It’s kind of incredible that what was once a surefire main event feels more like a matinee now, and it’s even weirder considering Ohio State and Michigan State are both top-10 teams.
Such is the impact of the arrival and subsequent success of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, not to mention the recent loss by the Spartans at the hands of Nebraska. While the anticipation of Ohio State fans might occasionally drift to the Nov. 28 matchup against Michigan and the historical parallels it offers, there’s no question that this weekend will be a special game in its own right.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be in town for the first time since 2010, and there will be plenty of big-name recruits on hand.
Personally, I think Ohio State fans will have plenty to cheer about. The weather won’t get much applause – there’s a 90 percent chance of rain – but I expect Ohio State to come out on top by a decisive margin. MSU quarterback Connor Cook will shrug off his shoulder injury and play, but there’s no guarantee he does so at a high level. Meanwhile, these are the games that the Buckeyes have been building toward.
This is a contest for Ezekiel Elliott to put his stamp on the team and insert himself into the Heisman race. I expect him to negate both Cook and the MSU pass rush with a big day that keeps J.T. Barrett in manageable situations and keeps the Spartan offense off the field.
SCORE: Ohio State 38, Michigan State 20
If there is one game I am unsure about this season, it is this matchup with Michigan State. No one seems to really know how healthy Connor Cook is or how potent the Spartans’ rushing attack is. When healthy, the Spartans are without a doubt in my mind one of the best teams in college football. However, injuries on both ends have decimated their offensive line and secondary, leaving many question marks.
For Ohio State, the plan is simple. Run Ezekiel Elliott to victory. The Buckeyes are so much more effective as a passing team when they can utilize the play-action attack, and that won’t be as effective if Elliott can’t get going. Much of Elliott’s success has come in the second half this season, but the Buckeyes should be fine offensively if they get him off to a good start.
On defense, I think this game comes down to how well the OSU corners play. Last season, Gareon Conley struggled mightily against Michigan State and was subbed out for an ailing Eli Apple. The duo will be tested against the best receivers they have seen all year and the best quarterback, too, if Cook is healthy.
If they can limit the big plays for the Spartans, the Buckeyes have a great shot at moving to 11-0. When the Buckeyes lost to Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten title game, it was big plays that cost them. I think Ohio State can limit the big hits for most of the game and win.
SCORE: Ohio State 28, Michigan State 24
Heading into Ohio State’s matchup with the Spartans, two things stand out.
First of all, the Buckeyes simply haven’t hit their stride this season as they search for a true breakout performance. Secondly, Michigan State tends to play to the level of its opponent.
At first thought, those points would give the Spartans an edge on Saturday, but at the end of the day, Ohio State is simply a better football team. Michigan State has wins over Oregon and Michigan – though the win against the Wolverines certainly wasn’t convincing – but the Spartans also beat Western Michigan, Purdue and Rutgers by 7 points or fewer to go with a 39-38 loss to Nebraska.
Ohio State, for all its problems, has simply looked better throughout the year. Coupled with injury concerns surrounding Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, the Buckeyes do have a clear edge, especially playing at home.
I see this one being a struggle for both sides, though, as Ohio State’s defense is too good not to have success against the Spartans, while the Buckeye offense could have its biggest problems exposed.
Pass protection is the key, because Ohio State will need J.T. Barrett’s arm to win this game. I think he’ll find himself on the Ohio Stadium turf a handful of times, but Barrett should still be afforded enough opportunities to win the game.
With Cook likely playing at less than 100 percent, the defense will roll just enough to keep Ohio State ahead – leaving only a matchup with Michigan between the Buckeyes and Indianapolis.
SCORE: Ohio State 31, Michigan State 24
I must admit I’m still not terribly sure how good this Ohio State team is, but I do think I have a good handle on Michigan State – and the answer is that the Spartans aren’t as good as the Buckeyes.
The defense that made Michigan State famous – at least the version skippered by Mark Dantonio – simply isn’t what it used to be. The Spartans pride themselves on being a No Fly Zone, but this year, MSU is 70th in the nation in passing efficiency defense and 84th in passing yards allowed. Having watched the Spartans, I can tell you those rankings are well deserved, which is alarming because the Big Ten isn’t exactly overflowing with dominant passing offenses at the moment.
With that in mind, I think the Buckeyes will be able to dispatch the Spartans for the second year in a row, especially at home. Michigan State’s defense isn’t good enough to hang with the big boys, and it hasn’t been for the better part of two seasons now.
There are some issues with the OSU offense right now – receiving depth and pass protection to start – but I do think the brain trust on that side of the ball knows what those are and will know how to game plan around them. As a result, the combination of J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Thomas will be too much for the Spartans. For the third time under Urban Meyer, OSU will face Michigan undefeated.
SCORE: Ohio State 41, Michigan State 24
Finally, the matchup we have all been waiting for this season has arrived in the form of Ohio State and Michigan State, but I doubt either fan base has seen the team they expected so far this season.
The Spartans certainly didn’t anticipate a loss to Nebraska on Nov. 7, and the Buckeyes probably thought they would have played more consistently great on offense so far this year. Still, this is the game of the year so far for Ohio State.
While I think the Buckeyes are playing some of their best ball of the season, I am done predicting Ohio State to clear 40 points. I think Ezekiel Elliott will get going and approach 200 yards, which would give him the chance to pass Eddie George in career rushing yards against Michigan on Nov. 28. That success on the ground will come despite the fact that I think the Buckeyes will struggle in pass protection. Expect Spartan defensive end Shilique Calhoun to get to J.T. Barrett once.
On the other side of the ball, I think the Ohio State defensive line wins the battle in the trenches. Pencil in the Buckeyes for three or more sacks. The pass defense will frustrate Connor Cook, though he’ll get some numbers. The Spartans, ranked 10th in the Big Ten in rushing, will struggle on the ground.
In their biggest game of the season, the Buckeyes get a win.
SCORE: Ohio State 35, Michigan State 24