Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
- Andy Johnson (+224): Wisconsin 28, Penn State 24
- Jake Harris (+226): Wisconsin 21, Penn State 14
- Phil Mitten (+228): Wisconsin 21, Penn State 17
- Mike Fiammetta (+233): Wisconsin 24, Penn State 17
- Andrew Rosin (+278): Penn State 21, Wisconsin 16
- Louis Bien: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 17
- John Daly: Penn State 23, Wisconsin 17
- Jack Moore: Wisconsin 24, Penn State 17
- Nathan Palm: Penn State 20, Wisconsin 17
- Nick Korger: Penn State 20, Wisconsin 17
You wouldn't be able to blame Bret Bielema and the Badgers for focusing exclusively on Nebraska, their opponent in next Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin was three points away from upsetting the Cornhuskers in Lincoln two months ago and, if UW can finish the job in Indianapolis, the Rose Bowl will become Camp Randall West for an unprecedented third straight season.
But a program that has lived by the mantra of "1-0" since 2006 does not suddenly change course, so expect each and every healthy Badger to take the field against Penn State in the regular season finale Saturday. Despite having wrapped up their opportunity to represent the Leaders Division two weeks ago, the Badgers' best win so far this season is a two-point squeaker over Utah State back in September. Expect a hungry UW team to come out eager to defeat a quality opponent on the road.
Despite being riddled with NCAA sanctions, Penn State has put together a surprisingly strong 2012 campaign. The Nittany Lions are ineligible for postseason play, so the matchup with Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium becomes their de facto bowl game. The Lions began the year in disastrous fashion, losing to Ohio and at Virginia, but they then rattled off five straight victories. PSU has lost two of its last four games, however, giving up 35 and 32 points to Ohio State and Nebraska, respectively.
Penn State's offense has improved dramatically over last season, but calling it formidable would be a stretch. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin has completed 61.4 percent of his passes, while posting an impressive 23-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has already broken the 3,000-yard mark. Sophomore wideout Allen Robinson is by far McGloin's favorite target and has caught 11 of his 23 touchdown throws. Robinson has more than double the receiving yardage of Penn State's second-leading receiver, Kyle Carter.
Senior running back Silas Redd's transfer to USC during Penn State's tumultuous offseason was a big blow for the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Zach Zwinak has rushed for 821 yards at a 4.9 yards-per-carry clip. Senior Michael Zordich is less effective, but he gets an occasional carry.
Wisconsin's defense has truly found its groove over the past several weeks and has done particularly well against immobile pocket passers like McGloin. Even without linebacker Chris Borland, who is questionable, expect the Badgers to successfully bring pressure. McGloin has taken 18 sacks this season. UW boasts the top rushing defense in the Big Ten, so expect McGloin to be forced into some difficult third-and-long situations.
Defensively, Penn State will be without its star, senior linebacker Michael Mauti. The absence of the Nittany Lions' emotional leader will be a real test for them on Senior Day. Even with Mauti, PSU was middle-of-the-pack against the run, so look for the Badgers to pound Montee Ball and James White all day long. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada likely has a few plays in store for next week's title game, so don't be surprised to see a fairly basic offense in Happy Valley.
Penn State ranks dead last in the Big Ten in averaging just 18.2 yards per kickoff return. Its punt return game is not much better. Furthermore, the Lions average just 33.8 yards per punt. The Badgers, with strong return men and improved coverage this season, should likely have a field position advantage in what figures to be a low-scoring game. Still, no Wisconsin fan will like their odds should the game come down to Kyle French's leg.
Snow showers and temperatures in the low to mid-30s are in the forecast for kickoff, which should favor the running game and Wisconsin.
Who has the edge?
Offense: Penn State
Special Teams: Wisconsin
Intangibles: Penn State