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Hoge: Respectful Rivals Meet On Neutral Turf

B.J. Cunningham of the Michigan State Spartans and Nick Toon of the Wisconsin Badgers talk at Spartan Stadium earlier this season. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)

B.J. Cunningham of the Michigan State Spartans and Nick Toon of the Wisconsin Badgers talk at Spartan Stadium earlier this season. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) When you think about the best rivalries in college football, “Wisconsin-Michigan State” probably doesn’t come to mind right away, if at all.

But the Spartans and Badgers have quietly brewed a mini-rivalry between two programs that have snuck up on the nation the last two seasons.

The last five meetings between the teams have been decided by less than 10 points, including a 2008 meeting that Michigan State won on a last second field goal and the famous Hail Mary victory earlier this season. The Spartans won three of the games, including the last two, while the Badgers won in 2007 and 2009. In all five of those games, the home team won, only adding to the intrigue of a neutral site clash this weekend.

Last year, the Spartans handed Wisconsin its only regular season loss and of course this season, they dashed the Badgers’ national championship hopes.

These aren’t just two schools that have played good games against each other; they’re two schools that are the class of the Big Ten right now. Michigan State has won the most Big Ten games in the conference over the last four seasons, while the Badgers have won the most games overall the last four seasons.

So while it won’t quite match the hype an Ohio State-Michigan matchup would have caused, it’s fitting Wisconsin and Michigan State will meet Saturday in the conference’s first ever conference championship game.

They are, after all, the two best Big Ten teams.

“I think both teams are going to be on top for a while,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But this isn’t a bitter rivalry. There’s never any smack-talk or cheap shots before the game. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Dantonio, his staff and his players,” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. “Tremendous football team that has played all year with the ability to get here.”

“The respect is there for Wisconsin and how they play, on behalf of the Michigan State Spartans,” Dantonio countered.

Both coaches have quietly taken their respective programs to a new level in recent years and done so the right way, preaching respect and in Bielema’s case, even scolding those that are breaking the rules.

Those ideals are reflected by the players on each team. Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins may be the brightest and most respected college football player in the country and Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t far behind.

So when the two teams meet Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, you won’t get the shenanigans often seen in other games. You’ll just get two very good football teams that are highly motivated to win the Stagg Championship Trophy and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl.

And if the last five games between these teams are any indication, it’s going to be one hell of a football game.

adam hoge Hoge: Respectful Rivals Meet On Neutral Turf

Adam Hoge

Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.