MADISON, Wis. During the euphoric moments immediately following the Hail Mary heave of the college football season, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins sifted through the celebration to find Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson dejectedly walking off the field.
Cousins delivered an uplifting message after Michigan State's heart-stopping 37-31 last-second victory against Wisconsin that October night in East Lansing. He told Wilson they would meet again for the Big Ten conference championship in December."Yeah, at the time, that's what I told him," Cousins said. "I said, First of all you're a class act and you're the real deal as a person and not just as a football player. Secondly, I think we're going to see you guys again.' I think both of us felt that would be the case, and here we are."Here they are indeed.Both teams polished off undefeated Novembers last Saturday to establish themselves as the cream of the Big Ten crop. Now, Leaders Division winner Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) and Legends Division winner Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) will meet for a rematch on Saturday in the inaugural Big Ten title game at 8:17 p.m. ET in Indianapolis. It's no surprise that the game pitting the two best teams in the conference also pits arguably the two best quarterbacks in the league against each other.Wilson, the one-year Wisconsin sensation after transferring from North Carolina State, has passed for 2,692 yards with a single-season school record 28 touchdowns and three interceptions.Cousins has amassed 2,735 yards 44 coming on that game-winning Hail Mary with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions."Obviously, there's a lot of good quarterbacks in the league this year," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "But if you just look at the numbers and what they've been able to do and how they've been able to carry the team, when Cousins goes, they go. Russell's pretty much been full throttle for us the whole year."In the teams' first matchup, Wisconsin led 14-0 in the first quarter but didn't reach the end zone again for more than 41 minutes of game time. By that point, the Badgers trailed 31-17 and were forced to stage a late comeback to tie the score with 1:26 remaining.Wilson threw two of his three interceptions on the season in the game and also was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety."I always grade myself every single week," Wilson said. "I just have to think, OK, what could I do in that situation?' Maybe before the play is to possibly think, What's my escape plan?' That's growing as a quarterback. The mental aspect of it has to be there every single play. I think I've done that extremely well this season. Maybe that one play I took off, I don't know."The Badgers' game-tying touchdown, a 2-yard run from Montee Ball who leads the country with 34 touchdowns this year set the stage for one of the most memorable plays of the college football season.Facing third-and-one from the Wisconsin 44, Cousins heaved a pass into the end zone with no time remaining that bounced off the facemask of Spartans wide receiver B.J. Cunningham and into the arms of teammate Keith Nichol at the 1. Nichol pushed forward but was ruled down before crossing the goal line. After a replay review, however, the call was reversed, the Spartans could celebrate, and the Badgers' undefeated season was kaput. Despite the heartbreaking manner in which the game ended, Wisconsin players have indicated all week that revenge is not a factor in Saturday's rematch."Us just taking it as another opportunity to go out and play is what helps to keep us on an even keel," Badgers right tackle Josh Oglesby said. "Once you start to look at something as a revenge game, you start to press and your fundamentals kind of go out the window."The two teams are no strangers to playing close games in recent years. Since Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio took over the program in 2007, the Badgers and Spartans have played five times, and four of the games have been decided by single digits."We've played them five times since we've been here so we know each other, that's for sure" Dantonio said. "We've won three out of the last four. I think that needs to be recognized by our players. It gives us confidence. We understand what we're up against, the challenges we face."Although Michigan State has won the last two matchups against Wisconsin, the Badgers are 9 12-point favorites for Saturday's game.In other words, if players on either team need motivation, they each have something from which to choose. A berth in the Rose Bowl, though, should serve as motivation enough.Wisconsin is vying for its second straight trip to the Rose Bowl, while Michigan State hasn't played in the game since 1988."That's basically when the senior class was born," Spartans offensive guard Joel Foreman said. "It would be a tremendous thing for Michigan State to return to the Rose Bowl, and getting the opportunity to play in that level of game is something you dream about since you're a kid."Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter