There are a few general rules to live by in college football:
1. If you are going to lose a game, do it early.
2. Don’t do anything which “challenges the ethical standards of the NCAA” (at least don’t get caught).
3. If it’s late October and Brent Musberger and Kirk Herstreit show up in your city, it must be a huge game.
High above the field at Spartan Stadium on Saturday Night, Brent and Herby will be presiding over arguably the biggest game left in the Big Ten this season, short of the conference championship: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State.
After the unveiling of the first BCS standings of the season, Wisconsin is ranked No. 6 behind Boise State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Alabama and LSU. The Badgers certainly have a claim to be ranked a few spots higher. However, the fundamental truth for any team from a power conference with a gripe about their BCS ranking is to just keep winning. The rest will sort itself out (no, I’m not talking to you, 2004 Auburn Tigers).
The Badgers don’t have to wait long for an opportunity to go out and impress the pollsters and computers (if it is, in fact, possible to impress a computer). The game in East Lansing provides Wisconsin an excellent chance to showcase their team, especially Heisman candidate Russell Wilson.
Many wonder if Wisconsin will find itself in the BCS National Championship if they run the table and win the aforementioned inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. The more pertinent question right now is: can the Badgers get past Michigan State, who is ranked No. 16 in the BCS?
Michigan State certainly looked impressive in their win against Michigan, but the Spartans have not put on the kind of show this year that Wisconsin has. The Badgers have been flat out dominant, steamrolling all six of their opponents by 31 points or more. While they haven’t played the “Murderer’s Row” schedule that some of the other highly ranked BCS teams (namely LSU and Alabama) have, the Badgers waxed Nebraska in Madison two weeks ago.
Wisconsin ranks in the top eight nationally in both total offense and total defense. Their two-headed monster at running back, Montee Ball and James White, is arguably the most electrifying duo in the country. Russell Wilson is first in the NCAA in passing efficiency. On the surface, it doesn’t look like the Spartans have much of a chance in this one.
Until you take a harder look.
Here’s how Michigan State can shake up the BCS and pull off the upset over the Badgers:
1. Ride the Defense
Michigan State is ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in total defense. In their five wins this season, the Spartans have given up less than a touchdown a game. They were tested against an extremely athletic quarterback in Denard Robinson last week, an answered the bell. Michigan State can load the box with as many as eight defenders to slow down the Wisconsin running game, and rely on stud cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Isaiah Lewis to play one-on-one coverage.
It’s no secret Wisconsin is going to score points—they’ve reached the 50 plateau three times already this season. However, Michigan State is the best defensive team the Badgers will face all year and should be able to slow down what has become and well-oiled offensive machine for Wisconsin.
2. Run the Football
Last week Michigan State rediscovered one of the most important reasons they were 11-2 in 2010: the running game. The Spartans rushed for 213 yards against the Wolverines, with 167 of those yards coming from Doak Walker watch list nominee Edwin Baker.
While it sounds cliché, the running game will accomplish two imperative goals for the Spartans: alleviate the pressure on Kirk Cousins to make big plays and control the clock, keeping the Wisconsin offense off the field.
If there is one chink in the armor for the Badgers, it is their run defense which is ranked No. 42 in the nation. The Spartans must get the speed from Baker as well as the tough yardage from Le’Veon Bell to keep the upset-minded Spartans’ hopes alive.
3. Embrace the Moment
The Spartans get an undefeated Wisconsin team at Spartan Stadium, at night, in primetime on ESPN and on Homecoming. If there was ever a time for the crowd to have an impact on a game, it’s in East Lansing on Saturday.
The atmosphere should be electric, and the 8:00 p.m. start will give the fans plenty of time to “prepare” during the tailgate. The Spartans need to feed of the emotion of their fans, and play inspired, yet sound football.
Remember, it was exactly a year ago that an unbeaten Ohio State squad tasted defeat for the first time at the hands of the Badgers at Camp Randall. Michigan State has an uphill battle to climb, but all the pieces in place to give Wisconsin a taste of their own medicine.