Will the East Lansing Spartans be able to keep their momentum going when they battle the Wisconsin Badgers—the No. 1 team in the Big Ten—this weekend?
To make a concession, I thought the Spartans would be reeling after losing to Michigan last weekend in the Paul Bunyan Trophy clash of the titans. Instead, Michigan State is on fire.
At the same time, the Badgers come into this battle between division elites as the No. 6 team in the BCS—the highest ranking for any Big Ten team. The two conference combatants, set to clash in East Lansing on Saturday, could be foreshadowing the Big Ten Championship Game.
If so, then they’ll make history as the first two teams to spar in the first-ever championship matchup in the conference’s long and glorious history.
Michigan State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) is in first place by one game over Michigan in the Legends Division. In contrast, Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0) trails Penn State by a game in the Leaders Division—only because the Nittany Lions have played one more conference game.
Speaking of Big Ten leaders and legends, the Badgers and Spartans have plenty of them to go around their campuses, and this barn-burner could add more to the folklore. ESPN will broadcast the game in primetime on Saturday night from Spartans Stadium.
First, there is senior Russell Wilson of Wisconsin, who has added his name to the unofficial Heisman Trophy watch list.
The Badger has bedazzled opponents and scored in almost every way possible for a quarterback. He took over the reins last summer for Scott Tolzien on a team needing a quarterback after last year’s Rose Bowl run.
Michigan State likewise has a stellar senior quarterback in Kirk Cousins. A tremendous leader, he really started to heat up against a tough Wolverines defense last Saturday afternoon by throwing well-timed passes to Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham.
Both are seniors, but Martin (who is from Inkster, Michigan) is in the background to NFL-prospect Cunningham. Cousins threw for 269 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against Michigan. MSU will again need big passing numbers this week.
The Spartans will also require running back Edwin Baker to have a big game to match the Wisconsin backfield, whom I believe are the best in the nation. With tailbacks James White and Montee Ball, Wilson can also tote the rock.
For sure, White has been having a ball this season by averaging six yards per pop on 69 carries. Ball, on the other hand, is the leading rusher for the Badgers, with 653 yards on 107 carries—6.1 yards per rush—and 16 eye-popping touchdowns.
White led the Badgers in rushing against Wisconsin last year. He gained 98 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns. The Spartans held the other Badgers tailbacks in check and out-rushed Wisconsin, 175 yards to 165. Baker led MSU with 87 yards on 18 totes.
The Spartans beat the Badgers in East Lansing 34-24 in a battle of unbeatens. It was the Big Ten opener for both. Looking back, Michigan State was ranked No. 24 and Wisconsin No. 11.
In the rivalry at hand, MSU and Wisconsin have split their last four meetings, with MSU winning two of the last three. If their defense stands up like they did against Ohio State and Michigan, then the Spartans have a very good chance to win this game.
Will they? Answering that question is part of what my usually-right-on prognostications are all about, as follows.
The mighty Michigan State defense knows how to corral a quarterback in the pocket by blitzing from the edges with the cornerbacks. Wilson won’t break containment like he did to Nebraska, but Cousins will also be corralled.
Surprisingly, Wisconsin’s defense (No. 3) is ranked just ahead of Michigan State’s.
The Spartans ranked No. 4 in the FBS for points given up per game. Something has to give—by averaging 50.2 points, the Badgers are the No. 1 scoring team in the FBS.
First of all, Wilson has the No. 1 quarterback rating in the nation (210.9). That’s five statistical points ahead of No. 2 Robert Griffin III and 40.4 ahead of No. 3 Andrew Luck. On the flip, Kirk Cousins (140.5) is ranked No. 50.
Secondly, to compare running games, only Bernard Pierce of Temple has scored more rushing touchdowns than Ball this year. Baker has scored two for MSU.
Even though I was wrong about the Spartans last week, I’m predicting that Wisconsin will run away with a win in East Lansing. Badgers: 34-27.
Contact Lake Cruise: Lake Cruise@att.net