Fans Deserve More Of Michigan State-Wisconsin Rivalry

    The Michigan State vs. Wisconsin rivalry has seen it all. Saturday will be the first time the Spartans and Badgers have met in four years, and that's not acceptable.

    September 24, 2016

    The Michigan State vs. Wisconsin rivalry has seen it all. Saturday will be the first time the Spartans and Badgers have met in four years, and that’s not acceptable.

    Mark Dantonio named the play “Rocket.” The result was just as exciting and effective as “Little Giants” or “Rangers” despite its identity not possessing the natural ring or postseason ramifications.

    The more common name for such a play is Hail Mary. Most of the praying among Michigan State and Wisconsin fans happened that night as Keith Nichol caught a ricochet from Kirk Cousins’ 44-yard heave. Those deciding the outcome sat high above the Spartan Stadium grass. The original call of no touchdown flipped. Nichol had crossed the line – barely – and Michigan State celebrated a 37-31 win.

    October 22, 2011, didn’t exactly mark the beginning of a budding rivalry between Michigan State and Wisconsin. Thankfully, it didn’t stand as the end, either. The next year provided another classic before conference realignment – something that has contributed to the end of yearly matchups that fans still yearn for.

    The Spartans and Badgers meet Saturday for the first time in four years, and it’s a game that is plenty overdue.

    “That’s the way it’s been. That’s been the past. But, that’s not the recent past,” Dantonio said during this week’s Big Ten media conference call. “That’s been the history here, they’ve been very exciting games. Big plays always play a part in it.”

    Six of the last seven meetings have been decided by eight points or fewer. Dantonio didn’t even personally witness the only one that wasn’t – Michigan State’s 34-24 home win in 2010 – because he was resting in a hospital bed following a mild heart attack caused by the aftermath of “Little Giants,” the fake field goal that beat Notre Dame in overtime two weeks prior.

    Paul Chryst missed only one of the contests, as well: the most recent. The current Wisconsin head coach served as offensive coordinator from 2006-11 before departing for the head job at Pittsburgh in 2012, when the Spartans won, 16-13, in overtime in Madison.

    Future NFL players like Cousins, Le’Veon Bell, Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt have experienced the tight battles between the schools, including the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in 2011 when Wilson guided an eight-play, 64-yard drive in the fourth quarter to give Wisconsin the lead. Michigan State returned a punt inside the five-yard line in the final minute, only to have it called back because of a running-into-the-punter penalty. The Badgers won, 42-39, and went to the Rose Bowl.

    “I really appreciated being a part of those games when I was an assistant,” Chryst said on the conference call. “They were great games and some great players.”

    The uniqueness of Saturday’s game – two schools going four years between meetings despite being in the same conference – isn’t lost on Chyrst.

    “What’s interesting to me, there’s not a single player that’s played Michigan State on our roster. We’re trying to educate them on what (the game) could be like. Just because the games before were (close) doesn’t mean this one’s going to be (close). It’s a big challenge but a great opportunity.”

    Chryst has watched from up close and afar as Michigan State has grown under Dantonio. His offensive scheme got the better of Dantonio’s defensive-minded approach in Wisconsin’s 37-34 win during the latter’s first season in East Lansing (2007). Michigan State kicked a field goal with seven seconds left to win, 25-24, the following year as the rivalry began gaining steam.

    Dantonio was still building the program back then. Now, the Spartans have won a Rose Bowl, a Cotton Bowl and appeared in the College Football Playoff, which “Rangers” – the play named for the group that rushed Michigan’s botched punt and Jalen Watts-Jackson’s historic touchdown last season – helped produce. The 2011 Hail Mary against Wisconsin is just as much a part of Dantonio’s legacy.

    As much as Dantonio tried to build upon some of Wisconsin’s philosophies when he arrived at Michigan State, Chryst now is hoping to model the Badgers into something similar to the Spartans.

    “Since I came back here, now we’re trying to emulate what Michigan State’s doing,” Chryst said. “What Michigan State’s done the last few years, that’s the bar you’re trying to reach.”

    It’s been far too long since the Badgers and Spartans have met. It’s only fitting they both come into Saturday ranked in the AP poll’s top 11 for a Big Ten clash that will impact the title race in the country’s best conference.

    Hopefully Michigan State and Wisconsin create another classic. They won’t meet again until 2019.


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