Game Week: Michigan State

Ohio State will hit the road this weekend and travel to Michigan State in the top game in the Big Ten to date. The teams are evenly matched, and have played each other to the wire the past three seasons. What gives this week? Who wins the elimination game?

- I've looked at it from every angle, analyzed every matchup, compared position groups, and reviewed every relevant stat on each team, and it's STILL hard to pick a winner in this game. I AM going to pick one, but this one is tight.

- When Las Vegas has a home team favored by three points, what they are telling you is that in their mind these teams are dead even. If Ohio State were at home this Saturday, the Buckeyes would be favored by three points. A universal gambling truth is home field = three points. If the guys that back their opinions with millions of dollars think this is an even game, that means something to me. I agree with their opinion 100%.

- There will be a lot of players on the field this week for both teams that have already participated in multiple games between these two teams. They are very familiar with each other, and the past three games have been nail-biters that go to the last play. Why would this year be any different?

- With the conference being as horrible as it is, this game is not just an elimination game for the playoff system, but this is truly the battle for ownership of the Big Ten, apology to Nebraska. This game matters, not just in the short term, but in the long term.

- The Big Ten being the butt of all college football jokes is not going to end soon, bank that. The loser of this game falls back into irrelevance nationally, with the winner playing Nebraska in all likelihood for the conference championship. The loser gets the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl on Wednesday night after Christmas at 9:30 p.m. against Marshall. Yippee.

- With the talent being so even, and I think it is, I have to go elsewhere to find an edge. To me, this is going to be a game determined by the coaching staffs. Last year saw Mark Dantonio take Urban Meyer to the woodshed and spank that heinie. Can that repeat itself? Really?

- Ohio State was the clear favorite last year and riding an undefeated streak, but for some reason came out flat when playing for a spot in the BCS championship game. Whether it was nerves or overconfidence, both of those issues fall on the head coach. Ohio State getting stuck 17-0 in the biggest game of the year speaks directly to mental preparedness, and the Buckeyes failed that one. You CANNOT come out and not be ready to play football in that spot.

- The bowl game brought another loss, to a decent but certainly not great Clemson squad. They only lost 51-14 AT HOME to Florida State, so I don't think the Tigers were all that. They lost the game before their bowl to South Carolina 31-17, so Clemson wasn't exactly like playing an SEC power. Ohio State played alright in the bowl game, but when it came to money time Clemson snatched the win and the Buckeyes could not respond.

- This season has been a good one for Ohio State, the embarrassing loss to Virginia Tech aside, and this week's game will determine a lot from a national perspective. But the loss to the Hokies gave Ohio State three losses in their past four games, and not what is expected. A loss to Michigan State and it starts to look like Ohio State is decent in the Big Ten, but certainly not on the level of the Spartans. With a win, Michigan State takes the deed to the conference from Ohio State and heads off to play Nebraska.

- Urban Meyer did not come to Ohio State to be decent in the Big Ten. He knows just how big this game is for Ohio State, but also for himself. These are the types of games he has won all his life. He wins conference title games. And he wins bowl games. Period.

- I have really grown to appreciate Mark Dantonio as a head coach, and he gets his players to play hard every week. They are a physical, nasty group, and when you hear other teams calling them dirty, understand that's code for "I just got my a** kicked in big-time." But I do not see Dantonio as an all-time great in the history of college football. I do see Urban Meyer that way, and I think we will see it again this Saturday.

- This game is why Urban Meyer took the Ohio State job, simply put. Job-one is to be the dominant team in the Big Ten, because you cannot be a force nationally until you totally own this conference. That way you can look at the national media and say "Sure my league is awful, but that's not my fault. I'm an SEC team trapped in a bad league. Of course, I'm as good as Alabama or Auburn. I BELONG in the playoffs." And be able to say that with a straight face.

- If you look at the statements Meyer has made already this week, there's no doubting he gets it. He knows what's on the line this week. I think he wins this game, and I do think the winner of this game will be a "coaching win."

- There's no reason for me to wait until Friday to put out my prediction. My pick is in and it's not changing. I have Ohio State, make that Urban Meyer winning this game.

THE PICK: MEYER 31 DANTONIO 24.


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