O’Brien not worried about large point spread

A capsule look at Bill O’Brien’s weekly news conference

Opponent: Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten)

Kickoff: Saturday 3:30 p.m., Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.


Line: Wisconsin is favored by 24; over/under is 51

About the Badgers: They’ve won six in a row and have two running backs with more than 1,200 yards (Melvin Gordon 1,375 and James White 1,281); rank eighth in the country in rushing offense (298 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (13.4 points per game); lost at Ohio State by only seven (31-24) on Sept. 28; other loss was to Arizona State (32-30) on bizarre ending in which they and the officials mismanaged the clock in the closing seconds to prevent a potential go-ahead field goal; Gary Andersen is in first season as coach.

Long, long odds: O’Brien was told by a reporter that his team is a 23-point underdog (actually 24), and the coach said he wasn’t aware of that. He was asked if he will use that as bulletin-board material to motivate his team. “I’m aware that we’re probably an underdog,” O’Brien said. “We’re 6-5, and they’re 9-2, but I didn’t know it was a 20-point underdog. Now, if somebody from Wisconsin came out and said we’re going to beat these guys by 24 points, then maybe we’d use that.”

Forget about the line: If O’Brien’s right, then the Vegas line could be way, way high. “We’ve had some really close games, and we’ve got to figure out a way to come out on top in these close games,” he said. “This is one that could potentially be a close football game.”

No kickoff coverage changes: The Lions have been burned the past two weeks by a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD against Purdue and a crushing 99-yard TD return by Nebraska. At this point in the season, O’Brien doesn’t see any personnel changes on that unit, which has a lot of backups and walk-ons playing on it. “I think what happens,” he said, “is right now you’ve got to make a decision on whether to put a starter on that team or go with a backup player and try to coach them better and put them in better spots to make those plays. So, that’s what we’re doing.”

Helpful advice about NFL: There are a number of players, not just receiver Allen Robinson, who have decisions about whether to pursue a pro career. Robinson’s decision is whether to give up his final year of eligibility, while others are seniors who might be considering giving the NFL their best shot. O’Brien takes the time to advise the players who are interested. “I always have an open-door policy,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of NFL scouts in here this year. I have an open-door policy with the players, and every once in a while I say, ‘Look, toward the end of the year, if you’re thinking about that, come see me. Sit down, let’s talk about it. I’ll tell you how the process works.'” He also gives the players an honest evaluation. “Here’s how I see you,” he said. “Here are the positions I see you being able to play. Here’s probably how they view you right now. I just try to talk to them. I always encourage them, if they think they can do it, to do it. I’d never be one to sit there and say if you can’t do it, don’t do it, get on with your life. I don’t think that’s my position to do that. If they have their heart set on doing it, I’ll tell them my honest opinion and encourage them to pursue it.”

– Compiled by Cory Giger