The Lantern’s sports editors share their thoughts on five things to look for in Ohio State’s showdown with Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
1. Everything on the line
In 2012, the OSU football team saw their season end after beating Michigan 26-21 to complete an undefeated season. In 2013, though, there is more football to play after The Game, and much more is on the line. For the first time in its brief three-year history, the Big Ten title game will have OSU (12-0, 8-0) as a participant with a potential spot in the BCS National Championship. Although coach Urban Meyer and the players have said all season they will take the schedule one game at a time, it is hard to believe a trip to Pasadena, Calif., will not be on their minds in some way. A win all but guarantees a finish in the top two of the BCS, sending OSU to its first title game since the 2007 season. That could all be derailed by the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (11-1, 8-0) in Indianapolis Saturday at 8:17 p.m.
2. The nation’s top rush defense v. the nation’s second best rushing attack
So far this year Michigan State has only allowed 64.8 yards rushing per game, with only two teams running for more than 100 yards against the Spartans. OSU comes in averaging 321.3 yards per game rushing and has only failed to run for more than 200 yards in a game once this season, against Wisconsin. Something has to give when these two units clash Saturday. OSU senior running back Carlos Hyde is on a tear of late, rushing for more than 200 yards in two of the last three games and not failing to eclipse the century mark since September. If the Spartans can manage to contain Hyde and force junior quarterback Braxton Miller to beat them with his arm, then things could get interesting for OSU. If not, then expect the Buckeyes to have the advantage and to come away with the victory.
3. Can the OSU secondary bounce back?
It hasn’t exactly been the season redshirt-junior Bradley Roby and the Buckeye secondary had been hoping for. Three of four starting members of 2012’s starters returned, but the Buckeyes have struggled to stop the pass this season. OSU is tied for 101st in the country, allowing 255.8 yards per game through the air. The secondary is coming off its worst performance of the year, in which it allowed Michigan to throw for 451 yards in OSU’s one-point win. Although the secondary came up when it mattered most, intercepting Wolverine redshirt-junior quarterback Devin Gardner’s two-point conversion attempt that would have won the game. The Spartans do rank second to last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, so it will not be as stiff a challenge for OSU as in previous weeks. But the Buckeyes will need to prevent a repeat performance if they want to take down Michigan State.
4. Ryan Shazier
If the OSU junior linebacker needed anymore motivation for Saturday’s showdown with the Spartans, he got it Tuesday night. Arguably the Buckeyes’ best defender, Shazier led the Big Ten with 122 tackles and 21 tackles for loss. He also recorded six sacks and forced four fumbles. He was passed over for the conference’s defensive player of the year award, though, which instead was given to Wisconsin’s senior linebacker Chris Borland. No disrespect to Borland, who finished third in the conference with 102 total tackles, but Shazier got snubbed on this one. It’s safe to say OSU would not be where it is right now — vying for a spot in the national title game — if it weren’t for Shazier. His production is across the board, and he could be out to prove his worth in what could be his final Big Ten game of his career if he decides to leave early for the NFL.
5. Final Big Ten contest for some, maybe others too
A total of 18 players were honored Nov. 23 before OSU’s 42-14 victory against Indiana. Roby was among them, having confirmed his intentions to forego his final year of eligibility and enter the 2014 NFL Draft. Although Meyer has been mum on whether or not he’s held discussions with Miller and Shazier about leaving, if OSU wins Saturday and gets to the BCS title game, don’t be surprised if they bolt too. Having said that, look for each of them — in addition to OSU’s 15 other seniors — to look to do something special in their final Big Ten contest. It’s the biggest stage a Big Ten game can get, and big players tend to make big plays when the lights are the brightest.
Correction: Dec. 6, 2013
An earlier version of this story stated that the last time Ohio State went to a title game was in the 2002 season. In fact, it was the 2007 season.