The No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes (12-0, 8-0) and the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans (11-1, 7-1) will compete for not just the Big Ten title but a spot in the College Football Playoff when the two schools meet on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The latest CFP rankings have the Hawkeyes and Spartans at No. 4 and No. 5 respectively, all but assuring the winner one of the four spots in the national semifinals to be played on Dec. 31.
Michigan State has won 11 games for the fifth time in six years and won all three of their games against AP ranked opponents, losing only to Nebraska by one point on the road in controversial fashion last month. A month after an improbable last-second victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mark Dantonio's squad made its biggest statement in another last-second win on Nov. 21. Playing without starting quarterback Connor Cook, the Spartans knocked off Big Ten title favorites Ohio State, snapping the Buckeyes' 23-game winning streak on Michael Geiger's 41-yard field goal in Columbus.
But against Iowa, the Spartans will need an in-form Cook, who has thrived in his final collegiate season. In 11 games, he has tossed 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions while completing 57.6 percent of his passes. The third-year starter enjoyed a four-game stretch in which he threw for 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions while averaging 357 yards per game. Cook helped close out Penn State on Saturday by throwing for three touchdown and completing 19 of his 26 pass attempts.
Receiver Aaron Burbridge leads the Big Ten with 1,158 yards to go with his seven scores and seven games eclipsing 100 yards. Running back L.J. Scott is tied for No. 4 in the conference with 10 rushing touchdowns and leads the team with 618 yards on 5.2 yards per carry.
Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes haven’t gotten an overwhelming amount of respect despite breezing through the Big Ten West and Ferentz being named the conference’s Coach of the Year. It could stem from the fact that Iowa played just one AP ranked team all season in then-No. 20 Northwestern while every other school in the conference played multiple ranked opponents. Every Big Ten school, with the exception of the Hawkeyes and Ohio State, played three AP-ranked opponents.
Still, Iowa won all of their games and are one of only two undefeated teams in FBS. They’re led by junior quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and has run for six additional scores. He’s thrown just three interceptions on the season but hasn’t tossed a pick since the Oct. 17 win over Northwestern.
Running back Jordan Canzeri ran for 140 yards on 17 attempts in the season finale win over Nebraska, finding the end zone twice. His 964 rushing yards are good for No. 5 in the conference while Iowa is the No. 3-ranked team in the Big Ten on the ground, accumulating 203.7 rush yards per game.
It's been a while since the two schools faced each other. In their last meeting, Cook threw for a then-career high 277 yards in a 26-14 win for Michigan State in Iowa City in Oct. 2013. When they met in East Lansing in 2012, Iowa prevailed in double overtime, 19-16.
Tickets for Big Ten Championship went on sale on Aug. 1, with Vividseats.com as the official ticket reseller. Ticket prices range from $169 to $900. Lucas Oil Stadium, which will host the conference championship through 2021, drew 41,260 for the 2012 game, 66,002 in 2013, and 60,229 in 2014.
Betting Line: Michigan State -4
Over/Under: 52.5 points