The 2011 college football season kicks off with non-conference action this Thursday evening September 1 (8:00pm ET) with the 11th-ranked and defending Big 10 co- champion and Rose Bowl representative Wisconsin Badgers (11-2 in 2010) of the Big 10 taking on the Running Rebels of UNLV (2-11 in 2010) in Madison, WI.
Wisconsin has been primarily a running team on offense, but with senior quarterback Russell Wilson, who transferred over from NC State where he lead an offense that averaged 281.8 yards per game through the air, 18th best in the nation, coming over for his last season of eligibility the Badgers could take to the air much more than they have in the past. Wilson led the ACC with 3,288 yards passing and 26 touchdowns during the regular season, and also ran for 394 yards and nine touchdowns. Returning running backs Montee Ball and James White will aid Wilson’s transition to the smash-mouth world of Big 10 football, as will wide receiver Nick Toon and a defense that returns six starters from a year ago. Ball ran for 18 TDS and averaged 6.1 YPC last season, while White ran for 14 TDs and averaged 6.7 YPC a year ago for an offense that ranked 11th in the nation with 247.1 YPG on the ground. The Badgers behind the departed Scott Tolzein, ranked 5th in the nation in scoring with 41.5 PPG last year, Wilson’s superior arm and legs should make for an even more explosive offense. The defense ranked 20th in points allowed with 20.5 per game, and was tough against both the run and the pass, ranking 25th and 26th in those categories.
UNLV, under head coach Bobby Hauck, is entering year two of a massive rebuilding program and will be fielding a very young team again this season after playing 23 freshmen last season. They are expected to start three or four freshmen on the offensive line and feature sophomore Caleb Herrin at quarterback. Herring saw limited action last season, throwing for 365 yards with 4 TDs and 3 INTs and a 50% completion rate. The Rebels do not possess a strong defense either, ranking 109th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense last season with 450.46 YPG and 39.69 PPG allowed. Wide receiver Marcus Sullivan could provide some big plays for the Rebels, as he ranked 17th in the country in kickoff returns with a 27.9 yards per return average.
Wisconsin smoked the Running Rebels 41-20 in their last meeting to begin the 2010 season, rushing for 278 and controlling the clock for over 38 minutes with their ball-control offense. UNLV threw for a paltry 105 yards on 10-26 passing against the Badger defense in the loss. Wisconsin is 20-2 prior to Oct. 1 during head coach Bret Bielema’s five-year tenure. UNLV is 1-3 all-time against Wisconsin in Madison. The over is 7-2-1 in UNLV’s last 10 games overall and 6-2-1 in their last 9 as an underdog. The over is 7-2-1 in Wisconsin’s last 10 games overall and 20-7 in their last 27 games as a favorite.
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UNLV vs. Wisconsin St. Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
UNLV Running Rebels +35.0
@ Wisconsin Badgers -35.0
Over 56.0 (-110)
Under 56.0 (-110)
Betting odds taken from BetOnline.com
UNLV vs. Wisconsin Pick:
The Badgers should handily cover the spread at home against one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. Last year’s contest was not as close as it appeared, and UNLV may be even less experienced than they were a year ago. The Badgers will be able to score at will against UNLV’s porous defense with a new quarterback under center. The Rebels have no match for Ball and White; expect both of them to have big days against the young UNLV defense. The only chance UNLV has to remain competitive will be to take to the air early and often with Herring and hope that the young QB can come of age quickly. The athletic Wilson at quarterback adds another dimension to the Badger offense, and he should begin his tenure as a Big 10 signal caller with a bang.