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Big Ten Conference Championship Game Roundtable: The Second

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed this entire season due to falling asleep for the past four months, living under a rock, going to jail, and/or just believing 2015 did not happen, I thought you should all know that the Big Ten Conference Championship Game - aka the fight for the Stagg Trophy - will commence tomorrow night, pitting the West Division Champion Iowa Hawkeyes and their 12-0 record against the East Champion Michigan State Spartans who sport a 11-1 record.

Yeah, I know, weird.

That in mind, the esteemed 'writers' at Off Tackle Empire did a two part roundtable to discuss the ins and outs of this matchup. The first part was yesterday and can be found here. What follows is the rest of the story...


Matchup time: Iowa's offense has relied on a better-than-expected OL and diversified running game to complement Greg Davis' beloved (and until this year, ridiculed) horizontal passing. That said, a run-heavy gameplan plays directly into MSU's hands; just ask the Buckeyes. How do you see it playing out when Iowa has the ball? Do they try to find cracks in the Spartan front seven, or go deep on the still-shaky secondary?

Candystripes for Breakfast: I think Iowa will attempt a few running plays, realize they aren't working as well as hoped, then start using the pass as a setup to try and run better later on. At least, that's what I think they should do, but in the era of New Kirk, who can be sure?

StewMonkey13: Iowa has been incredibly balanced, on the whole this season.  Given the conditions of of a dome, I'd imagine the game plan going in will be attempt to continue this.  The running game will go both inside and outside with the standard zone game, but there will probably be tosses, counters, and traps as well to keep MSU from cheating too much.  And seeing as the secondary has been MSU's defensive weakness this season, I'd also imagine a few shots taken down field with the TEs (George Kittle can really stretch the field) and Tevaun Smith.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a flea flicker.

Thomas Speth: MSU's defense is built to stop Iowa. They aren't going to have a fun time scoring points on the Spartans. Unless Connor Cook turns into Tommy Armstrong or Joel Stave before Saturday have a tough time putting together enough drives to win. Then again, even if he turns into Joel Stave Iowa might only score 10 points anyway.

Jesse Collins: As one of those teams that had the joy of watching my team look miserable for great stretches against both of you, I feel like I can talk about this, right? Right. Okay, so here's the thing about Iowa's offense. It's predicated on taking care of the ball, biding its time until your defense makes a really dumb mistake in assignment, and then absolutely harass the shit out of that until you fix it. While Iowa has been run-heavy as of late, I have no doubt that C.J. Beathard has the ability to stretch the field and ease up the strength MSU possesses at the line. That said, even with a shaky secondary - Nebraska's shaky secondary salutes you Sparty - I think Iowa is stoppable. Iowa was extremely efficient on Friday against Nebraska in scoring three TDs in 40 plays or so. I wouldn't expect the big plays against Michigan State who will have better contain and assignment play. Of course, they could lose their starting Safety to a targeting call as well, so maybe Iowa just waits it out.

insertname: If Iowa's O-line can get out to MSU's secondary we will see a record set for most hugs on a single football play. I don't know which position group is more grab-happy.
Conversely, MSU has only recently returned to a balanced approach after OL injuries derailed the run game for much of the season. Leaning on a future first round QB and a stellar trio of receivers isn't a bad strategy, but Iowa's defense gets their hands on enough balls that throwing too many 50/50s has its risks. Should Dantonio roll with the passing game horse what brung him, or continue the balanced attack that finally made its return against Penn State?
C4B: Nothing but running plays with offensive lineman. They'll never see it coming.

StewIowa's defense has been solid, but unspectacular.  The DTs, Jaleel Johnson in particular, have been very solid in the middle.  And the LBs and DE's have done a good job at setting the edge.  That being said, they're not getting a lot of penetration and tackles for loss.  Stopping the run means giving up two yards, generally.

While Desmond King may be the best corner in the game, Greg Mabin has been torched a few times.  This is probably becaue teams generally have stayed away from King's side of the field, but still, there's weakness there.  Combine that with Iowa's almost complete lack of pass rush since Ott went down, and Cook being one of the best QBs in college, and I think that's probably where MSU focuses their effort.

Speth: Iowa has a very good defense if you don't take care of the football and can't convert on third down. Fortunately for Iowa that describes the entire West Division. Cook excels at converting third downs. If MSU's offensive line can play like they did against Penn State (who doesn't have a bad defensive front by any stretch), MSU will be able throw and run effectively.

Jesse: Iowa's secondary recorded four interceptions against Nebraska, but let's not pretend that was some genius of coverage or anything. I swear Tommy Armstrong throws off his back foot more than Taylor Martinez ever did. Anyways, Cook is a good QB who can and will put up points. More importantly, Iowa needs to get to him and they haven't exactly been great at that since Drew Ott went down. If I'm Dantonio, you preach balance and roll with the hot hand. If that talented group of receivers get going, the Sparty offense is really difficult to defend. In a dome? I like MSU's chances.

insertname: Everyone knows MSU just sits back in a defensive shell and hopes Hildebrand gives up less than two goal so they can win a shootout, that offense is :hankey: .  FUCK OFF DELANEY SHOOTOUTS SHOULD NOT DETERMINE EXTRA POINTS IN THE CONFERENCE RACE.
Give us the goods: score prediction and CCGMVP
C4B: Iowa 31, Michigan State 28, Beathard MVP

Stew: My brain says MSU in a close game, but fuck it, Iowa 33 MSU 26.  Iowa gives up a ton of yards but holds MSU to mostly FGs, while Iowa scores on fewer drives, and a couple big plays and short fields from special teams.  Everyone says the better team lost.  I continue not to care.

Speth: MSU 28 Iowa 10. GO GREEN GO WHITE. MSU is the team Iowa fans think they are.

Jesse: I'm not nearly as down on Iowa as the rest of the world it seems, but hey, when in Rome, right? Let's go MSU 31 - Iowa 23 (with a missed XP because for some reason that seems like something that will happen). MVP? Aaron Burbridge. I think he could go bananas.

insertname: Well Iowa doesn't even field a D-1 squad so I guess MSU should be able to find the net once or twice without anyone getting in their way. MSU 2 - 0 Non-existant Iowa team

WhiteSpeedReceiver: This game is the best possible matchup for Iowa. Sparty wins 31-17. Connor Cook gets MVP.

MNWildcat: Sparty, 30-20.

thumpasaurus: [ed note: thump has some rage... look for more on that on Monday! - jc] Here's my take: