Expectations are high for the No. 19 Penn State Nittany Lions and No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers every season. But the 2020 season was a rare one where neither school came close to realizing them. The COVID-19 virus impacted their seasons—but the bottom line is this: neither played well.
However, 2021 is a new season for college football. Both have talented rosters, are well-coached, and have high expectations. Only one can get the season started with a win, though. Oddsmakers appear to be leaning towards the Badgers in this one. But the spread is not exactly a convincing one.
So—can the Nittany Lions pull off the upset? Or will the Badgers get off to a good start with a win over a conference opponent?
Penn State Nittany Lions Preview
On the surface, the Nittany Lions looked like a bad team last year. Getting off to a 0-5 start will give off that vibe. But despite the many flaws the offense had in 2020, it still ranked second in total offense in the Big Ten. However, as Penn State fans know, turnovers can kill even the most productive offense.
So, going into 2021, the Penn State offense has some work to do under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurich to get things turned around. The turnaround will have to start with quarterback Sean Clifford, of course. At times, he was the problem with the offense (too many mistakes, i.e., nine interceptions).
But he is going to need some help. The offensive line was terrible in pass protection last season and was not much better when it came to the run, either. But he will get some help from at least one wide receiver, Jahan Dotson. However, there is not much behind him other than Parker Washington.
There is a ton of potential for the run game with several talented and highly regarded running backs vying for time. But unless the offensive line can step their game up, rushing yards may be hard to come by.
As for the defensive side of the ball, James Franklin will need to strike gold with some new starters this season. The defensive line has one returning starter, and there is almost no experience with the reserves. All three starting linebackers are back, but they did not exactly play well last season.
The secondary should be a strength, though. They have a lot of experience coming back from a defense that allowed less than 200 yards passing a game last season.
Wisconsin Badgers Preview
It is hard to say just how good—or bad – the Wisconsin offense is going to be this season.
Typically, a strong run team, the Badgers did not have the offensive line or the talent in the backfield to get it done in 2020. It looked like they might see some success in the passing game. But injuries to wide receiver and quarterback Graham Mertz missing time due to COVID nipped that potential in the bud.
But it would be foolish to think the offensive line is not going to bounce back this season. It returns three starters, and the Badgers always attract some of the best o-line recruits in the country. Perhaps, if the passing game can get going, defenses will not focus on the run and make things easier.
Mertz appears to have the potential to bring the Badgers a passing game, and he will have some good receivers to work with in Danny Davis III, Kendric Pryor, and Chimere Dike. The Badgers are a run-first kind of team, though.
Whether they can dominate in the run game like they usually do will depend on their offensive line taking a big step forward.
On the defensive side of the ball, an excellent unit returns eight starters. Losing two guys off the defensive line hurts, but the Badgers do have talent in the wings waiting for a chance. The linebackers may be good enough to pick up any slack, though.
While the secondary returns a lot of experience, the group, in general, will need to play better this season.
Sports Betting Recommendation
Penn State appears to be in better shape offensively than Wisconsin. Clifford, while he makes too many mistakes, is the better quarterback between the two. However, whether he can put enough points on the board will depend mainly on the offensive line being much better than it was last season.
Wisconsin is in better shape on the defensive side of the ball and will need their defense to keep them in the game. Unless the Penn State offensive line improves dramatically compared to last season, the Wisconsin defense will make it a long day for Sean Clifford.
Playing at home will give Wisconsin a boost, but it is hard to say whether it will be enough to help them get the win. Look for Sean Clifford to lead the way for Penn State in a close, hard-fought win via the spread and the moneyline.
However, the best bet in this game is not picking a winner. Defense is going to rule the day in this game, so take the under.