Thursday, December 1, 2011
Prediction: Big Ten championship game
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Championship week is here.
Normally, we'd be kicking up our feet this weekend and watching the other leagues own the college football spotlight. But the arrival of the inaugural Big Ten football championship game changes everything. We'll both be in Indianapolis to see Legends Division champion Michigan State take on Leaders Division champ Wisconsin, and it's time to make our predictions.
Bennett ended the regular season with a commanding two-game lead in the standings. He needs to hold on through Saturday and through the bowl games to call himself a champion. Rittenberg is still licking his wounds from the fantasy league beat-down his Trombone Shorties received. He needs to close the gap before the bowls wrap up.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 15 WISCONSIN vs. No. 13 MICHIGAN STATE (Indianapolis)
Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin is heavily favored, but this will be a close game. Both teams are playing good football right now and you can argue Michigan State has played even better during the month of November. The Spartans will lead a good portion of the game as Kirk Cousins and his receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin find some gaps in the Wisconsin defense. But Wisconsin knows what it needs to do to win: play better third-down defense and avoid a special-teams meltdown. The Badgers play a clean game in the third phases and force some key stops in the second half. Russell Wilson and Montee Ball get it going in the fourth quarter and Wilson throws the game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes. Wisconsin knocks down a Hail Mary after five deflections to seal the win and head back to the Rose Bowl. ... Wisconsin 31, Michigan State 27
Brian Bennett: I've been going back and forth on this all week, and understandably so. The last five meetings between these two teams have been decided by an average of 5.6 points. The Spartans have won three of the past four in the series, but all those victories came in East Lansing. They won't have home field this time. But they will have William Gholston, unlike this year's earlier meeting, and I think Jerel Worthy can cause some more problems against Wisconsin's reshuffled center situation. I find it hard to believe that the Badgers will make as many mistakes as they did in their nightmarish second quarter earlier this year at Spartan Stadium, and they have plenty of motivation after losing on a Hail Mary. But I just get the sense that this Michigan State team is on a mission to get to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988, and Mark Dantonio's team will find a way to get there. No Hail Marys this time, but Cousins throws another game-winning touchdown pass to wrap it up in the final two minutes, setting off the biggest Sparty Party ever in the streets of Indy. ... Michigan State 35, Wisconsin 31
Brian Bennett: 73-24 (.753)
Adam Rittenberg: 71-26 (.732)