Big Ten Championship 2013: The 5 Best 1-on-1 Matchups to Look For
This year's Big Ten Championship game features two teams that are undefeated in conference play, so someone will walk away as a loser in B1G play for the first time in 2013.
It was only natural that these two teams would dot the all-conference and individual awards handed out on Monday. The two teams combined for 10 1st team all-conference players on the coaches list and 11 on the media's list.
Saturday will feature the best-of-the-best going up against each other in what has become the most hyped and talked about Big Ten Championship game in its young history.
Tickets are sold out, nearly every suite has been sold and over 550 media credentials have been issued for this event. Oh, and ESPN's College GameDay will be in Indianapolis, too.
With all the hype and all the star-quality players on the field on Saturday, we've somehow managed to narrow the game down to the five biggest matchups of the game.
So let's get to the matchups that could be the difference between winning and losing the Stagg Trophy.
Devin Smith vs. Darqueze Dennard
When Michigan State and Ohio State take to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, a grand total of four first team All-Big Ten defensive backs will be on the field.
Just one of those is the Big Ten's Defensive Back of the Year, though, and that's MSU's Darqueze Dennard.
He was our pick for the the honor, and rightfully so, given the fact that Dennard amassed 56 tackles, four interceptions, eight passes defensed and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Dennard has faced some challenges, including Michigan's Jeremy Gallon. He was equal to that challenge, helping to hold Gallon to five catches for 65 yards in the 29-6 Spartans win.
His challenge will be going one-on-one with Devin Smith, who has had a knack of coming up big at just the right time for the Buckeyes this season and throughout his career.
In 2013, Smith has 41 catches for 644 yards and eight touchdowns. Of those eight touchdowns, four of them went for 40 yards or longer, and only two of the eight were less than 20 yards.
The challenge in this matchup comes because of the man-to-man coverage Michigan State loves to play and Dennard's ability to play against the run and pass.
Smith needs to be a home-run threat for the Buckeyes to allow Hyde and Miller to be effective in other parts of the game. Without a deep passing threat, the game is much easier for MSU to dictate.
If you are going to key in on one particular matchup in this game, this would be a good choice to watch.
Shilique Calhoun vs. Taylor Decker
Coming into the season there were questions as to who would replace William Gholston as the playmaker on the defensive line for Michigan State.
Enter sophomore Shilique Calhoun, who came out of nowhere to become one of the most feared and timely defenders in the Big Ten this season.
He has 32 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and three touchdowns. That collection of stats led him to be picked as the conference's Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Opposite of him sits what many believe is the Big Ten's best offensive line, but specifically across from Calhoun will be the lone youngster of the Buckeyes' group—sophomore Taylor Decker.
If Hyde and Miller are to be free to do what they do best, Calhoun can't be in the backfield and that's up to Decker to stop from happening.
Decker has been a very good offensive lineman in his own right, but he hasn't seen the likes of Calhoun across from him.
As far as matchups in the trenches go, this is the one that should get the spotlight and could really determine how this game is played over the course of the 60 minutes of action.
Braxton Miller vs. Denicos Allen
To spy or not to spy—that seems to have been the old question in regards to Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes' offense.
In 2013, teams have gone away from that a bit, mainly because he has many more weapons and has become a much better passer than he was a season ago.
However, on Saturday, the chess match between Miller and Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen will be a fun matchup to watch.
Why Allen vs. Miller? Well, Allen has been the most versatile and speedy linebacker the Spartans have. He is likely to draw the duty of keeping Miller in line in the run game and making sure the option game doesn't take over either.
With a team-high 83 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, Allen needs to be the guy to keep Miller in check.
If Miller gets going in the run game, or opens up enough space with his threat to run, this game could get ugly for the Spartans.
Allen's ability to read an offense will be key in this matchup, and keeping Ohio State back on its toes gives the Spartans the best chance at pulling the upset.
Bennie Fowler vs. Bradley Roby
Part of the turnaround for Michigan State's offense can be directly attributed to Bennie Fowler having the light come on mentally.
He turned a poor 2012 into a very productive 2013, with 31 receptions for 496 yards and six touchdowns to date.
Additionally, who can forget his crazy catch against Northwestern, right?
Fowler isn't the only target in the pass game anymore, but his relationship with quarterback Connor Cook is a huge reason this team has had any sort of offense to speak of.
On Saturday, Fowler will be going up against a first team all-Big Ten selection in Bradley Roby, and it's the biggest one-on-one matchup the Spartans receiver has faced all season long.
Yes, even bigger than against Blake Countess of Michigan or Ciante Evans of Nebraska from earlier in the season.
This matchup is intriguing for a number of reasons, but it should be because it will be another big test for Roby.
He was shaky in his three biggest tests of the season, allowing a combined 31 catches for 555 yards and 3 touchdowns to the top three receivers in the Big Ten—Penn State's Allen Robinson, Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Michigan's Jeremy Gallon.
Fowler isn't on the level of those three players, but he provides a challenge nonetheless, and if Michigan State is going to have a chance, they have to have a pass game of some sort or they are in serious trouble.
Watching to see what happens between Fowler and Roby will be something to key in on during Saturday's contest.
Michael Bennett vs. Blake Treadwell
We've talked a lot about what Michigan State's defense needs to do to stop OSU, but very little about the reverse situation.
It's not to say Michigan State isn't capable of being explosive on offense, it's more about OSU's record-setting offense needing to be slowed down for the Spartans offense to have a chance.
Should that take place, one of the most important matchups in allowing Connor Cook time to throw and Jeremy Langford space to run is that of OSU's Michael Bennett against MSU's guard Blake Treadwell.
Both happened to make appearances on All-Big Ten teams, with Bennett named to the second team by the media and coaches and Treadwell receiving the same honors on the offensive line.
As a defensive tackle, Bennett came up with 36 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Treadwell will need to keep Bennett from not only eating up space, but also becoming a force in the Spartans backfield to give his team a chance.
By the numbers, that task is easier said than done, but with two second team all-Big Ten picks lining up across from each other, we could be in for a really intriguing battle on the interior of the line.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.
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