I am SO ready for this game, you guys. No sarcasm, I'm legit excited. In one corner, we have Ohio State, who has played the hell out of the "NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!" card like they're not the #2 team in America. In the other, there's Michigan State, who is actually underrated and would probably be the #3 team in America had they not lost to the D'ohmers earlier this year. Instead, they're #10, and they're hungry.
Let's break this down, offense vs. defense. Cool? Cool.
Ohio State Offense vs. Michigan State Defense
This is what makes this game so interesting. Ohio State has the best offense in the Big Ten, and it's not even close. Michigan State has the best defense in the Big Ten, and that's not really close, either. Ohio State looks to run the ball. Michigan State looks to keep you from running. This is the Big Ten's version of Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant.
The Buckeye offense has been on a tear lately, and while you can argue that's because of Braxton Miller, I think it's because of Carlos Hyde. Urban Meyer's star RB has been on a tear lately, and on the season, he's ran for 1,290 yards and 14 TD's in nine games. He's also averaging 7.8 yards per carry, which is disgusting.
Of course, having a dual-threat QB like Miller certainly helps. Miller can and will destroy teams with his arm (138-for-210 (65.7 percent) for 1,759 yards and 21 TD's) or his legs (891 yards and 8 TD's), despite missing basically three games due to injury this year. Miller also has some nice receivers in Devin Smith and Philly Brown, who have combined for 91 catches for 1,246 yards and 17 touchdowns this year. As a team, Ohio State runs for 321.3 yards per game, which is 2nd best in America.
However, this is by far the best defense that the Buckeyes have faced this year. The Spartan defense is 4th in the nation in points allowed, and more importantly, allowing 64.8 rushing yards per game, which is the fewest yards allowed in the country. Michigan State has also forced 27 turnovers, the 11th most in America.
The Spartans have playmakers on all three levels of their defense. Shilique Calhoun and Tyler Hoover are monsters along the defensive line, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen may be the best 1-2 LB punch in the conference, and Kurtis Drummond is an amazing safety.
The unit is locked in lately: Michigan State's defense has allowed 46 points in its last six games, and 28 of those came against Nebraska in Lincoln. I fully expect them to come out locked in against Ohio State.
Despite this, I'll give a narrow edge to Ohio State's defense. The Buckeye offense has been on fire lately. Plus, Hyde and Miller are so dynamic that, while I don't think they run all over the Spartans, I think they manage to carve Michigan State on the ground.
Edge: Ohio State's Offense
Michigan State Offense vs. Ohio State Defense
We know exactly what Michigan State plans on doing on offense, because it's been their gameplan on offense for basically all of Mark Dantonio's era: they will give the ball to their featured running back -- this year, that would be Jeremy Langford -- and tell him to run the ball down the opposing defense's throat. Langford has run for 1,210 yards and 16 TD's on the year, which isn't as dominante as past Sparty running backs, but that's partly because Michigan State has a fine quarterback in Connor Cook.
Cook has been a revelation this year. Coming into the year, Andrew Maxwell was the starting QB for Michigan State, and Cook was his backup. The two flip-flopped the responsibility for the first few weeks, but Cook was able to impress his coaches enough to take the starting job. Cook has made his coaches look smart, as he's thrown for 2,119 yards, 17 TD's and 4 INT's this season.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Cook is that he's put up those numbers without the benefit of a #1 receiver. Three Michigan State receivers have at least 30 receptions...but none of them have more than 34. The Spartans then have four receivers who have between 13 and 21 catches. Finally, the team has eight receivers with 100 receiving yards an eight receivers with a touchdown. The team's leading receiver is Bennie Fowler, who has 31 receptions for 496 yards and 6 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball is Ohio State and its defense, led by perhaps the best linebacker in the conference, Ryan Shazier. The Buckeye defense is averaging a 20.3 points per game this year, but its one issue is that if it gets punched in the mouth, it recoils. The Buckeyes have allowed at least 20 points seven times this year, and it will sometimes give up big plays. See: Robinson, Allen.
It will be up to Shazier and defensive lineman Noah Spence to try and prevent Langford to get going. Also, this may be the game that CB Bradley Roby snaps out of his season long funk going against a weak Spartan passing game. Narrowly, I think OSU's defense is better than MSU's offense.
Edge: Ohio State's Defense
I have enlisted the help of degenerate gambler/friend of the site @Kunk7 to give all of us gambling advice for this game. If gambling was legal, I'd advise you follow what my man has to say. Take it away, Dr. Kunkenstein!
So depending on where you do your holiday line shopping, Ohio State is about a 5.5 point favorite over Michigan State. If I’m being completely honest (and why wouldn’t you expect nothing but that from your #1 gambling source?), this line perplexes me. OSU closed as a 17 point favorite at Michigan last week. Just a few weeks back, MSU was only a 4 point favorite at home against the Wolverines. Now certainly we have gotten lots of useful information about both teams recently that would rate the relative strengths of these teams to be a bit closer, but still color me surprised that this line is not higher. HOWEVER, I am also not one to second guess a mature market willing to accept large sums of money betting on these numbers. That seems more important than my measly, idiotic opinion, right? Right.
My advice? Make a bet for chaos’ sake! Take Michigan St on the moneyline and root like heck against our ol’ pal Urban Meyer. Like we want to watch OSU either a) flounder AGAIN in the BCS Championship game or 2) win the whole thing? Pffft, screw ‘em. So in conclusion, bet with your heart! It’s doubly painful that way!
Ohio State is one game away from playing for a national title. One game. Mix that with the fact that they are the more talented team, along with the fact that Michigan State can/will punch them in the mouth, and I expect the Buckeyes to come out slow.
Howevah, Ohio State is too talented and too hell-bent on playing for a national title to lose. I think Miller and Hyde continue to do Miller and Hyde things, frustrating the Spartan defense because this is the best rushing attack that Michigan State has played this year. The Buckeyes win and make it to the title game, even though there's no way they could beat Alabama or Auburn or Missouri. But whatever.
Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan State 20