DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa took a lot of grief this season for not playing the top teams in the Big Ten East.
The Hawkeyes will get the best one Saturday — likely with a trip to the playoffs on the line.
No. 4 Iowa (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) and No. 5 Michigan State (11-1, 7-1) will face off in Indianapolis in the biggest game these programs have ever played against each other.
The Hawkeyes sealed their spot in the title matchup with a game to spare. The Spartans clinched the East with a 55-16 drubbing of Penn State this weekend.
"This was our first goal, to get to this game," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday in a teleconference.
Iowa finished its regular season unbeaten for the first time since 1922. Though the Hawkeyes didn't play the toughest of schedules, they beat the likes of Pitt, Wisconsin and Northwestern to put coach Kirk Ferentz in position for his fourth conference coach of the year award.
Michigan State wasn't far behind.
The Spartans only lost on the road at Nebraska 39-38 thanks in part to a questionable call at the end of the game.
Recent wins at Ohio State and against the Nittany Lions have made Michigan State a slight favorite.
Here are some of things to look for as Iowa and Michigan State renew acquaintances.
The winner of Saturday's game is all but guaranteed a shot at the four-team playoff, especially after Notre Dame lost to Stanford and dropped out of the running. If Clemson or Alabama lose this weekend, the Big Ten's hold on a playoff spot will only tighten.
"I just can't imagine whoever wins this ballgame not being in the playoffs," Ferentz said. "But no matter what happens, it won't diminish what both teams have accomplished."
A win could even put the Hawkeyes into a rematch with Oklahoma and Bob Stoops, a star for the Hawkeyes in the early 80s.
This will be a matchup that reignites one of the Big Ten's most underrated rivalries. Iowa has beaten Dantonio's teams twice in double overtime since 2007. The Hawkeyes also won on the last play of the game in East Lansing during a 9-0 start in 2009 and ruined Michigan State's Rose Bowl hopes in 2010. But the Spartans won the last meeting 26-14 in 2013 in what Ferentz called MSU star quarterback Connor Cook's "coming out party."
Cook has thrown for 24 touchdowns against four picks despite a 58 percent completion percentage.