2011 Big Ten Football Championship

Big Ten football fans

Big Ten Championship Game Review: Wisconsin 42, Michigan State 39


The first game of the 2011 season between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Michigan State Spartans was so uproariously entertaining that the two teams decided to play the same game again. A thoroughly enjoyable show once again unfolded in the Big Ten on Saturday night in Indianapolis, with two important differences: This time, the game was for the league championship, and this time, Wisconsin came out on top after a Hail Mary and a controversial finish.

Back on October 22, it was Michigan State receiver Keith Nichol who caught a Hail Mary pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to slay the Badgers, 37-31, on the final play of regulation. This year, it was Wisconsin which found pop-fly magic in a desperate situation. Facing 4th and 6 from the Michigan State 43 with just over four minutes left in regulation, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema wisely decided to go for the first down. In a shootout, a punt was out of the question. Bielema’s decision was rewarded when UW quarterback Russell Wilson lofted a pass into double coverage that was somehow pulled down by Badger receiver Jeff Duckworth, who outfought two Michigan State defenders for the ball. On the next play, Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy finalist – a Ball named Montee – scooted into the end zone from the MSU 7 to put the Badgers in front.

Then came the controversy which followed the Hail Mary.

A month ago, the Wisconsin-Sparty climax was shrouded in questions when instant replay was needed to overturn an on-field ruling. Officials initially determined that when Nichol caught his game-winning pass for the Spartans, he was stopped at the Wisconsin 1. Replay showed that Nichol managed to push the ball across the plane of the goal line. Some observers disagreed, but a majority felt that the right call was made.

This time around in a Badger-Spartan shootout, the endgame controversy acquired a similar dimension. With Wisconsin leading by three points (42-39) and punting inside the two-minute mark, Michigan State punt rusher Isaiah Lewis lightly bumped Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman, who proceeded to collapse onto the turf in a clear acting job. Strictly by rule, it was allowable for the on-field official to throw a running-into-the-kicker flag, good for five yards and a Wisconsin first down. In that sense, the proper call was made. Yet, the reality of Nortman’s excessive salesmanship created the notion that the contact was oversold. In the end, the minority argument lost to the majority argument, as was the case back in October. Michigan State returned that punt inside the Wisconsin 5, but when the yellow laundry appeared on the field, Wisconsin had secured its second straight Rose Bowl appearance.

It was all a bitter pill to swallow for Michigan State.

Last year, Michigan State should have been the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl selection following a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Ohio State. In the three-way head-to-head comparison among the teams, the 2010 Michigan State team owned a 1-0 record against Wisconsin and Ohio State, having beaten the Badgers while not playing the Buckeyes. Wisconsin beat Ohio State but lost to Michigan State, giving the Badgers a 1-1 record against its two co-champions in the 2010 Big Ten. Ohio State – a loser to Wisconsin – went 0-1 in the three-team comparison. Michigan State – by having a better record in three-way competition with Wisconsin and Ohio State – probably should have gone to the Granddaddy. Instead, the final 2010 BCS standings, put Wisconsin in the game.

Now, one year later, Wisconsin has again vaulted past Michigan State because of another controversy.

Wisconsin fans and players shouldn’t apologize for this win – not by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever. That said, this is a hard loss for Michigan State to take. A program that hasn’t made the Rose Bowl since January of 1988 will have to wait another year.

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By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer