Wisconsin opened the season with six consecutive wins and certainly looked the part of a national title contender. Unfortunately for the Badgers, they fell to this very same Michigan State team in East Lansing by a thrilling 37-31 final back on October 22nd and followed that effort with a four-point road loss to Ohio State. To the credit of coach Bret Bielema and his players, they managed to get back on track and close the regular season with four straight wins. Last weekend, the Badgers earned a berth in this title game by crushing Penn State by a 45-7 final.
"Obviously this is the first time in Big Ten history where you get rematches," said Bielema of this weekend's showdown. "It's going to be a very exciting time with two teams that have mutual respect for each other, two different personalities but very similar."
Just like the Badgers, the Spartans carry a four-game win streak into this championship game. The lone losses this season for Mark Dantonio's Michigan State squad came at Notre Dame and at Nebraska, while the most recent win occurred last weekend over Northwestern by a 31-17 final.
"We will remember this for the rest of our lives, this game, and that's the kind of focus we put on this football game," said Dantonio, whose team wrapped up the Big Ten Legends Division title with the victory over Northwestern. "We wanted to have momentum going into next week, we'll have that. There will be no looking back right now, we'll be able to push through and move on to the next thing."
Michigan State owns a 29-21 series lead over Wisconsin after the win back on October 23rd.
The Badgers have been tremendously well balanced on offense this season, rushing for 246.7 ypg while passing for 230.4 total ypg. Don't be surprised if tailback Montee Ball gets some Heisman consideration, as he has rushed for 1,622 yards and 29 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. Add five receiving touchdowns to the mix and his numbers are off the charts. QB Russell Wilson is another tremendous performer who has completed a stellar 72.7 percent of his passes for 2,692 yards and 28 touchdowns against three INTs. Nick Toon checks in with 52 catches for 788 yards and nine scores to pace the receivers in an offense that is loaded with weapons.
While Wisconsin is racking up 44.8 ppg, the team is allowing only 15.2 ppg and 278.2 total ypg to opponents. The Badgers are yielding fewer than four yards per rushing attempt and have come up with 14 interceptions while registering 23 sacks. Mike Taylor paces Wisconsin with 128 total tackles, while Antonio Fenelus is tops with four interceptions.
Ball ran for 156 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries against Penn State last week, and Wilson threw for 186 yards and two TDs without an interception. The Badgers finished the day with 450 total yards while allowing a mere 233 offensive yards to Penn State.
"Forty-five points is a lot of points against a good defense," said Bielema after the romp. "I think that's the part that really gets lost. The numbers that Montee (Ball) and Russell have put up have been against teams that have been ranked nationally, some top-10 teams, Illinois and Penn State in particular. That part is that I wish people would hone in on."
Michigan State isn't nearly as productive offensively as Wisconsin, but the Spartans have been able to post 30.2 ppg despite gaining a modest 383.7 total ypg. It all starts with QB Kirk Cousins, who has thrown more TD passes than any player in program history. He has tossed 21 scores this season against only six INTs and has completed 64.3 percent of his passes en route to 2,735 yards. Star wideout B.J. Cunningham has 67 catches for 1,125 yards and nine TDs, while Le'Von Bell has rushed for 794 yards and 10 scores.
"We're 60 minutes from the Rose Bowl and that's what we talked about last year, that's what we talked about this year at the start of the season," said Cousins, looking forward to this weekend's showdown.
The Michigan State defense is every bit as good as Wisconsin's, as the Spartans are yielding a modest 15.4 ppg and 266.7 total ypg. They are tremendous against the run, permitting opposing ball carriers to average a lowly 2.9 yards per attempt. The pass defense has garnered more INTs than TD passes allowed, and 38 sacks have been notched. Chris Norman paces Michigan State with 13 TFL, including seven sacks.
In the 14-point win over Northwestern last week, MSU posted 380 total yards and three TDS while permitting 370 total yards and two scores to the Wildcats. Cousins finished with 214 passing yards and two TDs, both of which went to the dynamic Cunningham.