Sept. 7 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — Central Michigan (1-0) at No. 17 Wisconsin (1-0)

(Jonathan Taylor photo courtesy Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 7, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisc., 3:30 p.m. EDT.

After blowing the doors off South Florida on the road, No. 17 Wisconsin looks to take care of business ahead of its early season showdown with Michigan on Saturday when it opens its home schedule against Central Michigan.

Beyond Heisman Trophy hopeful and running back Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers were a bit of an unknown quantity with a new quarterback in Jack Coan, a new-look offensive line and an entirely revamped offensive line. Then Taylor went out and demolished the Bulls, accounting for 183 total yards and four touchdowns — two rushing and two receiving — as Wisconsin stormed to a 49-0 victory over South Florida on Aug. 30.

Coan, who won the quarterback job in the spring, was efficient in his season debut, completing 19 of 26 passes for 199 yards and those two TD tosses to Taylor, who turned a pair of short passes into scoring receptions of 36 and 12 yards in the first half.

Central Michigan took care of business in its season-opener, defeating FCS foe Albany 38-21 last Saturday in Jim McElwain’s debut with the Mid-American Conference school. Quinten Dormady threw three first-half touchdown passes and finished 27 of 37 for 285 yards, but the Chippewas — who went 1-11 last season — were unable to pull away in the second half as the Great Danes twice pulled within 10 points.

The Chippewas have lost 12 straight games to FBS opponents since beating Northern Illinois 31-24 on Nov. 24, 2017.

Dormady looks to build on season-opening win for Chips

Dormady, who played previously at Tennessee and Houston before arriving in Central Michigan as a graduate transfer, is trying to leave his mark on a program that surprisingly bottomed out in 2018 after going to a bowl game the previous four seasons.

“It’s a building block,” Dormady told the school’s official website after posting a career high in yardage. “You practice for nine months a year for this moment, for the first game and it’s special to get out there with the group that you worked with day in and day out, grind with all summer when no one’s on campus (and) we’re still here doing workouts. That’s what’s special, to get out there, show what we’ve worked all year for.”

One player who was around for last season’s debacle was running back Jonathan Ward, who went from rushing for 1,019 yards in 2017 to just 212 last season. Ward was at his dual-threat best against the overmatched Great Danes, rushing for 158 yards and a pair of scores while adding three receptions for 53 yards.

Tyrone Scott and Kalil Plimpton appear to have established themselves as Dormady’s primary targets, with Scott making five catches for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Plimpton had a team-best eight receptions for 40 yards in his first game after sitting out a season following his transfer from Virginia Tech.

But the challenge for the Chips in this game will be replicating their solid run defense after holding the Great Danes to 45 rushing yards on 22 attempts. McElwain saw first-hand how much teams scheme to try and stop Taylor after serving as receivers coach on Big Ten rival Michigan’s staff in 2018.

“I hope he doesn’t try to win the Heisman in our game,” he said jokingly to CMLife, the school’s student-run newspaper. “He’s an unbelievable player, but I like our guys.

“It’s one of those things where you wish you had a short week, so you didn’t have as much time to roll around at night thinking about how you’re going to do it,” McElwain said. “Every time you watch them, you see how physical they are, and how they play the game fundamentally sound.”

There is also a big payday for the athletic department as Central Michigan will get $1 million for making the trek to Madison. The Chips have a second such contest later this month with a trip to Miami and a Sept. 21 date with the Hurricanes, but McElwain knows it is part and parcel of being a Group of 5 coach.

“People in our league, we have to go play these games. That supports the whole athletic department,” he said. “We become the avenue in that to be able to help out.”

Badgers depth to be tested missing three starters

While everything looked perfect for the Badgers in Tampa, coach Paul Chryst does have some early injury concerns as right tackle Logan Bruss, safety Scott Nelson, and outside linebacker Izayah Green-May were listed as “out” on the team’s preliminary injury report.

Inside linebacker Chris Orr is also questionable with a leg injury while tight ends Luke Benzschwael and Zander Neuville are also expected to be sidelined a second straight game.

Of all those injuries, Bruss would carry the most impact since it directly affects Taylor and the ground game. However, the prospect of Taylor catching passes out of the backfield is a new potentially terrifying wrinkle for opponents — the Heisman hopeful entered 2019 with just 16 catches for 155 yards over his first two seasons.

“You work all offseason like I did, and to have that receiving touchdown come to life, I’m really excited about that,” said Taylor, who scooted 36 yards up the left sideline after taking a quick flip from Coan in the second quarter, to The Associated Press. “It motivates you to see that hard work pay off.”

Coan completed 19 of 26 for 199 yards with two touchdowns, no picks and -14 yards rushing.

“I thought Jack saw things pretty well,” said Chryst. “I thought it was purposeful as far as getting the ball out of his hands. Things he can improve on… the sacks, not everyone was on him but I thought there was one where he’s gotta own that… I thought he did a good job for the most part… I love the way he played and competed though, as far as his demeanor throughout. Enough good to build on, and certainly enough to clean up.”

The game also marked the return of receiver Quintez Cephus, who was suspended last season after being charged with sexual assault. He was reinstated after being found not guilty and had three catches for 39 yards. Cephus was a big-play threat before being suspended late in the 2017 season, totaling 30 catches for 501 yards and six TDs.

The defense limited South Florida to nine first downs and 157 total yards as Wisconsin recorded its first non-conference shutout since blanking Hawaii 28-0 on Sept. 26, 2015. The blowout also allowed the Badgers to empty their bench and give out plenty of playing time to the reserves — something that could pay dividends down the road since Wisconsin is using a defensive alignment that includes two down linemen and five defensive backs.

“None of us has to stay in for more than three to four plays at a time,” sophomore defensive end Matt Henningsen told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We’re going all out every single play, running to the ball, doing everything we can and we know that we’ve got guys we can trust behind us that will fill in and essentially just play Wisconsin football the way it’s supposed to be played.”

The Badgers are off next week before an early season East Division showdown with the seventh-ranked Wolverines at home Sept. 21 in their Big Ten opener.

Notable Trends

Wisconsin is:

  • 5-1 ATS in its last six games vs. MAC opponents.
  • 5-2 ATS in its last seven games after allowing less than 170 passing yards in its previous game.
  • 19-0 SU in its last 19 games vs. MAC opponents.

Central Michigan is:

  • 2-6 ATS in its last eight games.
  • 2-6 ATS in its last eight games after totaling 450 or more yards in its previous game.
  • 4-16 SU in its last 20 games vs. Big Ten opponents.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Wisconsin OVER 43 points (-115)

The Badgers should be able to overpower the Chippewas defense, which did concede two lengthy scoring drives to the Great Danes. Wisconsin’s superior depth should also lead to at least three quarters of solid play from its 1s and 2s offensively, with an emphasis on wearing down Central Michigan with Taylor and its bruising ground game.

The number clicked one point higher to 44, which is still below a touchdown+FG combo, which allows for confidence to play it. There is little confidence in the Chips in this instance.

****4-Star Pick****

Wisconsin -35 (-110)

The expectation is the Badgers offense will not miss Bruss all that much as Taylor continues to be his usual self and power Wisconsin to an easy victory. The one thing to look for in this game is whether Chryst gives Coan the green light to involve Cephus more in the passing game after the receiver saw his first playing time in 21 months.

The step up in caliber of competition from an FCS team it was unable to play away to an AP Top 20 team is too large for the Chippewas to make this competitive into the second half, and Taylor may have to put up some big numbers to keep his name circulating among Heisman contenders given the starts Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa had.

Wisconsin -21.5 1st half (-110)

The hook is just enough to give pause, but there is confidence in the Badgers coming through after plowing through South Florida for 28 first-half points without reply by the Bulls to open the season. This pick is contingent on Wisconsin’s defense delivering once more — if it holds the Chips below a touchdown, the Badgers should cover.

***3-Star Picks***

OVER 51.5 points (-110)

Wisconsin may have to do all of the lifting in this game given Central Michigan may not have the speed at wide receiver and running back to help Dormady get off to a strong start. The expectation is the Badgers will score at least 45 points in this game, and anything the Chippewas can contribute in points will be welcomed to help the over deliver.

This line has ticked higher to 53 leading to kickoff, which goes beyond a touchdown plus field goal combination, so there is some concern. But the lean is still the over.

OVER 30.5 points 1st half (-110)

There is confidence in Wisconsin’s offense to get the job done here, with Taylor expected to run rampant. The Badgers do not have to alter the offense to get Taylor his numbers and touches, and that should lead to a productive first half in which they may take care of the first-half number themselves.

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