Spartans, Badgers set for early Big Ten showdown
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) The Michigan State-Wisconsin rivalry was just getting good when the matchup disappeared from the Big Ten schedule for a bit.
In 2011, the Spartans beat the Badgers on a Hail Mary on the final play, but Wisconsin won a thrilling rematch in the Big Ten championship game. Michigan State beat the Badgers in overtime in 2012, but the teams haven't faced each other since.
The eighth-ranked Spartans finally renew their series with 11th-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday - their first meeting in East Lansing since that Hail Mary. Both teams already have notable wins this season - Michigan State over Notre Dame and Wisconsin over LSU.
''Wisconsin is a lot like us in a lot of ways - big game against LSU. We've had very exciting games with them,'' Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ''Both programs have been very successful I think in the last number of years.''
Forget Michigan, Nebraska and even Ohio State. Over the past six seasons, it's been Michigan State and Wisconsin that have won most of the Big Ten titles in football. The Spartans and Badgers each have three conference championships since 2010, the year they both tied for the title.
Ohio State's Big Ten title in 2014 was the only time in that six-year span that neither Michigan State nor Wisconsin won at least a share of the championship.
No matter who wins Saturday, this year's Big Ten race is just getting started. The Badgers (3-0) are beginning a brutal five-game stretch that includes games against Michigan State (2-0), Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska.
''We did a great job of putting ourselves in this position, handling our business,'' Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli said. ''This is why you play here, you want to play in these games against great opponents from here on out really. Just embrace it, enjoy it.''
Here are a few things to watch when the Spartans host the Badgers:
QB DECISION: Alex Hornibrook will start for Wisconsin at quarterback after Bart Houston started the first three games. Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman, helped jump-start the offense in the second half last week in a 23-17 win over Georgia State. He relieved Houston midway through the third quarter and led three scoring drives.
SHAKY SECONDARIES: Wisconsin's front seven leads one of the nation's top defenses, with LBs T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel powering the pass rush off the edge. But keep an eye on the secondary, which is adjusting to the loss of CB Natrell Jamerson to a leg injury.
Michigan State has issues of its own in the secondary after Notre Dame had success throwing deep in last weekend's game.
ON THE GROUND: Wisconsin RBs Corey Clement (left ankle) and Taiwan Deal (right ankle) are listed as questionable for Saturday's game. Clement missed last week's win after getting hurt in Week 2 against Akron.
The Spartans rolled up 260 yards rushing last weekend behind LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes.
DEPTH: Michigan State LB Jon Reschke had a forced fumble and an interception against Notre Dame. His emergence has made it easier for the Spartans to bring LB Ed Davis back slowly. Davis missed all of last season with a knee injury, and it wasn't until earlier this month that the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility for 2016.
HONORING SADLER: Mike Sadler, the former Michigan State punter who died in a car crash in late July, is part of an eight-member class entering the school's athletics Hall of Fame this year. The incoming class will be recognized during Saturday's game.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister