This year's Big Ten Championship features two teams that have yet to lose in conference play in 2013. Both Ohio State and Michigan State are 8-0 in Big Ten contests this season. However, when all is said and done, one will suffer its first conference loss this year.
Ohio State has put together an impressive 24-game winning streak, while Michigan state has been able to ride its defense to an 11-1 record in 2013.
Let's take a look at three key matchups that could end up deciding the outcome of this crucial game.
Ohio State's Run Offense vs. Michigan State's Run Defense
This is a rather straightforward matchup. It's strength against strength. The Buckeyes have one of the most feared running games in all of college football. Led by Carlos Hyde, this team has been able to tear it up on the ground this season.
Hyde has rushed 165 times for 1,290 yards—an impressive average of 7.8 yards per carry—and 14 touchdowns. He is complemented by Ohio State's dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller, who has rushed 132 times for 891 yards and eight touchdowns. Jordan Hall and Kenny Guiton have also found success when given the opportunity.
Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde averaging combined 356 rushing yards last 3 games. Hard for defenses to read that http://t.co/s5VMNxj6hx— Doug Lesmerises (@DougLesmerises) December 5, 2013
Michigan State has the nation's most feared run defense. The Spartans are only giving up an average of 64.8 yards per game on the ground. That's 18 fewer yards per game than Louisville's second-ranked run defense.
Very few running backs have been able to find success against Michigan State this season, as they are allowing an average of just 2.23 yards per carry and have only given up five rushing touchdowns in 2013.
This is the classic matchup of an unstoppable force versus an immovable object.
Braxton Miller vs. Michigan State's Secondary
Miller is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback, and he would not have such a label if he were not an efficient passer. Miller has been able to produce at a high level through the air so far this season. He has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 1,759 yards, 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions for a passer rating of 164.3.
Blessed! pic.twitter.com/2ckQQUvBLc— Braxton Miller (@BraxtonMiller5) December 4, 2013
Due to Ohio State's tremendous running game, the passing game has been able to find a good amount of room to maneuver. This balanced offense is built to give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.
Michigan State will be up to the challenge. Its pass defense is certainly no slouch. The Spartans are currently ranked ninth in the nation in passing yards allowed, as they are giving up an average of just 172.9 yards per game through the air. In 12 games this season, they have only allowed 11 passing touchdowns.
What makes this Spartans secondary even more scary is the fact that they are absolute ball-hawks. Michigan State ranks 17th in the nation with 16 interceptions on the year. Add in their 11 fumble recoveries this season, and you have a defense that has created 27 turnovers in 12 games.
Connor Cook vs. Ohio State's Secondary
Even though Michigan State has a tremendous defense, it'll still need to put points up on the board. Cook will be responsible for effectively moving the ball against a Buckeyes secondary that is giving up an average of 255.8 pass yards per game.
Cook has had an up and down year in 2013. He has been able to put together stellar performances such as his 293-yard, two-touchdown effort against Northwestern. However, in the team's only loss this season against Notre Dame, Cook only completed 50 percent of his passes for just 132 yards.
MSU QB Connor Cook said this week, “obviously, you’re licking your chops” to face a defense that has shown such vulnerability.— BuckeyeNation (@BuckeyeNation) December 4, 2013
The sophomore quarterback will have his chances against an Ohio State secondary that has been allowing a fair amount of yards to opposing quarterbacks in 2013. This defensive unit is ranked 98th in the nation in pass yards allowed per game and has given up 23 touchdowns through the air over 12 games.
The opportunity will be there for Cook. However, he must step up and make the most of it.