Sat Oct 22 10:52pm EDT
Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31.
If you're scoring the evening's main event from home, go ahead and call the heavyweight slugfest between Wisconsin's balanced, high-scoring offense and Michigan State's suffocating, nasty defense a draw. The Spartans hounded and hit Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, intercepting him twice, forcing him into a safety and holding the Badgers to a season-low 17 points after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Wilson reclaimed the pedestal with a pair of long touchdown drives to tie the game at 31 with 1:39 to play. Both left looking a little worse for wear but with reputations intact.
For improbable, dramatic, heartbreaking physics, the Spartans win in a knockout. With four seconds on the clock and overtime eminent, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins rolled right at midfield and heaved the ball blindly into a pack of players in the end zone, where it ricocheted off a Wisconsin defender, off a Michigan State receiver and into the waiting arms of MSU's Keith Nichol, who narrowly won a tug-of-war to get the ball across the line for the winning touchdown with time expired. Initially, Nichol was ruled down just shy of the end zone; after a brief replay, he was (correctly) awarded the score, and Michigan State assumed the title of best team in the Big Ten.
It comes at a cost for the conference: Barring an even unlikelier miracle than Cousins' Hail Mary, the end of Wisconsin's undefeated season effectively means the end of the Big Ten's chances of putting a team in the BCS Championship Game in January. Late heroics notwithstanding, I suspect you'll be hearing a lot less about Russell Wilson's chances of winning a certain trophy in December, despite another solid, balanced effort — 223 yards rushing, 223 passing — from the offense as a whole.
But it also leaves a huge opportunity for Michigan State. With back-to-back-to-back wins over Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin in the bank, the Spartans can close out the toughest October gauntlet in the conference with a clean sweep next week at Nebraska, putting them in control of their own destiny in the Legends Division and the long lost Rose Bowl bid they narrowly missed out on last year. Cousins outplayed Wilson tonight, connecting on three touchdowns (including the Hail Mary) with no turnovers. The defense is for real, and the November schedule — Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern — is significantly more forgiving. The same team that was largely written off after a September loss at Notre Dame is one hurdle away from the driver's seat.
However it fares down the stretch, though, it's not going to hit a higher peak than this one, because I'm not sure there are any.