Wisconsin heads to Purdue as a 5.5-point favorite

Wisconsin is a 5.5-point favorite at Purdue on Friday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

The Badgers are in a season of transition under new coach Luke Fickell. After decades of a run-first offense with the quarterback under center and multiple running backs behind him, Wisconsin is transitioning to an Air Raid attack under offensive coordinator Phil Longo.

Wisconsin brought in former Oklahoma and SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai during the offseason and he’s thrown for 702 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions in three games. The run game is still very strong; Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen have split carries so far this season and each is averaging at least 6.5 yards a carry. Mellusi has 40 carries for 268 yards and four scores while Allen has 36 carries for 255 yards and four TDs.

Purdue also has a first-year coach in Ryan Walters. The former Illinois defensive coordinator is the youngest head coach in the Big Ten in 2023 and his tenure has opened with home losses to both Fresno State and Syracuse. The Boilermakers gave up 39 points to the Bulldogs and allowed 35 points to Syracuse in Week 3 as Orange QB Garrett Shrader ripped apart the Purdue defense for 195 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Mordecai isn’t nearly the rushing threat that Shrader is and Friday night should be a good test of if Week 3 was a fluke for the Purdue defense. Fresno State rushed for just 116 yards on 37 carries in Week 1 and the Boilermakers held Virginia Tech to 11 yards on 22 carries in Week 2. If Wisconsin can get things going on the ground — doesn’t that sound familiar? — the Badgers should easily cover the number. If they can’t, then Purdue has a chance at home to even win outright.

Wisconsin's Wisconsin's Tanner Mordecai during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Southern Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Tanner Mordecai transferred to Wisconsin from SMU ahead of the 2023 season. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

NC State favored at Virginia

NC State is an 8.5-point favorite at BetMGM at Virginia as the Wolfpack look to start ACC play with a win and get a win over a Power Five opponent.

NC State (2-1) started the season with a 24-14 win at UConn before a 21-point loss at home against Notre Dame in Week 2. Virginia (0-3) was blown out by Tennessee in Week 1 and lost to James Madison in Week 2 by a point before losing 42-14 to former ACC rival Maryland in Week 3.

It’s the first game back in Charlottesville for NC State QB Brennan Armstrong. The three-year starter transferred to NC State over the offseason and is reunited with former UVA offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

Anae was the OC at Virginia in 2021 when Armstrong threw for 4,449 yards and 31 TDs. So far, Armstrong hasn’t been able to replicate that success at NC State. He’s averaging just 6.5 yards an attempt and has thrown for 679 yards and three TDs and three interceptions through three games.

Tony Muskett started the opener for Virginia before he suffered an injury. Freshman Anthony Colandrea started against James Madison and was the team’s starter against Maryland even though Muskett had returned to practice. It’s unclear who will start at QB for the Cavaliers Friday night.

We’re leaning towards the over as the total is 47.5. The NC State defense has the capability of shutting down Virginia’s offense, but Colandrea has been successful enough as a deep passer in his limited action that we think he can hit a big play or two if he starts.

Two Mountain West games

It’s a night of road favorites as Boise State and Air Force are each favored on the road as well. The Broncos are 6.5-point favorites at San Diego State while Air Force is a 6-point favorite at San Jose State.

Boise State is 1-2 thanks to losses at Washington and at home against UCF. San Diego State is 2-2 and enters on a two-game losing streak. The Aztecs lost 35-10 to UCLA in Week 3 and fell 26-9 at Oregon State in Week 4.

San Diego State is averaging just 323 yards a game on offense and has rushed 67 times for 133 yards over the past two games. Boise State’s problem has been on defense. It allowed 1,098 total yards and over eight yards a play in its two losses. San Diego State should be a good opponent for the Boise offense to get on track.

Air Force is 3-0 and its triple-option offense is averaging 320 rushing yards a game on 5.4 yards a carry. The defense is giving up just 11 points per game and held Sam Houston State to 80 yards on 44 plays in Week 2.

San Jose State (1-3) has not beaten an FBS opponent yet after losing 21-17 at Toledo in Week 3 and its offense has struggled in its last two losses. San Jose State averaged 4.5 yards a play against Oregon State in Week 1 and just 3.8 yards a play against the Rockets. That could be a bad recipe against a stout Air Force defense.

Who cashed tickets Thursday?

The San Francisco 49ers easily covered in a 30-12 home win over the New York Giants. Christian McCaffrey had 119 total yards and a TD as Brock Purdy threw for 310 yards and two scores.

The Tampa Bay Rays also gained a game on the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East with a 5-4 win over the Angels. The Orioles lost to the Cleveland Guardians Thursday night and lead the division by one game.