Thursday Night Free College Football Picks: UNLV @ Wisconsin 2011 NCAA Football Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on ESPN 9/1/11: When the 2011-12 college football season kicks off Thursday night, the marquee team in action will be the Wisconsin Badgers. Coming off a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance, the Badgers have their sights set on bigger things this year. They begin their quest for a national title when they host the UNLV Rebels in the season opener for both schools. It is the second year in a row the two teams have squared off to open the year, and although the Badgers came away with an easy 41-21 victory, this isn’t a freebie for bettors. With a 35-point spread at SBG Global Sportsbook, there is a legitimate possibility that the Rebels could cover.

On paper, this matchup appears to be one-sided in favor of the Badgers. Wisconsin finished last season with an 11-2 record, while UNLV finished with a 2-11 mark. Offensively, the Badgers averaged 41.5 points per game compared to just 18.4 for the Rebels. UNLV also had the unfortunate distinction of averaging the third-fewest yards per game as well a year ago. Defensively, the Rebels weren’t much better. They finished last season with the fifth-worst rush defense in the nation and game up the fifth-most points at almost 40 per game.

The porous rushing defense is going to be a major issue against the Badgers. Wisconsin welcomes back James White and Montee Ball at running back this season. The two combined for more than 2,000 yards and a staggering 32 touchdowns last season. The Wisconsin offensive line is always among the biggest and most physical in the nation. The Rebels were gashed on the ground for over 220 yards a game, which means both White and Ball could hit the ground running in the opener.

Wisconsin could also get some rushing yards out of its new quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is coming off a 37-touchdown campaign for N.C. State, but he was dismissed from the team after deciding to split time between football and baseball. The dual-threat QB will immediately fill the shoes of Scott Tolzien, and while he may not know the offense as well as Tolzien did, there is no question that Wilson is the more versatile and explosive player. If the Badgers are going to defend their conference title and make a run at a national title, the play of Wilson is going to be a key reason.

While all the tools are in place for the Badgers to win in a blowout fashion against UNLV, the Rebels have actually held their own in several recent meetings between the teams. When there is a 35-point spread in play, that fact can’t be ignored. Despite the Badgers enjoying the best offensive year in school history last season, the Rebels only fell by 20. UNLV even managed to stay within 15 points of the Badgers the last time the two teams faced off in Wisconsin. In short, the discrepancy in talent hasn’t always translated into a discrepancy on the scoreboard.

Thursday’s matchup could follow a similar trend. After all, Wilson will be running the offense for the first time in an actual game situation. There are bound to be some growing pains, even for a QB as talented as Wilson. Throw in the fact that five other players on the Wisconsin offense and defense will be making their first starts as well, and it is hard to imagine the Badgers will be a well-oiled scoring machine right out of the gate. That being said, Wisconsin should win this game going away. However, history says a 35-point win against the Rebels in the opener isn’t all that likely.

Free College Football Picks and NCAAF Predictions: UNLV +35.5 to cover the pointspread

College Football: UNLV @ Wisconsin
Date: 9/1/2011
Time: 8:00 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds -
Favorite: Wisconsin -35.5 Total: Over/Under 56

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