MADISON - Now it gets real.
Wisconsin, a team that has become a bit of a national darling of late, has an opportunity to exorcise the demons that have plagued it since 2002. Those fairy tale mentions of a potential national championship run can certainly garner some merit with a win inside Spartan Stadium Saturday night.
Or the clock can strike midnight like it has so many times inside the same green and white concrete structure they like to tab Spartan Stadium.
"It's going to be nighttime this time," UW center Peter Konz said. "The teams are ranked higher and there is higher publicity and a little more talking. What we faced last year is going to get us mentally prepared coming into this year."
So according to Konz, and he's certainly not the only one of the opinion, losing to Michigan State a season ago is going to be a key for a Saturday victory. Bret Bielema said the theme of the week centered around proving UW's worth.
There wasn't, and for the most part isn't, a revenge factor. Instead, it's all about proving that the 2011 version of the Wisconsin Badgers are not only better than its 2010 squad was, but that they're also better than the 2011 version of Michigan State.
"What we have to do is just worry about ourselves and just play our football," UW junior linebacker Mike Taylor said. "The way that we do that is just doing our job and just being responsible and reading our keys and doing our job."
Russell Wilson, though he's indicated absolutely nothing of the sort, cannot throw interceptions. Montee Ball, also showing no signs of it through six games, cannot fumble the football.
The UW defense has to be sound fundamentally and capitalize on any turnover opportunities that may come its way.
Wisconsin is an eight-point favorite. Should they play their game that will absolutely hold up.
But crazier things have happened along the Red Cedar River.
Spin it in Michigan State's favor.
The Spartans haven't lost at home to Wisconsin since 2002. Wilson hasn't played on the road in the Big Ten. MSU has the second best defense in the land, one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten and a duo of running backs and a trio of receivers that make their offense dynamic.
And they also have the benefit of playing in front of the home faithful….at night.
No matter what, Saturday's game will provide nothing but an exciting atmosphere that most everyone in the country following football will have some sort of rooting interest.
All the trash talking (or lack thereof from Wisconsin's side of things) is a thing of the past. All the talk of suspensions and should have-shouldn't have is done.
It's finally time to strap it up and play football.
"The thing I know is there's going to be adversity," Wilson said. "When you're playing a great team in Michigan State, with a great defense, there's going to be storms. The thing I have to do and the thing the offense has to do and our team in general, is weather the storms and just play with confidence.
"Play with a little bit of swagger and play great football."