When an email arrived from a gambling service earlier this week, my first reaction after reading the content was a giggle.
BetOnline released its opening winning totals for teams in the Power Five conferences for 2022 and of course I scrolled down to see what it had projected for the University of Wisconsin football team.
The regular season Badgers over/under total is listed at 8½, and that’s where I would have put it if I had been an odds maker.
Dozens of people have asked me the same question over the past few months – How are the Badgers going this season? — and my answer was consistent, if never specific: Probably either 8-4 or 9-3.
Perhaps that email was a sign that I need to get off the fence and choose one of those options. Will UW finish above or below the 8½ total set by the oddsmakers?
Let’s get a few household items out of the way before I respond to that. Even at 8½, a relatively modest total for this program, the Badgers are expected to be an easy favorite in a parity-filled Big Ten West division. Division opponents Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Purdue all opened at 7½, while Illinois and Northwestern sit at 4½.
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In other words, the odds makers don’t see a huge gap between the projected top five teams in the West.
As for the Badgers, my general musing was that they lost some key figures from a team that finished 8-4 in the regular season and closed the 2021 campaign by beating Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl. UW may not be as good as last season but could end up with more wins given the schedule is a bit more manageable, especially in the season’s opening month.
As I said before, I see this as a year of rebuilding – transition might be a better word – leading to what may be a special 2023 season. And so much of it will boil down to the quarterback game: I have record that Graham Mertz will make a step forward as a junior. Not great, definitely, but better.
There are no marquee home games on UW’s schedule next season, which is bad for fans who spend money on tickets but good for the team’s overall wins.
The Badgers are favored – in some cases heavily – over the states of Illinois, Washington, New Mexico, Illinois, Purdue, Maryland and Minnesota. The regular-season finale against the Golden Gophers is this group’s most interesting matchup, but it’s a game that’s been circled on UW’s calendar since a loss to Minneapolis last November dented the Badgers’ chances of a Big Ten title play, has ruined.
Leading the table at Camp Randall Stadium – and it’s realistic – takes UW to seven wins, and that brings us to the other part of that over/under equation: Can they win at least two of their five away games in 2022?
The Badgers open the Big Ten game Sept. 24 in Ohio State and—bold prediction here—I’m counting that as a loss.
The remaining away games are against Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa and Nebraska. Trying to decide whether or not I think the Badgers can split those four games is what makes choosing between eight and nine wins so difficult.
UW could win in either Michigan State or Iowa, but I’ll mark those games as close losses. Playing at Northwestern is always interesting, and likely will be, although the Wildcats are expected to be only marginally better than their 3-9 record from last season. But I’ll take that as a win for the Badgers.
So it comes down to UW’s game in Nebraska on November 19th. This 7½ aggregate win for the Cornhuskers is intriguing considering they’ve never finished better than 5-7 under Scott Frost.
Nebraska is certainly due against the Badgers after losing eight straight games in the series. But this UW dominance is why I’m going to take on the Badgers in a coin flip game.
I’ve come this far without pointing out the absurdity of going game by game through a season that’s officially scheduled to start in three months. What can I say: Las Vegas called and I had to answer.
Next time you ask me what the Badgers will be like in 2022, there will be no chatter. I say 9-3, but with a warning attached: Don’t overspend your hard-earned cash on totals over 8½.
Photos: Wisconsin Football works during spring training
Contact Jim Polzin at [email protected]