47F Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
If the second meeting between Wisconsin and Michigan State is anything like the first, the inaugural Big Ten championship game could prove a tough act to follow in future years.
With a Rose Bowl berth on the line and both teams riding four-game winning streaks, the 11th-ranked Spartans and 15th-ranked Badgers face off at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday night.
Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) was a contender for the national championship before suffering a 37-31 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 22, when Kirk Cousins connected with Keith Nichol for the game-winning touchdown pass for the Spartans on the final snap.
"We're looking forward to it," Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said of the rematch. "We were frustrated with the way that game ended. But we're not going to overplay the revenge thing."
The Spartans (10-2, 7-1) lost their next game to Nebraska, but closed the regular season with four straight wins including a 31-17 victory over Northwestern last Saturday. They're averaging 38.5 points and 423.8 yards of total offense during the winning streak.
Cousins, who threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin in October, has thrown 10 touchdowns and one interception over the last four wins. His 62 career touchdown passes are a school record.
"Any individual records are a testament to the team and the more records we can pile up shows how special the team has been," said Cousins, who is 21-3 as a starter for Michigan State.
While Nichol caught the winning touchdown against Wisconsin, senior wideout B.J. Cunningham has been Cousins' No. 1 target. He ranks first in Michigan State history in receptions (206) and needs 88 more receiving yards to pass Andre Rison as the Spartans' all-time leader. He had six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown in the October win over Wisconsin.
The Badgers have their own outstanding senior quarterback in Russell Wilson, but two of his three interceptions this season came against Michigan State.
Wilson, who hasn't been picked off since that game, leads the nation with a 192.9 passer rating. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday in Wisconsin's 45-7 win over then-No. 20 Penn State.
A transfer from N.C. State, Wilson has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 36 straight games, tying former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell's NCAA record.
"I knew that if I came here that we'd have an opportunity to excel, and possibly have an opportunity to play for the first-ever Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl," Wilson said.
On the ground, Wisconsin's Montee Ball must face Michigan State's tough run defense. Ball ran for 115 yards and one touchdown against the Spartans in October, but this time he'll contend with defensive end William Gholston, who was suspended prior to the teams' first meeting.
Gholston has 59 tackles and is second on the Spartans with 11 for loss. Michigan State ranks 11th in the FBS against the run, giving up 102.5 yards per game.
Ball might give the Spartans all they can handle. His 34 touchdowns (29 rushing, five receiving) are second-most in a single season in NCAA history. Barry Sanders holds the record, scoring 39 for Oklahoma State in 11 games in 1988.
"Whatever the offensive line wants," Ball said of the chance to approach Sanders' mark. "If they want me to get there, then I'll get there. But I'm really looking forward to that, it's an entire offensive achievement, it's going to be a great feeling if I do break it."
After back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, Ball has amassed 797 total yards and 13 touchdowns during Wisconsin's four-game win streak. He had four touchdowns in the victory over the Nittany Lions last week.
Michigan State is trying for its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988. Wisconsin lost to TCU in Pasadena last January.
"That's what's so exciting about this championship type format, is whatever you've done up until this point, it's on a resume and you can talk about it," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "But you're going to play this particular game and have an opportunity to settle it on the field."