The Big Ten Conference Championship Game Preview

It's finally here. The inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship Game will be contested between the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan State Spartans. When the divisions were released, people were worried about a different red team, and the other Michigan team having a rematch in the CCG every year. Those fears can be put aside for now, although this game is a rematch of the October 22nd classic that saw Michigan State winning on a last second Hail Mary.

Who's Playing?
#15 Wisconsin Badgers 10-2 (6-2) @ #13 Michigan State Spartans 10-2 (7-1)

What's at Stake?
The Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy, the title of Big Ten Champion, and a spot in the Rose Bowl against the Pac-12 Champion Oregon.

Where is it?
Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN

When is it?
Saturday, December 3rd at 8:17 PM on FOX

How they Got Here:
Wisconsin:
Sept. 1 - W vs. UNLV 51-17
Sept. 10 - W vs. Oregon St. 35-0
Sept. 17 - W vs. NIU 49-7
Sept. 24 - W vs. S. Dakota 59-10
Oct. 1 - W vs. Nebraska 48-17
Oct. 15 - W vs. Indiana 59-7
Oct. 22 - L @ MSU 37-31
Oct. 29 - L @ OSU 33-29
Nov. 5 - W vs. Purdue 62-17
Nov. 12 - W @ Minnesota 42-13
Nov. 19 - W @ Illinois 28-17
Nov. 26 - ???

As you can see, Wisconsin won big and won often this year. Their average margin of victory was 36.4 points. The Badgers have a deadly offense with HB Montee Ball (1,622 yards rushing, 35 TDs) and QB Russell Wilson (72.7 completion %, 2692 yards passing, 28 TDs 3 INT). WR Justin Abbrederis (749 yards receiving 6 TDs) had a breakout year to complement WR Nick Toon (788 yards receiving, 9 TDs) which made it difficult for defenses to key on any one guy. Wisconsin finished 10th in the nation in rushing with 246 YPG, and were 4th in the nation in scoring offense and defense. Both of Wisconsin's losses came on the last play of the game, so they were conceivably seconds away from needing a win to go to the MNC.

Michigan State:
Sept. 2 - W vs. YSU 28-6
Sept. 10 - W vs. FAU 44-0
Sept. 17 - L @ ND 31-13
Sept. 24 - W vs. CMU 45-7
Oct. 1 - W @ OSU 10-7
Oct. 15 - W vs. Michigan 28-14
Oct. 22 - W vs. Wisconsin 37-31
Oct. 29 - L @ Nebraska 24-3
Nov. 5 - W vs. Minnesota 31-24
Nov. 12 - W @ Iowa 37-21
Nov. 19 - W vs. Indiana 55-3
Nov. 26 - W @ NW 31-17

While Wisconsin won with offense, Michigan State won with defense. MSU finished 3rd in the nation in total defense (vs. Wisconsin's 7th) and 64th in the nation in total offense (vs. Wisconsin's 12th). Even so, MSU's offense put up 30+ points a game while throwing for 244 yards a game (46th in the nation). MSU used their HBs effectively, as both Edwin Baker (155 carries) and Le'Veon Bell (147 carries) each averaged over 4.0 ypc. The real stars of the Spartan offense were QB Kirk Cousins and WR Billy Cunningham. Cousins threw for 2735 yards and 21 TDs (6 INTs) and Cunningham was the recipient of nearly half those yards and TDs (1125 yards receiving, 9 TDs). WR Keshawn Martin was a solid second option at WR (627 yards receiving, 4 TDs) as well as a weapon in the punt return game (averaging 11.77 PR yards a game).

So Who's Going to Win?
Well Michigan State did slow down Wisconsin's offense the first time these two met, en route to a last second win. MSU had the benefit of playing in front of their home crowd that game which they won't have this weekend. Since their back to back losses, Wisconsin has looked nearly unstoppable (even though it's been against three average teams, and a bad one). I think it'll be another close game, but this time Wisconsin pulls it out in the end.

Prediction: Wisconsin - 34 MSU - 28

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