Michigan State Vs. Wisconsin Was The Big Ten’s Best Rivalry Until The Conference Ruined It
Between 2007 and 2012, Michigan State and Wisconsin played every year--and seven times total. The Spartans won four of those matchups, including perhaps the most memorable installment in 2011 at Spartan Stadium that ended on a seemingly divine MSU Hail Mary as time expired.
Wisconsin got revenge later that season, clipping State 42-39 in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Over the course of those five years, the Spartans-Badgers series became the most hotly contested one in the conference. The teams were so close that just six points separated them in total scoring during that span: 215 for MSU, 209 for Wisconsin.
The evenness between the two programs, combined with their annual meetings and similarity in styles, led to the series becoming a full-fledged rivalry--picking up after the schools' basketball programs during the 2000s.
In that span, just one game was decided by more than one possession. One game was decided by a single point. Another went to overtime--it would have been two if not for the Spartans' heroics in the aforementioned 2011 affair in East Lansing. Multiple episodes saw furious comebacks.
Yet more than all that, Michigan State-Wisconsin often played a crucial hand in deciding the league's champion during that stretch in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
But conference realignment ended that.
In its unquenchable thirst for more TV revenue, the Big Ten expanded to 14 schools and redrew its divisions, which ultimately led to the end of the Spartans and Badgers meeting with any regularity. All the while the conference protects such rivalries as Indiana-Purdue (unless we're talking basketball, no one cares) and continues to sell Ohio State-Michigan (two of the three meetings between these two since realignment have been complete blowouts--not to mention the Buckeyes have won 11 of the last 12).
Michigan State and Wisconsin will meet Saturday for the first time since 2012. So does Mark Dantonio miss having the Badgers on the schedule every year?
In a word: No.
"I don't ever sit around and say, 'I wish we were playing this team, I wish we were playing that team,'" Dantonio said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "But they've been great football games."
(You can hear Dantonio's full comments on that subject in the video above.)
During that seven-year span, Michigan State and Wisconsin combined to win three Big Ten championships. They also combined for five 11-win seasons and 102 total victories.
Dantonio said when he first took over in East Lansing in 2007, he looked to Wisconsin as a model for success. Their tough, physical brand of football along with solid defense made them worth emulating, he said.
You can hear Dantonio's full comments on that, as well as his preview of Saturday's game, below.