Week 11 Preview: Ohio State at Michigan State

Ohio State (7-1) at Michigan State (7-1) Nov. 8, 8:00, ABC 

Here’s The Deal: With only some due respect to Nebraska, and maybe to an improving Wisconsin, this could and should be the Big Ten championship game – maybe. 

Here’s the problem, and it’s one college football experts are wrestling with, and fans on all sides of the argument can’t quite figure out: are these teams actually any good? 

Of course they’re good, and of course they’re talented, but is either one – even at 12-1 with a Big Ten championship – really worthy of being put in the four-team tournament? 

Remember, 2013 isn’t supposed to exist when examining 2014 teams, but it still matters and it’s still a factor that Michigan State is the defending Big Ten champion and started off the calendar year with a Rose Bowl win. Yes, it beat Nebraska, and it had Oregon in trouble for about 40 minutes, but it still lost to the Ducks. The big problem? Other than the win over the Huskers, Michigan State has yet to beat a team that’ll end up in a bowl game. 

Meanwhile, Ohio State actually has beaten teams that’ll end up in the post-season, but they’re all mediocre at playing college football. 

The home loss to Virginia Tech is looking worse and worse now, and it took two overtimes to beat a Penn State team that lost to Michigan. But the offense has been rolling, hanging up 50+ points on the board in five of the last six games, and talent-wise, this is a terrific team that eventually could put it all together and could absolutely hang with anyone in the country. But first, the Buckeyes need a signature win. Michigan State has Nebraska, Ohio State has Navy. 

But even now, even eight games into the season, it seems like each team has yet to play its best football. It’s a big simplistic to suggest that Michigan State has been going through the motions from the end of the third quarter against Nebraska on, but it’s been going through the motions with the exception of getting a little bit grouchy against Michigan for its stake stunt. The defense is still fantastic, the offense seems able to score whenever it really has to, and all the makings are there for a run into the playoff. This team might not have the 2013 chip on its shoulder, but it might be better and more balanced overall. 

Ohio State is doing what it’s supposed to, but the offense two decent defenses – Virginia Tech and Penn State – and it struggled against both. With Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan still to play, there’s danger in Minneapolis if the Buckeyes aren’t focused, but if they’re good enough to beat Michigan State, they’re good enough to be 11-1 and get to the Big Ten championship. 

In a lot of ways the College Football Playoff has already started. Enjoy the Big Ten’s elimination game. 

Why Ohio State Might Win: Everyone knows about the Michigan State running game and it’s tremendous run defense, but Ohio State’s has been even stronger, at times. The stats might not quite match up considering the Buckeyes opened up against Navy – allowing 370 yards to the elite rushing attack – but no one else has been able to get past the OSU defense for more than 150 yards on the ground. Penn State didn’t have a prayer, and Maryland all but gave up. After the Navy win, OSU hasn’t allowed anyone to average four yards per carry. Absolutely amazing at getting into the backfield, the Buckeye defensive front comes in waves, and even though the MSU offensive line has been terrific so far, it’s about to be under siege. 

Why Michigan State Might Win: Seven sacks, and 11 tackles for loss. That’s what Virginia Tech came up with against the Buckeyes, and while that seems like years ago, and Ohio State has improved since then, Penn State was able to be disruptive, and Michigan State should be able to bring the heat from the outside with 54 tackles for loss on the year and the ability to stop drives cold with big plays at the right time. Ohio State has been a momentum team, dominating when it’s had the chance against the mediocre-to-bad. Now it’s going to have to face adversity again and pressure from an attacking defense that’ll be frothing at the mouth. Penn State’s D is great, Michigan State’s is special. 

Who To Watch Out For: This is the big moment for J.T. Barrett, the young Ohio State quarterback who’s playing like a mature veteran, but he’s going to have to be strong under pressure and not make the big mistake. He’ll have to deal all game long with Shilique Calhoun, who might not be as spectacular as he was throughout last season, but he’s been steady. The All-America defensive end has generated a sack in each of the last five games while turning into an even more dangerous force as the year has gone on. Calhoun has been good, but fellow Lombardi Award semifinalist, Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, has been unstoppable with two sacks in each of the last three games and 8.5 in the last five games. Lightning fast off the ball, he’s been a terror who demands double team attention on every play. 

What’s Going To Happen: Considering the two fantastic defenses, will the game break type and get into a big of a firefight, like it did in the Big Ten championship last year? Absolutely. Both defensive fronts will be great, and the quarterbacks will be terrific, but the MSU offensive line will be better. The Spartans will get just a little more pressure late than Ohio State will. 

Prediction: Michigan State 27 … Ohio State 23 
Line: Michigan State -3.5 o/u: 58.5 
Must Watch Factor: 5: Sonic Highways – 1: Anything involving Nik Wallenda … 5