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Game Preview: Michigan State at Iowa, The Big 10 Championship Game

The Big Ten Championship has special meaning this year as the undefeated 12-0 Iowa Hawkeyes meet the 11-1 Michigan State Spartans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Special meaning in that if Clemson and Alabama take care of their own business that this game represents the final play-in game for the last remaining spot in the FBS playoff. The Spartans, winner out the Big Ten East, were installed as 4-point favorites as an opener. A trickling of Iowa money has dropped the number down to 3 1/2. The total has not budged since opening at 52 1/2. Weather will not be a consideration and both teams will play under perfect conditions.

Michigan State is the team almost EVERYONE would like to win this game including the networks and talking heads. Sparty has been a marquee program with marquee players and with wins over Oregon and at Ohio State and Michigan, have as good a resume as any one-loss team in the tournament. Connor Cook has had a so-so year in East Lansing completing just 58% of his passes for a pedestrian 2730 yards and 24 touchdowns. Mich State also lacks the feature back they’ve had in recent years like Le’Veon Bell and Langford instead going with a committee that features Gerald Holmes (521, 8 TDs) and LJ Scott (608, 10 TDs). Aaron Burbridge is the top wide out (75,1158)  but is more of a possession guy than deep threat. The defense is staunch against the run but lacking at times against the pass. The secondary was useless in the fourth quarter against Nebraska and is overall a notch below the last two editions.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are not sexy, they just win. It doesn’t matter how, they just win. 10-6, 40-10, 27-24 … any way you want it. Iowa has wins against four ranked teams on its resume including Pitt which was in contention for an ACC division right down till the final week. There are no name brand stars. Hawkeye quarterback Beathard is a capable game manager that can make an occasional play. He’ll be handing off to s tough stable of hard-nosed backs led by Jordan Canzeri (964, 10 TDs, 10 games) running behind a physical and athletic offensive line. Matt VandeBerg (59, 625) is  Iowa’s top wide out. The underrated Hawkeye defense is ranked No.20 nationally and are especially tough against the run (No.6) Kirk Ferentz’s bunch has basically gotten to 12-0 the old fashioned way…. rushing the football, playing defense, minimizing mistakes and playing field position.

Last week Iowa dispatched Nebraska fairly easily in yet another game most “experts” said they would not win. Michigan State took no chances in blowing out Penn State to punch their ticket to this game. Iowa will not be intimidated and has had pretty good recent success in the series going 7-5 straight up and 9-3 ATS. This is Iowa’s first Big Ten Championship game where Michigan State has played in three of the six. Iowa has played in enough decent Bowls and conference big games to make any experience edge negligible. sounds cliché but in the end, this one will likely be settled up front in the trenches with the team that makes the fewest turnovers and can impose its will on the other the winner.

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