Take a Trip Down Memory Lane of Wisconsin Football in the Big Ten Title Game
The Big Ten title hasn’t been around a long time, but its something that Wisconsin Football is very famillar with. Since the inception of the new look Big Ten when the league expanded to twelve teams with the addition of Nebraska, there have been 7 seasons including this one, and the Badgers will be apart of four of them. The four trips to Indianapolis marks the most of any school in the Big Ten. Yes that’s right, the almighty titans of Ohio State and Michigan are looking up at Wisconsin. Don’t feed me the unfair divisions hoopla, it wasn’t always like this. We all remember the famous leaders and legends divisions. However you feel about it, there is no doubting the facts. The Badgers have made more appearances than any other team, and something like that is a source of pride for Badger fans. With a foundation at coach, and a program built on tradition, it looks as though Wisconsin Football could make a trip to Indy a common occurrence, but before we dive into the future, lets take a look back at the two victories Wisconsin had in their trips to the Big Ten Title game.
2011 #11 Michigan State vs. #15 Wisconsin
The Badgers were apart of the inaugural Big Ten Title game as the 10-2 Badgers came into the season looking for revenge over the Spartans who had defeated them earlier in the regular season, on the infamous Hail Mary from Kirk Cousins in East Lansing. There was no doubt the loss left the Badgers with a sour taste in their mouth, and they certainly came out to show just that. The famous Paul Chryst offense got the ball first and took full advantage of it as they drove down the field on the back of Montee Ball, before Quarterback Russell Wilson was cut loose. Wilson hit a deep pass to Nick Toon before hitting Jeff Duckworth to give the Badgers an early 7-0 lead. Michigan State soon after, but the Badgers would not be held down as a pitch pass from Ball to Wilson set them up with a first and goal. The following play Ball plunged into the end zone to retae the lead.
On the ensuing kickoff MSU fumbled the kick return, which was promptly picked up by Wisconsin. The Badgers again rode the back of ball as he found the end zone once again to give the Badgers a 21-7 lead at the end of the first. It was all Wisconsin in the first, but Michigan State came alive in the second scoring 22 unanswered to give the Spartans a 29-21 lead heading into the half.
The Badgers headed to the locker room stunned, as it seemed as though it would be all Wisconsin until the Spartans came alive. Wisconsin knew they needed to respond, and the Badgers did just that. Early in the third Russell Wilson hit Jared Abbrederis for a 45 yard touchdown heave to the end zone to pull the Badgers back within one point. The score wouldn’t hold long, as Cousins struck again to star receiver BJ Cunnigham to put them back up by 8.
That score would remain until the 4th quarter, until Russell Wilson led another drive which was capped off by a Wilson to Ball shovel pass to put the Badgers back within two points. Wisconsin failed to covert the two point conversion to keep the score at 36-34. On the ensuing drive, MSU added a field goal to put them up 39-34.
The Badgers were down to their final chances as they came to a fourth and seven just inside Michigan State territory. Wilson was flushed before hitting Jeff Duckworth inside the ten on a miraculous heave to keep Wisconsin alive. Montee Ball would waltz into the end zone again to give the Badgers a one point lead. A two point conversion was in the works, and Wilson hit Jacob Pedersen to give the Badgers a three point lead.
Wisconsin was able to force a stop before getting the ball back and attempting to run out the clock. With 4th down looming, the Badgers were forced to punt, and Michigan State returner BJ Cunningham took the return all the way down to the Michigan State 10 yard line until…..a roughing the kicker flag was thrown to give the Badgers the ball back with Michigan State out of timeouts.
A truly incredible game was capped off with the Badgers winning the inaugural Big Ten Title, and going to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year, denying Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio from making good on his gaurentee of making the Rose Bowl.
2012 was a downer of a regular season, as Wisconsin finished the regular season at 7-5, but NCAA sanctions brought the Badgers back to Indianapolis as both Ohio State and Penn State were banned from postseason play. However they got there didn’t really matter when it got to game time, as it was all Badgers from the get go.
The first of many scores for Wisconsin came of Melvin Gordon III as he juked and spun all the way to the end zone for a 56 yard touchdown run. A tipped pass on the ensuing Nebraska possession was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Marcus Cromartie to give the Badgers a quick 14-0 lead. Nebraska would remain in the game in the first as they scored 10 unanswered points to pull the score to 14-10. The Badgers later put together a drive again and capped it off with a James White touchdown run to close out the first quarter.
The second quarter was all Wisconsin as the Badgers put up 21 points for a second straight quarter. After a similar pitch pass from 2011 this time from Jared Abbrederis to Quarterback Curt Phillips, the Badgers struck again as James White took the direct snap for another score. The Badgers wildcat offense was an huge part of their gameplan as Phillips filled in for injured Quarterback Joel Stave. The offense would continue to roll in that set as Montee Ball scored another, this time on a hand off from James White. After a Nebraska turnover, the trickeration struck again as White threw for a touchdown off of the direct snap to keep the Badgers rolling into halftime.
The trend continued in the third as the Badgers would put up another 21 points once again. An interception was returned to the nine yard line and a play later Ball found the end zone again. Wisconsin forced a stop and again Ball went to work on a career defining run. Ball took the Ball at the 52 and broke a tackle into a spin move, before hitting a defender with a stiff arm to bust off a 50 yard run for a touchdown. The Badgers got the ball again soon after and continued to thrash the defense as James White broke another 68 yard run for a touchdown to put the score at 63-17.
White capped off a historic night as White found the end zone again in the fourth to put the Badgers up to a 70-31 lead. It was a historic night for the Wisconsin offense as they dominated the game on the ground. The Badgers had 640 total yards, with only 100 coming from the air. Both Gordon and Ball finished with 200+ yards, while White added on 100 and four touchdowns.
The result meant the Badgers were smelling roses once again for the third straight year, as they truly imposed the will on Nebraska to end the regular season on a very high note.
Oct 29, 2016; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton (8) celebrates during the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
2014 and 2016
The Badgers head into Saturday’s game hoping for more of the same above, and less of 2014. I decided not to highlight the 2014 trip as there really wasn’t anything to highlight, as the Badgers were rolled by Ohio State 59-0. The Big Ten Title game has brought all sorts of highs, and some lows to Wisconsin fans. But however you look at it, we are a pretty blessed fan base to be making a fourth trip to Indianapolis. These memories are something Badger fans will cherish forever, and come Saturday we hope to make another on a high note like 2011 and 2012 and not like 2014. This opportunity is more unique than previous years, as the Badgers come into Saturday with playoff implications on the line. Whatever the result, I tip my cap to this University and Football program for the work they have done each and every season to make memories like this possible. On Wisconsin!