Iowa (12-0, 8-0) vs. Michigan State (11-1, 7-1)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
The Betting Line: MSU -3.5, O/U at 51
TV: FOX - Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (color), Molly McGrath (sideline) (with special guest analyst James Franklin)
IOWA RECORD: 127-85, 17th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 139-106, 20th Year
VS. MICHIGAN STATE: 7-6
MICHIGAN STATE RECORD: 86-32, 9th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 104-49, 12th Year
VS. IOWA: 3-4
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...
Nick: I’m gonna start by saying I've seen almost nothing of Iowa’s games.
Cari: Well, we will get into that.
But first of all, I think preseason very few people would have predicted this match up. What are your thoughts on Iowa vs MSU as the marquee matchup of the Big Ten? Personally, I'm excited because if it can't be Penn State, these are my two favorite Big Ten teams.
Nick: Well, Iowa isn’t entirely surprising as they were highlighted for their "weak" schedule entering the season.
That being said, their schedule was also considered "weak" last year and they limped to a 7-6 finish. I would have considered them in the mix in the West entering the season, but Wisconsin/Minnesota would've been my preseason pick on that side of the conference.
Cari: Iowa is somewhat surprising in how they got here, because both Wisconsin and Nebraska were, imho, favored to finish above them in the division--and even Minnesota was supposed to contend more. Especially since many had Ferentz on the hotseat last year, and the quarterback position was completely up in the air with Rudock transferring to Michigan and Beathard being completely unproven and untested and a total unknown outside of Iowa City.
Nick: Michigan State was also seen as the only contender to Ohio State in the conference coming into this year.
Cari: I agree that MSU is not surprising; the Land Grant game was the one aside from OSU I had chalked up as a loss for Penn State before September even started, and though they faltered against the Huskers (thanks refs!) they've proven it against the toughest teams on their schedule--including against Oregon in probably the most marquee out of conference matchup on the Big Ten schedule this year.
Nick: Marquee win anyway, Wisconsin faced Alabama.
Cari: Yeah, true story. The Tide are counting that as their marquee win, since the Badgers were ranked when it happened--even if they've since stumbled along the way.
Nick: To be fair, they lost Clement in that game and have struggled with the run game ever since.
Cari: SEMANTICS, NICK. IF THEY WERE ALABAMA, THEIR BACKUP WOULD HAVE PLAYED EVEN BETTER.
Can we talk about punting now? Because Kirk Ferentz is involved in this game, and he is on my team for #puntingiswinning
Nick: We can, it's the B1G. Are we putting up a punt predictor for the game?
Cari: We totally are now. What's your o/u?
Nick: Let’s say 10? the Michigan State/Ohio State game had 13 in bad conditions, and this is a dome. Iowa may hit 10 all by themselves. I don’t see Michigan state punting that often.
Cari: Oh that's a weak prediction. I'm going 16. And I wouldn't be surprised if they hit the over on that.
Nick: I think 15-16 is probably a good o/u line for the game.
Cari: Michigan State will be looking to avoid punting if they can--they're near the bottom of FBS in yards per punt, and they'll be facing the Big Ten Defensive Back of the year in junior Desmond King, who's Iowa's return man on punts and averages 25.6 per punt return on the year.
He's shockingly not the best return man MSU will have faced in conference (Will Likely will likely be better, as was Janarion Grant), but he's still pretty darn effective.
Nick: As long as Connor Cook avoids injury, i generally like MSU’s offense to move pretty effectively down the field on Iowa.
Cari: The Spartan offense is probably one of the best that Iowa will have faced all year, and though Iowa's defense is very good, I don't disagree.
Iowa's defense is fairly similar to Penn State's, and we saw how that turned out last week.
Nick: Not having Nassib is a game changer for this defense. I’d like the odds of getting hits on Cook if not for his injury.
Cari: I don't disagree. But Iowa is a top-ten run defense anyway, and has King in their defensive backfield--and he leads the conference in interceptions. If Iowa can get even a modicum of pressure on Cook, they're in a great position to make him make mistakes--which of course, he's not prone to do. It's a battle of wills, and Phil Parker and Jim Bollman are both very good at their jobs.
Nick: Michigan State’s run game isn’t great, but it hasn’t needed to be.
Cari: Because they have Cook--and he's the Big Ten quarterback of the year, deservedly so. How he does this game will be how the team does, imo--because he's the team leader.
On the other side of the ball, what is interesting to me will be that quarterback--Iowa's CJ Beathard has filled in REALLY well, better than most expected him to as a redshirt junior starting his first season. And he's up against an MSU pass defense that isn't the Spartan pass D of old. Having watched more of Sparty this year, what do you think of that match up?
Nick: He just wins.
Cari: Cook? Or Beathard? or...both?
Nick: Beathard. He's looking to win his first 14 games.
Cari: 15 or gtfo
Nick: He's at 13 right now, but michigan state’s defense has taken the nebraska loss as a wake-up call--all games since, 16 points or less.
Cari: The MSU defense is a top 20 rush defense, and Iowa's known for those corn-fed linemen that open up holes for running backs (AIRBHG be damned). This year, that RB is Jordan Canzeri--but the Hawkeyes haven't yet met my boy Shilique Calhoun. I guess you'll take the Spartans in that matchup?
Nick: Canzeri will get his but iowa will need to do better than Penn State converting those drives to points. I’ve waited all year for Ferentz to the thing that had him on the hot seat coming into the year. This could be the return of ultra conservative Ferentz--like he suddenly forgot the rest of the year.
Cari: Iowa is really good at limiting turnovers--but then again, so were we headed into East Lansing last week. Both defenses this week are good at capitalizing on the other team's mistakes, and taking advantage of their opponents' misfortunes. Whichever team is able to limit their errors wins, in my opinion, so that actually lends itself really well to that theory.
Who are your players to watch on this game? Obviously Cook. But who else?
Nick: I really like Cook and Canzeri obviously. I’ll be most interested in how Beathard handles the pressure. Will he be wild early on? If iowa is chasing, I don’t think that’s the game they’d want to play.
Cari: I agree on Beathard--I think Canzeri will be solid, but the Hawkeye offense will go as CJ goes. If he can go toe-to-toe with Cook--or even come close to it--Iowa will surprise a lot of people.
But I'm most interested in the defensive players. I name-dropped King and Calhoun up above for a reason--those guys are legit, and though they're not linebackers, they're my favorite players on these teams and the ones I'm most looking forward to watch play Saturday.
Nick: Did you know the underdog has won the last 3 b1g title games?
Cari: That's crazy! So, who you got?
Nick: I have Michigan State winning, 31-18. That's not a confident score prediction in the least. Michigan State just looked so good the last 2 weeks against Ohio State and Penn State.
Cari: So, MSU covering by a lot, and the under. I have the Spartans covering, but not by as much. And also give me the under.
MSU 27, Iowa 17. I think Iowa's defense is a little better than you think they are. And they're not going to turn the ball over as much as we did, so MSU can't capitalize with easy points.
That's our predictions for this week's Championship game...what are yours? Sound off in the comments!