If an individual placed a bet in Las Vegas before the start of the Big Ten football season and wagered that the Wisconsin Badgers and Penn State Nittany Lions would be playing each other in the B1G Championship Game, than that person sure made a pretty penny.
Most experts felt that Penn State would most likely finish fourth in the East division of the Big Ten, behind Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Likewise, the Badgers, mostly due to their very difficult conference schedule, were also supposed to be a middle of the pack team in the West division.
But on Saturday night, it will indeed be the Badgers and Nittany Lions playing each other for the B1G title.
Wisconsin finished 7-2 in the West, a game ahead of Nebraska and Iowa, while Penn State finished 8-1 in the East, which tied them with Ohio State, but because the Lions beat the Buckeyes in the regular season, the tie-breaker went to Penn State.
The winner will either play in the Rose Bowl or possibly be in the College Football Playoff.
The loser will still most likely play in a top-notch bowl game, like the Orange or Cotton Bowl.
The 10-2 Badgers are ranked sixth in the AP poll, fifth in the Coaches poll and sixth in the CFP rankings.
The 10-2 Nittany Lions are slotted eighth in all of the rankings.
This week the Big Ten conference recognized what the Wisconsin and Penn State accomplished this season, as the honors for coaches and players were announced.
Paul Chryst of the Badgers was named the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year, as voted on by coaches, while James Franklin of the Lions earned the Dave McClain Coach of the Year, as chosen by a select media panel.
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley earned Graham-George Offensive Player and Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year honors.
Barkley was also named to the Coaches First Team 2016 All-Big Team at running back, along with Wisconsin’s Corey Clement.
Left tackle Ryan Ramczyk of the Badgers was also named to the First Team.
Quarterback Trace McSorley of Penn State was named to the Second Team, as was guard Beau Benzschawel and tight end Troy Fumagalli of Wisconsin.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker T.J. Watt of the Badgers was named First Team, while linebacker Vince Biegel and cornerback Sojourn Shelton of Wisconsin made the Second Team. Defensive lineman Connor Sheehy made the Third Team.
Defensive lineman Garrett Sickels of Penn State was named to the Second Team, while defensive lineman Evan Schwan, linebacker Jason Cabinda and defensive back Marcus Allen of the Nittany Lions all made the Third Team.
Kicker Tyler Davis of Penn State was also named First Team.
Both Wisconsin and Penn State had several players get Honorable Mention designation.
Linebacker Jack Cichy, offensive lineman Michael Dieter, defensive back D’Cota Dixon, linebacker T.J. Edwards, defensive lineman Alec James, defensive back Leo Musso, defensive lineman Chikwe Obasih, wide receiver Jazz Peavy and defensive back Derrick Tindal all received that honor for the Badgers.
Meanwhile, linebacker Brandon Bell, offensive lineman Brian Gaia, tight end Mike Gesicki, punter Blake Gillikin, wide receiver Chris Godwin, defensive lineman Parker Cothren and defensive back John Reid all received the same designation.
Penn State has a more explosive offense than Wisconsin, but the defense of the Badgers will be the best one the Nittany Lions have seen since they played Michigan and lost 49-10.
Wisconsin is ranked seventh in total defense in the country, which includes being ranked third in rushing defense and 22nd in passing defense.
Penn State has some big weapons on offense. One is Barkley, who rushed for 1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns. Barkley also caught 21 passes for 321 yards and two more scores.
Barkley injured his ankle last week against Michigan State and had to leave the game. His status for the B1G title game is unknown, although Franklin says that he expects Barkley to play.
McSorley and the passing game of Penn State can also be dangerous for opposing defenses. McSorley threw 21 touchdown passes versus just five interceptions for 2,976 yards.
The biggest knock on McSorley is his accuracy, as he has completed just 56.3 percent of his passes.
The two big receiving threats for the Lions are Godwin (47-762-9) and Gesicki (44-610-3).
The Wisconsin defense is led by their great set of linebackers, namely Watt and Biegel, who are bookend outside linebackers who rush the quarterback very effectively and who also play the run well.
On offense for the Badgers, quarterback Alex Hornibrook (8-7-1,243) had to leave the game against Minnesota last week due to a concussion, but Bart Houston (5-3-912) stepped in and played well.
Expect to see both play in the B1G title game, which has been the norm for the past several games.
The offense of the Badgers is keyed by the running game. Clement has rushed for 1,140 yards and 13 touchdowns, while he gets assistance from both Dare Ogunbowale, who has rushed for 458 yards and three scores and also Bradrick Shaw, who has run for 395 yards and five touchdowns.
Peavy is also dangerous running the ball on jet sweeps and end arounds, as he has rushed for 263 yards and a score.
In terms of receiving threats for the Badgers, they would be Peavy (39-582-5), Fumagalli (38-467-1) and Robert Wheelwright (33-436-1).
Ogunbowale is also a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, as he has 18 catches for 152 yards and one score.
But it won’t be easy for the Badgers, as the Penn State defense has steadily improved all season long and are now ranked 20th in total defense.
Bottom line, this should be a heck of a game and as always, I wanted to get some input from NFL scout Chris Landry about the how he sees this contest playing out.
I didn’t have an opportunity to talk with Landry this week like I usually do, but I did check out his review about the B1G Championship Game on his fine website.
This is how Landry sees the game:
The winner will be the Big Ten champion. We don’t know is if the winner will get a spot in the College Football Playoff. At the very least, the winner will end up in the Rose Bowl and the loser will probably be in a New Year’s Six bowl of some sort – but that’s not guaranteed.
The Nittany Lions have been amazing at blowing up in the second halves of games, but it’s taking a while to get the engine revved up, down 12-10 at halftime to Michigan State, up only 9-0 on Rutgers at the break, tied at 14 against Indiana, tied at 17 against Purdue and down 12-7 to Ohio State. Get down by any appreciable stretch against Wisconsin, and get ready for Badger stallball being taken to a whole other level.
Penn State doesn’t convert third downs – Wisconsin’t D is third in the nation in third down stop percentage.
Penn State doesn’t really grind out the clock – Wisconsin is No. 1 in the nation in time of possession.
But what Penn State does do really, really well is explode in the second half, with QB Trace McSorley able to crank up the deep ball while defenses spend all their time worrying about Saquon Barkley.
Wisconsin’s secondary excels against midrange passing games – picking off Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner four times in the second half and rarely allowing yards after the catch on a regular basis all season long. However, the Badger D can be hit by the long ball.
That’s how they lost to Michigan – one big deep play – and Purdue kept it mildly interesting for a little while with some big passes, but for the most part, there haven’t been too many teams on the schedule who can take the top off a defense. Penn State has to get vertical and it can’t be afraid of making a few mistakes here and there. Eventually, the deep ball will pay off.
But Wisconsin will have to throw, too, and it’ll have to do it with Bart Houston. The starter at the beginning of the year, he threw for 205 yards and two picks against LSU and 231 yards and two touchdowns against Akron, and then the offense stopped working against Georgia State, and the Alex Hornibrook two quarterback system kicked into overdrive.
But Hornibrook is expected to an option – after getting blasted against the Gophers. No matter who’s at quarterback, the third down passing game has to work considering the Penn State run defense has gotten better and better over the course of the season, allowing fewer than 100 yards three times in the last five games and no more than 170 over the last seven.
But that doesn’t mean the Badgers aren’t going to try. Combine the three-headed running back monster of Corey Clement, Dare Ogbunowale – especially on third downs – and Bradrick Shaw along with the speed of Jazz Peavy on jet sweeps and crossing patterns, and Wisconsin is able to wear down defenses.
Penn State has been a different team over the second half of the season, scoring 39 points or more in each of its last five games, winning all of them in a blowout, coming off of clutch performances against Minnesota and Ohio State, pulling games out of the fire they should’ve lost.
But they also go destroyed by Michigan 49-10, and how? They couldn’t handle the Wolverine running game, and couldn’t deal with the defensive line that held them to just 70 rushing yards.
The same thing that worked for Michigan back in September 24th will work in Indianapolis. Penn State might be a far different team now, but Wisconsin has gotten better and better as the season has rolled on, too.
The Badger will win a grinder, and then they’ll have to hope and pray it was enough to impress the folks in Grapevine.
————————-Wisconsin 27, Penn State 24————————