Ohio State was a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten in the preseason, and the Buckeyes are the only team from the conference ranked among the top 15 in the nation. The Big Ten is struggling nationally with only three ranked teams, and Michigan did not take the step forward some expected this year, while Northwestern has been a disappointment at 4-5 overall.
Michigan State and Wisconsin are vying to be the No. 2 team in the Big Ten this year, and there’s little separating the Badgers and Spartans.
Michigan State is 8-1, with its only loss coming at Notre Dame. Wisconsin has two setbacks, “losing” by two points to Arizona State and a seven-point defeat at Ohio State.
If both teams continue to win out, there’s a good chance the Big Ten will get a second team into the BCS bowls.
Ohio State is clearly the top team in the Big Ten. But after the Buckeyes, are the Spartans or the Badgers at No. 2?
Wisconsin or Michigan State: Who is the No. 2 team in the Big Ten Behind Ohio State?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Close call, but I will take Michigan State over Wisconsin for the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten. The Badgers have played a tougher schedule and impressed in a seven-point loss to Ohio State. But the Spartans own the Big Ten’s No. 1 defense, holding opponents to just 3.4 yards per play. Michigan State has allowed just 12 touchdowns all season, with Wisconsin one behind at 13. The Spartans have the edge on defense, while the Badgers get a slight nod on offense. Running backs Melvin Gordon and James White form an effective one-two punch, and quarterback Joel Stave is efficient (150.4 quarterback rating). After struggling early in the year, Michigan State’s offense is starting to find its rhythm, scoring at least 26 points in four out of the last five games. Quarterback Connor Cook only has three interceptions on 230 passes, and he’s surrounded by a solid supporting cast, including running back Jeremy Langford and receiver Bennie Fowler. Even though Wisconsin has a statistical edge on Michigan State’s offense, the Spartans have improved as the season progressed and significantly narrowed the gap in recent weeks. There’s not much separating these two teams, but I would give Michigan State a slight advantage.
While it's actually closer than I initially thought, I am still siding with Michigan State on this one. Wisconsin hung tough with Ohio State in The Shoe in late September and is getting it done on both sides of the ball, but I like Michigan State's defense just a little better. The Spartans are No. 1 in the nation in yards allowed at 210.2 per game. The Badgers aren't too far behind at sixth, but they are giving up 285.5 yards per contest, that's a difference of more than 75 yards per game. MSU has been next-to-impossible to run on, surrendering a paltry 43.4 yards rushing per game and just 1.6 yards per carry. When it comes to beating Ohio State, one of the keys will be slowing down the Buckeyes on the ground, both the running backs and dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller. I think Michigan State's defense is more than capable of doing just that. Even with their offensive issues and lack of explosive playmakers, I think the Spartans' defense will allow Mark Dantonio's squad to hang with pretty much any team in the country. To be honest, it's a shame we probably won't get to see Michigan State and Wisconsin play each other this season. Hopefully that won't be the case for a Spartans-Buckeyes matchup, which is what it looks like we are headed towards for the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
Coach Bill Mallory, former head coach of Miami (Ohio), Colorado, Northern Illinois, Indiana and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I think Michigan State is a better team than Wisconsin at this point in the season. Michigan State has made tremendous strides offensively since the season began. Their defense has been dominant the entire season. I think that is where they are better than Wisconsin, and now that their offense is playing well, I would have to choose Michigan State over Wisconsin to be the No. 2 team behind Ohio State.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Michigan State. Wisconsin has played a slightly tougher schedule with Arizona State and Ohio State, but the Badgers lost both of those games. The Spartans boast the nation's best defense — one that is achieving at historic levels. But it's the development of the Spartans' offense that makes this team the second-best in the Big Ten. Sparty is averaging over 30 points per game in the Big Ten because of the play of quarterback Connor Cook, and the emergence of tailback Jeremy Langford. Wisconsin is an excellent team with excellent balance on both sides of the ball, but on a neutral field in a cornfield, I am taking the Spartans to win.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Easy call on that one: Michigan State. And the only reason Michigan State is No. 2 to Ohio State is because the offense isn’t quite as dynamic as others in the league. That said, Michigan State is greatly improved on that side of the ball since the start of conference play. The Spartans are averaging 5.6 yards per play in conference games, a yard more than in the non-conference season. That’s mainly due to improvement in the passing game, but the defense is so good Michigan State can afford to have the seventh-best offense in Big Ten games. You want some perspective on Michigan State’s defense? The Spartans allow 210.3 total yards per game. Most teams allow more than that in just one phase of the game: 98 teams allow more passing yards per game alone; 19 teams, including three in the Big Ten, allow more than 210 yards per game rushing. Because of the defense, Michigan State is the clear No. 2 right now and the only team with a shot of knocking off Ohio State.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com and Crystal Ball Run
Michigan State seems to have found their offensive identity in recent weeks, which may put them over the edge right now in the battle for number two in the Big Ten. There is a lot to like about Wisconsin with their running game and their underrated defense, but right now the Spartans are the more complete package. No team in the Big Ten plays as good a defense as the Spartans. Michigan State has allowed just 12 touchdowns this season and they have forced 16 turnovers. When you have more turnovers than touchdowns allowed, that sort of speaks for itself at this point in the season, although the Badgers are not that far off (13 TDs allowed, 12 turnovers forced). Michigan State struggled on offense early on but now that they seem to be playing better on that side of the football, with Jeremy Langford leading the ground game and Connor Cook stabilizing the passing game recently, the Spartans are now the biggest threat to Ohio State’s undefeated championship plans.