LAS VEGAS -- A buzz is surrounding Jim Harbaugh again, although it’s fair to wonder if the Michigan coach truly has a team worthy of the hype.
The Wolverines’ 4-0 record includes nonconference victories over Washington, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Michigan opened Big Ten play last week with a 20-13 win against Rutgers that raised some red flags.
Harbaugh is a conservative playcaller, 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 and will load up to stop the run and dare quarterback Cade McNamara to make plays.
The Badgers also have obvious offensive shortcomings. Graham Mertz threw four interceptions in a blowout loss to Notre Dame last week, so he’ll 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 these teams’ last two meetings 49-11 and 35-14. Expect the Badgers to use their dominant defense to bounce back from the debacle against the Irish.
The pick: Wisconsin -1.5
NOTRE DAME (+ 2) 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.
Irish quarterback Jack Coan, who limped off with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter against Wisconsin, is expected to recover and make this start. Notre Dame is a 4-0 team with flaws, but the Irish have played a tougher schedule and are improving on the defensive side. Beware of the home dog. The betting market underrated the Irish last week and the same thing might be happening here.
STANFORD (+ 8) over Oregon: After surviving a season-opening scare from Fresno State and pulling off a major upset of 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, though, with Tanner McKee at quarterback. McKee passed for 293 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, against the Bruins.
Arkansas (+ 18) 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 due to their fast and physical defensive front and punishing running attack.
Last week: 3-0
Notre Dame (W), Western Kentucky (W), Arkansas (W)