The Big Ten Football season enters its final weekend of regular season play. While we know Michigan State will be representing the Legends Division, their opponent in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis has yet to be determined.
That opponent will be decided this Saturday in Madison as No. 19 Penn State and No. 16 Wisconsin tussle for a Big Ten Conference Championship berth.
This is a battle of two very different teams. On one side of the field there is Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2 in the Big Ten). The Badgers shouldn't be too hungry this Thanksgiving the way they have been feasting on opposing defenses this season.
Their 44.8 points per game ranks fifth in the nation. Led by the Big Ten's leading rusher Monte Ball, Wisconsin is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Ball has rushed for 1466 yards (2nd in the FBS) and 25 touchdowns (T-1st in the FBS) this year.
Quarterback Russell Wilson can beat you with his arms and with his legs. He has thrown for over 2500 yards and 26 touchdowns, while adding another five TD's on the ground. There is no doubt this offense is a juggernaut, but the real story might be the defense.
Lost in the mix of one of the greatest offenses in Badger history, the defense is one of the most underrated in the country. They currently rank seventh in scoring defense, giving up less than 16 points a game. If not for two late game Hail Mary passes, this Wisconsin team would be undefeated and possibly looking at a National Title game appearance.
Then there are the Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2, 6-1 in the Big Ten).
Amid all the chaos and off-field turmoil, Penn State is one win away from a date with Michigan State at Lucas Oil Stadium to determine the Big Ten Championship.
On paper this match-up does not favor the Nittany Lions.
While Penn State's third ranked scoring defense has done everything they can to win games for the Lions, the offense seems to be actively trying to lose games. Ranked 106th in scoring, the stagnant Penn State offense has struggled week in and week out to move the football down the field and put points on the board.
The quarterback play has been spotty at best this season. Matt McGloin has finally emerged as the starter, but he has done little to solidify his case, completing a meager 54 percent of his passes while only throwing for 7 touchdowns in 11 games this season. Without the rushing attack of Silas Redd, Curtis Drake, and Stephfon Green, the Lion's would be in real trouble offensively.
With all the offensive woes, there is something to be thankful for this holiday season. In their 20-14 defeat of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions instituted a Wildcat formation into their offense. Sophomore wide receiver Curtis Drake was extremely effective manning this new offense as Penn State abused the Ohio State defense for 239 yards rushing.
While this was effective against the Buckeyes, the truth of the matter is that Wisconsin has a much better defense than Ohio State. With a week to watch film, Wisconsin should be much better prepared for the Wildcat than the Buckeyes.
Penn State fans can't expect this offense to be as effective against the Badgers, but if it can keep Wisconsin off balance enough it may open up some room for Matt McGloin to throw the football down the field.
While Wisconsin looks to be the favorite in this game, Penn State still has a chance. The defense will keep the Nittany Lions in the game, as they do every week. The real issue for Penn State will be if they can move the ball down the field effectively and keep Wisconsin's offense on the sidelines.
Establishing the running game early will be crucial for the Nittany Lions. Setting up manageable third downs will be the key. Matt McGloin is not the best at handling third and long, but he is very capable of converting short passes where he has to make quick decisions. When he gets the ball out of his hands quickly is when he has the most success.
Penn State has been in every game they have played (other than Alabama) and there seems to be no reason why this game should be any different.
If Wisconsin wants to win this game, they will be wise to jump on Penn State early. If they are able to go up by a couple of touchdowns they have the running game to be able to work the clock. And with Penn State's offensive struggles an offensive explosion and multiple-score comeback is not likely.
If Penn State can keep it close, however, anything can happen at the end of the game. Just ask Wisconsin.