Saturday, December 3, 2011

Notebook: MSU-Wisconsin becoming a border rivalry

Special to The Oakland Press

EAST LANSING — There are several college rivalries that revolve around a border.

Michigan and Ohio share a border, adding intensity to their rivalry. Kansas and Missouri have played in “The Border War” for more than 100 years.

There may be a new border rivalry brewing in college football: Michigan State and Wisconsin. Yes, they share a border in the Upper Peninsula. Don't tell Tom Izzo it doesn't count.

“When I think about teams other than Michigan State that are big, power teams, I look at Wisconsin, offensive guard Chris McDonald said. “Being an offensive lineman, you always (believe) it’s on us It’s on our shoulders. … I do feel like it has become a rivalry because we’re both power teams and powerhouses going at it head to head.”

The average margin of victory in the past five meetings is 5.6 points, with MSU winning three of those five. There have been tight finishes as well, with the Spartans winning on a last-second field goal in 2008 and a Hail Mary earlier this season.

In 1993, Wisconsin won its first Big Ten title in 30 years with a victory over MSU — in Japan. In 2004, MSU ended No. 4 Wisconsin’s national title hopes with a 49-14 blowout victory in East Lansing.

Now they will add another chapter with the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game this Saturday (8:17 p.m., FOX).

When head coach Mark Dantonio took the reins at MSU, he wanted to model his program after Wisconsin and Iowa. Both programs are based on toughness and have deal with not being one of the big boys of the conference (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska).

But while the conference is home to some of the winningest programs of all-time, MSU and Wisconsin have built solid programs of their own and will be on display Saturday.

Clearly this is a new era of football in this conference with the addition of Nebraska and formation of the different divisions,” Dantonio said. “So clearly it's a new era and clearly this year and 2011, Michigan State and Wisconsin are the two best teams in this conference. That is without question, I believe.”

MSU and Wisconsin reached the championship game because they were the toughest teams, the pillar upon which the programs have grown.

--Heavy underdogs

The MSU-Wisconsin matchups have guaranteed a close finish in recent years, but that may not be expected this time around, as the Badgers are as much as a 10-point favorite.

The Spartans are used to being the underdogs. Many key contributors of this team weren’t highly recruited and the Spartans weren’t picked by many to win the Legends division, or the previous matchup with the Badgers.

While the chance of playing in the Rose Bowl provides all the motivation necessary, the fact that everyone is picking Wisconsin to win gives the Spartans a little more of a chip on their shoulders.

“It's not all bad. We're the little guy,” Dantonio said. “Everybody wants the little guy to win, so have a couple more people sitting on the fence maybe sway our way and make a little noise.”

--Avoiding the weather

Snow has arrived in Michigan, but the weather won’t be a factor this Saturday, as the Big Ten title game will be played in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The indoor stadium and its turf will provide a boost to faster players, which could help MSU, as speedy wide receiver Keshawn Martin scored two touchdowns in the previous meeting with Wisconsin.

Martin has played two games in a domed stadium for MSU, the 2009 Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech and a regular season game at Ford Field against Florida Atlantic last year. In those two games, Martin has six catches for 139 yards, a 47-yard punt return and a 46-yard kick return

“I always like playing on turf,” Martin said. “It just gives me that extra boost. It feels like I’m flying out there. I’m definitely excited to play on turf and in a dome.”

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