Playoff Hopes in the Balance as Penn State and Wisconsin clash in BIG TEN Title Game

Written by Erik Slaby

This Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, the nationally 6th ranked University of Wisconsin Badgers (10-2), led by second-year head coach Paul Chryst, face off against the 8th ranked Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions (10-2), led by third-year James Franklin, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in the Big Ten Championship game.

Wisconsin has been a very good team all season. They’ve been led by their dominant defense and ball-control offense. Wisconsin is ranked 3rd in the country in total defense this season. Their offense is also ranked 1st in the country in time of possession. They average 35 minutes a game, controlling the football.

Offensively, Wisconsin is led by running back Corey Clement, who has rushed for over 1100 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. As a team, Wisconsin has rushed for 2,418 yards, outrushing their opponents by roughly 1200 yards, behind a powerful offensive line. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook leads the passing attack with eight touchdowns and 1,243 yards passing. Quarterback Bart Houston has also seen some playing time throughout the year and he has 912 yards passing and five touchdowns.

Defensively, Wisconsin has played very well this season, even in losses to Michigan and Ohio State. They have the 3rd ranked scoring defense and the 3rd ranked third down defense this season as well. Linebacker T.J. Edwards leads the team in tackles with 75 tackles, fellow linebacker T.J. Watt leads the team in sacks with 9.5 and defensive back Leo Musso leads the team in interceptions with five. In addition, the team as a whole, has 21 interceptions. These are all key players and factors that Penn State will have to watch out for.

Penn State has also been a very good team this year. After a 2-2 start and after a 49-10 blowout loss to Michigan, it looked like they may be in for a rough season. Penn State was able to right the ship and roll off eight straight wins. With the biggest win coming against 2nd ranked Ohio State. They became a very hot team after that point and scored at least 39 points in every game thereafter.

Throughout that winning streak, they were led offensively by their rushing attack. Running back Saquon Barkley has carried the football 228 times, for 1,219 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s also averaging a little over five yards per carry. Quarterback Trace McSorley has also been able to play a part in the running game as he has 372 yards rushing and six touchdowns this season.

Because of their success of their running game, Penn State’s passing attack has also been able to perform well. McSorley led the way passing for 2,976 yards, 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions. It can be very difficult to stop Penn State offensively, so if they are able to get off to a fast start and run the ball very well, it could open up their offense and make them more dangerous.

Penn State is ranked 20th in total defense this season. While their defense may not be as impressive as Wisconsin’s, they are more than capable of keeping a game close and coming up with a big stop, or turnover. Defensive back Marcus Allen leads the team in tackles with 90 on the season. Defensive linemen Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels are tied for the team lead in sacks with six apiece. The Penn State defense will have their hands full with Wisconsin’s rushing attack but they must still be aware that Wisconsin has the ability for a big play, or two in the passing game.

This game has major implications for both teams and the College Football Playoff. Right now, both Penn State and Wisconsin are on the outside looking in, with fellow Big Ten team Ohio State ranked 2nd and Michigan ranked 5th. Interestingly, both of those teams failed to get to the Big Ten title game, as Penn State defeated Ohio State earlier this year and Ohio State defeated Michigan last week. It’s very possible that the winner of this title game goes to the College Football Playoff but at the same time, it’s possible that the winner does not make it and Ohio State, or even Michigan does. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit spoke briefly about this situation this past week.

“I can’t wait to see how the committee handles the Big Ten champion, Penn State or Wisconsin, verse a Michigan, who’s already ahead of them. I’m just going to tell you this. If Washington losses and everybody else (wins) … my opinion, Michigan goes to four.” If the situation Herbstreit laid out occurs, the winner of the Big Ten title game will be very disappointed and possibly upset with the rankings. But perhaps, the committee may select the Big Ten champion.”

This will be a difficult game for both teams. Penn State has an underrated defense, while Wisconsin has a pretty dominant defense. Wisconsin loves to run the ball and let their offensive line take control, while Penn State wants to run the ball well and setup the passing game in the process. Wisconsin’s ability to control the clock will be key this game as both teams run the ball well. If clock becomes an issue for either team, it will be interesting to see if the passing offenses can respond. In the end, this will be a good game and it will be interesting to see what the implications of either team winning will be.

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