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So, here we are. It's gameday for the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game. It's Michigan State and Wisconsin, Spartans and Badgers, Legends and Leaders. If history is any indication, we are in for one heck of a game.
Last year, these two teams shared the title of Big Ten Champion. Without the luxury of a championship game, the Badgers went to the Rose Bowl and the Spartans went to the Capital One Bowl.
If you have forgotten this year's matchup between the Badgers and Wisconsin, shame on you. It was a classic Big Ten battle that came down to the final play and a Hail Mary from the Spartans that proved football really is a game of inches.
Now, they get to play for the Stagg Trophy and a trip to the Rose Bowl. It's not quite "win or go home" but it has that feel. They'll have the national spotlight and a chance to prove they are the Big Ten's best.
For Wisconsin, the story of the season has been on the offensive side of the football. Pick your poison. Try containing junior running back Montee Ball and Russell Wilson will pick you apart. If you're lucky enough to control one or both of those, the Badgers have Nick Toon (or as Badger fans say, "Toooooooooon") to make plays from the receiver position.
Ball (appropriately named) has already broken the Big Ten single-season touchdown record with 34 and is just five behind the national record set by Barry Sanders (you might have heard of him). Meanwhile, Wilson has just been plugging along having one of the most efficient seasons from the quarterback position in the history of NCAA football. With a 192.90 rating, he is on pace to set a new NCAA record for pass efficiency. Oh, and don't forget about Tooooon who has 52 receptions, 788 yards and nine touchdowns.
If there is any team up to the challenge of slowing the Badger offense, it is Michigan State. The Spartans rank third nationally in total defense at 266.67 yards per game, rank sixth in scoring defense at 15.42 points per game, seventh in pass efficiency defense, eighth in pass defense and 11th in rushing defense. Sparty is tough.
Michigan State may lack the star power on the offensive side of the ball that Wisconsin has but they have a leader who just refuses to lose. Fifth-year senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is the winningest quarterback in school history. Cousins has compiled a 26-11 record in his 37 starts and is 21-4 in his last 25 starts. And honestly, it feels like he's been at MSU forever. I can't confirm it but I think he and Earvin "Magic" Johnson were a part of the same recruiting class.
Maybe Sparty's lack of star power is what makes this team special. The collective whole is better than its individual pieces. Coach Dantonio knows how to get the most out of his players and he is not shy about their goal. He mentioned in his press conference that they have placed roses in all the players' lockers. Of course, a not so subtle reference to the Rose Bowl.
So what should we expect out of the game? I don't know, that's a great question. (Yes, I just complemented my own question)
I would expect that Wisconsin is playing with a chip on their shoulder (I would also expect them to play with shoulder pads on their shoulders). They may be an angry football team tonight. Meanwhile, Michigan State wants to prove that they belong at College Football's "Grown Ups Table." There's just something about the Spartans that makes the team special. They didn't have an individual award winner but here they are, ranked ninth in the country and playing for the Big Ten Championship and a ticket to the Rose Bowl.
In the end, I think the Badgers offense is just too good. And I know that's the "easy" pick. Indoors, on turf, I'm expecting a high scoring game but a close one. I wouldn't be shocked if Montee Ball has that "Heisman Moment" that seems to have escaped college football this season. A big game from him and he may shoot up some Heisman ballots which are due Monday. (Why is Ball not getting more consideration for the Heisman? All he has done is score. And to think he hasn't even played in most of his team's fourth quarters!) The final? I'll go 38-35, Badgers win.
More than anything, embrace tonight's game. 100 years from now, they may still be playing a Big Ten Championship Game and we'll get to say we witnessed the first one. It's a special night for not only these student-athletes but the Big Ten as a whole. Be proud. Be Leaders. Be Legends... And be B1G.
What. A. Night! The Big Ten knows how to throw an event...a B1G event.
The Awards Gala was a night to honor the Big Ten and its student-athlete achievements. Awards were given out and we were all reminded why being apart of the Big Ten is something special. We should take great pride in this conference, its schools, its students, and its student-athletes of the past, present and future.
The Big Ten stars were out on this special night. Appearances included Bob Griese, Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Dick Butkus, Ron Dayne, Dallas Clark and many more.
I caught up with a few of the stars in attendance to see what they thought of the B1G Ten and the Championship Game.
Former Athlete: Ron Dayne
Achievements: Holds the NCAA record for most rushing yards, Big Ten Player of the Year 1999, All-American in 1996, '98, '99, 1999 Heisman Trophy Winner. (Between Ron Dayne and the endzone is not a place I want to be)
His thoughts on Montee Ball and prediction on the game:
"He's just out there having fun. They're winning and he's breaking records - that's great. Hopefully Wisconsin can win and it doesn't come down to a Hail Mary again. As long as Wisconsin wins, I'll be very happy. Maybe we'll win on a Hail Mary this time."
Former Athlete: Dallas Clark
Achievements: 2002 All-Big Ten, Consensus First Team All-American, John Mackey Award Winner
His thoughts on what it means to be a part of the Big Ten:
"It's just one big family especially in the first year for an event like this. With the whole transition of two divisions, I think it's something new and something fresh. Everybody seems to be taking it in stride. Everyone and everything has been so positive and everyone is enjoying themselves."
Former Athlete: Bob Griese
Achievements: Two-time All-American, Second in Heisman voting in 1966, led Purdue to their first Rose Bowl Appearance
His thoughts on the big game "experience":
"Back in '67 when we took Purdue to the Rose Bowl, it was all about the game. Now, there's a celebration all week. The Super Bowl has turned in to a two-week festival. The games are much bigger. The game is what everything is built around but they want to get the fans more involved. The fans want to come and celebrate and do what they do best - celebrate.
His thoughts on the Griese-Brees winner Russell Wilson:
"I saw Russell when he played for NC State and I was working with ESPN. I knew before he went to Wisconsin how good a player he was. I knew what type of player Wisconsin was getting. I thought Wisconsin would and should be favored to win the Big Ten. He's an outstanding player and I think he's going to be a pretty good NFL player as well."
I am just one of approximately 470,000 students that attend Big Ten universities but I take great pride in that and I was reminded why last night. Two teams will battle tonight to see who is "top dog" in the conference but in the end, I hope everyone realizes how great the conference as a whole is. It's big time, it's the Big Ten.
We all know the clichés. "Games aren't played on paper" or "...and that's why you play the game." Fortunately, there will be a real football game with real players on a kind of real (read: artificial turf) football field. However, it is fun to consider the alternatives. What would happen if you mascots were involved (I'm looking at you state of Ohio)? Who wins? Spartan or Badger?
My first inclination is to go with the human mascot - the Spartan. But in the words of former B1G coach Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend."
Let's take a look at both universities' mascots.
The Spartan - an intimidating character. Michigan State's version, Sparty, has got everything a, uh, female warrior could ever want. He's strong, confident, muscular, intense, did I mention he has a lot of muscles yet? However, he was not MSU's first mascot. That would be an Aggie, which was an ode to the school's agriculture ... roots (pun intended).
Sparty is well decorated. In 2004, he won best Mascot National Championship at the Universal Cheer Association/Universal Dance Association College Nationals. If winning it once wasn't enough, he repeated in 2005 and again in 2007. He is also featured on the cover of the Nintendo Wii's NCAA Football 2009 video game. These are all great honors but are they enough to outduel the feisty Badger?
Badger... Bucky Badger. Well actually, if we're getting technical his full name is Buckingham U. Badger. Bucky was originally portrayed as a cartoon. Then, the university decided to bring the mascot to life - a decision they would regret. The Badger proved too aggressive for the sidelines and had to be donated to a local zoo. Advantage Badger.
Currently, Bucky roams the sidelines in a cardinal red and white striped sweater. Don't let the sweater fool you. Bucky is one tough badger. One tradition involves push-ups after every score...no questions asked. After the 83-20 drumming of IU last year, that is one Badger I don't want to fight.
So, after further review and minutes upon minutes of consideration I have to go with Bucky. While it's tough to go against a mascot based off these guys, doesn't Sparty's wardrobe almost resemble a dress?! Plus, can you ever bet against a dancing Badger? I think not.
In the end, I think the Badger pulls the upset. He's angry, ferocious and seeking some revenge.
Disclaimer: No mascots were harmed in the entry of this blog and the Big Ten Mobile Tour in no way condones mascot-on-mascot violence.
The Big Ten's Honoring Legends. Building Leaders. Mobile Tour makes its final stop this weekend in Indianapolis for the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game.
The Mobile Tour will be at Big Ten Fan Fest on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, and the Stagg Championship Trophy will be on site until approximately 2 p.m. before it is taken to Lucas Oil Stadium and presented to the winner of the title game.
Purdue's Jonathan Gandolf will be blogging during weekend, from the coaches press conferences this afternoon through the trophy presentation on Saturday.
Follow @B1GMobileTour on Twitter for more information.
Michigan State's Brittany McCormick did a great job reporting on the Big Ten's Honoring Legends. Building Leaders. Mobile Tour during its stop in East Lansing!
Remember to follow the tour all season long on this blog and on Twitter @B1GMobileTour and vote for your favorite reporter at the end of the season. The winning student will get a trip to the Big Ten Football Championship Game or a Big Ten bowl game of their choice!
Good morning Big Ten Country!
I hope all of you had a great time following the Stagg-Paterno trophy's journey throughout the campus of Michigan State. It spent some time at the Union where many students and faculty were able to get a picture with it and it was seen by hundreds of students who went to go eat lunch on Friday at the Brody Cafeteria. Many Spartan basketball fans were able to get a glimpse of it at both the men's and women's basketball exhibition games. And of course, the trophy was present for football game day yesterday before the Michigan State vs. Minnesota game.
I had a blast documenting the trophy at Michigan State and having the chance to share with the rest of the Big Ten a place that I am more than happy to call home. I just wanted to give a special thanks to the Big Ten for this amazing opportunity, all the staff that was working on the tour and to my office, MSU Athletic Communications, for all of their support. We hope to see the Stagg-Paterno trophy again soon in December at the championship game! GO GREEN!
10:30 p.m.: I've been asking the question 'what does it mean to be a Spartan?' for the past few days- but when I asked the question to myself, I honestly had a hard time picking one answer.
Being a Spartan is staying up late to watch our football team run trick plays in overtime to beat Notre Dame or throw Hail Mary passes with no time left to take down Wisconsin. It's waking up at 7 a.m. to go tailgating for every home football game (which we won ours today over Minnesota 31-24 - GO GREEN!) It's going every year to the historic Joe Louis Arena to watch our hockey team take on Michigan in a storied rivalry. It's traveling a short road down to Detroit or a longer one to Indianapolis to watch our men's basketball team play in back-to-back Final Fours.
It's being able to celebrate Big Ten Championships. It's about being able to walk around campus (most of the time in the snow) and yell "Go Green!" and hear the more than anticipated response of "Go White!" It's taking a picture in front of the Sparty Statue or even with Sparty himself. It's about sticking together through tough losses and cheering for your team no matter what
But more importantly, being a Spartan is something more than any of us can really put into words. I captured just a glimpse of what it means to be a Spartan in this video of Spartan game day. To hear more on what it truly means to be a part of the Green and White, just ask any Spartan - they'd be more than happy to tell you.
11:30 a.m.: Happy game day Spartan Nation! Check out some pictures from tailgating and of some fans that visited the trophy this morning. I also included a picture of the Spartan's Big Ten Trophy from 2010 for some motivation. Stay tuned for a video later that will recap all the Spartan game day traditions. It's a beautiful football Saturday here in East Lansing - GO GREEN!
On my list of what it means to be a Spartan, is being in the Izzone. The Izzone is the men's basketball student section and plays a huge role in the atmosphere in the Breslin on game day. We're loud and crazy and are always cheering for our team. To be in the Izzone you have to prove your dedication by attending a one night campout, a day I look forward to every year (and trust me, I'm not that much of a camper). At the campout, there's food, games, bands and the team and Coach Izzo even come out to meet with the students and answer questions. Some members of the Izzone came by to visit the trophy.
Here is a video that summarizes the trophy's journey so far and continues on with the theme of what it means to be a Spartan.
This was a quick update tonight, for there is much to prepare for for tomorrow! We will see all you tailgaters bright and early before MSU takes on Minnesota at noon. The Stagg-Paterno trophy will be setup on the North side of the stadium from 8:30 a.m. until noon and then again from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. With that, sleep tight Spartan nation- we have a big game tomorrow! GO GREEN!
1:00 p.m.: Hello from Brody Square! The Stagg-Paterno trophy visited the Brody Cafeteria this morning and many students were able to get their picture taken with it on their way to eat either breakfast or lunch.
The Brody Complex is a group of six dorms that surround a main cafeteria. Many freshmen start their journeys at Michigan State here. I lived in Brody my freshman year and it is where I started learning about what it meant to be a Spartan. Whether it was late night cafeteria runs for some pizza or just hanging out in our lounge, I found out that being a Spartan means that you are always surrounded by friends who eventually turn into what you consider family
Another answer to the question of what it means to be a Spartan is the excitement on Friday afternoons. You can feel it in the air as everyone gets ready for the weekend ahead. This weekend is a big one on the campus of Michigan State. The men's basketball team plays in its exhibition game tonight which will serve as its last contest before it faces UNC at the Carrier Classic on Nov. 11th. And let's not forget about the main event tomorrow. The No. 15 Michigan State football team takes on Minnesota in a key Legends division matchup.
The sun is shining, campus is alive and I know I'm excited for this weekend to get started. See you all at the men's basketball exhibition game later. The trophy will be outside section 129 from 6:15 to 8:30 p.m.. In preparation for the men's game, I included a picture of our statue of one of MSU's greatest basketball legends - Magic Johnson. And as always, GO GREEN!