Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 12/4/11
INDIANAPOLIS Aaron Henry waded through the colorful strands of confetti fluttering around him with a singular, all-important celebratory purpose in mind under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium.Henry, Wisconsin's outspoken safety, bounded with unbridled joy toward midfield to snatch a fresh red rose and lift it near his nose for a giant whiff.What did it smell like?"Like a second chance," Henry said. "They smell like another opportunity for us to go out there and finish off what we didn't finish off last year."The Badgers certainly earned that opportunity Saturday night.Wisconsin came from behind to fend off Michigan State for a memorable 42-39 victory in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. In the process, the Badgers advanced to a second straight Rose Bowl and finally proved themselves on a big stage, saving a season that almost certainly would've been viewed as a bust had they lost in devastating fashion yet again to the Spartans. Seven weeks earlier, Michigan State deflated Wisconsin on a last-second Hail Mary to escape with a 37-31 victory, the first of two consecutive Badgers defeats that put their dreams of a magical season in serious peril. But Wisconsin won its final four regular-season games to earn a rare rematch, and the Badgers exacted a measure of payback on the Spartans in a contest that wasn't decided until the final minutes."The way we lost the first time, it was heartbreaking," Henry said. "Prior to that loss, we were thinking about national championship implications. We were thinking about being on a national stage and playing in front of a national audience. To lose the way we did in that game, it was devastating. To have a chance to come back here and redeem ourselves, the game of redemption is what we were calling it. That's what we did."Big Ten champion Wisconsin (11-2) will face Pac-12 champion Oregon (11-2) in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 2, marking the first back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances for the Badgers in 12 years.A year ago, Wisconsin reached the Rose Bowl but fell short during a 21-19 loss against TCU. And in the topsy-turvy world of college football, there were never any guarantees the Badgers would return to such a lofty stage this season. But in stepped quarterback Russell Wilson, the one-year transfer from North Carolina State, who seamlessly transitioned into the team's unquestioned vocal leader on offense and gave Wisconsin a chance to be great once again even after those two losses at midseason threatened to send the Badgers into national obscurity. Wilson earned the game's most valuable player honor on Saturday, completing 17 of 24 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns.After the game, the quarterback was walking on air."It's pretty unbelievable," said Wilson, a rose tucked over his right ear and under the side of his championship hat. "To win the first-ever Big Ten championship game, it's pretty awesome. One-hundred years from now, people will look back at who won that first ever game. It's Wisconsin. That's going to last for a long time."In order to reach this point, the Badgers first had to escape the demons that haunted them on a crisp East Lansing night back on Oct. 22 and left many questioning whether they truly were an elite college football team. Everything that went wrong for Wisconsin in the teams' first matchup a safety, a missed field goal, a blocked punt for a touchdown, poor kickoff coverage, the one-in-a-million Hail Mary seemed to be reversed on Saturday.It was Michigan State that saw a 27-yard completion overturned because wide receiver Keshawn Martin's foot was out of bounds on replay. It was Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy that missed a 51-yard field goal try just before halftime. And it was Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis who was flagged for running into the kicker in the final two minutes of the game, giving the ball back to the Badgers, who overcame two separate eight-point deficits earlier and took a knee to salt the contest away."Both were great games, possibly the two best games of the college football season, period," Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "One went our way, one didn't. Obviously would have liked to have this one go our way. It's a game of inches."On Saturday, the inches went Wisconsin's way in a game that helped to further demonstrate that the Badgers are becoming a true college football power. They have won at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons. They're also 3-1 against top 25 teams this season after being 4-7 against top 25 programs from 2008-2010."The game itself, I think, shows you're true champions," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "You get to play in a game that decides who goes to the Rose Bowl. For us to win and have a chance to go to back-to-back Rose Bowls is very special, very satisfying as a coach."It was equally satisfying for the players, who danced with delight on the Lucas Oil Stadium field Saturday night, roses in hand, after redeeming themselves in a season that once appeared destined to be a dud without a Big Ten championship. "To see everyone smiling together and laughing is a feeling I'll never forget," Badgers running back Montee Ball said. "And honestly, it's one heck of a story we have this season."That story is not over just yet. A date in Pasadena awaits.Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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