The Rose Bowl was there for the taking.
After falling behind by 14 points to No. 15 Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday night, No. 11 Michigan State roared back, and took a 22-21 lead on Keith Nichol's lateral to B.J. Cunningham, followed by Brad Sonntag 's two-point conversion.
Despite missing a 51-yard field goal to close the first half, MSU led by a 36-28 count at the end of the third quarter. The Badgers got within two points on Montee Ball's touchdown reception, then went ahead on Ball's third touchdown run of the game after Russell Wilson connected with Jeff Duckworth for 36 yards on a fourth-down play.
The Spartan defense later managed to stop Wisconsin on three straight downs, using up all their timeouts in the process. MSU seemed to have finished its final comeback when Keshawn Martin ran back the ensuing punt within the Badger's 10-yard line, with less than two minutes left in regulation. Plenty of time to score the go-ahead TD and start planning to go to Pasadena next month.
Then a flash of yellow, and it was all gone.
MSU safety Isaiah Lewis, an Indianapolis native who had been victimized on Duckworth's fourth-down catch earlier in the quarter, was flagged for running into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman on a play when there was absolutely no need to rush the kicker.
The ball went over to Wisconsin, the Spartans couldn't stop the clock, Wilson took three straight knees, and the Badgers took the Big Ten title by a 42-39 score.
The loss wasted a nine-catch, 115-yard receiving game from Martin, and a 106-yard rushing effort by Le'Veon Bell. Spartan QB Kirk Cousins finished 22-of-30 for 281 yards, three scores and an interception.
Wilson was 17-of-24 for 187 yards and three TDs for Wisconsin in earning MVP accolades. Ball rushed 27 times for 137 yards and three scores, plus his TD catch, and now has 38 touchdowns on the year—plus a plane ticket to Pasadena.
Any other year and MSU would have already locked up a Rose Bowl berth, especially with its last-second win over Wisconsin in October. Not now, with the Big Ten split into two divisions, and playing a championship game like practically every other major NCAA football conference.
The Badgers are deserving champions, and will represent the Big Ten well next month against Oregon.
But it looks like that 1988 MSU Rose Bowl banner in the Harrison Roadhouse in East Lansing, Mich. will have to wait another year to get some company.