Football: Tale of two programs, Penn State, Wisconsin

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first_imgWhile most people would argue that the two teams facing off in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday for the Big Ten Championship are more similar than they are different, their routes to the big game were forged in very different lights.The No. 6 University of Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State University football teams are two of the biggest surprises in college football. Both began the season unranked and both suffered two losses along the way, doing so with coaches who couldn’t make a headline if they lived their lives with a microphone at the hip.These two teams look like mirror images of each other to an outside fan — two hard-nosed defenses that couple with a strong running game and first-year quarterbacks at the helm. To those who have been around, watched their team reach the pinnacle of the toughest conference in college football, however, these teams are fighting to prove how different they really are.Football: Wisconsin remains at No. 6 in second-to-last College Football Playoff pollAfter the final results from rivalry weekend served the College Football Playoff Selection Committee its worst nightmare on a silver Read…The Wisconsin Badgers, a team that has struggled to pick a quarterback all season long, began the year with a top five matchup with Louisiana State University at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The 16-14 slugfest win was such a shock to the college football landscape that it shot the Badgers all the way to No. 10 in the AP ranking and was the spark to the eventually firing of long-time LSU head coach Les Miles.After two wins that served as a warm up for one of the most brutal stretches in modern football history, Wisconsin beat down then-No. 8 Michigan State University on the road in what seemed like a season-defining moment for an overlooked squad in Wisconsin. The three week stretch that followed is what separates UW and PSU to the college football pundits, quality of losses.Head coach Paul Chryst and the Badgers traveled to Ann Arbor and lost a 4th quarter standoff, 14-7 to then-No. 4 Michigan University before losing an overtime heart-breaker to No. 2 Ohio State University under the lights of Camp Randall. While two back-to-back losses might knock out most contenders, the Badgers hit the grindstone and rattled off six straight wins in dominant fashion to reach the Big Ten title.Penn State, however, approaches Saturday on the flip side of the coin. The Nittany Lions began the season 2-2 with a blowout loss at Michigan and close defeat against Pitt, unable to notch their marquee win over Ohio State until week eight, seven days after the Buckeyes escaped Madison in overtime.After the departure of highly touted but sorely disappointing quarterback Christian Hackenberg, PSU head coach James Franklin had no doubts in picking redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley to be his main guy. McSorley, behind the play of the Big Ten’s top running back, Saquon Barkley, has led the 7th ranked Penn State team to an eight game winning streak and one of the most balanced offenses in the country over the last month of the season.A big part of Penn State’s run has come through the experienced play of McSorley as its offense sits atop the Big Ten in passing efficiency and has recorded only two interceptions all year. That mojo will certainly butt heads with Wisconsin, a defense that ranks third in-conference of passing efficiency defense and first in interceptions with 21.Video: Winning title of toughest conference in college football should get you in playoffs, Tom Oates says— (@madisondotcom) December 1, 2016Despite the surprise of two formerly unranked teams in the most anticipated conference championship of the year, you would be remiss if you don’t acknowledge why these teams were so overlooked to begin the year.Wisconsin, one of the more consistent programs in the power-five conferences, has always been considered the brides-maid and never the bride. The Badgers have made the Big Ten Championship four of the six years it has existed, but are considered to be the lesser foe of Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan from a lesser conference.Penn State, on the other hand, has been recovering from gutting sanctions a few seasons ago that left many thinking they wouldn’t return to notching winning seasons for at least a decade. The Nittany Lions have gone through three coaches since their sanctions and Franklin was widely considered to be on the hot seat before this season.This game is an accumulation of two teams that aren’t used to the spotlight and are looking to break into the national stage. Whether the winner makes the Playoff or not, a win in Lucas Oil over the weekend means more than just a conference championship. Fans of both teams try and argue who is the better team before the game even begins while no one really knows.Eight PSU writers all picked Nittany Lions. Eight Wisconsin writers all picked #Badgers. I guess we’re all homers.— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) December 1, 2016Outside of the Buckeyes and an overtime win over then-No. 7 Nebraska, comparing these two squads over common opponents is simply splitting hairs. Both teams weren’t expected to be here and both want to prove why they are the undisputed Big Ten champion and deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff.While both teams are battling to win another game, it seems like they are really fighting over who is the most different from  what they were expected to do. When you take two teams hell bent on proving everyone else wrong, the feeling of loss is that much darker, but, the feeling of winning, is that much sweeter.last_img

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