No. 14-ranked Michigan Wolverines football (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) is set to take on Wisconsin (1-2, 0-1) Saturday afternoon in Madison.
Here is a look around the country at what they’re saying before the game.
RELATED: Previewing Michigan vs. Wisconsin With A Badger Insider
RELATED: Keys To The Game: Michigan Wolverines Football at Wisconsin
• Andy Staples, The Athletic: Dear Andy: Which unbeatens will run the table? Plus players by number and intimidating mascot combos
We still don’t know what to make of Michigan, mostly because Washington was so offensively inept that the out-of-conference game that was supposed to test the Wolverines didn’t test them at all. Michigan took a 17-point lead on Rutgers into halftime last week and then never scored again, winning 20-13. Michigan likely will need to produce more offensively to beat Wisconsin, which looked awful in the fourth quarter of its loss to Notre Dame in Chicago.
This game could determine what happens next for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines. Wisconsin beat Michigan by a combined score of 84-25 the past two seasons, and the 2020 Wisconsin team that beat Michigan 49-11 wasn’t much better than what we’ve seen from the Badgers so far this season. Wisconsin has made Michigan quit the past two years. That can’t happen Saturday if Harbaugh intends to keep coaching Michigan. If the Wolverines emerge from the weekend unscathed, they still must find a way to beat a desperate Nebraska team with a good defense in Lincoln on Oct. 9 and a Michigan State team that beat them last year and is even better this year on Oct. 30.
• Bob Wojnowski, The Detroit News: Wojo’s Pigskin Picks: It’s mighty difficult separating feared from frauds in Big Ten
And then there’s Wisconsin, ranked 12th in the preseason and now 1-2, and prone to dropping cheese curds all over the field. Based on advice from legal counsel, I’m no longer allowed to call them the Fraudgers. This edict was reinforced the past two seasons when the not-Fraudgers beat the not-Wolverines 49-11 and 35-14 and neither game was that close.
Now Jim Harbaugh has the Wolverines playing with all passion and no passing. That could be a problem because they’re about to face a Wisconsin team that refuses to let the opposition run the ball. It might be deep into the fourth quarter Saturday before Michigan notices the not-Fraudgers are playing with 13 defenders in the box.
For some reason Wisconsin has added a new wrinkle to its offense — the interception returned for a touchdown. Michigan also added a new wrinkle — an offensive line. This should be quite the clash, two heavyweights slugging it out to see who can run more draw plays on third-and-12.
So many bizarre elements in the Big Ten right now. Wisconsin held Notre Dame to exactly 3 yards rushing and lost 41-13. Michigan piled up two first downs in the second half against Rutgers, put Cade McNamara’s throwing arm in a sling and still won. Always eager to outdo its rival, Michigan State arrogantly declined to convert a single first down in its second half but still beat the Cornhuskers in overtime.
• Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: Michigan and six other undefeated teams facing prove-it games this week
There are certain games on every team’s schedule that provide clear markers of progress. For Michigan, this week’s trip to Wisconsin was always going to be that game in 2021.
Michigan’s pre-Wisconsin performance hasn’t been irrelevant. The Wolverines couldn’t afford to lose their first four games, all at home, where they failed to win in three tries last season.
Michigan’s problems under coach Jim Harbaugh have occurred away from home, against formidable foes. And no opponent has humbled the Wolverines like Wisconsin the past two seasons. The aggregate score: 84-25 Wisconsin. The aggregate yardage: 955-518.
While Michigan’s struggles against Ohio State go back further — and cover multiple coaching tenures — there are also inherent reasons for them. Wisconsin doesn’t hold the same talent edge over Michigan that Ohio State does, which makes the Badgers’ recent dominance both more concerning for Michigan and more important to reverse.
Wisconsin is the ultimate prove-it game for Michigan. Despite a scare last week against Rutgers, the Wolverines have looked great so far, winning their games by a combined score of 161-47. Wisconsin, meanwhile, sits at 1-2 for the first time since 2001. There are reasons to believe this Michigan team, especially on offense, is primed to turn a corner and challenge for its first Big Ten East Division title.
But none of it will matter if the Wolverines lose to Wisconsin.
Here’s a closer look at Michigan and six other undefeated teams facing prove-it games this week, what has worked for them and what still needs improvement to keep the wins coming.
• Bruce Feldman, The Athletic: Bruce Feldman’s Week 5 college football picks against the spread
The Wolverines offense will face a much stiffer test against a really stout Badgers run defense that leads the country, yielding just 1.01 yards per rush. Michigan has gotten hammered by the Badgers the past two years, and the hunch is that the Wolverines get a little revenge … but it’s not going to be easy. Not against this defense.
Michigan 13, Wisconsin 7
Pick: Michigan +1.5
• Tom Fornelli, CBS Sports: Michigan vs. Wisconsin: Prediction, pick, football game odds, spread, live stream, watch online, TV channel
I know it’s been a while since Michigan has won in Madison, and this will be the toughest test the Wolverines have faced so far (it’s their first road game), but I can’t trust Wisconsin. The Badgers offense has played too poorly, and this Michigan defense has been just as strong — if not better — as the Penn State and Notre Dame defenses that have suffocated it already this season. The Wisconsin defense will keep it close, but I do not see them winning this game unless the Badgers score on defense or special teams.
Prediction: Michigan (+1)
• Bill Bender, Sporting News: College football picks, predictions against the spread for every Week 5 top 25 game
It’s a pick-em, and with good reason. Wisconsin has two losses and has struggled in the passing game, but their run defense will test Michigan. The Wolverines have not won at Wisconsin since 2001. Michigan is 0-12 S/U as an underdog under Jim Harbaugh since 2015. They break the streak in a slugest.
Pick: Michigan wins 23-20 in an UPSET.
• Stewart Mandel, The Athletic: Stewart Mandel’s Week 5 college football picks against the spread
While Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz has been throwing to the wrong team too frequently, Michigan QB Cade McNamara is barely throwing at all. After watching Rutgers slow down the Wolverines’ rushing attack, it’s hard to have much faith Michigan will be able to move the ball against the Badgers’ fourth-ranked defense.
Wisconsin 14, Michigan 10
Pick: Wisconsin -1.5
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