As the coaching carousel spins in college football, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Wisconsin will remove the interim tag from Jim Leonhard’s title and name him the full-time head coach by next week. Bet on it happening.
The Badgers could probably seal the deal for Leonhard by posting a convincing win today in their regular-season finale against Minnesota. This is not a must-win situation for Leonhard, but it never helps to lose a rivalry game at home, so more than the Paul Bunyan Axe might be at stake.
The program was a mess on Oct. 1, when Wisconsin was blown out at home by Illinois and Paul Chryst was fired as a result. Leonhard took over a 2-3 team — the wins under Chryst came against cupcake opponents Illinois State and New Mexico State — and has a 4-2 record in Big Ten play, with both losses on the road.
The Badgers’ passing game remains a problem that Leonhard, the defensive coordinator, cannot fix overnight. Graham Mertz threw for 83 yards in an ugly 15-14 comeback win at Nebraska last week. Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi are among the conference’s top running backs, so Wisconsin’s success is almost entirely due to its ground attack and defense.
The Gophers’ quarterback dilemma has been even more dire without injured veteran Tanner Morgan. In a 13-10 loss to Iowa a week ago, Mohamed Ibrahim carried a one-dimensional offense by rushing for 263 yards.
For the Badgers, who have won 16 of the past 18 meetings in this series, the mission against Minnesota is to contain Ibrahim, win back the Axe and rally around Leonhard in his campaign to lead the program on a permanent basis. I’ll bet on it happening.
Pick: Wisconsin -3
Four more plays for Saturday (HOME team in CAPS):
The Hoosiers are in the spoiler role against the Boilermakers, who would be in the Big Ten title game with a win. Indiana stopped a seven-game losing streak with a double-overtime win at Michigan State last week, and hyperactive coach Tom Allen will have his players fired up to end the season on a positive note. The underdog role is a better fit for Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who’s 2-9 ATS as a favorite in conference games since 2020, including 0-3 this season.
If star running back Blake Corum is limited by a knee injury, the Wolverines will be in trouble. Corum, who has rushed for 1,457 yards and 18 touchdowns, has vowed to play. Michigan’s offensive line dominated the Buckeyes’ defensive front last year in the 42-27 win in Ann Arbor. Ohio State is highly motivated to get payback, and quarterback C.J. Stroud is the most dynamic player in this matchup, but this line looks a little high in a battle of overrated 11-0 teams.
Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams, who has 33 touchdown passes and three interceptions, is closing in on the Heisman Trophy and could lead his team into a spot in the four-team playoff. Williams passed for 470 yards last week against UCLA. It’s not going to come as easily for Williams against a Notre Dame defense that ranks 16th in the nation against the pass. The Fighting Irish, who have won four in a row in this rivalry, are stronger on the offensive and defensive lines and its running attack will be important in controlling the clock against USC.
The Warriors have covered four straight as home dogs, but this is not a night game in Honolulu and it’s a team that’s far more unreliable on the mainland. Still, Hawaii players have said they are motivated to face their former quarterback, Chevan Cordeiro, who ditched his hometown program last offseason and transferred to San Jose. The Spartans are 2-3 in the past five games and struggled to beat Colorado State and Nevada.
Last week: 4-3 against the spread