BUFFALO, N.Y. – Justin Abdelkader is a huge football fan and an even bigger Michigan State supporter, who’s excited that his alma mater is headed to Saturday’s inaugural Big Ten football championship with a chance to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.
“I hope that Michigan State can come through, but I know it’s going to be a tough obstacle for them,” said Abdelkader, who he’ll be watching the nationally televised game with some Red Wings’ teammates in Denver.
The Spartans are preparing to beat Wisconsin for the second time this fall. MSU defeated the Badgers on a Hail Mary pass by quarterback Kirk Cousins on the game’s final play.
“Wisconsin is really good and it’s going to be tough beating them twice in a row,” Abdelkader said.
The Wings’ forward and the MSU quarterback have traveled similar life paths. Both grew-up in western Michigan where they were three-sport student-athletes for their high schools – Abdelkader played hockey, football and basketball at Muskegon Mona Shores, and Cousins was a football, basketball and baseball standout at Holland Christian.
And if things go the Spartans’ way this weekend, Cousins can claim to have led his team to a monumental win just as Abdelkader did when his last-second goal gave MSU a national hockey championship victory over Boston College in 2007.
Both guys know each other, and Cousins has been a previous guest in the Red Wings’ dressing room at Joe Louis Arena. And though Abdelkader doesn’t have Cousins’ cell number, he would offer valuable advice to the MSU senior.
“Just enjoy the opportunity, I mean, win, lose, draw, just go out there and have fun,” said Abdelkader, a former prep quarterback. “Obviously it’s a big game, but at the same time it’s the inaugural Big Ten championship game and playing in that on a national stage with an opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl. … Man, just enjoy it.”
Even though MSU is a 10-point underdog to the Badgers, Abdelkader likes the Spartans’ chances in Indianapolis.
“I think they have a good running game, I think they’re physical up front, Kirk Cousins is a really good quarterback and he’s not going to lose you the game, he’s not going to make mental mistakes,” Abdelkader said. “He knows the offense well and then with B.J. Cunningham they know each other well and obviously they have some threats on offense so I like them. I like their defense, I think their defense has done an outstanding job this year, but Wisconsin is really good and it’s going to be tough beating them twice in a row.”
Like a true athlete, Abdelkader won’t look past the Badgers with the possibility of returning to Pasadena for the first time in nearly a quarter century.
“It would be nice, but it will be tough to get there,” said Abdelkader, of the Rose Bowl. “I think they just have to focus on the game at hand, and hopefully we’ll get a win and get to the Rose Bowl – that would be awesome.
“You’re definitely think about it, but it’s a big game and it isn’t going to be easy because Wisconsin is a really good team. I think everyone is nervous, but excited and getting ready for the match-up.”