- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Welcome to Sparta.
We've got a big one on tap tonight as No. 6 Wisconsin visits No. 16 Michigan State in a potential preview of the inaugural Big Ten championship game. Not surprisingly, there's a big-time atmosphere around the stadium as tailgaters are out in force. "College GameDay" had a great show earlier, and the main event kicks off just after 8 p.m. ET.
Wisconsin plays its first true road game of the season in place where it has not fared well in recent years. The Badgers have dropped three consecutive games here, including a 34-24 setback last fall that proved to be their only regular-season defeat. Michigan State, meanwhile, comes off of two emotional wins against Ohio State and archrival Michigan. Can the Spartans summon their energy one more time? A good sign: Michigan State has won the game following Michigan in each of the past three years.
To continue the trend, Michigan State must slow down the nation's top scoring offense without starting defensive end William Gholston, who is suspended for tonight's contest. Gholston leads the Spartans in tackles for loss (7.5) and will be missed on the edge. It's put more burden on star defensive tackle Jerel Worthy to control the line of scrimmage and slow down Wisconsin's running backs.
Michigan State also could have an edge on special teams. Remember that Keshawn Martin had a punt return touchdown against Wisconsin last year. Martin could be a difference-maker.
For Wisconsin, it's all about Russell Wilson. He came to Wisconsin to play in games like this one, and he can make a major statement both for himself in the Heisman Trophy race and for his team as a national title contender. Wilson's ability to convert third downs and keep Michigan State's defense off balance will be critical. The Badgers need a strong effort from their defensive front seven, which will have tackle Patrick Butrym, although he'll likely be limited.
I picked Wisconsin 30-24, and Lee Corso went with the Badgers in his 200th headgear selection this morning.
Will the Spartans prove us wrong? We'll soon find out.
Chat with me and my ESPN.com colleagues throughout the Wisconsin-Michigan State game. This is the place to be to get all our thoughts on the game.
9hMitch Sherman and Josh Moyer
4dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman