Spartans enjoy the role of underdog

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Michigan State Spartans will battle Wisconsin Saturday night for the Big Ten Championship. (Vigilant/Argus Photo/File)

EAST LANSING — Don’t tell Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio that his team should be upset about being installed as a 9 1/2-point underdog in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night.

The veteran Spartan head coach is fine with that roll.

“We’re the little guy,” Dantonio said at his weekly news conference. “Everybody wants the little guy to win.”

Despite what he said to the media Tuesday, he has to wonder why his squad has been made the underdog.

After all, Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) had the best record in the Big Ten and owns a 37-31 victory over the Badgers (10-2, 6-2).

Dantonio and his staff are not letting any outside distractions get to them.

“Focused on the task at hand and winning this football game,” he said. “That’s all that’s important to us right now.”

Even though oddsmakers are not looking forward to a close game, the recent history of these two schools indicates otherwise.

Saturday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium will be the 51st meeting between the Spartans and the Badgers. Michigan State holds a 29-21 overall record, but the two teams have split 10 games since 2000.

Dantonio and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema have coached on opposing sidelines in five of those contests.

The Spartans have won three of those five meetings, including the last two. Bielema’s Badgers won two of the first three meetings.  The largest margin of victory in those five contests is Michigan State’s 34-24 victory last year.

The two teams will have their share of start players tying to make an impact on the outcome of the title game.

Michigan State is led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, who ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards and touchdown passes. His favorite targets are B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin.

The Spartans’ defense is ranked third in the country, allowing just 266.67 yards per game. They are also sixth in scoring defense (15.42), seventh in passing efficiency (104.89), eighth in pass defense (164.17) and 11th in rushing defense (102.50).

Wisconsin will try to ride the arm of quarterback Russell Wilson and the legs of running back Montee Ball to victory.

Wilson is currently on pace to set a new record for passing efficiency with a rating of 192.90. He has tied an NCAA record with a touchdown pass in 36 straight contests. Ball holds the Big Ten record for touchdowns in a season with 34. Ball is also closing in on Barry Sanders’ NCAA record of 39 set in 1988.

The Badgers are the nation’s fourth-best offense as they average 44.83 points per game. The defense is ranked third in pass defense (144.50), fourth in scoring defense (15.17) and seventh in total defense (278.17).