A Way-Too Early Michigan State vs. Ohio State Big Ten Championship Preview
With two weeks left in the regular season, the 2013 Big Ten Football Championship Game is all but set in stone.
Ohio State would need to drop games to Indiana and Michigan, and Wisconsin would need to win out against Minnesota and Penn State for the Buckeyes not to make it to Indianapolis.
Michigan State has already clinched a share of the Legends Division crown. A win or a loss. and a loss by Minnesota would put the Spartans in Indianapolis for the second time in three years.
Realistically, neither of those scenarios are going to happen for Wisconsin and Minnesota, so as we come closer to the end of the Big Ten season, what would a matchup between Michigan State and Ohio State look like?
Come inside as we explore the potential Big Ten Championship Game matchup.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
Michigan State Run Offense vs. Ohio State Run Defense
Michigan State Rushing Offense: 188.2 yards per game (7th in Big Ten)
Ohio State Rushing Defense: 92.6 yards per game (2nd in Big Ten)
Don't let the overall numbers fool you, Michigan State has a run game and a very good one at that. It just took the team awhile to figure it out in 2013.
Jeremy Langford has become the featured back, and the Spartans have benefited from his emergence in Big Ten play. Langford has 926 yards this season and a Big Ten leading 13 rushing touchdowns.
As a result, the Spartans rushing offense is fourth in Big Ten play, averaging 189 yards a game as a team. Thirteen of the teams' 18 total rushing touchdowns have come during conference play as well.
Langford is quick and explosive, and coming in to this week against Northwestern he's riding a five-game streak of 100-plus yard performances on the ground. He also happens to have some power behind him as well and is just as good at scoring from two yards out as he is on a 40-yard run.
However, Ohio State has been stout against the run all season long and a lot of that is due to a defense that attacks at the line of scrimmage. Just about half of Ohio State's tackles for loss this season (63) aren't sack related (61).
That's the Buckeyes' biggest advantage—their defensive line is better than Michigan State's offensive line. Guys like Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Noah Spence have all been difference makers against the run.
The biggest concern looking at this matchup is Ohio State's linebacking corp outside of Ryan Shazier. As long as Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry stay assignment sure, this group should be fine.
Advantage: Ohio State
Ohio State Passing Offense vs. Michigan State Passing Defense
Ohio State Passing Offense: 221.8 yards a game (5th in Big Ten)
Michigan State Passing Defense: 171.1 yards a game (1st Big Ten)
This is the most intriguing matchup of the game because it's the most explosive scoring offense with the pass against the stingiest defense against the pass.
Ohio State has 31 passing touchdowns to just five interceptions, while Michigan State has let opponents score just 11 touchdowns against them. The Spartans have also intercepted 11 passes as a team.
This has been Braxton Miller's best season so far in his career. He's completing 68 percent of his passes and has 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions on the year. He has 1,466 yards on just 121 completions this season.
Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, Kurtis Drummond and Trae Waynes form one of the best secondaries in the country, but Corey "Philly" Brown and Devin Smith have formed a dynamic duo as Ohio State wide receivers.
The two have combined for 87 catches and 1,148 yards to go with 15 touchdowns as well.
Can Ohio State's receivers handle the physical, in-your-face nature of the Spartans secondary? That's where the real interesting battle will occur.
Ohio State has been extremely good at keeping its quarterbacks upright all season long, allowing just 12 total sacks on the season. However, Shilique Calhoun and Max Bullough have led a Spartans front seven that has 25 sacks themselves.
Something has to give in this part of the matchup and the edge may go to Michigan State, especially if they can make Braxton Miller a run-first quarterback, but it is close.
Advantage: Michigan State
Ohio State Rushing Offense vs. Michigan State Rushing Defense
Ohio State Rushing Offense: 315.1 yards per game (1st in Big Ten)
Michigan State Rushing Defense: 57.3 yards per game (1st in Big Ten)
Immovable object, meet irresistible force. Something had to give in the pass game when Ohio State had the ball, but not nearly as much as the run game.
Had this been last season, this would've been a big advantage to Michigan State, but in 2013 the Buckeyes have it all going for them.
They have a near 1,000-yard rusher in Carlos Hyde and some other very nice options in Braxton Miller and Jordan Hall to throw at an opposing defense.
Add in perhaps the best run-blocking offensive line in the Big Ten, and this could be very intriguing against Michigan State.
Sure, Michigan State has been amazingly stout against the run, but it hasn't exactly faced a gauntlet of amazing running teams. Only three of its opponents to date are top 50 rushing teams nationally, and only one of those (Nebraska) was a top 25 ranked rushing attack.
That Nebraska rushing attack put up 182 yards on the ground against the Spartans. What could Ohio State do with a crack them then?
Ohio State can win a football game by rushing for less than the 315 yards it averages, but can it win a football game if it doesn't score on the ground?
That is the biggest difference maker in this matchup—opposing teams have scored just five times on the ground against Michigan State all season long.
Advantage: Push - This is simply too close to call.
Michigan State Passing Offense vs. Ohio State Passing Defense
Michigan State Passing Offense: 189.2 yards per game (11th in Big Ten)
Ohio State Passing Defense: 229.9 yards per game (6th in Big Ten)
Bradley Roby and the Ohio State secondary didn't get off on the right foot this season and neither did the Michigan State passing attack.
Fast forward 10 games and the two units are in different spots. Michigan State has figured some things out offensively, but Ohio State's secondary has struggled a bit more in Big Ten play.
The Buckeyes are giving up nearly 250 yards a game passing, which is 10th in the conference. Additionally, Ohio State has given up 11 touchdowns passing in Big Ten play—that's tied for the second third most in conference action.
However, don't let the numbers fool you, Ohio State has played better in recent weeks. After giving up insane numbers to Jared Abbrederis (207 yards) in the Big Ten opener, Ohio State hasn't allowed another receiver over 200 yards.
Meanwhile, MSU's Connor Cook has found his relationship growing with Bennie Fowler and Macgarrett Kings, and it has led the team to better numbers nearly every week. In Big Ten play the unit is averaging 212.8 yards a game through the air.
It's not a perfect unit and some of that is because of an offensive line that was in flux for a while. However, it can do some damage.
Again, a look up front should scare Michigan State because Ohio State leads the conference in sacks with 32 coming into the weekend.
On the other hand, Michigan State has only allowed nine sacks all year. Part of that is the offensive line's doing, but its also the fact that Connor Cook is good at escaping pressure.
He will see pressure from the front seven of Ohio State and that's the biggest difference maker. Once again, Michigan State's numbers are skewed by not having to face Ohio State or Wisconsin from the Leaders Division and a very weak nonconference schedule.
Advantage: Ohio State—but it's closer than you think.
When you have two teams that are evenly matched up like Ohio State and Michigan State could be in a few weeks, the one area that could make the biggest difference is special teams.
Ohio State and Michigan State are nearly inseparable in terms of punting and field goal kicking. They rank second and third in conference in net punting average and are third and fifth in field goal kicking (8-9 for OSU versus 15-18 for MSU).
So, how do you separate the two groups? Intangibles.
Michigan State has not only been good at finding spots to try trick plays, but they've been extremely successful in doing so as well.
No one has really been able to stop them from doing what they want, whether it was simply a three-yard first down or a run up the middle for a touchdown.
Ohio State has some tricks as well, it just hasn't had to show them at all this year and no doubt will be well-prepared for anything Michigan State could throw at them.
However, the biggest strike against Michigan State is in the return game, where they rank seventh in kickoff coverage.
Advantage: Ohio State
If this game comes down to pure coaching, the edge has to go to Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Not only does Meyer have a national championship ring to hang his hat on, but he also has won conference championships and championship games in the past.
Mark Dantonio is a helluva coach, but he has never won an outright conference title, let alone a national title.
The one thing that Dantonio's teams will do is continue to fight throughout the game and that's a credit to his leadership and coaching style.
Outside of the 2011 Outback Bowl loss to Alabama, when was the last time Michigan State was blown out of the water in a football game?
No doubt Pat Narduzzi tops Luke Fickell in terms of defensive minds, but Ohio State can counter with a better offensive mind in Tom Herman over Jim Bollman.
Advantage - Ohio State