Week 5 - Ohio State at Michigan State

Posted Sep 27, 2012

Week 5 CFN Fearless Prediction – Ohio State at Michigan State

Ohio State (4-0) at Michigan State (3-1) Sept. 29, 3:30, ABC

Here's The Deal: Let's get past all the rhetoric and all the upcoming games; this is the Big Ten championship game.

Purdue might turn out to be great, and Wisconsin could still flip the switch at some point, but Ohio State is the best team in the Leaders division. The running game is rolling behind star quarterback Braxton Miller, and the defense, outside of an issue with California, has been solid, especially against the run. But now the Buckeyes have to step out of their comfort zone and go on the road for the first time all season long, and now they have to show they can be a bit more explosive and a bit more balanced offensively against one of the Big Ten's best defenses.

With the final three road games against Indiana, Penn State, and a weakened Wisconsin, this is it. Including Michigan and Purdue, there isn't another game left that OSU will likely be the underdog, at least not a big one, and if it's good enough to win this game, it's good enough to come up with a special year. Of course, there's no carrot at the end of the stick, but in this stepping-stone campaign to 2013, being the best team in the Leaders, and the acknowledged Big Ten champion if the Spartans go on to Pasadena, would be enough.

Michigan State needs to get its groove back. After looking so great defensively against Boise State, and after throttling a Central Michigan team that whacked Iowa, the offense didn't show up against Notre Dame and didn't wake up for a half against Eastern Michigan. Le'Veon Bell has been special, but the rest of the attack has been punchless, leaving the defense to carry the way. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in just about every major defensive category, but now they have to prove that they're ready to become the league's best team with more than just a solid brick wall of a front seven. The O is 1-for-4 this year in terms of coming up with good games, and now is the time to break out.

Ohio State won seven in a row in the series from 2000 to 2008, and after a few years off, the Spartans won a 10-7 slugfest last season.

Why Ohio State Might Win: The Michigan State passing game isn't working. Andrew Maxwell is getting time to work, and he threw for decent yards in the first two games, but he was shut down cold by Notre Dame throwing for 187 yards on 45 attempts, and he was surprisingly awful against Eastern Michigan, completing 16-of-29 passes for 159 yards and a score. Ohio State's pass defense has been a disaster at times, and it gives up a ton of yards, but it makes up for it with big plays picking off seven passes and allowing just four scoring throws. Ohio State is going to load up everyone and Brutus to stop Bell and the Spartan ground game, and in the face of a strong pass rush, Maxwell will have to force a few plays. The opportunities will be there to come up with a few game-changing picks.

As good as the Michigan State defense has been, it's not getting into the backfield nearly enough. The D has come up with a mere three sacks – with one in each of the last three games – and while there have been more plays in the backfield over the last two weeks, there won't likely be enough to totally shut down Braxton Miller. If he gets time to work, he's deadly.

Why Michigan State Might Win: So the Spartan defense has to shut down one guy? Okay.

It's a new year and a more mature Miller, but last year he was held in relative check by the Spartans finishing with -27 yards on nine carries and throwing for 87 yards and a score in relief of Joe Bauserman. The Buckeyes are trying to get more out of the supporting cast with Jordan Hall running for 87 yards against Cal and ripping off 105 yards against UAB, but MSU is phenomenal against the run and should be able to contain the ground game to make Miller a passer. He has been efficient and effective so far, but that's because defenses are selling out once the OSU running game starts to work. MSU won't have to do anything out of the ordinary up front, and the secondary should be able to handle itself against the mediocre Buckeye receiving corps.

Ohio State might not be bad when it comes to turnovers with just four so far, but it's committing way too many penalties. The seven last week against UAB weren't bad, but the combined 21 sins against UCF and Cal were a problem. Michigan State was flagged ten times in the opener, but has been nailed just 14 times since.

What To Watch Out For: This might be a Heisman elimination game. The field is wide open, and while Braxton Miller and Le'Veon Bell might not be front-runners at the moment, it's still early and they can still be in the hunt to at least get to New York. However, one bad game here probably ends the possibilities.

Bell was needed way too much against Eastern Michigan, running 36 times for 253 yards and a score, and while he wasn't bottled up by Notre Dame, he couldn't get rolling with 19 carries for 77 yards. He's currently on a pace to finish the regular season with 1,830 yards and 15 scores, but he's also on pace to carry the ball more than 350 times. Last year he ran for 50 yards on 14 carries against the Buckeyes.

There might not be a more valuable player right now than Miller, who leads the Buckeyes with 441 rushing yards and seven scores, while completing 61% of his passes for 754 yards and seven scores with two picks. He has been magnificent, but like Bell, he won't last in the long term if he's taking the big shots he's receiving week after week. There's no questioning how dynamic he is, and he's an undeniable talent who'll have a great next few years under Meyer, but he's about to be challenged for the first time since the bowl loss to Florida.

What Will Happen: Miller will be bottled up and the Ohio State offense won't go anywhere, but Michigan State won't get much out of its attack, either. The defenses will own the offenses, and the Michigan State defense will be a wee bit better. Maxwell won't be great, but he'll be effective enough in a few key drives to get MSU the key win.

CFN Prediction: Michigan State 17 … Ohio State 13
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Michigan State -3 O/U: 43.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Ryder Cup 2012, 1 – SNL Thursday Weekend Update): 4