Michigan State Spartans vs. Iowa Hawkeyes, Saturday December 5, 8 p.m. ET
The playoffs don't actually start until New Year's Eve, but in these games we essentially get a bonus round. It's very simple - not only will the winner of this game win the Big Ten, but they will be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Losing this game will mean that a very strong season will end on a bitter note. They could wind up in the Rose Bowl, though organizers of that game may opt for Ohio State instead, so that's not even certain. This is as big as a championship game can get.
Michigan State vs. Iowa Betting Storylines
I've watched it all year, and I still can't believe that Iowa is here. For too long it has seemed like Kirk Ferentz was just treading water in Iowa. He's obviously a good coach, but he seemed to have lost his edge - like he was just cashing his checks and looking for a smooth exit. Now he actually looks like he cares, and he is getting every ounce of play out of these players. What's most impressive is that he has done it with team play as opposed to transcendent play from stars. QB C.J. Beathard has been very efficient, but his numbers - less than 200 yards passing per game - aren't anywhere near what other top teams have. Jordan Canzeri is a very good running back, and he scored 12 times, but he will need this game to top 1,000 yards on the season. They just all know what to do, and they are exceptionally focused on it. The one true star on the team is corner Desmond King, a shutdown savant who is very likely to be matched up to Michigan State superstud Aaron Burbridge like a shadow. Burbridge and Jourdan Lewis, the Michigan corner who is the only guy at King's level in the league, had a truly epic showdown in which both guys landed some blows. If King and Burbridge have a similar war then it will be one heck of a game.
I have a whole lot of respect for Iowa this year. My issue in assessing them here, though, is that we really don't know what they are. Michigan State has played Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State - and beaten all of them. We know what they are and how they handle big games. Iowa blew the doors off of a pretty good Northwestern team and outlasted Wisconsin - and that's it. Thanks to the moronic divisional configuration in the Big Ten they just haven't played anyone. It's not their fault, and they have done what they need to do and done it well, but we just don't know anything about them in crunch time because they haven't seen any. That makes me very nervous.
I don't think that this is necessarily relevant, but it is a coincidence too interesting to ignore. The teams are tied atop the league both in takeaways with 25 and turnover margin in +14. The one conclusion to draw from that is that winning the turnover battle will be key in this one.
Michigan State vs. Iowa Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Michigan State favored by 4.5 points. That has since fallen to 3.5. Almost three-quarters of all bets have been on Michigan State, so the line movement suggests that sharp action is tilted towards Iowa. The total sits at 51, with slight upward pressure.
The Spartans are just 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games against Iowa. They are 6-0 ATS in their last six neutral-site games, though, and are 4-0 ATS in their last four December games. Iowa is struggling to maintain momentum - they are just 1-4 ATS in their last five games following an ATS win.
Big Ten Championship Game Picks: Michigan State vs. Iowa Predictions
I really want to pick Iowa. After all, Michigan State seems too obvious - it's as if oddsmakers are daring us to pick them. As much as I like being contrary, though, I just can't do it here. Michigan State has much more experience in big games, a higher general level of talent, and a big advantage at quarterback when it comes to dynamic, clutch play. Their coaching staff has much more recent experience in big games, and the team has been tested much more this year and has proven themselves as a result. I'm not for a second suggesting that Iowa doesn't belong here or that they can't be competitive. I just have to think of what the Spartans were able to do to the Buckeyes and then what the Buckeyes did to the Wolverines next time out, and I struggle to believe that Iowa is quite ready for this test. At this price the play has to be Michigan State.
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