The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes have won 24 straight games, but will appear in only their first Big Ten Championship in two seasons on Saturday due to NCAA sanctions a year ago.
No. 10 Michigan State, out of the Legends Division, stands in the Buckeyes' way of a national championship berth. The 11-1 Spartans (8-0 Big Ten) have won eight in a row and tout one of the nation's top defenses.
The Buckeyes and quarterback Braxton Miller are one of college football's top offenses with a matching record in the conference out of the Leaders D ivision.
In a classic Big Ten affair with traditional styles of play, Urban Meyer's and Mark Dantonio's teams have plenty on the line beyond conference supremacy.
When: Saturday, Dec. 7, at 8:17 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Live Stream: ESPN3
Betting Lines (via Vegas Insider)
- Over/Under: 51.5
- Spread: Ohio State (-5.5)
A loss would be devastating for the Buckeyes. In fact, nothing short of a dominant showing might not be enough.
As of now, Ohio State is penciled in for the title game against No. 1 Florida State. A loss obviously ends that, but a close game against the Spartans may cause trouble as well. The Buckeyes have to fend off the SEC champion and one-loss Alabama for the right to reach the title game.
Michigan State is lucky. A win would mean a trip to the Rose Bowl, where the Spartans have not played since 1988. However, a loss might not stop them from getting there either.
Not to say this game is meaningless for the Spartans. Far from it, but if they lose and Ohio State plays in the national title game, Michigan State would be next in line for the Rose Bowl anyway.
Keys for an Ohio State Victory
There is not much to be said about what the Buckeyes have to do defensively. The focus for Ohio State on Saturday has to be on offense.
Michigan State's defense ranks No. 4 in the nation, allowing an average of just 11.8 points and the fewest yards per game in the nation 237.7 yards. Ohio State can beat its chest about a No. 3 scoring offense that averages 48.2 points, but the Spartans have a defense that can easily shut down both Miller and the Buckeyes.
Miller has been electric with 1,759 total yards and 21 touchdowns while senior back and soon-to-be NFL draft prospect Carlos Hyde averages 7.8 yards per carry and has 1,290 yards and 14 scores in nine games.
To overcome the Spartans, Ohio State must utilize a balanced attack and not make any mistakes. Hyde has yet to face a test such as this, and Miller may struggle against an opportunistic defense.
Keys for a Michigan State Victory
Generally speaking, the Spartans offense needs to score 20 points to win most games. Only two opponents this year have kept Michigan State from reaching that mark.
Ohio State is certainly equipped to do so, meaning Michigan State junior running back Jeremy Langford will have to be as effective as ever. He averages 4.9 yards per carry and has rumbled his way to 1,210 yards and 16 scores in the Spartans' run-first attack.
Quarterback Connor Cook has turned things around as the season has worn on with 2,119 yards passing and 17 touchdowns to four interceptions. That's great, but the Spartans' offensive success against Ohio State lives or dies in the trenches with Langford.
Defensively, the Spartans have to keep doing what they do best. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and the elite secondary must limit Miller while the stout defensive front must limit Hyde.
That sounds simple, given the unit's impressive body of work to date.
The Spartans' defense is built to stop the Buckeyes.
Ohio State is coming off a 42-41 scare at Michigan and has faltered against other top defenses this season. The Buckeyes only beat formerly ranked Wisconsin, 31-24, in late September and then snuck past Iowa, 34-24, in mid October.
Perhaps the most telling common opponent for both team was Michigan, which put up 41 on Ohio State, but only scored six against the Spartans in early November.
Simply put, the Spartans will suffocate the Ohio State offense, much like other defenses have done this season, except the Buckeyes have yet to encounter a defense such as that of Michigan State. It will show on the field in Indianapolis.
Prediction: Spartans 24, Buckeyes 20