B.J. Cunningham and Nick Toon: SO AMPED.
The first part of the preview covered what the Badgers had been up to since their loss to Michigan State in October. This part will be a catch-all of different thoughts I have on the Championship game plus a conclusion.
FOR THE LAST TIME, THIS ISN'T A ROAD GAME.
There's been a lot of myths surrounding the Michigan State football team this season, but probably the most annoying one is that Michigan State isn't a good road team. If one's only two data points were the Notre Dame and Nebraska games I could see how that impression could be formed. However, they were the only Big Ten team to win three conference road games this season, all against bowl teams to boot. I'll admit that the best team on the road this season regardless of record was Wisconsin, but I believe Michigan State was the second best team.
What's my point? A lot of talk I've heard about this game is that MSU won't do well on the road. Well, this isn't technically a road game, it's a neutral site. I see the point that State won't do as well as they would if this game was at home. However, it sounds like a few are just expecting Michigan State to fall apart because they're not in East Lansing. I assure you this won't be the case.
HOW WILL WILLIAM GHOLSTON EFFECT WISCONSIN'S RUNNING GAME?
To state the obvious, it'll be nice to have Gholston for the rematch. However, I don't think he'll have as big an effect as a lack of a healthy Peter Konz, the starting center for the Badgers. Konz has missed the past two games with an ankle injury suffered against Minnesota, and his backup hasn't performed nearly as well. Defensive tackles Kevin Pickelman, Jerel Worthy, and Anthony Rashad White combined for eight tackles (two for a loss) in the first matchup.
If Gholston can help in one aspect, it could be in the containment of Wilson. Wilson didn't have many scrambles (six) last time, but those six went for 44 yards and a score. We shall see if this theory holds.
WISCONSIN'S TOP RANKED PASS DEFENSE HASN'T FACED MANY, IF ANY QUARTERBACKS AS GOOD AS KIRK COUSINS.
Wisconsin's pass defense has been ranked tops in the Big Ten by virtue of giving up only 144.5 yards through the air per game. This is my rebuttal. Quick: What do Edward Wright-Baker, Tre Robinson, Taylor Martinez, Braxton Miller, Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve, MarQueis Gray, Nathan Scheelhaase, and the Matt McGloin/Rob Bolden have in common? Those are the quarterbacks other than Kirk Cousins that Wisconsin's faced in conference this season. The Badger defense also faced Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish, who must be better than at least half the QBs I just listed. So even though Wisconsin might have the top pass defense in the Big Ten, the degree of difficulty in quarterbacks faced hasn't been too steep.
In fairness, I recognize that teams have gotten behind quickly on the Badgers, and they've done well to stifle opposing quarterbacks. Cousins is the best quarterback they've faced all year however, and he'll be able to get his yardage.
MONTEE BALL AND RUSSELL WILSON ARE EXTREMELY GOOD AT PLAYING FOOTBALL.
Just wanted to let you know I remember that, lest you think I'm too cocky.
LE'VEON BELL WILL BE THE PRIMARY RUNNING BACK FROM THE START THIS GAME. THIS WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
That's not to sell Edwin Baker short -- when he focused on running straight ahead he was mostly effective. However, Bell is more of a north-south runner than Baker, and has extra size to boot. The run game should be improved since the first game due to the offensive line's inevitable improvement, so I doubt we'll see backs being stuffed 2+ yards behind the line of scrimmage.
DON'T EXPECT THE SAME SPECIAL TEAMS MISCUES FROM THE BADGERS THIS TIME AROUND.
Because they're rare, y'know? Philip Welch can hit field goals from 50, and Jared Abbrederis is scary as a punt returner. MSU can't rely on getting a ten point swing from their special teams this time around.
DO EXPECT BIELEMA TO DO SOMETHING DUMB IF THE SCORE'S CLOSE WITH TIME RUNNING OUT.
We've seen him help MSU win two games in this series due to stupid timeouts: this year (the second timeout with less than one minute left, not the first one -- MSU was 2nd and long and I would've done the same thing), and in 2008 when he tried to ice Brett Swenson. The problem was the Spartan field goal unit wasn't set yet, and that timeout helped calm MSU down and Swenson nailed the game-winner. If the score's close and the game's on the line, I can't help but think he's going to DERP it up somehow.
ARE YOU OUT OF STATEMENTS/QUESTIONS EXCEPT FOR ONE?
SO HOW DOES THIS PLAY OUT?
Oof. I don't think Wisconsin wins this big. Unlike almost all the other teams the Badgers have played this season, MSU has the quarterback and receivers to move the ball down the field on Wisconsin. They'll score enough points to keep it close. Speaking of receivers, if there're end-arounds MSU hasn't used yet this year, it's time to play them all and get Keshawn the ball; the Badgers found his speed difficult.
Wisconsin, however, won't make the same mistakes they did last game. I fully expect their special teams to be shored up and consistent, Montee Ball will be available for the whole game, and sadly, Abbrederis and Nick Toon will find holes in the defense.
I hate to use cliches, so I'll say what I'm thinking in the simplest terms possible -- I can see either of these teams winning this game. I haven't had many homer picks yet this season, so...
FINAL SCORE: MICHIGAN STATE 28, WISCONSIN 27.