Adam Hoge: Michigan State 31, Wisconsin 28
Phil Mitten: Wisconsin 30, Michigan State 24
Chuck Schwartz: Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 24
Jake Harris: Wisconsin 35, Michigan State 27
John Veldhuis: Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 21
Louis Bien: Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 24
Sam Zastrow: Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 24
College football can be unforgiving. One regular-season loss all but assures a team of elimination from the national championship race. Opportunities for redemption are rare.
The Wisconsin Badgers, however, have a chance to redeem themselves on one of college football's biggest stages Saturday night against Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. If they are successful, they will then have an opportunity to return to the Rose Bowl, where they can avenge last season's two-point loss to TCU.
In a rivalry that has become defined by home-field advantage, it is only fitting that Wisconsin and Michigan State will meet on a neutral field with an undisputed conference championship at stake. The last time the road team won a game in this series was in 2002, when the Badgers knocked off the Spartans 42-24 in East Lansing.
MSU won the first meeting between these teams in 2011 in a game that knocked UW out of the national title chase. Few college football games this season have been as dramatic as the Spartans' 37-31 win on a tipped Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game.
Still, the Badgers suffered a blocked punt, a blocked field goal, two of quarterback Russell Wilson's three interceptions on the season, a safety and the aforementioned Hail Mary, and were still tied with the Spartans as the game clock reached the single digits. A cleaner performance away from the raucous nighttime crowd at Spartan Stadium should lead to a Wisconsin victory.
The key for UW will be containing MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has made a habit of converting third downs against the Badgers. The senior quarterback has completed 64.3 percent of his passes and boasts a 21-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has thrown just two picks in his last seven games.
Wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin are his go-to guys. The Wisconsin defense can attest to their big-play capability; Cunningham caught six balls for 102 yards and a touchdown in the teams' first meeting, while Martin posted a receiving touchdown and also scored on a 34-yard run.
Le'Veon Bell leads State's rushing attack with 10 touchdowns; he averages 5.4 yards per carry. Still, a revamped offensive line has prevented the Spartans from being able to consistently rely on their ground game. Bell has topped the 100-yard mark in just one game this season.
It is arguable that the losses of David Gilbert and Devin Smith on the Badgers' defense hurt more against the Spartans than against any other opponent this season. Marcus Cromartie had trouble covering the tall and physical receivers of MSU and the defensive line couldn't generate a steady pass rush on Cousins. If Cousins has time to throw, it will be a long night for UW.
Defensively, Michigan State is talented. The Spartans rank sixth in the nation in giving up just 15.4 points per game. They gave up 31 points to the Badgers in October, but effectively shut down the UW offense during the second and third quarters, particularly when running back Montee Ball was out of the game.
Defensive end William Gholston, who was serving a one-game suspension during the first match-up, will play for the Spartans. Wisconsin center Peter Konz will travel to Indianapolis for the game, but it remains uncertain whether he will play. Look for the MSU defensive line to pick on Ryan Groy if he replaces Konz on the offensive line.
The Badgers' special teams have been a disaster all season; it is especially disturbing that the unit appears to have regressed over the course of the year. Martin returned a punt for a touchdown against the Badgers in 2010 and the blocked punt and field goal were huge blows to Wisconsin's chances when the teams played two months ago.
In a close game, the Badgers' inability to cover kick and punt returns could play a role.
Who has the edge?
Defense: Michigan State
Special Teams: Michigan State