The Big Ten title is on the line in Indianapolis and once again the Wisconsin Badgers will be there to play for it. Wisconsin is playing in its fourth Big Ten Championship Game and is hoping this year fares much better than their most recent trip two seasons ago. A lot has happened since then, and this year Wisconsin takes on a newcomer to the title game, Penn State.
Penn State wiggled its way to Indianapolis last week with a win over Michigan State, which coupled with an earlier Ohio State victory over Michigan, clinched the East Division on the strength of a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Buckeyes. Considering where Ohio State and Michigan are in the College Football Playoff rankings, there is a real possibility the Big Ten champion could be left out of the playoff, but a trip to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl is quite the consolation prize, if that’s what it all comes down to in the end.
But first, the game must be played!
Wisconsin vs. Penn State (Indianapolis)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Wisconsin -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Penn State’s big-play offense vs. Wisconsin stout defense
Few teams thrive on the energy of a big play quite the way Penn State has. Quarterback Trace McSorley has developed a knack for chucking the ball deep down the field and hoping one of his trusted wide receivers or tight end will come down with the football. That should be expected to be seen this week against the Badgers’ defense, and it could pose a problem for Wisconsin. But how many times can Penn State count on a big gain to happen against a Wisconsin defense that has made it tough for opponents like LSU, Michigan and Ohio State all year long?
2. An awesome running back display
The Big Ten Championship Game will be center stage for two of the top running backs in the conference with Wisconsin’s Corey Clement and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Barkley and Clement finished the regular season second and third in the Big Ten, respectively, in total rushing yards behind only Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. Barkley also finished the season tied for the conference lead with 15 rushing touchdowns, with Clement not far behind with 13. Both players will be key to the success of their offenses, although Clement may be slightly more used by the Badgers than Barkley will for Penn State.
3. Can Penn State overcome another slow start?
As well as the Nittany Lions have been playing in the second half and closing out games coming down the stretch this season, you have to wonder if they can manage to not let a slow first half hurt them too much against a defense like Wisconsin’s. For whatever reason, Penn State has just struggled to get much going in the first half of games, but James Franklin’s team has made adjustments to get things rolling in the second half. If the Nittany Lions can keep things within reach going to halftime with no more than a one-possession deficit, they should feel confident about their chances. Of course, they would love to take a lead into halftime too if that is possible.
Penn State should get a little bit of a reality check right out of the gate. Not only is Wisconsin more seasoned for these types of games right now, but the Badgers also are the best team Penn State has played by far in over a month (since Ohio State). This is going to be a much more difficult game for the Nittany Lions than the ones that have helped get them here, but there is something to be said about the confidence level and maturity this young and growing team has shown as the season has unfolded. There may be some butterflies, but they won’t last for too long in Indy.
Prediction: Penn State 24, Wisconsin 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.