The date: December 5, 1993
The matchup: Wisconsin (8-1-1) vs. Michigan State (6-4) in Tokyo, of all places
The stakes: If Wisconsin wins, the Badgers are going to their first Rose Bowl in 31 years.
The back story: Barry Alvarez inherited a smoking crater of a Wisconsin program in 1990; over the previous four years, the Badgers had gone just 9-36, and he ran off a bunch of players in his first preseason. But after going 1-10, Wisconsin had gone an exciting 5-6 in 1991 and a disappointing 5-6 in 1992.
After ending a long road losing streak with a comeback win over SMU in September, Wisconsin rolled to 6-0 before slipping up at Minnesota. But the Badgers had charged back to knock off Michigan and tie Ohio State, and thanks to the Wolverines' upset of the Buckeyes, all Wisconsin had to do was beat a decent Michigan State team to clinch a Rose Bowl berth.
Why Tokyo? From 50 Best*:
From 1977-93, Tokyo hosted one college football game per year. Sometimes the matchups were reasonably high-caliber – Notre Dame-Miami in 1979, SMU-Houston in 1983, USC-Oregon in 1985, Nebraska-Kansas State in 1992 – but it had never before decided a Rose Bowl bid. During the 1992 offseason, Wisconsin agreed to move its home game against Michigan State there in 1993, in part because athletic director Pat Richter, Alvarez, etc., weren’t sure they would make a bowl game and wanted to give their student-athletes a unique, postseason-style experience. Whoops.
Tokyo (AP) — In Japan, the flower is called "bara." But a rose is still a rose, and for Wisconsin nothing could smell sweeter.
"I've had some huge successes in my life, but to be sitting here 9-1-1 and going to the Rose Bowl, it just hasn't sunk in yet," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez [said]. "It's mind-boggling."
After their 41-20 victory over Michigan State Sunday, the Badgers wasted no time celebrating the school's first Rose Bowl berth since 1963. Players broke out boxes of red roses and donned red-and-white Rose Bowl hats.
"We're going to Pasadena," yelled an elated Scott Nelson, who had a key interception in the first half for the ninth-ranked Badgers.
"It's like going from the outhouse to the penthouse," Nelson said of the Badgers, who ended their last three seasons 5-6, 5-6 and 1-10. "I'll never forget it."
[Brent] Moss and [Terrell] Fletcher both scored twice, and the two running backs combined for 260 yards against the Spartans. With 141 yards, Moss pushed his school single-season record to 1,473. He also scored 14 TDs.
"I just have a lot of love for the game," said Moss, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound native of Racine who was talked out of attending Michigan State by Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. [...]
Off a 1-10 inaugural season in '90, Alvarez visited the Fletchers' home, and his father told Alvarez that the Badgers woul be pretty good if Terrell went there.
"We're going to be successful," Alvarez said, "whether Terrell comes or not."
The box score:
While Moss and Fletcher were Wisconsin's headliners that year, and while they both had awesome games, quarterback Darrell Bevell also went nuts in front of a crowd of 51,500: he completed 14 of 19 passes for 239 yards. Lee DeRamus caught five balls for 95 yards.
For Michigan State, future Chicago Bear Jim Miller also had a hell of a game, completing 20 of 26 passes. But he threw two costly picks, and once Wisconsin surged ahead in the second quarter, State was playing catch-up the entire game. That doesn't tend to work well against an Alvarez team.
And of course, Wisconsin didn’t settle for simply going to the Rose Bowl. Once there, the Badgers won a classic.