Shortly after completing their easy 55-3 win over Indiana on Senior Day, Michigan State players knew they had won a championship. Michigan finished off Nebraska 45-17 down the road in Ann Arbor, clinching the Legends Division title for the Spartans. The Big Ten gave Michigan State a trophy and Legends Division champions hats.
So we have our first known participant in the first-ever Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis, as Michigan State will play either Wisconsin or Penn State, depending on who wins that Leaders Division showdown in Madison next week. The Spartans and their fans can already make their hotel reservations, buy tickets at Lucas Oil Stadium and start dreaming about that big game.
"It's going to be a special event," senior quarterback Kirk Cousins told ESPN.com in a phone interview. "The energy in that building, I can imagine it's going to be through the roof, and we're excited to be a part of it. And with the Rose Bowl on the line, it's going to be a battle."
Michigan State is Indy-bound because it has taken care of business since a 24-3 loss to Nebraska on Oct. 29, its only league setback. While Mark Dantonio's defense has gotten a lot of deserved credit this season, the offense has averaged 41 points in three straight victories. On Saturday against Indiana, the team rolled out to a 34-3 lead at halftime to erase any thoughts of overlooking the Hoosiers.
"We talked in the middle of week about being able to have a dominating performance to go out in style, and I think we did that," Cousins said. "We executed almost flawlessly in the first half and got the start we wanted. That gave us a great send-off for Senior Day."
With the big lead, Dantonio was able to take his seniors out individually in the second half. Cousins' final play was a touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham in the third quarter.
"We had talked about wanting to get a lead and be able to leave with an ovation, one at a time," Cousins said. "We did our job to make that possible. It was the right way to go out, when you're talking about your last play and your last game ever in your home stadium."
Next week's regular-season finale at Northwestern makes no difference in the big picture. But the 9-2 Spartans can clinch back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time in school history. The program has historically been inconsistent, and many wondered if the Spartans could follow up last year's 11-2 mark, especially with a very difficult road schedule.
"People doubted we could have sustained success here at Michigan State," Cousins said. "They thought we were due for a letdown this year. We're already at nine wins with two weeks to go. I think it shows we avoided that letdown and are playing great football.
"I feel like our team is peaking right now. We need to make sure we keep moving up and keep improving as opposed to plateauing. Obviously, we think we are playing our best football at the end of the season, which is the way you want to do things."
While Cousins insists his team will stay focused on Northwestern next week, it's hard not to start thinking about Indianapolis and Michigan State's chance to make the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.
"With the Rose Bowl on the line, there will be a lot of emotion and we'll give it all we have," Cousins said. "That's the ultimate goal of any Big Ten player, to end up in the Rose Bowl."