|Matchup Preview | Nov. 21, Ohio Stadium, 3:30 p.m., ABC.|
|Michigan State Spartans (9-1, 5-1)|| Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0)|
Five Fast Facts About Michigan State
1. Michigan State is 5-1 in its last six games against Associated Press top-10 teams, including a 31-28 victory over then-No. 7 Oregon in East Lansing on Sept. 12. MSU’s victory over No. 2 Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game marked the highest ranked opponent the Spartans have defeated since knocking off the top-ranked Buckeyes in 1998.
2. MSU quarterback Connor Cook has 32 career wins, tied for the most among active starting quarterbacks in the NCAA FBS, along with Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, and his .889 winning percentage is No. 1 (minimum 24 starts).
3. Michigan State’s 2015 roster features 29 players from Ohio, including seven of the Spartans’ 24 probable starters for Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes: offensive tackle Donavon Clark (Cincinnati/Finneytown); quarterback Cook (Hinckley/Walsh Jesuit); placekicker Michael Geiger (Toledo/Ottawa Hills); defensive end Joel Heath (Cincinnati/Mount Healthy); cornerback Darian Hicks (Solon); offensive guard Benny McGowan (Centerville); and fullback Trevon Pendleton (Lucasville/Portsmouth West).
4. Michigan State center Jack Allen was named a first-team midseason All-American by SI.com, NFL.com and FoxSports.com’s Bruce Feldman, while left tackle Jack Conklin earned midseason All-America nods from Sporting News. Allen, Conklin, Cook and wide receiver Aaron Burbridge were all named to the midseason All-Big Ten team by ESPN.com.
5. Among FBS teams since the start of the 2013 season, Ohio State leads the nation with 36 wins. Florida State is second with 35 and Michigan State slots third with 33, one ahead of both Alabama and Marshall.
OHIO STATE RUSH OFFENSE vs. MICHIGAN STATE RUSH DEFENSE
The Spartans entered the season with a front four considered to be among the best in the country, but they have not been as stout as expected against the run. While they rank among the top 25 in the country in rushing yards allowed per game, advanced stats from Football Outsiders show a team that has given up a lot of solid gains while mostly avoiding give up explosive plays on the ground. Ohio State, meanwhile, has one of the best running backs in the country in Ezekiel Elliott, and that until only improves with the addition of a run threat at quarterback. EDGE: OHIO STATE
MICHIGAN STATE RUSH OFFENSE vs. OHIO STATE RUSH DEFENSE
The Spartans have all the makings of a great running team, but they have had a hard time putting it together as injuries have plagued the offensive line all season. The running back corps has been dinged up, too, but head coach Mark Dantonio’s team is blessed to be four deep with talented backs, including true freshman L.J. Scott of Hubbard, Ohio. With better health later in the season, MSU might be able to outperform its middling stats. Ohio State has been a bit up and down as far as stopping the run, so this might be a pivotal area to keep an eye on. EDGE: EVEN
OHIO STATE PASS OFFENSE vs. MICHIGAN STATE PASS DEFENSE
The MSU secondary has been decimated by graduation and injuries this season, leaving the former “No Fly Zone” in tatters. Four teams have thrown for at least 300 yards on the Spartans, including Western Michigan and Oregon to start the season and Indiana and Nebraska in the second half of the year. Big plays have been a particular problem for the MSU secondary, although that was also the case last season in some of the Spartans’ biggest games (Oregon, Ohio State and Baylor). How well the Buckeyes can take advantage is something of an open question given the flux in the lineup they have seen because of injuries and the goings on at quarterback, but J.T. Barrett and Mike Thomas lit up MSU last year and should have a chance to do so again. EDGE: OHIO STATE
MICHIGAN STATE PASS OFFENSE vs. OHIO STATE PASS DEFENSE
This is most definitely a matchup of strength on strength. The Spartans boast one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Connor Cook, a senior who will be looking to improve to 2-1 for his career against the Buckeyes. He is having his best season yet, and for that can thank a large and talented receiving corps. Aaron Burbridge, the Big Ten’s leading receiver, is a big, athletic target with great hands, but MacGarrett Kings Jr., R.J. Shelton and others have all proven to be dangerous in one way or another. Meanwhile, Ohio State is among the best teams in the country against the pass, and the Buckeyes will hope to show they have the athletes to match up with the Spartans across the board. Their ball skills will be tested as Cook is not afraid of throwing into tight coverage and lettings receivers make plays for him. EDGE: EVEN
Aside from the miraculous fumble return for a touchdown to beat Michigan, the Spartans’ special teams (coordinated by former Ohio State assistant Mark Snyder) have been mostly a disaster. They are among the worst teams in the country in net punting and have struggled in kickoff coverage while not getting much from either of those return units. Junior kicker Michael Geiger hasn’t been able to shake his sophomore slump, and Dantonio has seemed reluctant to use him this season. Ohio State hasn’t taken a kickoff or a punt back for a touchdown yet this season, but the Buckeyes have been consistently solid in the return game. Almost no one has been better nationally in coverage of kickoffs, and Cameron Johnston continues to be a weapon as a punter. Now if only they could get the kicker situation figured out… EDGE: OHIO STATE
This one is a bit tricky. Michigan State is a nearly two-touchdown underdog, and Dantonio’s teams thrive in that role. Ohio State isn’t likely to be caught looking ahead to Michigan, but the Buckeyes won’t have as much aggression built up as they did last year when they went to East Lansing looking to avenge a devastating defeat in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game. Perhaps they will get a boost from the crowd on Senior Day, though both teams have been prone to poor starts this season. EDGE: MICHIGAN STATE
Ohio State left no doubt which team was better last season, overcoming some early miscues to thrash the Spartans on their home field. Will the Spartans return the favor this year? Not likely. The banged-up Cook has shown he can get hot and nearly will a team to victory, but the Buckeyes should be able to make the Spartans one-dimensional offensively and exploit the Michigan State defense early and often. Dantonio will have his squad loaded for bear, but the Spartans don’t have enough defensive firepower to hang around this year. OHIO STATE 35-24
The staff pick is an average of predictions by staffers Ryan Ginn, James Grega, Tim Moody, Jeff Svoboda and Blake Williams. Matchup previews by Marcus Hartman.