THE LINE: MSU-3. Las Vegas sees this as a dead even game, with the three points being allowed for the Spartans playing at home. In looking at the matchups, I'm 100% in agreement. These teams are very close in a lot of ways, and that has been reflected out on the football field for the past three years.
THE MENTAL EDGE: Not sure there is a big edge to either squad in this game. For Ohio State, there will be the revenge angle for what the Spartans did to them last year, and that could play a part this Saturday. On the Michigan State side of things, they KNOW they can beat Ohio State and not too many teams in the Little Ten feel that way. Both teams should be sharp.
THE TALENT EDGE: These teams are very evenly matched across the board, so neither squad has decidedly more talent than the other. There's no obvious edge in talent for either group.
THE OSU RUNNING GAME: Who can run the football better? This could be the key matchup in the entire game, and when looking for a team that can beat Ohio State I always look first at their ability to stop the inside runs. It was mentioned two weeks ago that Penn State, while not a good team, had two defensive tackles and a middle linebacker that were better than the Buckeye interior offensive line. The Nittany Lions controlled the middle of the field, and forced Ohio State to try to move the ball elsewhere, and it was not successful. Ohio State ran into the same issues with Virginia Tech, who is a bad team. Michigan State has an excellent front-four, and can cause problems for the Buckeyes, just as the other two squads did. I don't see Ohio State trampling the Spartan rush defense, but if they do they will win this game.
THE MSU RUNNING GAME: I expect much of the same when the Spartans have the football, and I do not see them moving the ball on the ground consistently against Ohio State. Should either team be able to move the ball on the ground with success, that team would have a huge advantage. I do not expect to see either team run the football like both did last year in this matchup. These are different teams, with different players suiting up.
WHO THROWS IT BETTER? This is going to be where the game is won, in my opinion. Both quarterbacks are going to be under pressure, and they will need to make plays under duress. Cook was able to carve Ohio State up last year, throwing for 300 yards, but this is not the same Buckeye defense under Chris Ash. Ohio State had no chance throwing the football last year, but again, this a different game with different players this year. Michigan State has proven under Connor Cook that they can throw the football in close games, while that has been the Ohio State albatross around their necks for three seasons. Will Ohio State be able to throw it with an injured, red-shirt freshman quarterback? They'd better be able to, or they will not win the game. Throwing for 100 yards on 8-23 won't cut it this year, nor will going 1 for 12 on third and fourth down. Simply put, J.T. Barrett has to match or exceed Cook throwing the football for Ohio State to win.
PASS DEFENSE: I really don't see an edge here, and both secondaries have played reasonably well this season, but both have also been torched on occasion. I think there will be holes in both secondaries for Barrett and Cook to attack, but which QB will have the most time to throw? Which QB will be on their game, making the right decisions and throwing it accurately? It's really hard to see a team winning this game with inferior passing stats. Losing the turnover battle, losing the big play battle and losing the sack battle should be instant death, and the first place to look on Sunday morning when reading the box score.
BIG PLAY BATTLE: It's really hard to see these teams driving up and down the field consistently, and I believe the 80-yard, 14-play, drives will be rare. Someone will need to pop a big play, and score from long distance. Who can do that? Tony Lippett is the best receiver on the field in this game, and he averages over 21-yards per catch. He has scored nine times. Lippett also shows up in big games, with 11 catches for 133 yards against Oregon, 3 catches for 111 yards against Nebraska, and 3 catches for 103 yards against Michigan. Ohio State does not have one player that can match Lippett, but maybe Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott or Devin Smith can provide that spark with a long touchdown. My guess? Devin Smith has the ability to get behind the Spartan defense and dial long distance for the Buckeyes. And he'd better.
KICKING GAME: Both Michael Geiger and Sean Nuernberger have strong legs, and both have gacked it up this year in tight spots. Geiger does have the experience, and will be at home, but not sure there's an edge here. One of these guys might be facing a 41-yarder at the buzzer for the win.
STYLE OF PLAY: Ohio State wants a track meet, while Michigan State wants a street fight. Oregon got down early to the Spartans but played Oregon-ball the entire game and wore out Michigan State in 100-degree heat. Last year, Ohio State got stuck 17-0 early in the second quarter, and had to climb that hill the rest of the game. Can Ohio State start fast, and turn the tables on Michigan State this year? The Buckeyes have been lights out early in games this season for the most part. A quick start, and an early lead, takes the crowd out of things and lets the young QB settle in. That could be a huge factor in the outcome. Michigan State will look to bludgeon Ohio State with physical play, and wear them out over the course of four quarters. They are the bully on the block, and they simply out-physical people. Can Ohio State match their physicality? It's not been a real strength of this current team, but this Saturday would be a good time to find it.