Revenge is a dish best served cold. For the Ohio State and Michigan State football teams, each has been the recipient of a loss that has crippled any dream of a national championship in the past three seasons. For the Buckeyes, the lone loss of the 2015 season isn’t easily forgotten.
“There’s a little bit of a human factor that comes into the game, especially with them ruining Senior Night for us last year, ruining the season we were supposed to have last year,” redshirt junior right guard Billy Price said. “It’s tough, it’s tough. It’s in the back of your head absolutely.”
The narrative began at the Big Ten Championship Game in 2013 when the No. 2 Buckeyes faced a No. 10 Spartans team, just one game away from playing for a national championship. The Spartans upset the Buckeyes 34-24 in one of the team’s most heartbreaking encounters under the Urban Meyer regime.
In 2014, OSU returned the favor at Spartan Stadium. Then-redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for 300 yards, ran for 86 yards and scored five total touchdowns for a 49-37 win. Many saw that as Barrett’s coming-out game and the first major steppingstone on the way to a national championship. For a redshirt freshman to go into an environment like East Lansing, Michigan, with the season on the line, Barrett showed incredible poise for a guy who didn’t know he was starting until less than a month before the season.
“It was I think a great plan we had going into the game,” Barrett said. “I think we were playing well as a team and we knew we were the underdogs in that game so we wanted to come out, play hard for each other and (it) came to be a good game for us, especially offensively.”
Last season offered a crushing defeat as well. OSU’s hopes of repeating as national champions were erased on the final play of the game at the foot of now-senior kicker Michael Geiger.
This season, the OSU-Michigan State battle has a similar context, but for only one team. Coach Mark Dantonio’s Spartans are in the midst of their worst season since he took over in 2007. The Spartans are 3-7 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten.
Barrett said that revenge isn’t the mindset for the players. Sure, he isn’t going to soon forget what transpired last November against the Green and White, and although it means a lot to Meyer and Barrett to beat Michigan State, there’s a larger motif to the season than just revenge on Saturday.
“It’s a two-game season. You can’t focus on someone’s decision and the committee and whether or not we’re going to make this … that’s not really our concern right now,” Price said. “They have their criteria and I’m focused on Michigan State. We’re focused on Michigan State.”
After the past weekend’s madness of three top-four teams losing, OSU will likely find itself ranked No. 2 in Tuesday’s edition of the College Football Playoff rankings. With Michigan’s loss to Iowa, the Buckeyes’ route to the Big Ten Championship Game now requires them to win out and another Penn State loss. Meyer said that in the past, he has talked about the playoff rankings with his team. This year, he’s not certain.
“I’m debating right now what to do with that,” Meyer said on Monday. “I did not cover that yesterday. I have not covered it all throughout the year … But the focus is obviously Michigan State.”
Price said that Michigan State’s play this season is not indicative of what the Buckeyes will be expecting on Saturday.
“Any team can play and get beat,” he said. “They might not be winning, they might not be dominating like they used to, but they’re always going to play us tough.”