We’ve given you the stats to watch for Penn State and Wisconsin. We’ve given you the players to watch for both the Nittany Lions and Badgers. What possibly could be left?
Of course, it is time to put all the chips in to the middle for our staff. Who do we see winning this game and why?
So, let’s get right in to our staff predictions:
Dave Fitzgerald, Big Ten General Contributor
Wisconsin 20, Penn State 16
When reviewing this match-up, what stands out is the high number of similarities in style and talent these teams will bring to Indianapolis. Both teams have capable, efficient quarterbacks and top-level running backs, and both teams can counter with strong defenses led by elite linebackers. Thus, the difference in a game like this will likely be intangibles.
I see three such intangibles that make the difference. First, Wisconsin is making a 4th trip to this championship in 6 years, while PSU is at their first. That factor historically has made a big difference in the outcome of the Big Ten Championship, and the trend likely continues here. Second, Paul Chryst has proven he is an elite game-planner and adjustments coach, while James Franklin and his staff are just now beginning to show signs of progress in this regard. This is a huge edge in a game like this for the Badgers.
Third and finally, all of Penn State’s wins of note have come at the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium, while the team has not looked great away from home. The secondary market for tickets is super-soft (tickets available for well under face value), meaning PSU fans are not stacking the rafters for a home field advantage like Iowa fans did in 2015. Without that advantage, PSU will just not have enough for this victory. All intangibles point to Wisconsin, so that’s where my pick goes for a close, defensive Big Ten slugfest.
Phil Harrison, Big Ten Contributor
Wisconsin 21, Penn State 17
I’m going with Wisconsin. Take away the Ohio State win, and Penn State doesn’t have a very impressive win. I agree that the Nittany Lions have gotten better, but since the OSU game, they’ve yet to play a ranked team. So yeah, it’s been eight straight wins, but it was against none of the top contenders aside from the fluky win over the Buckeyes. The last time Trace McSorley and company played a dominant defense, it got run off the field. Wisconsin’s defense is much like Michigan’s, and I like the Badgers to control things on that side of the ball and do enough on offense to pull out a close one.
Philip Rossman-Reich, Northwestern Contributor
Wisconsin 23, Penn State 13
Wisconsin has spent much of the entire season dominating on the defensive end, while eking out just enough offense to defeat opponents. That is just the Badger way it seems.
This game should go about the same. The offense will struggle to break through the Penn State defense, yet it will never feel like Wisconsin does not have complete control.
By the time the third quarter rolls around, the Badgers make a big play and get some breathing room for a two-score victory.
Andy Coppens, Publisher
Wisconsin 28, Penn State 13
One thing we know about this game — these two teams are going to go strength on strength when you look at the stat sheet. That brings me to intangibles and it brings me to coaching. That’s advantage Wisconsin in my book.
For one, the Badgers have been to this game three times already and no one from PSU has experience in Indianapolis. It is interesting that Penn State isn’t doing a walk-through at all, as personal experience in Indy says this is a different looking stadium and atmosphere than anyone on the Nittany Lions have seen. As for Wisconsin, it is an advantage (albeit small) to know what to expect from all the hoopla around this game and all the extra responsibilities this game comes with.
I’ll also take Paul Chryst to outmaneuver James Franklin over the course of four quarters. Chryst has been one of the best coaches in the Big Ten at make in-game adjustments and feeling the game’s ebbs and flows. Look for Chryst’s offense to find the right time to get a wrinkle or two in to the game that Penn State didn’t see coming.
You can find more detailed reasoning and thoughts about the championship game and College Football Playoff implications on the talking10 podcast.