Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2 SU, 8-3-1 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (10-2 SU, 9-2-1 ATS)
College Football Week 14
Big Ten Championship Game
Date/Time: Saturday, December 3, 2016 at 8PM EST
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: PSU +1.5/WIS -1.5
Over/Under Total: 46.5
The Penn State Nittany Lions meet the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Conference Championship game on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It's a pretty unlikely matchup, with the resurgent Nittany Lions putting up an 8-1 conference record and 10-2 overall. With their win over Ohio State, they won the tiebreaker with the Buckeyes after Ohio State beat Michigan to put PSU in this spot. Also at 10-2, it has been a great season for the resourceful Badgers, who ended the season with 6 straight wins in conference, including a 31-17 win over Minnesota last week. Penn State, meanwhile, scored an impressive 45-12 win over Michigan State on Saturday to get to this spot. It should be a good one between two teams that had to buck the odds and overcome a lot to get to this title game.
Penn State really turned around their fortunes this season, following a down-period they'd just as soon forget. This year was a good start to put all that unpleasantness behind them. Led by head coach James Franklin, the Nittany Lions have slowly gotten things on the right track and it really paid off this season. Other than a road loss to the Wolverines, they were perfect in conference, with a win over CFP-bound Ohio State being the key triumph that got them to this point. They enter this game with eight straight wins, with their last two wins by the combined score of 84-12. They look to be peaking and represent a serious threat to win this conference, which would be a crowning achievement. Despite being conference teams, these squads have not faced each other since 2013.
The Nittany Lions are pretty good offensively, though it might not show in their rankings. They are still among the very few top teams in big plays, third in the nation in big pass-plays. They average a robust 36.6 points a game and are consistent and well-balanced. The offense is led by QB Trace McSorley, who has been adept in getting the most of his producers. He has a good 21-to-5 TD/INT ratio and has also run in 6 scores, as he can be quite useful with his feet both in running and in avoiding the pass-rush. His main weapon on the ground is Saquon Barkley, who has gained 1219 yards and 15 scores on the ground and two more in the air. McSorley's top weapon aerially has been Chris Godwin, who has 9 TD receptions. Also at McSorley's disposal are Mike Gesicki, DeAndre Thompkins, and DaeSean Hamilton. And Barkley has been a useful target, as well. In the last 5 games, this offense is averaging 46 points a game and they've become more potent over the course of the season.
Defense is a key part of the Penn State recipe for success. They are the 20th ranked defense in the country, no small feat considering some of the offenses they've faced this season. It's a defense that can make plays. They've registered 37 sacks on the season, while recovering 11 fumbles. Evan Schwan gets after the QB and it's a real committee of players who band together to make a really tough unit. Since their tough loss to Michigan, offenses have scored points, but no group has really gotten the measure of the Penn St. "D."
Wisconsin really had a banner season to get here. They've ridden a super-stout defense, while discovering the run game. Beyond that has been a certain level of grit and resolve. They started the season with upset wins over LSU and Michigan State, but after losing to Ohio State and Michigan, it would have been easy for them to mentally sag after falling flat against the Big Ten elite. Instead, they peeled off 6 straight wins, only failing to cover the spread once en route to appearing in this spot. It took a lot of hard work to get here and with their momentum, it's not going to be easy to derail the Badgers.
Wisconsin really thrives on defense. Ohio State put up 30 against them, while no other team has surpassed 20. They are the 7th ranked defense in the country, third against a rush, and third in points allowed with just 13.7 a game. They lead the nation in interceptions, led by playmakers in the secondary like Leo Musso, Sojourn Shelton, and D'Cota Dixon. Pass-rusher TJ Watt is carrying on in the family tradition with ten sacks and a TD to his credit. Penn State and Wisconsin both have to deal with hearty defenses that have been ridden all the way to this championship contest.
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Wisconsin has a certain understated presence on offense. They apply a tag-team approach at quarterback with Alex Hornibrook (questionable) and Bart Houston. Neither has been particularly great with a combined 13-10 TD-INT rate. And neither is particularly adept with their feet. They have gotten a big boost from the run-game, led by Corey Clement and his workhorse 1140 yards along with 13 touchdowns. Dare Ogunbowale has been effective both on the ground and through the air. Running back Bradrick Shaw has five TDs on the ground. Jazz Peavy, Robert Wheelwright, and big tight end Troy Fumagalli have been the go-to guys aerially. They've seen a spike in scoring the last several weeks, albeit against Big Ten also-rans. Still, with 128 points in the last three games, they've looked better and are perhaps peaking in time for this matchup.
It's not easy to break this one down, as both teams have a lot of positive virtues. On offense, Penn State has perhaps shown more overall firepower throughout the season, but not to enough of a point to make that the determining standard when evaluating the game. Wisconsin's defense has been stouter and to more of an extent than the gap between the offenses. They match up well, with each team having assets that should show this week. I like Penn State.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Penn State Nittany Lions minus 1.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Nittany Lions vs. Badgers game from the comfort of your own home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!