Let's see, you had:
• A team (PSU) coming off the craziest year in the history of college sports playing its final game of the 2012 season, and honoring its seniors while doing so.
• A team (UW) already guaranteed a spot in the Big Ten title game because the two programs ahead of it (including PSU) in the division were on NCAA probation.
• Penn State putting numbers on its helmets for the first time since 1974 as a way to honor injured captain Michael Mauti. And everyone having the same number on his helmet - Mauti's 42.
• A Badger needing one touchdown to break the NCAA's all-time TD record.
• A PSU tailback and receiver looking to each post 1,000 yards in a season for the first time since Ki-Jana Carter and Bobby Engram did it in 1994.
After falling behind 7-0 and then 14-7, Penn State sure played as if it was treating this game like its bowl. The Nittany Lions rallied to take a 21-14 lead before Wisconsin tied it at the end of regulation.
From there, PSU relied on the leg of a previously struggling kicker and its resurgent defense to gut out the 24-21 victory. The Badgers, at 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten, limp into next week's title game against Nebraska in Indianapolis on a two-game losing streak and having dropped three of its last four.
For the Lions, there is no postseason. But they can take comfort in knowing they had a hand rendering the conference title game about as meaningless as can be.
Here is how it went down:
MAN OF THE HOUR: DT Jordan Hill played like an All-American in the second half. He finished with 12 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss. If there is such a thing as beast mode, he was in it.
CLOSE SECOND: Penn State's Zach Zwinak looked more the part of a traditional Wisconsin power back than Badger star Montee Ball. Zwinak marauded through the UW defense to the tune of 36 carries for 179 yards and a score. He did not lose a single yard rushing in the game.
CLOSE THIRD: K Sam Ficken, who struggled mightily early in the season, ended the year with 10 straight field goal makes. That included the 37-yard game-winner in overtime.
TURNING POINT: There were so many of them in this game. But we thought the biggest moments came after tight end Jesse James was flagged for offensive pass interference in the fourth quarter, forcing PSU -- trailing 14-13 -- into a third-and-21 from its own 44. Matt McGloin hit Allen Robinson for 15 yards on third down. On fourth-and-6, McGloin hit James on a crossing pattern. He broke free down the left sideline and scored. The two-point conversion gave State a 21-14 lead.
SOLID STRATEGY: Feeding Zwinak a career-high 36 times was brilliant. It sapped the strength of Wisconsin's usually potent defense.
NUMBERS GAME: Wisconsin came into the game ranked first in the Big Ten and ninth in the nation in rushing defense (106.6 yards per game). Zwinak made short work of that.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: McGloin had another good (if not great) game. He connected on 19 of 37 passes for 200 yards and a score. More importantly, he did not make any huge mistakes. A would-have-been interception was overturned on replay.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Ficken's turnaround was nothing short of amazing. Credit the staff for never giving up on him. Credit him for not giving up on himself. Ficken also had a big-time hit on kick coverage.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• All the fans who left at halftime? We know it was cold and all. But how bad must they feel right now for missing such a terrific ending?
• Penn State's terrible kickoff return coverage. Kenzel Doe brought back three for 114 yards, and would have gone to the house on one had Ficken not wiped him out. As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh!”
• The Badger offense in the second half? Ball, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry in the first half, had 14 carries for 34 yards in the second half. Hardly what you'd expect from the man who became the NCAA's all-time TD leader (with 79) on a 17-yard run in the first quarter.
• Zwinak's butterfingers. He was fortunate that replay review of a possible fumble did not find enough evidence to overturn the call on the field (which was down by contact).
HIT SQUAD: Hill was body-slamming people like a pro wrestler all game. But his best hit came when he crushed Ball for a 2-yard loss near the end of regulation.
HIDDEN HEROES: The offensive line compensated for some issues in pass protection (McGloin was sacked twice and pressured often) by crushing it with the running game.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: The PSU secondary, which started the game without safety Malcom Willis (knee) and ended it without corner Adrian Amos (apparent concussion), helped hold the UW passing game to 191 yards. The DBs were not perfect, by any means. But they got the job done when it mattered.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• That Jake Fagnano got the start in place of Willis. He had a late interception (which he returned 13 yards), broke up two passes and made five stops. Credit the former walk-on for making the most of his opportunity to start.
• That when given a chance to pick the side of the field it wanted to play on in overtime, Penn State chose the north end. That is opposite of the student section.
• That Zwinak finished with exactly 1,000 yards on the season.
• That WR Allen Robinson went over 1,000 yards on the season after making four grabs for 35 yards.
• That strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald was in shorts and a T-shirt all game even though temperatures were in the low 30s.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: How ticked are the Big Ten-affiliated bowls that they don't have a chance to offer this Penn State team a spot in their games?