The Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0) face their first true test of the Urban Meyer era as they head into East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans (3-1).
Ohio State has been tested by seemingly inferior competition throughout the early running in 2012. Sparty hasn’t played anyone either, with exception of Notre Dame. They were easily dispatched by the No. 10-ranked Irish by a 20-3 margin two weeks ago.
Offense hasn’t come easy for the Spartans this season and has been a labor for the Buckeyes in their first season employing Meyer’s spread offense. The Bucks struggled to score points last season in a 10-7 loss to the Spartans.
With the stout defenses of both schools and the struggles on offense by each, it may be another low-scoring and close battle in East Lansing on Saturday afternoon.
Here’s why this match is critical for the Buckeyes as they begin Big Ten conference play.
After unimpressive wins over UCF, UAB and California over the past three weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes have yet to convince anyone that they are ready for primetime action and BCS considerations—although they are not eligible for a bowl in 2012 due to NCAA sanctions.
Offense, specifically the passing game, has been the biggest question mark despite Braxton Miller’s success and praise from Urban Meyer. Consistency and slow starts have hampered the offensive unit and kept teams in the game who have no business contending with the Buckeyes.
A big offensive showing against a pretty good Spartans defense will do wonders for the Buckeyes in silencing the nationwide critics of their new offense.
Urban Meyer’s Success
Meyer has brought an entirely different culture to the Big Ten and to Columbus. He’s opened up the offense and spread the field, employing speed and formations designed to create big plays by finding skilled players in open space and letting them run with the football.
His quarterback, Miller, is a sophomore and has already earned his coaches’ trust. Meyer will begin to open up the playbook more and more each week as the Bucks begin to play their Big Ten opposition.
The Spread offense is the future of Meyer’s success in the Big Ten, and this year is chance to gauge how it will perform against some pretty tough defenses in the conference. Miller will likely be leading the charge as the Bucks employ Meyer’s offense and make BCS bowl runs in the next two years.
If it stalls against the Spartans, it may raise some doubts about the system’s credibility and the school’s chances moving forward.
Future of the Big Ten
Sure, this is a big game for the Big Ten in 2012 because two of the two teams’ standing in the Top 25 polls. However, the rest of the conference has been struggling this season and it’s not entirely clear what direction the conference is heading in as a result of these struggles.
Ohio State has been a staple of this conference over the past decade. When mentioning the Big Ten, it’s the Buckeyes and their successful football program that come to mind first and foremost.
If the Bucks lose this game it will raise even more questions about the legitimacy of this conference. They need to win convincingly in order to silence those doubts and keep the Big Ten conference in consideration as one of the top conferences in college football.
Mike Hoag is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for the site.