LAS VEGAS — A buzz is surrounding Jim Harbaugh again, though it’s fair to wonder if the Michigan coach truly has a team worthy of the hype.
The Wolverines’ 4-0 record includes non-conference victories over Washington, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Michigan opened Big Ten play last week with a 20-13 win over Rutgers that raised some red flags.
Harbaugh is a conservative play-caller, and his offenses have lacked imagination and a vertical passing threat in recent years. The Scarlet Knights limited the Wolverines to 47 total yards and no points in the second half. Next up is Wisconsin, which has the No. 1 run defense in the nation. The Badgers will load up to stop the run and dare quarterback Cade McNamara to make plays.
The Badgers also have obvious offensive shortcomings. Graham Mertz was intercepted four times in a blowout loss to Notre Dame last week, so he will be on a short leash this time as Wisconsin plans to win the game with its running attack and defense.
Harbaugh will have to prove it in the Wolverines’ first game away from Ann Arbor this season. Wisconsin won the last two meetings between these teams, 49-11 and 35-14. Expect the Badgers to use their dominant defense to bounce back from the debacle against the Fighting Irish.
The pick: Wisconsin +2
NOTRE DAME (+1.5) over Cincinnati
Brian Kelly just passed Knute Rockne to become Notre Dame’s all-time leader in coaching wins with 106. A week after Kelly’s big moment, he will try to spoil an enormously important game for Cincinnati, which hopes to crash the College Football Playoff party. The Bearcats picked up a quality win at Indiana two weeks ago, though they were outgained 376-328 by the Hoosiers.
Fighting Irish quarterback Jack Coan, who limped off with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter against Wisconsin, is expected to make this start. Notre Dame is a 4-0 team with flaws, but has played a tougher schedule and is improving on the defensive side. Beware of the home dog. The betting market underrated the Irish last week and the same might be happening here.
STANFORD (+8) over Oregon
After surviving a season-opening scare from Fresno State and pulling off a major upset over Ohio State, the Ducks have been on cruise control. Oregon’s offense should move the ball with relative ease against an injury-riddled Stanford defense that surrendered 455 yards in a 35-24 loss to UCLA. The Cardinal have the capability to hang around in shootouts, with Tanner McKee at quarterback. McKee passed for 293 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, against the Bruins.
Arkansas (+18.5) over GEORGIA
It can be intimidating to bet against a Bulldogs defense that is allowing 185 yards and 5.8 points per game. Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson is nursing a knee injury, but appears ready to go. The Hogs were live dogs in upsets of Texas and Texas A&M because of their fast and physical defensive front and punishing running attack.
Last week: 3-0
Notre Dame (W), Western Kentucky (W), Arkansas (W)
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