Big Ten Championship Game

By Jeff Rapp, December 7th, 2013

Who: Ohio State vs. Michigan State
What: Big Ten Football Championship Game
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
When: 8:17 p.m. Eastern (FOX)
Rankings, Records: No. 2 OSU (12-0), No. 10 MSU (11-1)
Line: Ohio State by 6

Key Players: Ohio State – QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, C Corey Linsley, DE Noah Spence, LB Ryan Shazier, CB Bradley Roby; Michigan State – QB Connor Cook, RB Jeremy Langford, LB Max Bullough, CB Darqueze Dennard, P Mike Sadler.

Coaches: Ohio State – Urban Meyer (128-23 overall, 24-0 at OSU, 1-0 vs. MSU); Michigan State – Mark Dantonio (80-46 overall, 62-29 at MSU, 1-5 vs. OSU).

At stake: The Buckeyes are trying to build on a school-record 24-game win streak and if they do it they are somewhat likely to hold their BCS ground and qualify for the national championship game, presumably against Florida State. The Spartans project to go to the Rose Bowl either way but Dantonio wants to punch his first ticket to Pasadena as MSU coach with a win against the school where he served as defensive coordinator.

History: Ohio State leads the all-time series 28-13 but the two teams have never met on a neutral field. Michigan State will be playing in its second Big Ten Championship Game after losing the inaugural battle with Wisconsin two years ago.

Key Matchup: Miller and Hyde vs. MSU’s top-ranked rushing defense.

The Spartans are fundamentally sound in every way, stay in their gaps, and aren’t afraid of contact and make solid tackles with regularity. That explains why Pat Narduzzi’s defense allows just 64.8 yards rushing per game, which leads the nation.

MSU defensive linemen are hard to block and do an excellent job of flowing plays to ready defenders, especially Bullough. The Spartan middle linebacker is one of the Big Ten’s top defensive performers and should be up to the challenge.

Hyde, though, is on fire. The senior has 1,295 rushing yards in just nine game and is averaging a sensational 7.8 yards per rushing attempt. Miller, meanwhile, is at 6.8 ypc.

How It Will Play Out: This game is a clash of wills and the pairing on one of the elite offenses in the nation against a premier defense.

There is nothing flusky about what the Spartans are doing to slow down teams, and if they can do the same with Ohio State they are going to be in position to pull off a monster win.

Dantonio is not shy about going to the bag of trick plays in big games but he’ll probably try to win this one straight up to prove his team’s legitimacy. And the winning formula this year has been to slow down the run, pounce on takeaways, attack from a pro-set offense and play the field-position game if necessary.

Ohio State’s job will be to turn the game into a track meet and take the Spartans out of their comfort zone, which won’t be easy. The Buckeyes may find they can’t just ride Miller and Hyde on the ground.

Some of the onus will go to offensive coordinator Tom Herman to find ways to keep the aggressive, attacking Spartans off balance by threatening the middle of the field on the pass and showing a willingness to run outside.

Linsley also is a huge key. OSU’s All-Big Ten center will be charged with recognizing a variety of MSU zone blitzes and, more often than not, making the right call.

The Buckeyes have been stellar at paying from ahead as they have outscored foes 220-52 in the first quarter this season, although they trailed 21-14 after a period at Michigan last week.

Speaking of that, OSU is in uncharted territory, playing a game – and a monumentally important one at that – just one week after The Game. How much energy the Buckeyes have left in the tank will be vital and, quite frankly, is a concern, considering how spent the white-clad players appears after hanging on for a trying 42-41 win at the Big House.

Prediction: Ohio State is a less-than-touchdown favorite for a reason. This is going to be an outstanding game. And only two things keep me from picking the upset here: Cook is not nearly as mobile as other QBs who have given OSU trouble this season and the game will be played indoors on turf, which should afford the Ohio State passing game to hit some big plays. Oh, and another thing: Urban Meyer never loses. OK, three things.
Buckeyes by 4