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Posted on Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

That's progress: Big Ten moves into title game era with defined champion in Wisconsin

By Kyle Meinke


Warren Herring and the Wisconsin Badgers celebrate at the end of a wild inaugural Big Ten Conference championship game.

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — It was a heartbreaking way for Michigan State to be booted from the Rose Bowl.

It was a thrilling way for Wisconsin to punch its ticket there.

The Spartans will say they're the better team — and they did.

The Badgers will say they're the better team — and they were, on this day.

And, now, this day is all that matters in the new-look Big Ten. That's progress.

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Michigan State can say whatever it wants, Wisconsin can feel whatever it wants, but the bottom line is this: For the first time in the Big Ten's 115-year history, it decided a football championship with a title game.

The Badgers beat the Spartans 42-39 in a thrilling final. They go to the Rose Bowl for a second consecutive year, and Michigan State does not — despite winning 10 games each of the past two years.

In a sport that decides its national champion with a flawed albatross such as the BCS, it's refreshing to see something determined absolutely.

"I know I read a lot in their papers about preparing for the Rose Bowl," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "To get the satisfaction to beat Michigan State, to earn our way there, kind of put that discussion to bed.

"The game itself goes to show that you're true champions. You get to play in a game that decides."

Welcome to championship football, Big Ten. And a welcomed entrance, it was.

Michigan State and Wisconsin went down to the wire earlier this year, with the Spartans prevailing on a Hail Mary touchdown pass that helped them get here — one of the most memorable moments of this college football season.

It fed the hype for the rematch Saturday, with the proverbial marbles — all of them, in fact — on the line. And, somehow, it didn't disappoint.

Wisconsin struck first, and eventually opened a 14-point lead. Michigan State stormed back, eventually taking an eight-point lead of its own.

Tailback Montee Ball's fourth touchdown gave the Badgers their first second-half lead with 3:45 left -- and they wouldn't relinquish it, after Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis ran into the punter, robbing the Spartans of one last possession.

History was written.

"A hundred years from now, people will look back and say, 'Who won that game? Who won the first ever game?" And it's Wisconsin," senior quarterback Russell Wilson said.

Roses were won — and lost.

"It’s a game of inches," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio lamented afterward. "This game of football is so close, you can’t squeeze two fingers together sometimes, it’s that close.

"I learned a long time ago, you can wish things, think about things like this and try to change them, but you can’t change them. We can sit and talk about it, but we’re 10-3 and they’re 11-2 right now, and that’s the way it’s going to fall."

Michigan State blew its chance at a comeback with a silly penalty. But it had a chance, and that's the point. It's been a season of change in the Big Ten, and it's never been more evident the change is for the better.

No more doubts, no more conjecture, no more tiebreakers. As college football prepares to be enveloped in uncertainty — Should Oklahoma State or Alabama play LSU for the national title? — the Big Ten is defining its champion resolutely.

It also antiquates comments such as this, from Michigan State senior receiver B.J. Cunningham: “Wisconsin played a great game. Hats off to them. I feel like we’re a better team than them.”

Sorry, B.J., but feelings don't matter anymore in the era of the Big Ten championship game. Only results.

That gives us electric nights such as this.

And defined champions such as Wisconsin.

Isn't that refreshing?

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 4:11 p.m.

What an exciting game. By both teams. And again it came right down to the wire, BUT this time, MSU didn't have lady luck on their side. B.J. Cunningham said he thinks MSU is the better team. Not sure why he would think that. They got lucky the first time with a last second FLUKE play (ala Flutie - Boston College). And they almost got lucky again last night. But in both games, the Badgers were winning and should of closed the games out with a not so exciting finish. But no, and that is what makes sports so amazing. You never know what will happen. So good luck to the Badgers in Pasadena. And oh will they need it. Quack, Quack. And now that the bowl season is upon us, as usual it is the only time I can bring myself to root for Dantonio and co. Go Blue! Where ever we may end up. We are all so proud of you and wish you boys the best.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

I agree ... Oregon is going to be a handful. Wisconsin's best defense is their offense ... ball control, keep the ball out of Oregon's hands.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

Wisconsin is definetly the Big Ten Champs 11-2 overall, 7-2 in conference, lost to Mich St and Ohio After that there are some very good teams that the big ten has to offer to the bowl selection commitees. I understand Mich State's position, (and I would feel the same if the shoe were on Mich's foot), but their anger is misplaced. Mich dosen't decide where they get to go, that's up to the bowl folks. Mich State 10-3 overall, 7-2 in conference, lost to Wisc and Neb Michigan 10-2 overall, 6-2 in conference, lost to Mich St and Iowa Penn St 9-3 overall, 6-2 in conference, lost to Wisc and Neb Nebraska 9-3 overall, 5-3 in conference, lost to Wisc, Northwestern and Mich I have my hopes for Michigan, but I have to be honest, that where-ever we end up, I'll be happy with the selection and will suppoert all Big Ten teams in their bowl games and root for their victories. Not trying to sound like a saint. Just want to see even match-ups and good football. Go Blue!


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

Imagine a case where one-half of the Big 10 has a great season and someone emerges 12-0 to face the other division's winner at somthing like 8-4. Now imagine the 8-4 team knocks off the 12-0 team in an upset. Do we shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, that's what a championship playoff is for?" It's going to happen. And there'll be all manner of excuse-making when it does. In the run-up to the LSU/Georgia game there were many who were arguing that even if LSU were to lose their championship game, they *still* should go to the BCS championship. Well then why play the game? Gary Danielson -- hyper-partisan for the SEC -- even went further: even if LSU loses the BCS game they should be given at least a share of the BCS championship. Well then ... let's annoint the BCS championship before the bowl games and have a playoff for #2? They want it both ways -- an opinion poll (like in the past) when it suits them; a playoff system for other times.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

@MRunner73 -- I agree with you ... but do you see the point I'm making about "wanting it both ways?" You wrote: "If LSU would have lost to GA, then they should not have been deemed the number 1 team" ... but they likely would have, and many were arguing before the Georgia game that they should be regardless of the outcome. They kept citing the "body of work" LSU had during the regular season. For all the talk about how a playoff solves BCS problems, then what would they say if a 13-0 LSU team lost in the first round? That the eventual champion wasn't legitimate? Or do they want to make such a tournament a double-elimination to avoid such things? As you say, a double-edged sword. If a team is truly the best, they'll win such games. But apparently some wish to reserve the right to say "Nevermind" if their favorite team (or conference) gets tripped up. *sigh* ... I miss the old days of going to a bowl and then spending most of January having friendly sports-bar debates about who's the best.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 5:56 p.m.

That's exactly the point: Conference Championship games are a double edge sword. A division team with one or more losses can steal it way from the undefeated team in an upset win over the undefeated. Just look at the Southern Miss win over Houston. Now, that conference is out of the BCS picture and the revenue it brings because of the Houston loss. That's the risk. An undefeated team must remain undefeated. If LSU would have lost to GA, then they should not have been deemed the number 1 team inspite of the loss. Houston does not deserve to play in a BCS game now.


Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 1:05 p.m.

Does not matter who would have gone from the Big Ten, they'll be embarrassed by the Ducks.