Picks, Predictions, and Prognosis for the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game
Take a glimpse at that picture above, because for the first time in Big Ten Championship game history Chris Borland, or any other Badger, won't be hoisting the Stagg Trophy this season.
With the three-time defending champions at home, the Big Ten is treating us to a Top 10 matchup between No. 10 Michigan State and No. 2 Ohio State.
Both teams escaped this season unscathed in Big Ten play at a minimum, so someone is going to be in unfamiliar territory when it's all said and done on Saturday night.
Will Ohio State's 24-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of a powerful Michigan State defense, or will MSU's offense falter and cost the team its undefeated Big Ten streak?
Those two questions and more will be broken down as we look into the Big Ten Championship Game crystal ball.
Before we get into the biggest game of the year in the Big Ten, let me remind you of where things stand for my picks on the season.
Last Week: 4-2 (3-3 ATS)
2013 Picks: 76-20 (49-46-1 ATS)
All Odds Courtesy VegasInsider.com.
Familiarity Could Be Key
Who can ever forget last season's 70-31 stomping that Wisconsin put on Nebraska?
Some have theorized that part of the UW's success on that night was the fact that they had been inside Lucas Oil Stadium and done the Big Ten Championship thing before.
If that theory is true, then look for Michigan State to have a huge advantage, having played in the inaugural version of the game in 2011. Head coach Mark Dantonio sees it as an advantage.
I think it's a big advantage, but there's no question that we all have played in big games. We have played in big games. The games that we've played, whether it's been down in Indianapolis, we've played in that. We've played in games here versus Michigan and in games versus Georgia or whoever, Alabama in the bowl game years back. So we've all played in big games, and I just don't guys are going to get excited, players are going to get excited, players are going to feel pressure. Don't want them to feel any stress. They're going to feel pressure, though.
Sure the Spartans lost the last time they were in Indy, but just being there and experiencing all the things that go into the championship game helps when you are dealing with 18-21-year-olds and their nerves.
On the flip side of things, this isn't Urban Meyer's first rodeo with big time events or championship games either. He knows fully well what to expect from the throngs of media, all the extra pressure and all the added responsibilities his team will have.
It remains to be seen just how big a deal having "been there, done that" will be in this game, but it is a factor to watch out for—especially with the senior-laden Michigan State squad, who will be looking to erase bitter memories of their last visit to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio are not ones to shy away from a trick play or strange formation or even going for two to open the game.
Don't be surprised if you see a gadget play or a fake punt or two during the course of this game—especially if one team needs a big momentum boost.
We've seen Dantonio line up for punts and have Mike Sadler take off before. We've seen fake field goals and onside kicks, heck we've even witnessed a few reverse throws already this season.
Urban Meyer has lined up for a field goal and gone for two in strange formations. He also has a ton of athletes at his disposal on the offensive side of the ball.
Let's not forget that scary formation of Kenny Guiton, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde all in the same backfield. I don't care how good your defense is, that trio is scary in multiple ways.
Therefore, it shouldn't shock anyone to see one or both of these teams pull a trick play or two out of the bag on Saturday night.
It could even be the difference maker between winning and losing a game.
Michigan State's Defense Faces First Real Challenge
Yes, Nebraska and Indiana have good offenses, but they are nowhere near the level of Ohio State this year.
It also just so happens that those two good, but not great all-around offenses gave Michigan State's vaunted defense fits.
Both teams scored 28 points on the Spartans, which is the most MSU has given up all season long.
Against the Hoosiers, MSU gave up 351 yards of total offense and 259 yards through the air. Those numbers were over 100 yards more of total offense and nearly 100 yards more of passing offense than Michigan State has averaged all season long.
Nebraska ran for 182 yards and passed for 210 yards in its loss to the Spartans, again crushing the averages MSU gives up this year.
Those two offenses are good, but they aren't really good like OSU's is. Ohio State is averaging 209 yards through the air and 321.3 yards per game on the ground.
Not a single offense Michigan State has faced this season has ranked higher than 20th nationally in points.
This is a big step up, and if Michigan State can give up 28 points to Nebraska (minus Taylor Martinez) and Indiana it will be interesting to see if they can hold OSU's offense under 30 points as well.
Braxton Miller Will Be the Leading Rusher
Braxton Miller was just named the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year on Tuesday and for good reason. He's thrown for 21 touchdowns to just five interceptions and for over 1,700 yards while missing two complete games and three-quarters of another.
Equally impressive is the fact that Miller is climbing close to the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the second straight season. He currently has 891 yards and eight touchdowns rushing.
On Saturday, expect Miller to eclipse that 1,000-yard mark and then some. Everyone is focusing on the insane season running back Carlos Hyde is having, but with Michigan State's defense I expect it to attack the line of scrimmage to contain Hyde.
That means they will also be trying to contain Miller to the pocket. Look for him to be creative and find ways to will his team towards the end zone.
It wouldn't be at all surprising if there is a ton more read-option early on and a lot more Braxton Miller improvising as the game goes on.
As the night goes on look for Miller to bust at least one run of 40-plus yards and really begin to change how Michigan State plays against him defensively.
Look for Miller to go over 150 yards on the ground in this matchup, more out of necessity than anything else.
Explosiveness Isn't Limited to Ohio State's Offense
Everyone points to the near 50 points per game Ohio State is putting up, and that total is crazy, historically great.
However, Michigan State's offense is explosive from time to time in its own right.
The Spartans have scored 44 total touchdowns this season, which is just the seventh most in the Big Ten.
A full 20 of those 44 touchdowns have been scored from a distance of 20 yards out or greater, though, including three defensive touchdowns of 20 yards or more.
Simple math tells us that 45.4 percent of the Spartan's touchdowns result from explosive plays.
It's a good thing too, because Michigan State is ninth in the Big Ten in red-zone offense, connecting on 36-of-45 opportunities. The Spartans have also scored the third fewest touchdowns in the red zone at just 25.
Only Northwestern (24), Minnesota (24) and Purdue (15) have scored fewer touchdowns in the red zone this season.
Either MSU is going to need to be more efficient in that area or they are going to have to find ways to make explosive plays happen to put points up on the board and keep pressure on Ohio State's offense too.
Most see this game as a very close matchup between two teams who do opposite things well. However, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be a close-scoring game.
The question that no one seems to ask is how this plays out if one team's strength wins out over the others.
How does Ohio State win this game if Michigan State's defense is holding them in check? It can't.
What if Ohio State's offense is able to put up significant points on the Spartans defense? Michigan State can't win an offensive track meet against Ohio State.
Looking at this game, I don't see how these two teams end up all that close in the score department.
Either Michigan State holds OSU's offense in check and is able to eke out enough points to win, or OSU's offense is the unstoppable version we've seen all year and its defense holds MSU's offense in check.
Look for Ohio State to have enough success on offense and be able to stop the Spartans offense enough to win this game.
However, it will take until the fourth quarter for the Buckeyes to pull away as Braxton Miller breaks it free in the final stanza.
Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan State 21
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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