With weak schedules in back-to-back seasons and better rosters on upwards of seven teams in the SEC alone, it has been relatively easy to poke holes in the Ohio State Buckeyes' lofty 2013 expectations. Though we had the Buckeyes in our most likely BCS National Championship game to start the season, they only ranked eighth in our initial Power Rankings and find themselves ninth on that list now (after recently being passed up by Ole Miss and Baylor). Still, this team is worthy of being talked about as one of the better in the country and, at home, against what appears to be an inferior opponent, OSU is worthy of being a double-digit favorite.
I mention this specifically because of what has happened to this spread in Las Vegas sports books throughout the week. Ohio State was originally favored by 7.5 points in the opening line for the week. For many professional bettors, grabbing an underdog at +7.5 is almost a no-brainer play, especially when the favorite is a team with a public name and program (and in this case has won 16 straight games). Not too surprisingly, given that concept, the line soon came down to just seven points, meaning that no bets will be won if Ohio State wins by a touchdown. I get that. However, some books have lowered the number to 6.5 despite the fact that more than 65 percent of all wagers are on Ohio State. This means that there is some big money behind Wisconsin keeping this a tight game if not winning outright. I don't see that. That's an overreaction to the "OSU is overrated" concept. Sure, the Buckeyes do not deserve nor warrant top five billing nationally and they are still a little more likely than not to lose some game at some point before bowl season, but they do deserve to be big favorites in every game on the schedule.
In what is the defacto Leaders division championship for the Big Ten, Ohio State enters its home contest undefeated (since January, 2, 2012) and having won its games by an average of 37.3 points a game. The Buckeyes have played just the 116th ranked schedule (of 125 teams) in FBS play to-date. Wisconsin is 3-1 with its only loss coming in highly controversial fashion at Arizona State and has an average margin of victory of 30.5 points a game. The Badgers have played the 122nd ranked schedule this season. As impressive as both of these teams have been against bad teams, Wisconsin has played an overall easier schedule, has a loss and has not been quite as impressive in its wins. While there may not be much to take away from the eight games these teams have played thus far, the notion that Ohio State has beat up on easier opponents than Wisconsin is untrue.
Evaluating our expectations for these two teams in our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics shows some matchups the Buckeyes can win if not dominate. Ohio State ranks ninth overall in our Power Rankings and comes in third in rushing efficiency, 13th in pass defense efficiency and 15th in run defense efficiency. While the Buckeyes' 33rd ranking in pass efficiency may look like a weakness, it is not a big deal with the current team given the quarterback situation. Those rankings anticipate Braxton Miller as the quarterback. He is a better playmaker with his feet than backup Kenny Guiton, but not as good of a passer. The rankings would look better through the air with Guiton and a little weaker on the ground. This is interesting because the net result is pretty even for this specific matchup, but it suggests that, if Miller, who should play and start for the first time in three weeks, is struggling and/or the team needs big plays in the passing game, Guiton is more than capable of coming in and helping the team.
Wisconsin ranks as our 20th team overall and is eighth in rushing efficiency, 21st in pass defense and 28th in run defense. Though better than they may be considered nationally, the Badgers still only rank 48th in pass efficiency. Lining up these teams, the strengths and weaknesses are almost identical, yet in every case, Ohio State is better and noticeably better. The Buckeyes are also deeper with greater talent, have an edge in coaching and are playing at home. Plus, Ohio State probably feels it needs to make as many statements as it can throughout the season, which is not in our analysis, yet can only help with the cover.
According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Ohio State wins at home over Wisconsin 66.6% of the time and by an average score of 32.9-21.5. As seven point favorites wining by double-digits, OSU covers the spread 57.0% of the time. This is right on the line of what we consider a "normal" play. For a typical $50 player, technically, we would recommend a $48 play in this game. The total, which opened at 52.5 and has been bet up to 54.5 is right in line with our expectations and is not playable.