This article is part of our College Football Picks series.
Wisconsin vs Minnesota Betting Preview for the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe
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It's the 132nd annual meeting of the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, the longest-running rivalry in College Football history. While the intense disdain between these schools has never gone away, interest in the game did fall cold when the Badgers won all but two of these matchups from 1995 to 2017. However, this hatred has only grown hotter as of late with the Golden Gophers winning two of the past four matchups.
Both teams have stumbled up and down through the mess known as the Big Ten West in 2022. Minnesota racked off four straight wins before dropping four of the next six games. The Golden Gophers still had a chance to come out as champions of this jumbled division, but any plans for a trip to Indianapolis were officially ruined by last week's back-breaking 13-10 loss at home to Iowa.
The Badgers' struggles have come at the exact opposite times, as the traditionally-steady program started 2-3 before making the shocking move to fire head coach Paul Chryst mid-season. Wisconsin's fortunes have turned somewhat under interim, and likely soon-to-be next, head coach Jim Leonhard, who helped steer his alma mater to a 3-2 record over the second half of the season.
With bowl berths already locked up, there's nothing left to play for other than proving who the true big brother is in College Football's oldest sibling rivalry.
Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Odds for Week 13
Spread: Wisconsin -3.0 (-110 Caesars Sportsbook), Ohio State +3.5 (-110 DraftKings Sportsbook)
Total: 36.0 (-110 BetMGM Sportsbook)
Moneyline: Wisconsin -165 (BetMGM Sportsbook); Minnesota +14 (BetMGM Sportsbook)
The Badgers were initially favored by 9.5 points in the FanDuel Sportsbook market in early October. However, the Badgers have been favored by three points since the conclusion of Week 12.
This total is also the lowest mark of the season for each team outside of their respective matchups against the fellow offensively-challenged Iowa Hawkeyes. Incredibly, both Wisconsin and Minnesota managed to hit the under in their games against the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin is 5-6 ATS while Minnesota is just slightly better at 6-5. However, the Golden Gophers haven't been as good reaching the over this season, going 3-7-1 compared to the Badgers' 6-5.
Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Betting Picks This Week
This year's matchup takes place in Camp Randall Stadium, the site of a former Civil War training ground. But, this game should end up looking a lot more like a Medieval battlefield.
Wisconsin and Minnesota are both built on ground-and-pound offenses. The Badgers rank 19th in rushing-play rate at 58.45 percent, which is slightly lower than their usual split. But, the Golden Gophers' offense has said, "hold my beer,'' running the ball on 67.5 percent of offensive plays - the highest rate in the FBS outside of the three service academies.
Unsurprisingly, both offenses certainly take their sweet time between plays as well. Wisconsin ranks 113th in seconds per play (28.1), while Minnesota sits 130th at 31.2.
Big Ten defenses have slowed the gears of these offenses even further. Over their past three games, the Golden Gophers have averaged 20.3 points per game while the Badgers' have put up 16 points per game. They're also logging just 5.3 and 4.5 yards per play over this span, respectively.
On the other side, these defenses have statistically performed like two of the best units in the nation. According to @statsowar on Twitter, Wisconsin's defense has the ninth-best success rate allowed (32.6 percent), and Minnesota's defense is eighth (32.3 percent).
Yes, 36 points is an absurdly low total. But, these are two of the three teams in the Big Ten West that can make the under happen.
Wisconsin vs Minnesota Bet: Under 36.0 BetMGM Sportsbook
Ohio is next up to launch sports betting with an expected go-live date set for early 2023. Buckeye State residents can get ahead of the game with the BetMGM Ohio Bonus Code.
Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Prediction
This is likely as close to a toss-up as you can get. As shown above, these teams share a tried-and-true fighting style. In boxing terms, they're two brawlers who want to drag opponents into the clinch to lean on them with their massive offensive lines while delivering body blows in the form of two bruising running backs. Minnesota's fifth-year senior Mohamed Ibrahim leads the nation in rushing touchdowns (19) and averages 5.5 yards on 27.7 carries per game. Badgers sophomore Braelon Allen is quite the heavyweight himself, using his 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame to bowl over defenders for 5.4 yards per carry.
However, Allen has been limited with a lingering shoulder injury since Wisconsin's Week 8 win over Purdue. To make matters worse, he exited with an apparent knee/leg injury late in the fourth quarter of last week's comeback 15-14 win over Nebraska. While he's still expected to suit up for the regular-season finale, he almost certainly won't be 100 percent. The Badgers' rushing attack has steady backups in seniors Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo, but the offensive line hasn't lived up to their lofty standards this year, ranking 50th in FootballOutsiders' average line yards gained metric (2.76). This could be a problem against a Minnesota defense that ranks eighth in EPA allowed per rush at -0.147, per @statsowar.
Playing without a consistent running game would put a lot more pressure on Badgers' quarterback Graham Mertz, who has notoriously struggled in big games during his career. The redshirt junior's decision-making flaws have only intensified over his past two games, completing 24 of his 53 passes for 259 yards and a 2:3 TD:INT ratio.
Minnesota's quarterback play also leaves a lot to be desired. Sixth-year senior Tanner Morgan struggled mightily through the heart of the season before suffering an unspecified upper-body injury against Nebraska in Week 10. Redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis hasn't provided much more as a passer in Morgan's place, going 14-for-28 passing for 151 yards and one interception over his past two starts. But, the Golden Gophers have been able to shelter him with their running game, which racked up 312 yards on Iowa's equally dominant defense last week. Minnesota likely would have won this game were it not for Kaliakmanis' interception in the fourth, which was the result of yet another uncanny play from the Hawkeyes' ball-hawking defense.
The Badgers defense ranks fourth in yards per carry allowed (3.0). But they'll have to go through the first half without star outside linebacker Nick Herbig, who leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss (15.5), as he was assessed for a targeting penalty in the third quarter against Nebraska.
In this knock-down-drag-out type bout, I have to favor the team that comes in looking much steadier and healthier at these key positions.
Final Score: Minnesota 16, Wisconsin 13
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