Monday, December 2, 2013

Big 10 Championship Preview: Ohio St vs. Michigan St

The college football regular season has come to a close, which means the time has come. Hoard the chips and salsa, stockpile all the cheap beer you can muster, and prioritize this Saturday. By prioritize, I mean cancel all other commitments that don't involve important weddings (so… your own, maybe) or funerals. Now that Alabama has tumbled, we will see a refreshing slate of championship match ups this weekend. Other previews will come, but in brief, here's what I see happening in Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis on Saturday. This will be a great game, with two terrific teams going at it on the big stage, it seems in many ways like a match made in heaven. (Ohio St. is favored by 6.5 points, but they have not covered the spread in the last 3 weeks.)

Ohio St is coming off the most entertaining college football game I have seen to date, a rivalry renewed against Michigan. We all recognize that this is one of the best rivalries in sports, period, but in case you had forgotten you had only to watch last weekend. In the Big House, this one involved 3 ejections, a fairly legitimate fight (more than shoves, and a lot more) and one unnamed Ohio St. lineman walking to the stands and flipping off the entire Michigan community, some 114,000 strong who had turned out to watch a great game. That's exactly what they got, as the Buckeyes poured themselves into the game, the only way they were able to keep up with the Wolverines emotionally charged play. This one was incredible, the comeback bids almost inevitable and the huge plays following each other like clockwork.The final score was 42-41, if you missed it, as Michigan lost on a 2 point bid to win the game in the last 30 seconds. Coming off such a huge win, and with the national championship in their sights, I see Ohio St. playing some great football this Saturday. 

They will need to do just that, however, to beat the Spartans. This is arguably the best defense in the country, as quietly all year they have put up numbers like 11.8 points against, good for 4th best in the nation. In fact, this Spartan squad boasts one of the most dominant defensive units in college football in recent memory. They get to the quarterback and then promptly put him on his back, and as for the occasional running back who crosses the line of scrimmage, he is quickly taught a thing or two as well. The Spartans' one loss this year has come in a quirky 17-13 defeat to the Fighting Irish, but other than in those 2 or so quarters, they have looked simply to be an excellent, fundamentally sound team. They are allowing 64 yards on the ground per game, and have allowed a whopping total of 5 rushing touchdowns this year! This is not to forget their passing defense, as in total they are allowing just 237 total yards against per game. Numbers like these are rare, but especially rare in a team with the schedule that Michigan St. has. This is probably the most underrated team in the country. Certainly their defense is, a unit which has been overlooked all year as ESPN analysts fawn and drool over the SEC. They simply don't like letting people score.

So… a couple of things to watch for:
Obviously, the matchup begging to be noticed is the ever dynamic Braxton Miller and less dynamic, maybe, but more "I-will-run-through-you-like-you-weigh-110-lbs" Carlos Hyde. The Buckeye running back is a scary man, as at 240 lbs he moves more like 200. Those skinny cornerbacks who try to stop usually get dragged along for 6 or 7 yards in the process. So, how will this talented pair fare against such a stingy defense? The answer to that will probably decide the game. This is truly strength against strength, as Carlos Hyde ran for well over 200 yards (close to 240, in fact) against Michigan last week. It looked at times like Michigan admitted defeat, and towards the end of the game he simply ran at will all over them. So one of the best running backs in college football (certainly top 3) with one of the most mobile quarterbacks in college football (also probably top 3) will face the best rushing defense in the country. How can you not watch this game?

Another thing to note is if Michigan St. can find the end zone, especially on the ground. Ohio St can and will score, so although this will be a low scoring affair overall it may come down to a last minute drive. There, they will have to count on junior RB Jeremy Langford, a formidable presence. With 16 touchdowns this year, he will have to score at least once for the Spartans to win this one. They do not have an incredible passing game, so here at least we know what to expect. 

There are countless story lines here, from Spartan coach Mark Dantonio's history as a Buckeye to the entire legitimacy of a conference at stake. As everyone mocks the Big 10 perennially, this is the moment to prove that these men can play football. We rarely see these teams as national contenders, but this year they undoubtedly are. Ohio St. is also playing to punch their ticket to the national championship… Emotions will definitely run high. In the words already out there on the Big 10 website, "This is what good football looks like." I have to agree wholeheartedly. This is why I am a fan, and I will watch this game from start to finish. Two great teams, two great strengths, and, as a personal element, Urban Meyer's pride (and unblemished record) at stake. Those are some powerful factors in this one.

Now I am not normally a bold person, but I was really tempted to go with the upset here. I'm a big fan of Michigan St., but I fear they would be an emotional pick as really I just wish ESPN would give them a little more love. So I have to say Ohio St. 21 MSU 17

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