against Wisconsin with the wins coming in 2016 (14-7 at home) and 2018 (38-13 at home) and the loss coming in 2017 (24-10 on the road).
- The Wolverines are 21-7-1 all-time in Madison, but have not won there since the 2001 season. (Losses in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2017)
- This is the tenth time both teams have met while being ranked in the top 25.
- This is the 20th time these two teams have met in the conference opener, which is the most for any opponent in Michigan history.
- Rutgers is the only Big Ten team that Michigan has not played in its conference opening game to this point.