The teams: The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2) vs the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2 8-1)
The time: 7:17 p.m. CDT, Saturday
The place: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
The TV coverage: Fox with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Shannon Spake on the sideline.
The last time: In the 2013 season finale, Penn State freshman Christian Hackenberg threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns, as the Nittany Lions ruined Wisconsin’s Senior Day 31-24.
The series: Wisconsin 9-8
The line: Wisconsin -2.5
The Badgers injury report:
QB Alex Hornibrook (head)
DL Conor Sheehy (arm)
OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1) Playing for a title and potentially more
Wisconsin and Penn State will play for a Big Ten title on Saturday night, but much more is potentially at stake for both teams. As it stands, the Badgers are at No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, with the Nittany Lions just one spot behind them. Though the chances are low that either gets selected by the playoff committee, an impressive performance in Indianapolis could just sway some people.
2) Erasing bad memories
The number of impact players that remain from Wisconsin’s 2014 team are few and far between, but the ones that are still around remember with terror their last trip to Lucas Oil Stadium. Favored by 4.5 points against Ohio State and its third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, the Badgers got steamrolled 59-0 in that year’s Big Ten title game. Many players, including cornerback Sojourn Shelton, called it their lowest moment on a football field. Saturday night presents an opportunity to change how they’ll remember trips to Indianapolis.
3) Stopping the big play
No team in the Big Ten has accounted for more big plays on offense than Penn State. They lead the league in plays of 30 or more yards, 40 or more yards and 50 or more yards. The Badgers are well aware of the explosiveness, and have done a good job this year of limiting plays like that, giving up just eight plays of 40 or more yards — 10th fewest in the country.
What makes the Nittany Lions unique, though, is that quarterback Trace McSorely will throw into coverage to give his guys an opportunity to make a play on the ball. It’ll be paramount for the Badgers to win their share of those 50-50 balls, and perhaps even add to their nation-leading 21 interceptions.
4) Slowing Saquon
Slow Saquon Barkley and slow Penn State’s offense, right? Not exactly, but putting the clamps on the Big Ten offensive player of the year is among the higher priorities for the Wisconsin defense.
Barkley, who is dealing with a foot injury suffered last week against Michigan State, has had some monster games this year and also some real duds, including against the Spartans before he left. But he’s also the Nittany Lions best player and the Badgers need to make him a non-factor. To do that, they’ll need to be better against the read-option than they were last week. Minnesota gashed them early thanks to a lack of contain by the outside linebackers.
5) Two-quarterback system
Alex Hornibrook practiced all week after leaving the Minnesota game with a head injury, and is listed as questionable for the game. But even if he’s cleared to play, should he be under center to to start the game? Backup Bart Houston has been really good of late, leading touchdown drives on 10 of his 17 full possessions the last three games.
It seems unlikely that if Hornibrook is cleared to play that coach Paul Chryst will change anything, sticking with the redshirt freshman as his starter and Houston coming in on the third or fourth series, but it is something to watch.
NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
Wisconsin will play in its fourth Big Ten title game since its inception in 2011. Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State have a total of four appearances combined.
Over his last three games, quarterback Bart Houston has a passer rating of 195.7. Stretched out over an entire season, that rating would be the best in the country.
Wisconsin leads in the nation in interceptions with 21, which is more than the 18 they had the last two seasons combined.
The 2016 senior class has won 40 games during their time in Madison. One more win would make them the winningest class in Wisconsin history.
Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Penn State 21 (8-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Penn State 17 (9-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 28 , Penn State 17 (10-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31 , Penn State 14 (9-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 14 (10-2 on the season)