When the Big Ten added Nebraska and split into two divisions, the conference also shuffled the schedule.
After playing Michigan State for the Land Grant Trophy in the regular season finale every year since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State would no longer play the Spartans to end the season.
The Nittany Lions’ new season-ending opponent will be Wisconsin, at least through 2014.
“I think any time your marquee teams in your league can have a little bit of a rivalry going, it’s a good thing,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “I think this Penn State thing with the tradition (of both teams), with recruiting against each other quite a bit and if it is at the end of the year, I think it’d be something that could be showcased and be very special.”
The first season-ender between No. 19 Penn State (6-1, 9-2) and No. 16 Wisconsin (5-2, 9-2) Saturday (3:30 p.m., TV-ESPN) at Camp Randall Stadium could go a long way in making the rivalry very special.
The winner will represent the Leaders Division and will play Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten championship game Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
The Lions already have clinched a share of the division title and could win it outright. If the Badgers win, they would share the division title and gain the berth in the conference championship game by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“It’s a special week,” Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin said. “I’ve never been out to Wisconsin, but it’s a great atmosphere for college football, a great team and a great fan base. It’s exciting.
“You want to be in this position. We control our own destiny. We’re having a great week of practice. We’re going to go out there and play a great game.”
The oddsmakers, however, feel differently. They’ve made Wisconsin, which has lost just three home games since 2007, a 141/2-point favorite.
“That doesn’t mean anything to me,” Penn State linebacker Nate Stupar said, “and that doesn’t mean anything to my teammates.”
The Badgers have one of the most balanced offenses in the nation, scoring 44.8 points per game.
Russell Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, leads the nation in pass efficiency with 26 touchdowns passes against three interceptions. Montee Ball ranks third in rushing with 133.3 yards per game and has scored 30 touchdowns.
“We’ve played teams like Alabama that have good offenses,” Penn State cornerback D’Anton Lynn said, “but I don’t think the Alabama quarterback (A.J. McCarron) is as good as Russell Wilson.
“This is the biggest test with the run and the pass since I’ve been here.”
The Nittany Lions have allowed the third-fewest points in the country and the eighth-fewest total yards, but Wisconsin’s defense isn’t too shabby, either. The Badgers are sixth in points allowed and in total yards allowed.
The Penn State offense might have to step it up to keep up with the Wisconsin offense.
“We’re capable of doing it,” McGloin said. “We can make plays when we need to make them. We’re very confident.”
After a tumultuous month in which former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was indicted on 40 counts of sexually abusing children and legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired, the Lions appear to have a singular focus.
“This is not just an ordinary game,” Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still said. “We’re practicing harder than we’ve practiced. Our goal is to be the Big Ten champions. We have to knock off Wisconsin to get there.”