Playoff implications are on the line when Penn State takes on Wisconsin in the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, December 3rd. The Nittany Lions have won two straight and four of their last five meetings with the Badgers, including a 31-24 road win in their most recent matchup in 2013.
Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) won the Big Ten West division outright. It didn’t look like that was going to be the case last week, but the Badgers rallied from a 7-17 halftime deficit at home with 24 unanswered points after intermission and a 31-17 victory over Minnesota as 14-point favorites.
Penn State (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten East thanks to eight consecutive victories to close out the season, and the head-to-head tiebreaker with Ohio State. Trailing 10-12 at halftime last week, the Nittany Lions reeled off 35 straight points after intermission to win 45-12 over Michigan State as 11-point favorites.
Kickoff inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is set for 8:00 EST Saturday night with ABC providing the television coverage. Checking the Week 14 lines, I find Wisconsin as a 2-point favorite over Penn State with a total set of 46.5 points.
You pretty much have to wipe out what Penn State did in the first part of the season because they weren’t healthy. But since that ugly loss in Michigan, the Nittany Lions have gotten healthier every week, and the result has been an 8-0 SU & 7-0-1 ATS run to close out the season.
Not only have the Nittany Lions been winning, they’ve been dominating. They have won five straight games by at least 14 points, which dates back to their 24-21 upset of Ohio State. Many thought that win was a fluke, but with five straight wins by 14 points since, I believe the Nittany Lions have more than proved their naysayers wrong.
The biggest difference for Penn State has been the health of its defense. They now have one of the best defensive lines in the country, and after being without their top five linebackers against Michigan, they are almost all back. They have given up an average of just 17.8 points per game in their last eight games.
At the same time, the Penn State offense just keeps improving. They have scored at least 39 points in five straight games coming in, which is impressive when you consider they’ve been up against some solid defenses in the likes of Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State. They are averaging 46.4 points per game over their last five.
Wisconsin checks in on a six-game winning streak of its own. Give the Badgers credit for their great season thus far, but I’m still not completely sold on this team. Four of their wins have come by a touchdown or less. And they were extremely lucky to beat Minnesota last week after falling behind 7-17 at halftime. The Gophers gave that game away by throwing four interceptions in the second half alone.
The Nittany Lions have only allowed 66.8 rushing yards per game and 2.0 yards per carry in their last five games overall.
I think the fact that this game will be played indoors in Lucas Oil Stadium clearly favors Penn State. The elements won’t be an issue, which usually benefits Wisconsin playing outdoors. The better passing team has a huge advantage indoors, and it’s clear that Penn State is the better passing team.
The Nittany Lions are averaging 251 passing yards per game and 9.1 per attempt against teams that only give up 204 yards per game and 6.8 per attempt. Wisconsin only averages 180 passing yards per game and 7.5 per attempt against teams that give up 202 yards per game and 6.6 per attempt.
Wisconsin prefers to run the ball, but Penn State has been tremendous against the run since getting healthy. The Nittany Lions have only allowed 66.8 rushing yards per game and 2.0 yards per carry in their last five games overall. They will be ready for the test of going up against this Wisconsin rushing attack.
It’s worth noting that Wisconsin could be without quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who may not play due to a concussion suffered against Minnesota last week. He and Bart Houston have split time this season as they’ve played with two quarterbacks down the stretch. It certainly has worked for them, so if he can’t go that would throw a little wrinkle into Wisconsin’s plans at the position.