Welcome to game day.
This morning on ESPN Game Day Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard, both Big Ten guys (meaning they actually pay attention to the conference and its games), predicted the inaugural Big Ten Championship game would pit Ohio State and Iowa. Now, look, that's just a prediction amid the theater of sports television and those guys will explain away why they were wrong next weekend if one or both of those teams lose this weekend. It's worth noting their opinion though and not because of what it tells us about Iowa, but what it tells us about Michigan State and Nebraska---the two teams that are in the best position to thwart Iowa's remaining chance to play in Indianapolis.
Kirk has done well against Mark. He's 4-1 against the conference's biggest gambler. All but last year's game have been razor thin. The Spartans play a style of football of which Iowa fans should approve. They play nose up defense. They desire to run the ball. They want to own a special teams advantage. And when they pass the ball they do it from a pocket, an increasingly lost art or concern among coaches in college football.
But while Michigan State and Iowa offer similar schematic approaches to winning football games they also offer a significant and noticeable difference in game management. Kirk Ferentz is not a "hunch" coach, while Dantonio is very much so. Ferentz likely would not have been interested in guiding his team to a Hail Mary win over Wisconsin, as that was set-up thanks in large part because of an ubber confident and aggressive attitude. Kirk would have gone to overtime with glee. But it is Dantonio's coaching style that has led to MSU getting blown out at times (in four games over the past two years MSU has lost by more than 21 points while Iowa has not lost by more than 10 points in that same span).
So today's game offers a classic match-up of contrasting styles, one coach endeavors to play the game like an insurance executive, happy to keep it close throughout and do just enough to win at the end; while the other rides the game like a poker player looking for his opportunity to go "all in". As an Iowa fan the latter approach seems intoxicating and Spartan fans could point to the number of wins this approach has produced (two more than Iowa in the last two years) but in a head to head match-up everything changes. The conservative, methodical approach has proven to confound and frustrate the aggressive Dantonio and his players. Will he bring a new attitude to Kinnick? Or will it be business as usual? The Big Ten Championship game, if you believe Herbie and Desmond, is on the line.