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Badger Bits: Chryst gives Wisconsin edge in rematch

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As Adam neatly pointed out yesterday, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Wisconsin's chances to knock off the Spartans and win its second straight Big Ten Championship Saturday. The worries that cost the Badgers the game in the two teams' first meeting still exist; pass protection, mental lapses in the secondary and horrendous special teams play were weaknesses then, and they still appear to be weaknesses now. Michigan State exploited each of them Oct. 22 and they could very well do the same thing Saturday.

Still, I think the edge goes to Wisconsin in the rematch for one simple reason: the best unit in the game, for either team, is the Badgers' offense. When it's at its best, it's borderline unstoppable. Obviously having two nationally acclaimed players like Montee Ball and Russell Wilson at skill positions is big reason why, but I think offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be the true difference-maker come Saturday night.

In a "rematch" setting, especially one with a familiar foe like Michigan State, both teams know exactly what to expect from opposing offenses. Mark Dantonio told ESPN's Brian Bennet he expected both teams to stick to the playcalls that got them to the big game:

"Probably the majority of what they do and we do are going to be within that system," he said. "Probably 75 percent are going to be within that system, and 25 percent are going to new things that have maybe gone on in the past five games. Maybe 10 percent or 5 percent of those are really new things."

I don't exactly disagree with Dantonio; don't expect the Badgers to switch out their power running game for a spread offense or anything silly like that. But still, I think the new things Chryst does mix in with old stuff could provide a huge advantage for the Badgers. Chryst knows from experience that his offensive line, particularly fill-in left guard Ryan Groy, will struggle in pass protection against Michigan State's active front four, so why not move the pocket outside once in awhile to put the pressure back on the defense? Little adjustments like that could go a long way towards keeping Wisconsin's offense on the field, something it didn't do a good job of Oct. 22.

Rumors about teams inquiring about interviewing Chryst for head coaching jobs seem to surface at about this time every season, and this year is no exception. He didn't call his best game in the the Badgers' first showdown with the Spartans, but if Chryst is as good as many important people in the college football world think he is, his adjustments will push the Badgers over the edge tomorrow night.

Football links

Michael Hunt discussed the appeal of a Big Ten conference championship game in his latest column.

Four-star linebacker and Badger recruit Vince Biegel was named the Gatorade state player of the year yesterday.

The Badgers locker room leaders kept the team focused after the crushing losses to Michigan State and Ohio State.

One Spartans player I'll have a tough time cheering against Saturday is quarterback Kirk Cousins, who seems like an all-around class act.

You don't often see stories about punt coverage on the eve of a conference championship game, but this one is certainly appropriate.

In uncertain times, is Michigan State now Wisconsin's premier rival?

Here's a list of careful predictions from the Off Tackle Empire staff.

Andy Baggot makes a case for Montee Ball as a Heisman candidate.

Hoops links

There were plenty of good things to come out of Wednesday's loss in Chapel Hill, but you'd never know it if you talked to Wisconsin's players.

A nice nugget from a familiar name over at Big Ten Powerhouse: had the Badgers held on for the win, they would have been just the third non-ACC team to knock of the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill since 2005.