Imagine a world in which the Big Ten is considered to be the best college football conference in the country. Now imagine a scenario within that world in which winning the best conference in the country wasn't enough to earn you a spot to play for a national championship.
There's a realistic chance that the winner of this game will not be selected to compete in the College Football Playoff, even though they themselves are two of the four Big Ten teams currently in the top seven of the rankings.
It could be Rose Bowl or bust for both of these teams.
Date: Saturday, Dec. 3
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Wisconsin: The Badgers have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country this season, and they came out the other side with fewer scars than they should have. They won the Big Ten West with a 7-2 record in conference play (10-2 overall), and the only two losses were an overtime loss to No. 2 Ohio State and a seven-point loss to No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor. It's a team that's been led by its defense -- one of the best in the country -- and an offense that looks to grind you down little by little over the course of a 60-minute game. It's the same formula the Badgers will be looking to use to beat Penn State on Saturday night, but even if it's ranked ahead of Penn State right now, Wisconsin's odds of reaching the playoff are likely worse than Penn State's simply because of those two losses.
Penn State: When Penn State beat Ohio State in October, many wrote it off as a fluke win. It made sense because Ohio State had been the better team for the first three quarters of that game, but Penn State dominated the fourth quarter, out-scoring the Buckeyes 17-0. It has continued to dominate opponents since, winning its next five games by an average of 30.2 points per game. The Nittany Lions enter the Big Ten title game on an eight-game win streak, and a ninth straight win could vault them into the College Football Playoff. The reason I believe Penn State still has a chance at a CFP berth is that, unlike both Michigan and Wisconsin, it actually has a win over Ohio State.
Players to watch
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin: Shocker, but the key player on Wisconsin's offense is a running back. Who could have seen that coming? Corey Clement has been the focal point of Wisconsin's offense this season, overcoming nagging injuries early in the season and still managing to rush for 1,140 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's really come on strong in November, as he's rushed for 441 yards and seven touchdowns in Wisconsin's last four games. If the Badgers are going to beat Penn State on Saturday night, they'll need Clement to have a good game.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Barkley has been one of the best backs in the country each of the last two seasons, but he hasn't received much acclaim nationally. That could change with a big performance against Wisconsin. Barkley enters the game as Penn State's leading rusher, finishing the regular season with 1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he's a threat in the passing game as well. Barkley's caught 21 passes for 327 yards and another two touchdowns. He did suffer an ankle injury against Michigan State last week, and while he's expected to play on Saturday, if he's limited in any way due to the injury, it could be a big blow for the Penn State offense.
Matchup to watch
Wisconsin linebackers vs. Penn State offensive line: Wisconsin has one of the best defenses in the country, and it is led by its linebackers. Even following the loss of Jack Cichy in October -- Cichy is still second on the team in tackles by the way -- this unit has continued to be a thorn in the side of every offense it has faced. T.J. Edwards led the team in tackles with 75, and then there's T.J. Watt -- yes, he's related to that other initialed Watt -- who leads the defense in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (9.5). All of this and I haven't even mentioned Vince Biegel or Garret Dooley yet. If the Penn State offensive line can minimize the damage caused by Biegel and Watt coming off the edge, and get to the second level to take on Edwards and Ryan Connelly (another one!), then the Nittany Lions should be able to win this game. If it can't, then it should be a very good night to be a Badger.