It’s time for the best and biggest game of the season for the Big Ten. Fans and pundits alike have been waiting for this one – the two best teams in the B1G, click both unbeaten in the conference, both with one loss in 8 games, and with remarkably similar stats and rankings are going at it for ALL the marbles. #14 in the college playoff rankings Ohio State is heading to East Lansing to take on #8 Michigan State in a primetime match-up that’s being featured on ESPN’s College Game Day. (Chosen over Bama v LSU, Kansas State v TCU and Notre Dame v Arizona State, btw.)
And there’s a lot of emotion riding along on that bus or plane heading North.
Last year Ohio State was riding a streak of 24-consecutive wins in its second season with head coach Urban Meyer. All they had to do was beat the Spartans in the Big Ten Title game and their ticket to the National Championship Game was punched. Instead, MSU handed Urban and OSU their very first loss, 34-24.
Enter stage left – Revenge.
The Bucks’ players have stated that they felt something was taken away from them last year after that game, and more than one admitted to it taking some time to mentally come back from that loss. Coach Meyer told The Repository, “The dream was ripped away from us last year, ripped away by a very good team.” So the Bucks are playing with a lot of leftover emotion, motivation and a drive that only a brutal loss can fuel. Don’t discount what that can do for a group of young men in this situation.
This Saturday will really decide the fate and direction of both programs. And it’s safe to say that whoever leaves with a loss will be completely out of contention for the playoffs and will not be representing the Eastern Division in the Big Ten Title game in Indianapolis. This game really is for everything.
In this year’s shootout OSU and MSU look pretty even on paper. They carry the same overall records, 7-1. And nationally, several rankings are extremely close:
Total Defense: OSU 8th MSU 5th (300 YPG v 279)
Scoring Defense: OSU 17th MSU 22nd (19.9 points v 20.3)
Scoring Offense: OSU 4th MSU 5th (45.6 points v 45.5)
Pass Efficiency: OSU 2nd MSU 7th (169.3 v 160.3)
Even the quarterback comparison is pretty even – Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Michigan State’s Connor Cook have been announced as two of the 16 semi-finalists for the Davey O’Brien award, presented yearly to the nation’s top QB. They are the only two B1G members in consideration. And now they face each other in a few days.
The biggest difference in this year’s meeting is that the Buckeyes are returning with a vastly improved defense, and the Spartans with an offense that Coach Meyer says has gone from good to great. Sparty’s QB Cook was MVP in last year’s Title game, although our favorite Defensive God Joey Bosa did sack him.
OSU’s Bosa leads the B1G and ranks 5th nationally in sacks per game. And with the streak he’s been on, I’m pretty sure he’ll be hungry for more. Right now, Connor Cook is one of the least sacked quarterbacks and exudes confidence in himself and in his team. Some pundits say he’ll be a 1st round NFL draft pick. (Here’s where I like to picture Joey B as a hungry and pissed off junkyard dog.)
This season Cook has thrown for 1,868 yards and 17 touchdowns. He does have a 60.6 completion percentage and isn’t always completely accurate so the ability to force turnovers is there. And that’s something Ohio State will need to capitalize on.
OSU’s J.T. Barrett has thrown for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. And is a redshirt freshman, thankyouverymuch. He’s three spots ahead of Cook in passing efficiency ranking. And he’s got a stable of strong receivers who get open for him and help him get it done. The Bucks need to fully use Jalin Marshall (who has lined up at wide receiver, running back and quarterback this season), Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson, all of whom should be making big offensive plays for the Bucks on Saturday.
This is all dependent on Ohio State’s offensive line, of course. They struggled some against Penn State and even Virginia Tech and are about to face one of the toughest and best defensive lines in the country with MSU. The O-line needs to play a flawless game and holds many of the keys to an Ohio State victory.
OSU seems to thrive when they use their uptempo, no huddle offense and aren’t conservative in their playcalling. We’re going to see if they can successfully keep that system in place against MSU’s defense.
Ahhhh, yes. Michigan State’s defense. The stuff of nightmares. I don’t need to say much to you about this legendary D, you have been more than familiar with it for a while now. We’ll sum it up with the fact that Sparty’s defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi won the award for college football’s top assistant last year.
And of course, you know that MSU head coach Mark Dantonio was previously a defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Dantonio left OSU for his first head coaching job at Cincinnati, where he coached with OSU’s current tight ends and fullbacks coach, Tim Hinton. When he landed the head job at MSU, Dantonio brought Hinton with him….only Hinton changed his mind on the drive to East Lansing, bailing on him and staying with the Bearcats and eventually following head coach Brian Kelly to Notre Dame before joining OSU. Feel like a Gossip Girl plot to anyone else? Might be some shade thrown on those sidelines by the grown-ups.
Worth mentioning – Michigan State has been able to redshirt a lot of players over recent years. Almost two dozen current players have been at MSU for four years or more. That’s a lot of mature talent. OSU still has the largest number of freshman starters in the country. But damn, can they be impressive.
Which is exactly what I think this game will be – a real barnburner. Two very evenly matched teams, both with their own laundry list of reasons for needing to win this game, playing for dominance of the Big Ten this season. And either team can pull off this win.
So, the letter of the day Saturday is R.
Redemption, Revenge, and Respect for Ohio State.
Repeat, Retain and Reign for Michigan State.
So, rally kids. Because this going to be 60 minutes of pounding it out, giving everything you’ve got, and wanting it more. It’s the best B1G game of the season!
Around The Big Ten:
- Perhaps you watched the Maryland/Penn State game last weekend in Happy Valley. The one where brand new B1G member Maryland’s captains refused to shake the hands of the Lions’ captains at the coin toss. It’s no secret that I have a hard time rooting for PSU like, ever. But both Maryland and Rutgers have pushed me to get Penn State’s back this year. It was the douchiest of douchey moves and looked pathetic. Pretty stupid for a team that knows the conference isn’t thrilled with them. Instead of playing with class and proving us wrong about you, what do they do? Reiterate why Jim Delany is an idiot and pick on low-hanging fruit like Penn State. Get some of your Public Relations majors to set you up with some training, MD. I look forward to, and will enjoy even more now, you getting your asses handed to you several times a year, Derps. Or Terps. Same diff. Joyfully – earlier this week the NCAA slapped Maryland with a $10,000 fine and suspended their star receiver Stefon Diggs for a game. The door you walked through swings both ways, Maryland. Show some respect because you need us way more than we need you.
- Nebraska’s star running back and potential Heisman candidate Ameer Abdullah was sidelined last weekend against Purdue, when he suffered a sprained MCL in the first quarter. Without him the rest of the game, The Huskers beat the Boilermakers in a win even head coach Bo Pelini called “sloppy.” Abdullah is the biggest asset on the #13 Cornhuskers offense, and luckily the team has a bye this weekend to let him rest and heal before facing #25 Wisconsin in week 12.
- Big Ten lineup this weekend: Penn State v Indiana, Iowa v Minnesota, #25 Wisconsin v Purdue, and Michigan v Northwestern. Not gonna score any record audience numbers with those match-ups. Don’t give up your Saturday plans, but do get home or to a bar with TVs by 8pm. Go Bucks!