Battle for the Big Ten: The Thunderbeat sports section weighs in

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AJ Forbes

AJ Forbes--Sports Editor, Gabe Smith--Reporter, and Nathan Hawkins--Reporter

AJ’s take: 

Ranked fourth in the latest AP Poll, the Michigan Wolverines have ridden their Heisman hopeful, Jabrill Peppers, to a 9-1 record. As one of two Big Ten team in the top four, the Wolverines are primed to compete for the conference championship in December.

Peppers is the ultimate example of a “utility player.” The 6’1”, 205 pound linebacker has also lined up for the Wolverines as a safety, cornerback, running back, wide receiver, quarterback, and return specialist. He has accounted for four total touchdowns and 638 total yards to go along with 59 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and one forced fumble.

It’s safe to say that Peppers has the capability to lead Michigan to a conference championship.

Michigan’s balanced offensive attack has also played a major role in the team’s overall success. Quarterback Wilton Speight has thrown for 2,156 yards (sixth in the Big Ten), as well as 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions with wide receiver Amara Darboh receiving 746 of those yards (fourth in the Big Ten).

The Wolverine’s efficient passing attack is well-complimented by their stable of running backs, who have rushed for a total of 2,363 yards.

Outscoring their opponents by a nation-leading 33.8 points per game, almost every game Michigan has played in has been a blowout. There have only been 2 games where the margin of victory was 11 points or less. Their only loss came at Iowa, where they lost on a last-second field goal with a score of 14-13.

Michigan’s defense leads the nation in points allowed per game with a staggeringly low 10.8 points, as well as in sacks (33) and total yards allowed (2,447 yards). The boys in the maize and blue now how to score a lot of points and don’t let their opponents in the end zone very often.

Believe it or not, that’s how you win football games.

If the Wolverines are able to defeat the only formidable opponent left on their schedule in Ohio State, there is no reason why they shouldn’t win the Big Ten Championship game on Dec.  3.

Gabe’s take: 

The sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers are a team that is built for New Year’s Day. They only allow opponents to score 12.7 points per game; that is good for third in the nation, and second in the Big Ten. Their defense is loaded. They have a pair of defensive backs that have each recorded three interceptions.

The defense may be the focal point of this team, but don’t sleep on this offense. Their offensive line has been solid; opening up big holes for star running back Corey Clement.

Their workhorse Clement has lived up to the Wisconsin running back stereotype, recording 928 rushing yards through 10 games (3rd in Big Ten). Coming off a nagging groin injury last season, he showed no signs of cobwebs after rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown in their win against then-fifth-ranked LSU. From that game he has only gone up, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.

Clement may be the star of the show, but the Badger receiving corps has slowly became a force to be reckoned with. Junior wideout Jazz Peavy leads the team with 34 receptions for 510 yards and three touchdowns.

The Wisconsin defense has dominated. The recent emergence of Ryan Connelly has been crucial to Wisconsin’s success. The former high school quarterback who walked on at Wisconsin is filling an important role at linebacker.  

Connelly has been good, but the steady anchor of this defense has been outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Watt has been a near-mirror of his older brother and NFL star defensive end J.J., recording 47 tackles and seven sacks so far this season.

Wisconsin has always been a solid team, usually recording nine or 10 wins a year. This year they have finally put all the pieces together to form a Big Ten championship caliber team. The hiring of Paul Chryst two years ago was a definite statement that they were not accepting status quo any longer.

The Big Ten is Wisconsin’s to lose.

Nathan’s take: 

The Ohio State Buckeyes are 8-1, with the one loss coming against the now 7-2 Penn State Nittany Lions after a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. They also just barely squeaked by Northwestern, who are now 4-5. To add to that, Ohio State Quarterback J.T. Barrett has underwhelmed to his expectations this season, as he’s 6th in the Big Ten in passing yards and has 4 fumbles on the year. Even though these stats may seem lackluster considering his gaudy expectations coming into the season, J.T. Barrett does something better than anyone else does in the entire NCAA: he wins.

Since coming in to relieve Braxton Miller in 2014, he has only lost three games as a starter. All of the games that he lost were decided by four points or less. This season, they were a special teams error away from being ranked in the top four of the college football playoffs.

Even with that one loss on their résumé, Ohio State’s playoff hopes are still very much alive. Their only loss is to Penn State, who is now ranked No. 10 in the college football playoff ranking. Currently, Ohio State is ranked No. 5 in that same poll. Ahead of the Buckeyes are four undefeated teams in Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, and Washington. The good thing for

the Buckeyes is that they play Michigan later this year in the regular season finale, and assuming they can beat Big Ten bottom feeders Maryland and Michigan State, that game will decide the Big Ten West.

Michigan, the No. 2 team in the nation, is certainly capable of beating the Buckeyes. They have statistically the best defense in the nation, a quarterback in Wilton Speight who has more passing yards than Barrett, and Amara Darboh, who is one of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten. Not to mention they have looked as unbeatable as any team in the NCAA, as their closest game was a 32-23 win over Michigan State.

The thing is, Ohio State can counter them in nearly every way. Ohio State’s defense is the third best in the nation, behind Michigan and Alabama. Barrett, although slightly behind Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight in passing yardage, is much more mobile and is overall a better quarterback. If Ohio State can find a a way to get into the endzone in this defensive battle, Ohio State will win this game and potentially advance to the Big Ten championship if Penn State loses another game.

If they get there, they should be able to handle the Big Ten East champion (most likely Wisconsin), which should put them in position to win the College Football Playoff. But regardless of if they get there or not, they are simply put the best team in the Big Ten.

With already one loss on their season, Ohio State has nothing to lose and everything to prove. That’s why they will prevail.