Big Ten Championship Preview
Penn State Nittany Lions vs Wisconsin Badgers
In a game that could be decided by who is not on the field rather than who is, a Big Ten championship title and possible berth in the College Football Playoff is on the line when No. 6 Wisconsin meets seventh-ranked Penn State on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (Enter Contest). Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook is questionable after suffering a concussion in the first half of last week’s win over Minnesota, while Nittany Lions star runner Saquon Barkley (1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns) sprained his ankle in the second half of last week’s 45-12 rout of Michigan State that secured the Big Ten East.
In order to gain a berth in the College Football Playoff, the winner will likely need a loss or two from No. 4 Washington and No. 3 Clemson in their respective conference title games, although an idle Michigan sits at No. 5 with wins over both Wisconsin and Penn State. After a 49-10 blowout loss at Michigan dropped the Nittany Lions to 2-2, fans weren’t pleased with third-year coach James Franklin. The following week against Minnesota, the game kick-started an eight-game winning streak that featured an offense that averaged 40 points. This stretch included Franklin’s signature 24-21 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes.
ABOUT PENN STATE (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten)
McSorley, who threw for career highs of 376 yards and four TDs last week, has completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 2,976 yards with 21 TDs against five interceptions , with just two of those picks during the winning streak. Junior Curtis Godwin is McSorley’s favorite target with 47 receptions for 762 yards and nine TDs, but Mike Gesicki set a Penn state record for tight ends with 44 catches, and DeAndre Tompkins, DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall round out the conference’s best set of receivers. Since linebackers Brandon Bell (18 tackles against the Spartans) and Jason Cabinda returned from early-season injuries, the defense has moved up to 20th in total defense (346.8) and hasn’t yielded a touchdown in the last two games.
Penn State has won four of the last five with the last contest against the Badgers, being a 31-24 Lions victory in 2013. The Nittany Lions rank second in FBS in second-half scoring (22.83) and first in fourth-quarter scoring (13).
ABOUT WISCONSIN (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten)
Hornibrook lost a quarterback competition to Bart Houston in summer camp for the unranked Badgers, became the starter in a Week 4 win over Michigan State and held the job until Houston replaced him last week and rallied the Badgers to a 31-17 victory over Minnesota. Regardless of the quarterback, Wisconsin will try and batter the front seven of the Lions with Corey Clement (1,140 yards, 13 TDs), while the Lions will try and attack deep with quarterback Trace McSorley (Big Ten-best 150.9 passer rating and FBS-best 16.2 yards per completion) against one of the best overall defenses in the FBS.
After rambling for a season-high 164 yards in a 30-23 home loss to Ohio State, Clement ran for 100 yards five times during the Badgers’ season-ending six-game winning streak (657 yards, eight TDs). Hornibrook has completed 58.1 percent of his 179 passes for 1,243 yards with eight TDs and seven interceptions, while Houston is 69-of-108 for 912 yards with five TDs and three interceptions. The defense, spearheaded by outside linebacker T.J. Watt (9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss) and safety Sojourn Shelton (16 passes defensed, four interceptions) led the FBS in interceptions (21), ranked third in scoring defense (13.7), rushing yards allowed (100.8), third-down conversion rate (26.6 percent) and seventh in total defense (292 yards per game). Penn State will be a school-record sixth top-10 team that Wisconsin has played this season at the time of the meeting, going 3-2.