Holiday Bowl Pick
Despite finishing the season with five losses, USC has been in the spotlight for almost the entire season, which seems to be the norm. Wisconsin was almost the opposite this year, never really getting much attention even with a 9-3 overall record. The Trojans are listed as -3.5 point favorites at 5 Dimes Sportsbook for the Holiday Bowl.
The Trojans were a mess early in the season, but that all changed when Steve Sarkisian was terminated. With Clay Helton at the helm, they once again look like one of the top teams in the Pac-12 and even made it to the Conference title Game. Granted, USC still lost two of its final three Games (at Oregon, vs. Stanford in title Game).
The Badgers have a better record, but they may be silently overrated even as an underdog. They opened the year with a blowout loss to Alabama, and then lost their only two other Games to teams with winning records, both at home (Iowa 10-6, Northwestern 13-7). Wisconsin may have beaten two bowl teams in Nebraska and Minnesota, but they both finished with 5-7 records. Needless to say, the Badgers didn’t do anything impressive this year.
USC played in last year’s Holiday Bowl and took down Nebraska in a high-scoring fest, 45-42. That likely won’t be the scenario with Wisconsin in this Game.
The Badgers may have the best scoring defense in the country, but they also only scored 27.1 points per Game with an extremely favorable Schedule. USC’s defense isn’t good, but stopping Wisconsin’s offense isn’t the hardest thing.
Joel Stave picked up where he left off in 2014 for the Badgers, finishing with 10 TDs and 11 INTs. If the Badgers ever fall behind in this Game, it will automatically be trouble because Stave isn’t the type of quarterback that can start a comeback. The big news for this offense is the status of running back Corey Clement, who has missed most of the season due to injury. Just 10 days before the Game, his status still wasn’t clear, so that’ll be something to monitor. Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal have filled in this year, but neither average more than 4.3 yards per carry. Clement would be an obvious boost in the backfield.
USC is better against the rush, but they did just allow Christian McCaffrey to rush for 207 yards last time out.
The other end of the field should be the more interesting matchup with a dominant Wisconsin defense going against Cody Kessler (playing with injured thumb) in his final collegiate Game. Kessler’s numbers have taken a dip with Helton in charge, but that’s because the Trojans have been running the ball more. Still, Kessler is accurate and consistent and easily the best QB that Wisconsin has seen all year. Kessler and JuJu Smith-SChuster (85 receptions, 1,389 yards, 10 TDs) have had a great rapport all season. USC’s ground Game kind of turned the tide for them with Ronald Jones and Justin Davis combining for 1,815 yards and 13 TDs. They have been able to run on everyone, including Stanford, and that would be huge if they found room against the Badgers front.
It’s hard to gauge this Wisconsin team due to Schedule and the one time they faced an elite offense and defense was Alabama, and they didn’t stand a chance. USC obviously isn’t at Bama’s level, but it’s going to take a good Game from Stave for the Badgers to win this one.
Neither one of these teams finished with winning ATS records this year, USC at 6-7 and Wisconsin at 5-7. The over is 6-1-1 in the Trojans last eight non-Conference Games and also 4-0-1 in the Badgers last five neutral-site Games.
Our Pick – Wisconsin +3.5 (3* Key Release)