1. Turnover, Turnovers, Turnovers
Wisconsin is a better team than Minnesota by most every statistical measure, and yet the Gophers have the better record. Some of this is simply a function of the Badgers playing a tougher schedule, but some of it is turnover margin edge the Gophers have accumulated this year. Minnesota ranks 1st in the Big Ten with a +15 turnover margin, while the Badgers check in at-3 for the season. This is far and away the top key for a Badger victory, to the degree that we can just call the remaining four keys "sub" keys. If the Badgers are even or even within one, I believe they win.
2. Jack Frost's Nipping
With windchills projected in the mid 20's and with your typical late fall Wisconsin blustery winds possible, the elements may come into play. On paper, this looks to be a Badger edge, as the Badgers have been running the ball with authority lately, while Minnesota has the worst rushing offense in the Big Ten, averaging just 116 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. I believe Wisconsin can run without having to pass, but am not convinced that the Gophers can run without a significant passing game.
3. Yards are Not Points
The Badgers are third in the league in yards gained, but they have not always been able to put consistent points on the board. Meanwhile, the Gophers have given up yards a-plenty at times, but have allowed just 19 points per game, thanks to the turnover margin mentioned in Key #1 and a pretty good 3rd down defense. Wisconsin cannot have a replay of the Michigan game, where they have settled for field goals after moving the ball. They need to put 6's on the board.
4. Gopher Targets?
With star receiver Eric Decker reportedly out (gamesmanship??) with a sprained ankle, who will be the #1 target of quarterback Adam Weber? Wisconsin's passing defense has not been perfect of course, but they have generally played pretty well. Without Decker, without a consistent running game, and with inclement conditions, can the Gophers consistently move the ball without Decker? After his recent struggles, look for the Gophers to try to pick out defensive matchups to their liking to exploit, which puts the onus on Niles Brinkley to play consistently.
5. Spiral, Spiral, Toil and Trouble
Consider this one a corollary to Key #1 and Key #4, but Badger QB Dustin Sherer will need to be exceptionally careful with the ball. With a ballhawking defense, poor weather, some questionable decision making, and a funky throwing motion, I am worried about Sherer's throws sailing (and into the arms of a waiting rodent). Brett Favre can cut through the wind. Dustin ain't Brett. I expect OC Paul Chryst to be as conservative as he can be, but when Sherer does throw, he needs to be very smart, as I believe that we can only lose this game…..Minnesota cannot win it.
I think my feelings about this game are pretty clear from my posts above. When initially seeing the 13.5 point line, I thought it was a misprint. However, after breaking the two teams down a little bit, I am convinced that not only are the Badgers a better team, but they are a solidly better team. We have seen the Badgers find ways to lose to inferior teams already, so I am not ruling the Gophers out, but I think a solid game nets the Badgers a solid win. I don't think Minnesota will be able to run the ball at all, while I look for a dominant Badger ground game. I think punting will be tough, so stringing together even a couple first downs per possession should keep the field position battle in check. I like the Badgers in a tough physical classic Big Ten game: UW 24-Minnesota 14.