Both teams are undefeated in conference play, and although they have played common opponents, I'm not one that compares scores at all because every game is a new game. What I do go by is the eyeball test, and I try to look at how each team is playing currently, not what went on in September.
For Michigan State, the first point that must be made is that the Spartans can win this game, and there is no doubt in my mind about that. More importantly, there is no doubt in THEIR minds that they can win this game.
OSU OFFENSE VS MSU DEFENSE: Ohio State is an offensive powerhouse, and the strength is in the running game. Can Michigan State stop the run, specifically Carlos Hyde? That is the prime goal, and they have the man-power to do it. The amazing cornerbacks allow the Spartans to commit people to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Darqueze Dennard might be the best defensive player in the conference, and the safety play of Kurtis Drummond and Isaiah Lewis is also the best in the league. Marcus Rush, Denicos Allen and Max Bullough are all among the best players in the league. If they can stop Hyde, and that won't be easy, Ohio State has problems. Simply put, the Ohio State passing offense, which has not been good in close games, will have to make plays against one-on-one coverage. Braxton Miller will have tight windows to make throws, but he must be accurate and hit them. When Miller runs, and the Spartans will look to make him run, he must look to break big plays. It will be very hard to have many 12-play, 80-yard, drives on Michigan State. Ohio State must hit big plays. Can Devin Smith get loose over the top? Make no mistake, the Michigan State defenders are a great unit and the best Ohio State has faced to date.
MSU OFFENSE VS OSU DEFENSE: I do not like the Michigan State offense, but they have gotten much better the past few weeks, mostly because their quarterback is getting better. Connor Cook is making throws he could not make earlier in the year, and they are letting him do more than they did earlier in the year. I'm not real thrilled with the Buckeye defense either, but this might be a better matchup for them because the Spartans won't really look to spread them out. Forcing Ohio State to put multiple defensive backs on the field is the way to play the Buckeyes, as well as spreading them out and forcing them to make plays. That's just not what Michigan State does well on offense, and I suspect they will try to power the football early. I don't think they will have a lot of success running the football, so Cook will have to make plays against the Buckeye secondary. If Cook gets time, there are a lot of average defensive backs and linebackers in coverage to target back there for Ohio State, and he could find success.
THE COACHES: Mark Dantonio has done a good job this season with the Spartans, and the move to Cook certainly helped an offense that needed a boost. In looking at last week's game with Minnesota, it certainly looks like they were in Buckeye prep all week leading up to that game. Ohio State did not have that luxury, but Urban Meyer has been to these dances before and that's not a concern. Based on history in big games, the edge goes to Meyer and it's hard to argue that.
THE EMOTION: It's ALWAYS crucial in big games, and part of the reason I picked Michigan to take Ohio State to the wire last week. The Wolverines used the underdog status to their advantage, and they fought Ohio State to an even game. Michigan State might catch an Ohio State team a little flat early in the game as the Buckeyes shake off the effects of last week's emotional game. The Spartans have a lot of older defensive players that have played Ohio State well the past two years, and they will be loaded for bear from the jump. Eventually, everyone settles in and plays the game, but Ohio State has to watch getting stuck early and being forced to play catchup all game. This won't be a 42-41 game, so a ten point lead could be huge.
THE OUTCOME: I believe the Ohio State offense and Michigan State defense will do what people expect them to do. I think Ohio State will score in the 24-30 range, so the question becomes can Michigan State find a way to get one more point? That puts it on the shoulders of Connor Cook, going against Ryan Shazier and the Buckeye front four. Shazier MUST be better than he was last week against Michigan, and the same goes for Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt. When these players get out-played, like Michigan did last week and Iowa and Northwestern did for a half, Ohio State is not very good defensively. If they can take away the run for the most part, and put pressure on Cook to make throws under duress, Ohio State can and will win the football game. I'm betting on Shazier, Spence, and Bosa over Cook in this matchup. Seeing this game as OHIO STATE 30 MICHIGAN STATE 20