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Point/counterpoint: Who will win the Big Ten championship?

BY DI STAFF | NOVEMBER 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Michigan State

The inaugural Big Ten championship game on Saturday features Wisconsin against Michigan State. The winner will head to the Rose Bowl to face off with the Pac-12 champion.

Actually, we can go ahead and give the Spartans an invitation now, considering they'll win the Big Ten.

Don't believe me?

Should I start by telling you how great Michigan State's defense is? It is ranked sixth in the nation, giving up only 15 points per contest. Considering the old phrase, "defense wins championships," we can safely assume that the Spartan defense will slow down Wisconsin's high-powered offense.

Or maybe I should tell you Michigan State has also played better in bigger games than the Badgers have this season. Wisconsin has only defeated two teams ranked in the latest BCS rankings. Sparty knocked off three.

That fact may not be convincing enough, but you should also know these two dominating programs have already met once this season. Sparty took that matchup, 37-31.

I could sit here all day and continue to throw stats favoring the Spartans at you. I could note that Michigan State's conference record was better than Wisconsin's (7-1, compared with 6-2). I could also say Michigan State is ranked higher than Wisconsin (No. 13 compared to No. 15).

But the fact is, the stats that really matter — other than total defense — favor the Badgers. They score more points per game. They average more rush yards with Heisman candidate Montee Ball. Heck, Russell Wilson was the first-team All-Big Ten selection at quarterback. The guy is practically a monster.

However, you should also keep in mind that Wisconsin had all of these stats in their favor the first time they played Michigan State. They still lost that game.

What makes you think lightning won't strike twice?

— by Cody Goodwin

Wisconsin

Given the first matchup between the teams, it's fair to say that Michigan State and Wisconsin are pretty evenly matched.

But the Spartans won't get a miracle last-second touchdown at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, as they did on Oct. 22. Instead, Bret Bielema, the conference's second-most veteran coach, will lead the Badgers to victory in the first-ever Big Ten championship game.

The most famous part of the Wisconsin team is its the high-powered offense — the Badgers boast one of the best offensive attacks in the country. Quarterback Russell Wilson is the nation's most efficient passer, throwing for 28 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

And Wilson isn't the Badgers' best offensive player.

Running back Montee Ball has put together a Heisman-worthy season by running for 1,622 yards — second in the nation — and 29 touchdowns, four more than any other back in the country.

The Wisconsin attack, ranked first in the conference in both scoring offense and total offense, will be able to put up points on Michigan State's defense.

But the Badgers' strength isn't concentrated on one side of the ball. The Badgers boast the conference's top scoring defense, and didn't allow more than 17 points in any of its six Big Ten victories. The Badgers' conference-best pass defense, led by first-team All-Big Ten defensive back Aaron Henry, will force mistakes from Kirk Cousins. The Michigan State running attack won't be able to outgun Wisconsin's prolific offense, either.

Wisconsin will raise the Stagg Championship Trophy on Saturday night and head to Pasadena as the Big Ten champions; the Badgers will get their second-straight shot at a Rose Bowl title.

— by Ryan Murphy


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