Which state sporting event would have earned the highest TV viewership rating last night—the Packers-Texans first exhibition game of the season or a Milwaukee Brewers game?
The Brewers had a day off, so the question has no answer. I have a feeling, however, that the Packers would have won that battle.
Temperatures are in the 80s and the Wisconsin State Fair is winding down in West Allis. Baseball is heading into the final month-and-a-half stretch, and the Brewers are certainly in the playoff race.
But since Brett Favre wandered into Green Bay, followed by Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have ruled the heartbeat of Wisconsinites.
High school football teams are practicing for their openers two weeks from now.
Optimism, along with pollen, fills the air.
So what can Wisconsin football fans expect in the next four or five months?
Don’t look to me for answers. Let’s look toward Las Vegas, which has the guys who have all that information.
According to one set of odds, Wisconsin is a 200-1 shot to win the national football championship.
Alabama (5/2—win $5 for every $2 wagered) and Clemson (9-4) are the two heavy favorites.
Clemson is too good. The Tigers averaged 44.3 points a game last year and have eight returning starters. The NFL did take most of their defense—three of the top 17 picks were Clemson defensive linemen and five Tigers defenders were taken by the middle of the fourth round.
But that much offense should conquer all—including Nick Saban. There still is a cloud of anger hovering over Crimson Tide Country after Clemson smoked their beloved team 44-16 in the national championship game last year.
Getting back to the mortal teams, Wisconsin’s win total is 8½, meaning you can wager the Badgers win nine or more games, or eight or less games.
The Badgers open Friday night, Sept. 30—yes, infringing on the high school season again—at South Florida. Wisconsin is an 11-point favorite, so that should be one win. Central Michigan is next at Camp Randall, which should be another “W.”
The Central Michigan game is the first of five straight home games for the Badgers.
Michigan arrives at Camp Randall in Game 3 on Saturday, Sept. 21. The Wolverines are the Big Ten favorites and are 14-1 to win the national title.
Ohio State is next at 16-1, with Nebraska at 50-1, Michigan State and Penn State at 100-1 and then the Badgers at 200-1.
Michigan beat the Badgers 38-13 last season, and will have a bye the week before Sept. 21.
In the Badgers’ favor, they are 4-1 against the Wolverines in their last five matchups at Camp Randall and 5-0 against the spread.
Northwestern, Kent State and Michigan State round out the five-week homestand, which should have Regent Street business owners smiling as they walk to the bank.
The Badgers then have road games at Illinois and Ohio State, return home against Iowa, travel to Nebraska, are home against Purdue and finish off at Minnesota.
I’ll say the wins are: South Florida, Central Michigan, Northwestern, Kent State, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota. Losses are: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Nebraska.
The wild card in the Badgers’ hand is freshman quarterback Graham Mertz. I will assume he beats out Jack Coan and starts. Mertz reportedly turned down Alabama, Ohio State and several other major offers to go to Wisconsin.
It’s been so long since Wisconsin has had a playmaker at QB that projecting what one can do for the UW offense is out of my realm.
The Badgers’ offensive star will be tailback Jonathan Taylor. The junior is a 20-1 shot to win the Heisman Trophy.
Two quarterbacks—Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence—are both favorites at 3-1 to win the Heisman.
Nebraska sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez is the third choice at 10-1, which explains Nebraska’s place as the third choice among Big Ten teams to win the national title.
I don’t buy the Cornhusker hype, although I believe they’ll beat the Badgers in Lincoln on Nov. 16.
Other Big Ten players with Heisman odds are Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (12-1), Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson (20-1), Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins (60-1) and Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore (80-1).
Injuries always play a big part in the success or failure of teams. But in the first week of August, it looks like 8½ wins was a spot-on over/under number for the Badgers.
Let’s turn to the guys that make the big money. At first glance—I didn’t watch much of last night’s game—the Packers will discover quickly whether hiring young Matt LaFleur was the best choice as Mike McCarthy’s successor.
LaFleur won’t turn 40 until Nov. 14. He’s never been a head coach. His highest responsibility jobs were being the offensive coordinator in 2017 with the Los Angeles Rams and last season with the Tennessee Titans.
It took LaFleur half of a season last year to realize Derrick Henry should be the Titans’ main back. Starting quarterback Marcus Mariotta was bothered by leg injuries, which hampered the Tennessee offense.
So what does Vegas make of this new coach and his team?
The Packers are tied with the Los Angeles Chargers at 16-1 to win the Super Bowl.
Kansas City and New England are the co-favorites at 6-1. The Rams and New Orleans are next at 10-1. The Bears, Colts and Eagles are each 14-1.
The Rams and Saints are co-favorites to win the NFC Championship at 4-1. The Bears and Eagles are each 13/2, with the Packers 8-1, and the Cowboys and Vikings both 10-1.
The Bears are favorite to win the NFC Nroth at 9/5. The Vikings are 2/1, the Packers 11/5, and the Lions 9-1.
Las Vegas set the Packers’ over/under win total is 9.
With so many changes on defense, and a totally new offense, it’s difficult to see the Packers winning more than that.
Now let’s sit back and watch it unfold. It’s the best time of the sports year.
Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.