When the Big Ten expanded into divisions and adopted the championship game format, there was a lot of buzz about it, and rightly so. It was a seismic shift in how the Big Ten was doing business, and a lot of folks thought it was long overdue.
But then the conference's flagship program over the last decade was smacked by an NCAA investigation, after October there was no team in the conference that was a serious player for the BCS National Championship game, and although there were several very good teams, there were no great teams. Many people thought Wisconsin might, but consecutive, devastating losses to MSU and OSU ended that.
Leading up to the championship game, it didn't get a lot of attention, there was a sizeable contingent of fans that thought MSU's win over Bucky back in October was a fluke, and indoors on a neutral field this game would by a Red Rout. Accordingly, the Badgers were 9.5 point favorites at kickoff.
Yeah, all of the people who thought that can suck it. This was hands down the best conference championship game of the weekend, and one of the best games in the Big Ten this decade. Both teams took control, both teams fought back, and it came down to one play.
For a team that has done more than any other in recent years to reform their public image, for a team that had more heady plays in this game, and for a team that is as fundamentally sound and well coached as any in the conference...
But Michigan State didn't lose this game. Wisconsin won it. They started out by pounding Montee Ball early and often. By the end of the first quarter he had 105 yards rushing and 2 TD's and Wisconsin opened up a 21-7 lead. Ball was just gashing State, but apparently Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst thought he was already back in Pasadena and quit using him until the fourth quarter.
But MSU came storming back, scoring 22 points in the second quarter and taking a 29-21 lead on two real heads up plays. Down 21-14 and at the Badger 10, Kirk Cousins hit Keith Nichol at the 7, who lateraled it to B.J. Cunningham, who walked in for the score. Mark 'Brass Balls' Dantonio went for two, got it, and before you know it Sparty is up 22-21, and momentum is completely on their side.
Michigan State maintained an 8 point lead for a good part of the second half, but it was down to 3 when Wisconsin got the ball at their own with just over 8 minutes left. Russel Wilson, who was named the game's MVP, repeatedly kept plays alive, and with the Rose Bowl on the line he hit his own Hail Mary, connecting with Jeff Duckworth for 36 yards down to the MSU 7. Ball, who had been put in witness protection by Chryst, reappeared as Eric Gustafson and scored from 7 yards out.
After a Sparty punt and a Wisconsin three and out, MSU was poised to get the ball back with time on the clock, decent field position, and the most experienced quarterback in the Big Ten to lead them to a B1G title.
Oh, Sparty. No. A running into the kicker on 4th and 4 lead to a Wisconsin first down. Wilson kneeled down, ran out the clock, and Wisky is your B1G champion.
And no, it wasn't a bullshit call. Should Brad Nortman get an Academy Award nomination for his flop job? Sure, but it was a good call by the official. MSU ran into the punter, AND IT'S THE ONE THING YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT DO IN THAT SITUATION. You don't go for the block under any circumstances. Make sure the punt gets off clean and there's no fake, then get your ass back downfield and block. You're taught that starting in Pee Wee football.
But Sparty ran into the kicker. Legitimately, absolutely, ran into the kicker. I thought the officials called a very good game overall, and this was an easy call.
So Wisconsin goes to the Rose Bowl to face Oregaon, who has been whipped in consecutive BCS bowls by Ohio State and Auburn. Don't be that guy, Bucky. You know what I mean. Run Montee Ball against that small Oregon defensive line until they throw up, then run him until HE throws up.
And then run him some more.
For Sparty, this was a Chutes and Ladders game for them. Win and they climb the ladder to the Rose Bowl. Lose, and ride a chute way, way, way down to possibly the Insight Bowl, and Michigan will move ahead of them and get the second at-large BCS berth for the conference. At least that's what conventional wisdom is saying.
Of course, conventional wisdom also said that Wisky would walk all over MSU in a rematch, and that wasn't the case. Personally, this game showed to me that these were the two best teams in the conference, but will both of them get a BCS game? According to the BCS guru and his projections (which interestingly have Oklahoma State vaulting past Alabama):