Michigan St-Wisconsin rivalry good as Big 10 gets

Michigan St-Wisconsin rivalry good as Big 10 gets

Michigan State vs. Wisconsin lacks the history of Michigan-Ohio State, to say nothing of that border war's hype. It doesn't cause statewide angst like Michigan-Michigan State. There's not even a cool trophy for the winner, like Paul Bunyan's Axe or the Old Brass Spittoon.

When it comes to Big Ten rivalries, however, there's none better than the Spartans vs. the Badgers.

Not recently, anyway.

``Not good on the heart, but great environments,'' Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. ``I don't know how many times I heard last year, if you didn't care who won those games, they were really fun games to watch. From that standpoint, they're fun.''

No teams have been better in the Big Ten over the last three years than Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) and Michigan State (4-4, 1-3). The Badgers have won 17 conference games since 2010, with Michigan State second with 15 wins. They've had a hand in the last two Big Ten titles, splitting it in 2010 and winning their respective divisions last year.

The last six games between Michigan State and Wisconsin have been decided by a total of 31 points, with the teams separated by three points or less in half the games. One of the bigger wins during the stretch was actually the wackiest, a 37-31 Michigan State victory last October that ended then-No. 4 Wisconsin's national title hopes. Michigan State blew a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, only to have Kirk Cousins throw a 44-yard, deflected Hail Mary heave on the game's last snap.

Six weeks later, the Badgers got their payback, beating the Spartans in the first Big Ten title game to earn their second straight trip to the Rose Bowl.

``(The rivalry) most definitely keeps growing,'' said Montee Ball, whose fourth touchdown sealed Wisconsin's 42-39 victory in the Big Ten title game. ``Like Coach Bielema said, it comes mostly from respect. When you play them, you know it's going to be a really physical game, a four-quarter game. That's what you want as a football player.''

But their yearly grudge match, at least in the regular season, ends with Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium. The teams are in opposite Big Ten divisions, and theirs was not one of the rivalries protected with a crossover game. Wisconsin instead is assured of playing Minnesota every year, while Michigan State gets Indiana.

``Obviously, we built up a nice little tradition,'' Bielema said. ``There's certain things that, when we split the divisions, were going to go away. Unfortunately, this is a by-product of that.''

Unlike the last three meetings, when both teams were ranked and chasing the Big Ten title, Saturday's game is unlikely to have any wide-ranging impact. Wisconsin trails Ohio State and Penn State in the Leaders Division, though neither the Buckeyes nor the Nittany Lions are eligible for the conference championship or a bowl game. Michigan State is struggling to keep itself bowl eligible, having lost to Iowa in double overtime two weeks ago and to Michigan last week on a field goal in the final seconds.

The Spartans also lost to Ohio State by a point in their Big Ten opener.

``We've lost very, very close football games so the foundation, I don't really worry about. We have a program in place,'' Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ``We're playing very well on the defensive side of the ball and we need to play to our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. We need to push through the tough times.

``In the end, these things will shape you as a person, I truly believe that. Under adversity you'll see your biggest growth,'' he added. ``We'll be there on Saturday. We'll be ready to go.''

Wisconsin isn't exactly where it wanted to be, either, having lost to what has turned out to be a very good Oregon State team and then losing late at Nebraska. But the Badgers have turned things around the last few weeks, led by Ball and fellow running back James White. The two combined for 712 yards rushing in the last two games. With 10 touchdowns in the last four games, Ball is five shy of the all-time NCAA record.

The Badgers are averaging nearly 450 yards of offense over their last five games, and 34 points. They've outscored their last three opponents 69-21 - in the second half.

``Defensively, they've always been solid. But they've done things offensively to capitalize on their personnel and they've put themselves in positions to win,'' Dantonio said. ``I think they've been extremely productive in rushing for 400 yards last week and the week before that. They've been dominant.''

And Wisconsin is at home, where it has won 21 straight. Only LSU, with 22 straight victories at Tiger Stadium, has a longer winning streak at home.

``We know we'll get Michigan State's best game of the year coming in here this weekend and we're excited for that challenge,'' Bielema said. ``To get them here in Camp Randall is something we've been looking forward to. ... We're excited to get Camp Randall rocking.''

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Michael Pierce responds to last week's dismissal from practice

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Michael Pierce responds to last week's dismissal from practice

Kick off your Monday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. Last week, defensive tackle Michael Pierce was dismissed from practice after showing up in "less than ideal shape" according to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. Pierce joined WSNP-FM 105.5 Friday where he responded to being dismissed from practice. “Throughout the offseason, I tend to lift more than run,” Pierce said. “Being a nose guard, I want to be strong or what not. I, honestly, just mismanaged my running a little bit.”

2. On the other hand, tight end Mark Andrews looks "bigger, faster and stronger" Zrebiec said. Andrews had a standout year last season as a rookie with three touchdowns and 34 catches for 552 yards. Zrebiec said Andrews has not slowed down and will be an even bigger asset to the Ravens offense this season.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens and Rotoworld for news points.


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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

2018-19 stats

Noel Acciari (27 years old): 72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (34 years old): 76 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 points, 12:26 TOI

Playoffs: 6 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 0 goals, 0 assists, 11:44 TOI

Hockey-Graph contract projections

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare: 2 years, $1,450,996 cap hit

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to double the salary of an obvious fourth-line player. 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot. 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.   

The case for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

A late bloomer who grew into a bottom-six role for the Philadelphia Flyers and, the past two seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights. Bellemare held his own as an above-water possession player on a team that dominated in that area. But even when taking into account his usage and that he ranked lower than most of his teammates in that area, he was still about break even. 

No other forward logged as much time on the penalty kill for Vegas (147:54) and it wasn’t close. The Knights gave up just 18 power-play goals with Bellemare on the ice and scored three short-handed goals. He had two shortys in his time with the Flyers.

Bellemare won’t give you much offensively. He’s never reached double digits in goals or 20 points in a season. He’ll also turn 35 late next season. But he’s played in the Stanley Cup playoffs three of his four NHL seasons (31 games) and the Capitals remember him from the Cup Final in 2018. Bellemare had two assists in that series. He’s difficult to play against, would provide a veteran presence missing on the fourth line and was primarily a center for the Knights so he has positional versatility. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.