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2013 Big Ten Championship - Ohio St vs. MSU

Campus Insiders & CFN
Posted Dec 5, 2013

2013 Big Ten Championship: Ohio State and Michigan State are each trying to get that one big win.

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Ohio State (12-0) at Michigan State (11-1) Dec. 7, 8:17 FOX

Here’s The Deal … The Big Ten is taking a beating, and now the two teams in the conference championship are about to deliver one to each other.

Think about it. This is Ohio State – THE Ohio State. It’s not Duke coming out of leftfield, it’s not Baylor with some crazy offense, and it’s not Boise State of the 2000s. This is the preseason No. 2 team in the country that got through the season unbeaten, did everything it was supposed to do, is coached by one of the best in the game, and could end up as one of just two unbeaten BCS conference teams in America. But one of the main storylines over the last week revolved around whether or not a one-loss SEC champion deserved to be in the BCS championship, and no one is suggesting that Florida State should be left out.

Michigan might have played over its head in an emotional rivalry game, and the Buckeye defense came through when it absolutely had to, but it’s hard to sell America that this is a be-all-end-all championship-caliber team after struggling so much against a mediocre team. The Big Ten schedule was awful, the non-conference schedule wasn’t special – San Diego State and Buffalo weren’t bad, and it’s not OSU’s fault that Cal was miserable – but Michigan State is top ten good, and a win in the Big Ten championship should be enough to punch a ticket to the second game in Pasadena no matter what happens between Missouri and Auburn.

Michigan State will get the nod for Game One in the Rose Bowl, in the real Rose Bowl, as long as it doesn’t get absolutely obliterated. If the Spartans win, they’ll go to Pasadena as the Big Ten champion for the first time since the 1988 game. Lose, and they’ll still almost certainly receive an at-large bid to face the Pac-12 champion.

The Spartans have made a living this year off of its suffocating defense, and while the offense has improved enough to get by, they’re here because of the other side of the ball. Against a pounding Ohio State running game, the MSU D will get its biggest test of the season by far, and there’s going to be nothing frilly or pretty about this.

Save your tippy-tappy, gimmick spread things for the other leagues – like the SEC. This really is old school Big Ten, slug and run football between two tough guy teams, and it should be tremendously entertaining, especially with the national spotlight – especially from the SEC – on the Spartans.

Michigan State somehow lost to Notre Dame, and its best win was against … uh … Michigan? Nebraska? The Spartans didn’t have to play Wisconsin or Ohio State in the regular season, and non-conference foes Western Michigan and South Florida were among the worst teams in America.

This is the chance for MSU to prove that it’s worthy to be among the elite of the elite teams, and it’s a chance for Mark Dantonio’s program to finally take the next step forward. In the Big Ten title game for the second time in three seasons, losing to Wisconsin in a classic two years ago, it’s time. To do it, though, it’ll have to hand Urban Meyer his first loss as the Buckeye head coach, and it’ll have to change around the entire BCS title chase.

Players to Watch: Michigan State allowed a 100-yard rusher last week against Minnesota, but for the most part, the defensive front has made a habit out of shutting down running games over the course of the season, allowing a grand total of 777 yards on the year and just five scores. Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde has run for 789 yards and seven touchdowns in the last three games. The big, bruising senior overcame his early three-game suspension to earn First Team All-Big Ten honors with 1,290 yards and 14 scores, blasting away for seven straight 100-yard games since the win over Wisconsin. Last year he was held to just 49 yards on 11 carries by the Spartans in the 17-16 win, and he’ll be the main target by the Spartan defensive front.

Hyde will meet up early and often with Max Bullough, who at 6-3 and 242 pounds he’s big, active and consistent, ranking third on the team with 73 stops after making 111 last year. With great instincts and timing, he’s able to do a little of everything with nine tackles for loss to go along with his steady play. The three-time All-Big Ten selection might not always be flashy, but he’s ultra-consistent and as good a leader as any linebacker in the conference. Last year, he came up with a season-high 12 tackles against the Buckeyes.

Bullough has been good, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier has been better. The First Team All-Big Ten star and Butkus finalist leads the team with 123 stops with seven sacks and 22 tackles for loss. An absolute machine over the second half of the season, he has made ten tackles or more in four of the last five games with 20 against Indiana as part of a three-game run with 50 stops. Fast and extremely athletic, he’s great at getting all over the field in a hurry with an uncanny knack for getting into the backfield on a regular basis.

Hyde is the marquee running back coming into the game, but Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford has been almost as impressive. He didn’t get any First or Second Team All-Big Ten recognition, but he was the heart-and-soul of the Spartan offense with seven straight 100-yard games with 1,210 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. A jack-of-all-trades, he started out his career as a corner, moved to receiver and now has turned into a whale of a runner who has to average around five yards per crack to keep things moving.

Michigan State will win if … the defense is the real deal. Yeah, the stats are great, but it’s not like the Spartans have faced a who’s who of next level offenses, giving up 28 points to two of the teams – Indiana and Nebraska – that actually do have a little bit of an attack. Ohio State isn’t going to change its style; it’s going to come out and outbully the bully by slugging it in the mouth. Michigan State has to hold on up front and has to turn Braxton Miller into a pocket passer. With a tremendous ability to pinch in from the outside, MSU should funnel everything up the middle into Bullough.

On the other side of the ball, Connor Cook has to hit on a few early passes. As Michigan’s Devin Gardner showed, the Ohio State secondary is mediocre and can be beaten by a sharp passing day. Michigan State wants to run the ball and rely on its defense, but Cook has to stretch things out and keep Shazier and the linebackers a wee bit off the line. If the passing attack doesn’t fly, there will be big, big problems moving the ball.

Ohio State will win if … it doesn’t care about Michigan State and its reputation and just runs the offense like it wants to. Ohio State likes to get Miller going early and mix things up with the passing game, and then drop the hammer with Hyde behind the tough offensive line. The Buckeyes might want to try getting something going with the ground game right away, just to see if Michigan State can stop it. If it can’t, then pound, pound, pound away. The Buckeyes can’t be afraid of the No. 1 defense in America.

The Buckeye defense, Michigan game aside, isn’t bad, either. Ohio State is better at getting to the quarterback than MSU, and it has to make Cook’s life uncomfortable from the start. It won’t be a huge deal if Langford has a good day, but Cook can’t have the time to let the downfield plays develop. The MSU receivers are playing better than they did last season, and they can make things happen if Cook gets time to find his second and third targets.

What Will Happen: Michigan State, allow me to introduce you to a real team. The Spartans were fine against Michigan and Nebraska, but that haven’t exactly been pushed by the best of the best teams, and now Ohio State comes in on a mission. Everyone keeps waiting for the Buckeyes to fall and look human, but every week they keep on surviving and moving on. Penn State game aside, Wisconsin might end up being the best team Ohio State has to face before playing Florida State, and while the Spartans won’t be bad, and the defense will be fine, it’s going to be a tough Buckeye win to keep the amazing run from Meyer rolling.

Prediction: Ohio State 27 … Michigan State 17
Line: Ohio State -5.5 o/u: 51.5
Must See Rating: (5 Inside Llewyn Davis – 1 The Last Days On Mars) … 5
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