The great thing about the Big Ten championship game between number 5, Michigan State, and Iowa, the number 4 team in the rankings, is that there are no questions about what happens next: The winner gets into the college football playoff.
This is the only conference that both teams just need to win, instead of hoping and thinking about what happens in the other games. Iowa might not have the most impressive of schedules, but they went 12-0 in a Power Conference, including a very dominant 40-10 road win against Northwestern and an impressive finish against rivals Nebraska, the only team to beat Michigan State this season. They did what they could with the schedule in front of them, and while it may not be to the liking of some, it’s just impossible to ignore their body of work.
And the same goes for the Spartans, who lost on a final, dubious play to Nebraska, but won their big games. They escaped Michigan thanks to a blocked punt as time expired. They beat Ohio State on a field goal with time expiring. They don’t win too many style points. But they won games, including against Oregon, avenging last year’s loss. They’ve done enough to be a worthy number 5 team in the nation, and with a win, a playoff team representing the Big Ten.
Iowa don’t have much of a passing game. Michigan State might be another old-school looking team, relying on defense and the ground, but Connor Cook is a big part of this offense, the most important part. And if Iowa manage to rattle him, it’s going to be difficult for the Spartans against a defense that has allowed just 18.7 points per game this season. The same can be said for the Spartans: If they can stop Iowa’s running game, the Hawkeyes don’t have anything else to fall back on.
One way of determining which team might be better are the common foes. Michigan State had a hard time putting away Purdue and lost to Nebraska, while Iowa struggled against Indiana and did pretty well with Maryland, just like Michigan State. It’s hard to say anyone has been overly impressive in their wins along the way, but Michigan State probably have the slight edge when it comes to style and dominance of wins against common opponents, barely.
Prediction: It would be a better story if Iowa win their first Big Ten title in over a decade, but unless they play a perfect pass rush and have a running game that doesn’t run into trouble, the Spartans are the superior team in this one top to bottom. Not by much, but it’s theirs to lose.