Matching by past not always easy

UNIVERSITY PARK — Wisconsin lost at home to Ohio State. Penn State beat Ohio State at home.

That’s it. The Nittany Lions are the better team.

If only sports were that easy.

In sports, however, the mathematical concept that if A is better than B and B is better than C, then A is automatically better than C, well, it doesn’t always add up.

There are a lot of lessons, however, that coaches and players on both teams can learn when watching common opponents.

So, for Penn State and Wisconsin, a good bit of time will be spent this week on breaking down game film of opponents both teams have played.

“I think it’s really valuable, there’s no doubt about it, because you know that team (you’ve already played) a little bit better,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.

The Lions and Badgers have a bunch of common opponents — six, in fact, making up half their schedules:

¯ Wisconsin lost at home in overtime to Ohio State, 30-23. Penn State downed the Buckeyes at home, 24-21.

¯ Wisconsin lost at Michigan, 14-7. Penn State lost at Michigan, 49-10.

¯ Wisconsin won at Iowa, 17-9. Penn State throttled the Hawkeyes at home, 45-14.

¯ Wisconsin won at Purdue, 49-20. Penn State won at Purdue, 62-24.

¯ Wisconsin won at home against Minnesota, 31-17. Penn State needed overtime to beat Minnesota at home, 29-26.

¯ Wisconsin won at Michigan State, 30-6. Penn State clobbered the Spartans at home, 45-12.

As you can see, Wisconsin went 4-2 in the common opponent games, while PSU was 5-1.

“It gives you a frame of reference,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said of those games, before adding, “You can’t just rely on that, but you can absolutely gain some points of reference.”

But, as Chryst pointed out, there is one very important factor when it comes to common opponents.

“A lot of it depends on when you play them,” he said.

Take Michigan, for instance. The Lions’ 49-10 loss in Ann Arbor looks really bad, but that was way back in week four and comes with a giant asterisk. Penn State was missing six defensive starters in that game, so it had virtually no chance of stopping the Wolverines.

Wisconsin played Michigan the very next week and had a strong defensive game, yet its offense fizzled in the 14-7 loss.

“You’d like to think that we’re a different team now than we were at the beginning of the year,” Chryst said.

That’s absolutely the case with Penn State.

The Lions not only had to overcome all the defensive injuries early in the year, they were also still figuring out their new offense under coordinator Joe Moorhead, with a first-year starting quarterback in Trace McSorley.

Chryst raved about the Penn State signal caller.

“He looks to me like he loves playing the game,” Chryst said. “He competes, has a great energy about him and obviously is talented, makes plays with his arms and makes plays with his feet.

“I like watching him — until this week when you get ready to play him.”

The Lions know they will be in for a very difficult task against Wisconsin’s defense, which has held just about every opponent to well below its average point total.

“They have the numbers to show for it, and they’ve got a bunch of studs over there,” Lions’ running back Saquon Barkley said.

Barkley made it clear Monday that he expects to play in Saturday’s Big Ten title game.

“Yes, I do,” Barkley said on a teleconference. “I’m feeling fine, feeling really good.”

Barkley suffered a right foot or ankle injury in the third quarter of the win over Michigan State and missed the rest of the game. He was still in the locker room getting treatment after the game, so he couldn’t take part in the division championship celebration on the field with his teammates.

Barkley said he didn’t want to miss it, though, so he grabbed his phone and watched the celebration on that.