No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 8 Michigan State are both off to strong starts. Each has had one less than inspiring win, but both are lossless heading into a marquee Big Ten crossover game Saturday afternoon.
Wisconsin began its year with a win against LSU and has since blown out Akron and won an underwhelming, 23-17 decision against Georgia State. Michigan State struggled to put away Furman in its first game, then marched into Notre Dame Stadium last Saturday and knocked the Irish out of the College Football Playoff race.
How they've gotten here doesn't matter so much, though. The Spartans have made it pretty clear that they're still a top contender in the Big Ten East, even without three-year starting quarterback Connor Cook. The Badgers have dually announced themselves as a contender in a thin West division that looks completely up for grabs. Somebody will emerge from Saturday as a top-10 team and in great shape to start league play.
How to watch, stream, and listen
TV: Noon ET, Big Ten Network. The broadcasters are Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), and Lisa Byington (sideline).
Online streaming: BTN2Go
Spread: The Spartans opened as a 6-point favorite.
Three big things to know
1. We shouldn't be surprised that these teams are this good. They've won five of the last six Big Ten championships, even as Ohio State and Michigan have usurped lots of the national attention over that time frame. They've got pretty similar identities, and they've found success in similar places: with stout defenses and efficient ground games. Early indications are that nothing about that will change in 2016.
2. Some history: This has been an even series lately, after Michigan State used to dominate. The Spartans are 30-22 against the Badgers all-time, including five- and eight-game winning streaks between the 1970s and '90s. The teams haven't actually played since 2012, but they're an even 6-6 since the turn of the millennium. Their 2011 Big Ten championship game was exciting, with the Badgers winning in Indianapolis, 42-39.
3. New quarterbacks! Cook has given way to former backup Tyler O'Connor in East Lansing, and O'Connor's had an encouraging start. He's thrown for 9.8 yards per attempt, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. He's got three far-and-away favorite targets, as R.J. Shelton, Donnie Corley, and Marty Madaris have gotten more than two-thirds of his targets. Senior Bart Houston has been starting for Wisconsin, but Paul Chryst is replacing him this week with Alex Hornibrook. It'll be Hornibrook's first career start, and it'll come in a huge spot. No pressure.