Iowa, Michigan State set for do-or-die B1G Championship
Who: No. 4 Iowa vs. No. 5 Michigan State
When: Saturday, 8:18 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Spread: Michigan State -3.5
Matchup to watch: Desmond King vs. Aaron Burbridge
Ok, so I already talked about these two a bit. But it’s worth bringing up again, simply because the 50-50 balls between these them could determine the winner of this battle. You already know that King has been tremendous this year as the nation’s interceptions leader. But King hasn’t faced a big, physical wideout capable of taking over since he squared off with Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd. If you recall, King dominated that matchup early with two big interceptions, but Boyd still finished with 10 catches for 131 yards. King doesn’t have to completely lock Burbridge down, but he has to be the one making the game-changing plays if and when Connor Cook throws a jump ball. It’ll be interesting to see how much trust Cook puts in Burbridge in those situations.
Thing I’m excited to see: Iowa against elite competition
We’re all sick of the storyline. Nobody respects Iowa and Iowa fans are tired of getting no respect. Finally, Saturday will put an end to that. Everything the Hawkeyes do will be magnified, because for far too many people, it’s their first time seeing the them play. It’s a chance for Iowa’s offensive line to prove that it can handle an elite defense. It’s a chance for guys like Josey Jewell and Cole Fisher to become more than household names in Iowa, and become household names across the country. It’s a chance for C.J. Beathard to come up clutch on a national stage. Kirk Ferentz won’t acknowledge any of those things to his team. He doesn’t need to. A B1G Championship and a College Football Playoff berth is enough motivation for those things not to matter. It’s about time we finally find out how elite Iowa is.
Number to remember: 3-0
That’s Cook’s record in three career postseason games. That doesn’t even include the touchdown he threw as a freshman in relief that fueled Michigan State against TCU in the Rose Bowl. By now, you know that Cook wins more than anybody in college football. What says a lot is that in arguably the best regular-season win in MSU history, the Spartans did it without Cook. That’s why everybody is so high on them right now. They aren’t putting the game on Cook like they were early in B1G play. Getting Jack Allen, Jack Conklin and Kodi Kieler back has been huge in Gerald Holmes’ emergence the last few weeks. Shilique Calhoun and the MSU defense have looked fresher in the second half because of the improved running game controlling the clock. That’s going to help Cook do what he does late. If MSU establishes that balance, he’ll have a chance to provide the difference down the stretch.
Prediction: Michigan State 31, Iowa 28
Before Iowa fans play the disrespect card again, I think by game’s end, the Hawkeyes will have earned their respect. To be fair, they should’ve earned it a long time ago. I think C.J. Beathard connects with with George Kittle and Tevaun Smith for big plays against MSU’s depleted secondary. I think Jordan Canzeri impresses, too. A lot of the things that Iowa did to get it to Indy will surface again. But ultimately, Michigan State’s best is better than Iowa’s best. The Hawkeyes have been so upset proof because they controlled the line of scrimmage against every opponent this year. I don’t see them having the same success against the Spartans. Still, no team will distance itself enough to feel safe with the lead. In fact, I think the game comes down to MSU converting a big third down to prevent a last-ditch Hawkeye drive. Iowa earns the respect, but Michigan State earns the B1G title and ultimately, the College Football Playoff berth.