Big Ten Championship Game 2016: Penn State vs. Wisconsin Preview, Predictions

Big Ten Championship Game 2016: Penn State vs. Wisconsin Preview, Predictions

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It wasn’t the matchup anyone was expecting, but Penn State and Wisconsin kept winning all season to set up a showdown in the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game. 

Wisconsin overcame consecutive losses against Michigan and Ohio State to earn its fourth appearance in the conference title game. Penn State has won eight straight games after a 49-10 loss against Michigan to earn its first-ever berth in Big Ten title game. 

2016 Big Ten Championship Game Schedule
Date Matchup Start Time (ET) Network
Saturday, Dec. 3 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Wisconsin Badgers 8 p.m. ABC



Game Preview

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Lost in the hoopla of Michigan and Ohio State being ranked among the Top Four teams in the College Football Playoff since the initial standings is the transformation of Penn State, particularly on offense. 

The Nittany Lions have averaged 40.4 points per game during this winning streak. Their opposition haven’t exactly been a murderers’ row against teams like Purdue and Rutgers, but at least they are taking care of business against inferior competition. 

Penn State did show some cracks in the foundation early against Michigan State on Saturday, though, as Mark Wogenrich of the Allentown Morning Call noted the Nittany Lions never broke:

After trailing 12-10 at halftime against the Spartans, Penn State went on a 35-0 run in the second half. Quarterback Trace McSorley at one point was pulling off one of the more remarkable feats of the season:

Wisconsin presents a different challenge than Penn State has faced during its winning streak. The Badgers’ success stems largely from a defense that ranks fifth in the nation in points allowed and eighth in yards allowed, per

The last top-10 defense Penn State went up against was Michigan, which limited the Nittany Lions to 191 total yards and 12 first downs. 

It was either the best learning experience possible for head coach James Franklin’s team or an indication they will get exposed against anyone of substance.

There’s still a scenario for the Big Ten to get two teams in the College Football Playoff thanks to the results of three games on Saturday, per Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports:

Here’s the thing … if Wisconsin beats Penn State next week, it will be the Big Ten champion, but the committee might not feel nearly as bad leaving it out and putting Ohio State in its place.

You see, it’s harder to leave a Big Ten champion Penn State out in favor of Ohio State because Penn State beat Ohio State head-to-head. Wisconsin didn’t. It lost to the Buckeyes in overtime, which would provide the committee with an easy explanation as to why it chose Ohio State over the Badgers.

For Penn State, taking care of business against Wisconsin gives it a legitimate case to vault ahead of Ohio State in the rankings. It’s far from a certainty the selection committee would put the Nittany Lions in, but this is the best matchup for them to prove they belong. 

Wisconsin did look sluggish on offense against Minnesota before forcing Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner into throwing four interceptions in the second half that helped the Badgers put up 24 points in the last 30 minutes. 

One troubling sign for Wisconsin is starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook was forced to leave Saturday’s game in the second quarter after taking a hard hit to the chest. Bart Houston looked solid in relief duty, going 9-of-14 for 123 yards. 

The Badgers are fortunate they don’t rely on quarterbacks to win games. They wear down opponents with a power-running game led by Corey Clement. 

It’s easy to underestimate the Badgers because they tick off virtually none of the boxes anyone looks for in terms of appeal. They don’t score many points, lack big-time playmakers on offense and want to win games 17-13 or 20-17. 

Despite that lack of sexiness, it’s a formula that’s worked for head coach Paul Chryst to this point. 

Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s run will come to an end because of its lack of variety on offense. The Nittany Lions know they can stuff the box to prevent Clement from hurting them, forcing whoever is in at quarterback to prove throwing the ball is a viable strategy. 

This has been a remarkable season for Penn State, and it will stay that way with a Big Ten title. 

Prediction: Penn State 24, Wisconsin 17