Ohio State vs. Michigan State: Impact Players to Watch in Big Ten Championship

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 6:  Carlos Hyde #34 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates his fourth touchdown of the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers with less than a minute to play in the game at Ohio Stadium on October 6, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 63-38.   (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

After Alabama's loss to Auburn last week, No. 2 Ohio State is just one win away from playing for the national title. Scoring that win won't be easy, however, as it will have to get past Michigan State in what should be a hard-hitting Big Ten Championship Game.

The Buckeyes may have more star power than the Spartans, but Michigan State has performed well above expectations this season thanks to a dominant defense.

Ohio State has been equally great offensively, so something has to give when these two teams meet on Saturday night.

Here is a closer look at the players from both sides who will have the biggest hand in deciding the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game.

Carlos Hyde

Ohio State is stacked with talent on the offensive side of the ball, but there is little doubt that running back Carlos Hyde is the biggest key to its success.

Hyde is perhaps the preeminent big-play back in the nation, as he is averaging nearly eight yards per carry. The senior has racked up a career-high 1,290 rushing yards and his 16 total touchdowns are one less than the career mark he set last year.

As noted by the conference's Twitter account, all of that garnered him the Big Ten's top running back honor:

Although so much attention is paid to quarterback Braxton Miller, there is no way that he would be having so much success if not for Hyde.

This is a hallmark of Urban Meyer-coached teams. Quarterback Tim Tebow got much of the credit for Florida's success a few years ago, but he had a stable of running backs that took a lot of pressure off of him.

Hyde's huge year is even more impressive considering the fact that he missed the first three games due to suspension. Since then, he has been essentially unstoppable. He hasn't run for fewer than 111 yards in a game since September, which is amazing since he has topped 20 carries in a game just four times.

Hyde is making the most of the opportunities he has been given and his play will be of the utmost importance in terms of softening up Michigan State's defense.

Shilique Calhoun 

Speaking of Sparty's defense, it's hard not to be impressed.

Michigan State hasn't had an easy go of it offensively, with running back Le'Veon Bell advancing to the NFL and quarterback Connor Cook trying to settle in as the starter.

Despite that, Michigan State lost only one game all season long. That is almost entirely due to the nation's third-ranked defense, which allowed fewer than 12 points per game. In its past six games, Michigan State has allowed more than six points just once.

One of the primary reasons behind that has been the play of sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun. There wasn't much talk about Calhoun entering the season, but he has quickly become one of the best defensive linemen in the nation.

Calhoun has seven sacks to his credit and even returned an interception for a touchdown against South Florida.

According to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press, Calhoun has been rewarded for his efforts by being nominated for the Ted Hendricks Award.

Calhoun is a special talent and is just starting to come into his own. Although he has plenty of growing left to do, he will play a big role when it comes to slowing down Miller.

Not only will he have to pressure Miller in passing situations, but he has to recognize when Miller takes off as well. Miller is a highly athletic quarterback who can make opposing defenses look silly, but Calhoun could very well limit that on Saturday.

Braxton Miller

Even though Hyde may be Ohio State's best player, Miller's contributions can't be discounted either. Despite missing two full games and parts of others due to injury, Miller has played his way back into the Heisman Trophy discussion.

Not only does Miller have 29 total touchdowns, but his completion percentage has improved markedly to almost 66 percent, which suggests that he has grown significantly as a passer under Meyer.

Also, Miller has been sacked just 14 times, so he is becoming more aware of his surroundings.

Running quarterbacks like Miller often make too many negative plays while trying to be spectacular, but that hasn't been much of an issue for Miller.

It seemed like Miller was way ahead of schedule when he won the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Award last season, but he more than earned it this year. According to Big Ten Football, he became the first player to ever win the award in consecutive years.

The Michigan State defense has been a tough nut to crack, but it hasn't had to deal with a player like Miller. If Miller can't get anything going through the air, then he has the ability to beat the Spartans with his legs and vice versa.

Miller has so many tools that it is nearly impossible to account for all of them.

At the same time, this is Miller's biggest test as well. If he passes it, then Ohio State will be playing for all the marbles come January.

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