Only one of the Big Ten's two division winners will be playing in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday when the Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) and Wisconsin Badgers (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) do battle in Indianapolis.
Nebraska won the Big Ten Legends division by one game over the Michigan Wolverines—there is no debate over whether it belongs in this game.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, finished third in the Leaders division, behind both Ohio State and Penn State.
Thanks to NCAA sanctions that made both of those schools ineligible for postseason play, the Badgers, with a .500 record in conference play, advance to the Big Ten's biggest game of the year.
The last time these two teams met, on September 29 in Nebraska, the Cornhuskers erased a 17-point deficit and held on for a 30-27 victory.
Does their previous meeting mean that the result of this one is already determined?
Here's everything you need to know heading into the game to make that decision.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
When: Saturday, December 1 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Big Ten Digital Network
Listen: 99.7 FM/102.3 FM (Wisconsin), KFAB 1110 AM (Nebraska)
Betting Line: Nebraska -2.5 (via Covers.com)
Wisconsin kept things close earlier this season, losing to Nebraska by only three points.
But this is a Nebraska squad that has been on a roll, winning its past six games, while Wisconsin has dropped two in a row and three of its last four.
Take Nebraska giving the points.
Over/Under: 48 (via Covers.com)
The two teams combined for 57 points at the end of September, a great sign for those wanting to bet the over in this one.
Wisconsin's defense has been widely underrated this season, but Nebraska's offense is potent and will put points on the board against the Badgers.
Take the over, as this one is going to feature plenty of offense.
Who Might Not Play For Nebraska (via USA Today)
WR Kenny Bell (Neck): Questionable
OL Justin Jackson (Ankle): Doubtful
DT Baker Steinkuhler (Knee): Doubtful
Who Might Not Play For Wisconsin (via USA Today)
LB Chris Borland (Hamstring): Questionable
BCS/Top 25 Implications
Whichever team emerges victorious has a date with the champion of the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl on January 1.
Should Wisconsin win, there's a chance that Nebraska could receive an at-large bid to a BCS bowl, but it very well may wind up playing in either the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl against someone from the SEC instead.
What They're Saying
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini isn't buying into the talk that Wisconsin doesn't deserve to play for the Big Ten Championship (h/t Lincoln Journal Star):
“Wisconsin is there because they deserve to be there. That’s not taking anything away from Urban Meyer. Ohio State played their tails off. But there’s a reason they’re not there.”
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was unapologetic for his team's appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game:
I think there are 10 teams out there in the Big Ten that would love to be in the position that Nebraska and we are in right now. I can say this: When the two teams take the field Saturday, neither are going to care how the other team got there or what their record is.
Pelini also isn't falling for the talk that the outcome of this game is predetermined thanks to their meeting earlier this season:
“Every game’s different. I don’t really put much stock into what happened the first game. I’m sure Wisconsin won’t either. Different time, different place, different point in the year,” he said.
Nebraska Player to Watch: RB Rex Burkhead
This might be a surprising pick, considering that the senior running back is third on Nebraska in rushing behind fellow tailback Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Taylor Martinez.
But Burkhead is finally healthy after battling a myriad of injuries throughout the season, and he is motivated for his final game in a Nebraska uniform, as he told ESPN:
Huskers' Rex Burkhead: It's good to be back in a championship game again. First two times was kind of a bum deal.— Rittenberg/Bennett (@ESPN_BigTen) November 26, 2012
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland isn't going to sleep on the impact that Burkhead can have on the outcome of the game, as he told Samuel McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald:
In their previous meeting, Burkhead carried the ball 18 times for 86 yards.
While Wisconsin's defense is excellent against the run, allowing 111.33 rushing yards per game—the 12th lowest mark in the country—Burkhead will have a big impact on the outcome of this game.
Wisconsin Player to Watch: Curt Phillips, QB
Quarterback has been a bit of a revolving door for Wisconsin this season, with Danny O'Brien starting the season, Joel Stave replacing him until he was injured and Curt Phillips replacing Stave.
While the results of their games haven't been what they hoped for, losing each of their last two games, Phillips has played reasonably well, as the Big Ten's official twitter account points out:
Final player on call is WIS QB Curt Phillips - stepped into starting QB role 3 games ago, completing more than 50% of passes with 4 TDs— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) November 26, 2012
How Phillips handles himself in the face of a Nebraska pass rush that has sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times this season—and his ability to complete passes while under pressure to open space for Montee Ball to run—will be crucial to the Badgers success.
Key Matchup: Nebraska's Run Defense vs. Montee Ball
Nebraska has struggled mightily to stop opposing teams from running the ball this season, allowing more than 166 yards rushing yards and nearly two rushing touchdowns per game.
Montee Ball picked up three touchdowns against the Cornhuskers in their previous matchup, but it took him 32 carries to rack up 90 yards—only an average of 2.8 yards per carry.
Since then, Ball has been running the ball like the Heisman Trophy candidate we all thought that he was entering the season—and he set a pretty impressive record along the way (h/t ESPN):
Of more importance to this game, however, are the numbers that Ball has put up since facing Nebraska: 187 carries for 1,075 yards and 12 touchdowns in his past seven games.
That's an average of 5.75 yards per carry, more than 150 yards and nearly two touchdowns per game.
If Nebraska is unable to slow Ball down, he is more than capable of carrying Wisconsin to the win.
Prediction: Nebraska 38, Wisconsin 31
This will be a back-and-forth battle all night long, and it likely comes down to two things: who wins the turnover battle and who has the ball last.
Winners of its last six games, Nebraska has the momentum, and that will carry it to victory over the Badgers, who will prove once and for all that they absolutely belong in the Big Ten Championship Game.