Big Ten Championship Game: Here's Why Nebraska Has the Edge
There's one game left in the Big Ten's regular season.
Thankfully, it's theoretically the best game; it's the Big Ten Championship. OK, with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, we're forced to bring in the third-place team from the Leaders Division instead, but Wisconsin's hardly terrible. It took both OSU and PSU to overtime in late-season losses.
As a matter of fact, per VegasInsider.com, Nebraska's only favored by three points. That's not a guarantor of a close (or otherwise interesting) game by itself, but per TeamRankings.com, three-point underdogs still win well over 40 percent of the time. On paper, this is at least a mostly even matchup.
How many yards will Wisconsin pass for in the Big Ten Championship?
We've got Nebraska winning this game. Yes, Nebraska won the first game, but that's not what we're basing our prediction off of. If anything, it was just as much about Wisconsin's ability to come away with a victory. The Badgers ran up a 27-6 lead, and it's doubtful that Nebraska would have completed the 30-27 comeback if it wasn't in the raucous Memorial Stadium, one of the best home-field advantages in the Big Ten.
What really stands out in favor of the Huskers in this game, however, is one simple thing: We don't trust Wisconsin's ability to throw the football.
It's no surprise that Wisconsin has been missing Joel Stave since his season-ending collarbone injury. Originally, the Badgers turned to Danny O'Brien before quickly remembering why he had been benched in the first place. Then came current starter Curt Phillips.
It's not that Curt Phillips is objectively bad, he's completing just over half his passes in three games and has four touchdowns to one interception. His yards per attempt average isn't very good, but it's not like we're in Rob Bolden territory.
It's that nobody can pass on Nebraska this year. Nebraska is ranked first nationally in passing yards against, with just 152 yards per game. That's better than Alabama, Notre Dame or anyone else in the nation. And it's not that teams can pass on Nebraska and just don't; the Husker defense is also ranked second nationally in passing efficiency.
Oh, but Wisconsin can just run the ball on Nebraska, right? About that: Wisconsin ran for all of 56 yards on 41 attempts when the Badgers went to Lincoln. Sure, part of that had to do with Joel Stave being terrorized by Nebraska's pass rush, but Montee Ball needed 31 rushes to get to 93 yards. That's exactly three yards per carry and that sure isn't going to get things done the second time around.
Expect Wisconsin to turn in a better performance on the ground this week (because it's pretty hard to do worse), but only incrementally so.
In the Badgers' favor, that Wisconsin defense is awfully good, too. It's the second-best in the Big Ten in terms of yards and points given up and it's likely to force a few three-and-outs on Nebraska's offense. So don't get seduced by the 57 points the two teams put up the first time around, this is likely to be a bruiser of a game.
Without a solid option at quarterback, however, Wisconsin is probably at too much of a disadvantage to come away with the win.
Final score: Nebraska 24, Wisconsin 19
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