Redshirt freshman Graham Mertz made a strong first impression in his debut as Wisconsin’s starting quarterback. Nearly a month later, Mertz still is waiting to make his second start.
The Badgers, tangled in a COVID-19 web, have not played -- and rarely have practiced -- since Mertz completed 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-7 victory over Illinois on Oct. 23. Despite the team’s inactivity and uncertainty surrounding Mertz, Wisconsin has been bet to a 4.5-point favorite against Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Bettors are obviously down on the Wolverines, who opened as 2-point favorites and are off back-to-back poor performances in losses to Indiana and Michigan State. Michigan’s sudden demise has put coach Jim Harbaugh on the hot seat.
Wisconsin will be missing at least 10 players as part of the Big Ten’s protocol, which mandates a 21-day absence for players after a positive COVID test. Mertz is expected to be cleared to play, but the long layoff should be considered a negative.
Two weeks ago, the Wolverines would have been around 3.5-point favorites in this game, so the move in the betting market appears to be an overreaction. Mertz and the Badgers are still somewhat of a mystery. Illinois has been the worst team in the Big Ten, so it’s reasonable to wonder if Wisconsin is worthy of so much respect.
The pick: Michigan + 4.5
Arkansas (+ 17) over FLORIDA: The Razorbacks, 3-3 straight up and 6-0 ATS, are the surprise team in the SEC. It’s not going to be surprising if they put a scare into the Gators, who are in a possible letdown spot after a breakthrough victory over Georgia last week. Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks, a transfer from Florida, will be highly motivated. Franks has completed 67.2 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. It’s doubtful he can outduel Kyle Trask, but the Hogs are capable of covering a big number.
BOSTON COLLEGE (+ 11.5) over Notre Dame: Here’s the definition of a flat spot: Upset the No. 1 team in the nation, watch fans storm the field and hit the road the next week to face a rival. In the most dramatic high-stakes game of the season, the Irish upended Clemson 47-40 in double overtime. That was the game Notre Dame’s players had circled for the entire offseason, not this one. Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec, a transfer from Notre Dame and former four-star recruit, passed for two touchdowns in BC’s 34-28 loss at Clemson on Oct. 31. Sharp money has been showing on the underdog this week, pushing the line down from + 16.
New Mexico (+ 17) over Nevada: The Lobos, who were a complete mess at the tail end of former coach Bob Davie’s tenure, are turning into live ‘dogs under new coach Danny Gonzales and defensive coordinator Rocky Long. New Mexico, a two-touchdown underdog, rolled up 279 rushing yards in a 39-33 loss at Hawaii last week. This game will be played in Las Vegas, the Lobos’ new temporary home on the road during a COVID-19 crisis in New Mexico.
Last week: 2-2