Wisconsin vs. Penn State Predictions: Can the Badgers Hold Off the Nittany Lions?

Get set for the much anticipated Big Ten showdown between No.19 Penn State and No.12 Wisconsin with this betting preview, complete with a matchup analysis and recommended NCAAF picks by Nikki Adams.
Nikki Adams
Wed, September 1, 9:44 AM EDT

Wisconsin vs. Penn State Predictions: Can The Badgers Cover Short Spread?

When: Saturday, September 4, 2021

Game Time: 12:00 PM ET

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI

TV Network: FOX

Wisconsin vs. Penn State Spread: Wisconsin -5.5

Wisconsin vs. Penn State Total: 50

The No.19 ranked Penn State Litany Lions descend on the No.12 ranked Wisconsin Badgers in a Big Ten crossover showdown at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, September 4, 2021. Both schools go into 2021 looking to make amends for a disappointing run last season, but only one is going to get its campaign off to a winning start in this tantalizing season opener. So, which side will it be? Will Penn State defy the NCAAF Odds? Or Will Wisconsin come through as the firm home chalk?

Wisconsin vs. Penn State Prediction

Wisconsin vs. Penn State Odds

The Litany Lions whimpered to a poor 4-5-0 record last season. The Covid-19 pandemic played a part in Penn State's underwhelming performance, but the truth of the matter is they didn't play well either. Last season, Penn State was a turnover machine, turning over the ball multiple times during their 0-5 start. Some of it was down to quarterback Sean Clifford, who was widely inconsistent throughout the year. He threw for 1,883 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he also had nine interceptions to his credit. The rest was down to the non-existent pass protection, pedestrian run offense that averaged 174 yards per game, and a so-so defense. Interestingly, despite these flaws, the offense still ranked second in total offense in the Big Ten after closing out the season with a character-building four-game winning streak.

The Ntitany Lions are going to debut a new offense under recently hired coordinator Mike Yurcich. Wide Receiver Jahan Dotson is a player to watch. He totted up 884 yards on 52 receptions and scored 8 touchdowns last season, and fellow WR Parker Washington was the second-best wideout with 36 catches for 489 yards and six scores.

Clifford has no real competition for the starting QB job, but he must not be complacent in 2021. Baylor transfer John Lovett, Keyvone Lee, Noah Cain, and Devyn Ford make up the class of running backs to spot. Arguably, though, the biggest concern will be improvements in the secondary and defense.

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The Badgers finished 2020 with a positive note behind a 4-3-0 record, but they fell short of preseason expectations. Devastating injuries to two of the Badgers big playmakers on offense and Covid-19 had a role in Wisconsin's subpar account, therefore it's difficult to gauge how good or bad they were. The offense faltered in the absence of QB Graham Mertz and star WR Danny Davis II, the run game wasn't up to snuff, and the defense was taxed over the season. Mertz finished modestly, going for 1,238 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.

The Badgers are typically a strong run team, so getting the run game off the ground will be critical in this season opener. Mertz's passing skills are a work in progress, but he does have a solid receiving corps that includes WR Danny Davis III, Kendric Pryor, and Chimere Dike. In addition, the defense has eight starters returning this season, specifically linebacker Jack Sanborn and safety Scott Nelson. This combined experience on defense is going to be critical to a successful start on the season. 

Penn State vs Wisconsin Odds & Betting:

As per DraftKings Sportsbook, the Wisconsin Badgers opened as the firm -4.5 faves on the point spread while the total opened on 53 points. Since open doors, Penn State vs. Wisconsin Odds have moved. The line has bubbled up to -5.5 while the total has slimmed down to 50 points. Early consensus betting trends show a distinct lean towards Wisconsin and the UNDER, which has seen both the point spread and total line move either way. 

In terms of betting, the opening 4.5-point spread is low for college football. Take away the customary field-goal advantage awarded to home teams. The difference between Penn State and Wisconsin would amount to 1.5 points if they were to play on neutral ground. If that's not a sign of a close game, what is?

Key Injury Update:

Penn State: LB Charlie Katshir (undisclosed) is questionable. 

Wisconsin: WR Danny Davis III (concussion) is probable; WR Kendric Pryor (concussion), RB Jalen Berger (leg), and OL Joe Tippmann (arm) are all questionable for Saturday; CB All Ashford (arm) and TE Cole Dakovich (leg) are both out for the season.

Penn State vs Wisconsin Prediction

It really can't get much more challenging for James Franklin's side than it is, with a matchup on the road against a quality rival program. Then again, neither Penn State nor Wisconsin got any favors from the scheduling. This is a massive game for week 1 of the 2021 college football season, and the premium on the win couldn't be more significant. 

Penn State's offense is in good shape and might have a slight advantage over Wisconsin in this matchup, although a lot depends on how well Clifford takes care of the ball. Wisconsin is dealing with several injuries on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense looks to be in good shape. The defense might even give the Badgers the slight advantage over Penn State, especially if they get after Clifford right out of the gates. All told, opinion is mixed about where the edge sits in this matchup. Thus, the widely popular bet in this Big Ten opener appears to be a play on the UNDER. However, for those looking to bet the spread, Penn State at +5.5 looks to be the value bet to keep this game close and cover, if not pull off the upset entirely. 

Penn State vs Wisconsin Prediction & Pick:

Pick: Penn State +5.5 (-110) 

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