Six years later, Russell Wilson still isn't convinced that Keith Nichol actually scored.
With Wisconsin and Michigan State tied in the final seconds of a battle between two of the Big Ten's top teams in 2011, Nichol caught a deflected Hail Mary pass just short of the end zone, the lunged forward, being stopped just as he crossed—or depending on your point of view, just short of—the goal line.
After a replay review, officials decided Nichol had indeed scored, and as a result, the Spartans had a victory that knocked Wisconsin and Wilson out of the national championship hunt. And the quarterback who threw that last-second heave into the end zone? That was none other than Kirk Cousins, who will face Wilson and the Seahawks when Washington plays at CenturyLink Field.
"I still don't know if it's in the end zone, but that one hurt," Wilson said with a laugh. "I think we had a chance to go to the National Championship that year until that happened."
Wilson and Wisconsin got their revenge later that season, winning the Big Ten championship game to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl, but that wouldn't be last time Wilson and Cousins crossed paths.
"Kirk and I know each other pretty well," Wilson said. "In the past few years, we haven't been able to stay in touch as much because he is busy, I'm busy and everything else. But coming out (of college), we know each other really well. We trained at IMG together… We got to work together every day, throwing and watching film together so I have a lot of respect for him. He plays the game as good as it gets. He is a phenomenal football player. He has a great mind, great attitude and he is everything that you want."
That 2012 draft class came into the league with a lot of hype surrounding its quarterbacks, but not because of a pair of Big Ten passers who were drafted in the middle rounds, but rather because of the talent at the top, with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III going No. 1 and 2 in the draft. Four quarterbacks went in the first round that year, all of whom, along with Wilson, opened their rookie seasons as starters, but with Luck sidelined by a shoulder injury, Griffin out of the league and fellow first-rounder Ryan Tannehill out with a knee-injury, it's Wilson, a third-round pick, and Cousins, a fourth-rounder, who are currently carrying the torch for that highly touted quarterback class. Heading into Sunday's game, the second NFL meeting between the two—third if you count a 2012 playoff game when Cousins was Griffin's backup—Cousins ranks third in the NFL with passer rating of 103.3 while Wilson is eighth (100.4), and Wilson is second in passing yards per game with 286.9 while Cousins is sixth (271.4).
Prior to the 2012 draft, the Seahawks interviewed Cousins and Wilson at the NFL scouting combine and came away impressed with both. And seeing as current 49ers head coach and former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has said the Redskins, who had a third-round pick four spots ahead of Seattle, liked Wilson a lot in the 2012 draft, it's not that farfetched to envision a scenario in which Cousins and Wilson were facing off this weekend, but wearing opposite uniforms.
"He is an excellent football player," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Cousins. "Whatever they ask him to do, he can do. When we were checking out and were first being introduced to Russell, Kirk was there at the same night that we interviewed them back at the hotel (at the combine) and both of those guys were so impressive. After that night, we were talking about how impressed we all were with the way they came across and their strengths and their smarts and their background and all that stuff. It is really not a surprise. He is a really good football player."
In the end, Washington passed on Wilson in the third round and the Seahawks landed their franchise quarterback with the 75th overall pick, Cousins went in the fourth round and eventually became a starter and a Pro Bowler, and now the two face off again, renewing a rivalry that goes back to college and a couple of crazy games in 2011.
"It's always been a good competition going back to college," Cousins said in a press conference this week. "We trained together leading up to the draft, and whether it was playing against him in the Big Ten or training together for the draft or just both being quarterbacks in the NFL, he has always challenged me and the competition there has always brought the best out of me as far as always trying to raise my level of play.
"When I was drafted, I remember thinking, 'Boy, it'd be fun if that class was able to have a lot of production in the NFL.' We'll see where we go from here, but I'm happy for (Wilson) and all the success he's had and the way he has been able to earn all those accomplishments and wins and a Super Bowl championship. He has done so many great things in this league and has so many great years ahead of hm. He's certainly a bright spot in our league when you talk about somebody to be excited about who's fun to watch. Hopefully we can contain him on Sunday, which very few teams are able to do."
And Wilson and Cousins are the only members of the 2012 draft class reuniting at CenturyLink Field Sunday. During the pre-draft process, those two were part of what in retrospect was a pretty ridiculous collection of talent that worked out together at the IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida. In addition to those two quarterbacks, that workout group also included fellow starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, future All-Pro linebackers Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly, All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, who will be on the field Sunday for Washington, Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu and Cowboys running back Alfred Morris, who is a two-time Pro Bowler with Washington earlier in his career.
"We had a crazy draft class," Wagner said. "That little workout group was pretty intense."
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Washington Football Team as the two teams ready to face off during Week 12 at FedExField.