Wisconsin, Not Michigan State, Has the Big Ten's Best Defense

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Wisconsin, Not Michigan State, Has the Big Ten's Best Defense
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Michigan State has held down the spot as the Big Ten's best defense for most of the season in the eyes of many pundits, but is it time for a new king of the defensive mountain to be crowned? 

Move over Michigan State, because the Wisconsin Badgers have a case to make as the Big Ten's best defense.

It's a razor-thin debate between the two for sure, but after not allowing a touchdown on defense for the fourth time in the past five Big Ten contests, the Badgers deserve some consideration as the Big Ten's best defensive unit. 

The two teams have allowed the exact same average per play in conference contests (4.3), teams have scored the exact same amount of touchdowns in total against the two (10) and each have allowed just three rushing touchdowns to opponents in Big Ten play. 

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Clearly the contest between the two is incredibly close. However, Wisconsin should be the answer as to who is playing the better defense down the stretch, especially when you consider the opponents played and the results. 

Wisconsin has had the rougher of the two schedules with Minnesota at its peak and ranked for the first time since 2008, along with nonconference opponent BYU in the mix over the last four games. 

Michigan State had a ranked, but downward-spiraling Michigan and that's about it over the last four games. 

In that time frame, the Badgers have allowed fewer points (9 to 10.8) and way fewer yards passing (147.8 to 192 yards) a game. The biggest advantage to Michigan State was in the run game, where they allowed less than 60 yards a game and were buoyed by a minus-48-yard performance against Michigan. 

Overall this season, one stat stands out above any other—touchdowns. Wisconsin has held opponents to under 10 points in seven of its 11 contests this season, a number that is only topped by Alabama. 

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Wisconsin has done all of that while playing the tougher of the two schedules overall as well. According to the Sagarin ratings, the Badgers have the 45th-best schedule while Michigan State's ranks 63rd nationally.

Arizona State has proved to be a better opponent (ranked No. 12 in latest BCS standings) than Notre Dame, and the competition after that isn't even close—BYU wins out over either Western Michigan or South Florida as a tougher opponent any day of the week.

The Badgers also have seen Ohio State and taken on road trips to their main rivals, Iowa and Minnesota, in Big Ten play.

Outside of that, these two teams have played virtually the same schedule, with five common opponents between the two of them.

In those games, MSU holds a slight advantage—allowing 1.8 fewer points a game (10.2 to 12), less than nine fewer total yards (257.6 to 265) and a 57.2 to 74.6 advantage in the run game. 

Once again, the Badgers come out on the better end of things in the passing department, allowing 10 fewer yards a game to the five common opponents (190.4 to 200.4). 

Wisconsin also gave up fewer touchdowns (five to six touchdowns) in those five contests. 

However, it's not just about the raw numbers or averages or anything else, it's about the attitude and the plays being made. 

Chris Borland's tackle for loss, strip and fumble recovery was one of the best defensive plays in the Big Ten this season (starts at the 1:28 mark of the video). 

Both of these defenses have created explosive plays as well, with Michigan State holding an advantage in interceptions (10 to five) during conference play. On the other hand, both have forced six fumbles, while Wisconsin has 20 sacks to MSU's 16 in Big Ten play. 

As the numbers show us, this debate is super close, and it may be more about personal preferences than anything else at this point.

With Ohio State looming for the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship Game, its performance there will go a long way in settling just who is the better defense. 

Until then, the Badgers are making a very strong case that they are the Big Ten's best defense. 

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

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