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Saturday, December 7, 8:17 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 2013 Big Ten Conference Championship Game pits two teams that appeared to have been on a collision course for the last couple of months, as the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes battle the 10th-ranked Michigan State Spartans on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Ohio State brings a 12-0 record and the nation's longest active winning streak at 24 games (program record) into this contest, and with Alabama's shocking loss last weekend to Auburn, the Buckeyes have ascended to the second spot in this week's BCS rankings. What that basically means is ... win the Big Ten title and Urban Meyer's club will in all likelihood get a shot at the national championship.
The Buckeyes, who have 34 Big Ten titles to their credit, have won the last two Leaders Division crowns, but could not participate in last year's championship game or go to a bowl due to NCAA sanctions.
Michigan State is appearing in its second Big Ten title tilt in three years, the team losing to Wisconsin, 42-39, in 2011. The Spartans lost only once this season, that coming in a 17-13 decision at Notre Dame back on Sept. 21. Since then, MSU (11-1, 8-0) has won eight in a row, all in conference, to win the Legends Division crown by three games.
The Spartans are seeking their eighth Big Ten championship, and their first Rose Bowl berth since 1988. Michigan State has recorded double-digit wins in a season for only the fifth time in history, although it's the third time under current head coach Mark Dantonio (2010, 2011). One more victory will give the team a new single-season school record for wins (12).
Dantonio, who swept both Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, acknowledged the effort put forth by his team to this point, but realizes there is still work to be done.
"We've accomplished our first goal by winning the Legends Division title. We look forward to the challenge of playing an undefeated Ohio State team for the Big Ten Championship. We're in the process of making lifetime memories, and we're looking forward to the weekend."
Ohio State has more than doubled Michigan State in the all-time series, going 28-13, and the Buckeyes have won eight of the last nine meetings, including a 17-16 nail biter in East Lansing on Sept. 29, 2012.
With multi-dimensional quarterback Braxton Miller running the show, the Ohio State offense typically has little trouble establishing itself from the outset of games, and maintaining control throughout. Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, missed a couple of game earlier in the season due to injury, but still managed to complete 65.7 percent of his passes for 1,759 yards, 21 TDs and only five interceptions, while also ranking second on the team in rushing with 891 yards and eight scores. The top spot on the OSU rushing list belongs to Carlos Hyde (1,290 yards, 14 TDs). As for the beneficiaries of Miller's exploits, and those of backup Kenny Guiton, Corey Brown and Devin Smith have been exceptional in logging a combined 91 grabs for 1,246 yards and 17 TDs.
Overall, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks among the national leaders in scoring offense (48.2 ppg), rushing offense (321.2 ypg) and total offense (530.5 ypg). However, despite having the second-most passing scores in the conference at 35, the Buckeyes rank in the lower half of the league standings in terms of passing offense (209.2 ypg). They do however, rank first in pass efficiency (164.0), while also leading the conference in third-down conversion percentage (.521).
As for the Buckeyes defense, it has been on point for much of the season as well, permitting an average of 20.2 ppg. The unit has been particularly strong against the run (100.0 ypg, seven TDs), which is a good thing considering its rather lax approach to defending the pass (255.8 ypg, 23 TDs). That latter figure ranks the Buckeyes 11th in the 12-team conference, and is somewhat surprising considering the playmakers they have on defense. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in sacks (39), while ranking in the upper half of the league ledger in interceptions (13).
Ryan Shazier was certainly in the conversation for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, as he tallied 122 tackles, 21 of which went for negative yardage, including six sacks. He also forced four fumbles and logged five QB hurries. Both Bradley Roby and Doran Grant came up with three picks apiece during the regular season, while the duo of Noah Spence and Michael Bennett combined for 25 TFL and 15 sacks.
Michigan State's strength is on the defensive side of the ball, as the Spartans rank first in the country in rushing defense (64.8 ypg) and total defense (237.7 ypg). Their average yield of 11.8 ppg ranks fourth, while their effort against the pass (172.9 ypg) has them ninth.
The team boasts several players who have enjoyed highly productive seasons, with Denicos Allen leading the way with 83 total tackles and 15 TFL. His 5.5 sacks ranks right behind the seven credited to Shilique Calhoun. Kurtis Drummond, who is second on the team with 81 stops, and Darqueze Denard have each picked off four passes, the unit as a whole coming up with 16 interceptions and 27 takeaways in all.
The Spartans offense has taken a back seat to their defensive comrades in terms of grabbing the headlines, but the unit hasn't been completely inept as it accounts for just shy of 30 ppg, behind typical outputs of 186.2 ypg on the ground and another 194.0 ypg through the air.
Jeremy Langford has been one of the better running backs in the Big Ten this season, ranking fifth with 1,210 yards while leading the league with 16 rushing TDs. As for QB Connor Cook, he has been effective in hitting 58.2 percent of his throws for 2,119 yards with 17 TDs and only four picks, and the trio of Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings and Bennie Fowler each have more than 30 catches for a combined 1,344 yards and nine TDs -- all scores belonging to Kings and Fowler.
Meyer knows his team is going to have its hands full in this championship game, and remarked recently about his impression of the Spartans.
"As fine a defense as there is in America. Very good players, excellent scheme, well coached," he went to address the MSU offense, "I've not studied their offense a lot. I listen to our coaches and I look at statistically what the running back and quarterback have done. And from game 1 to game 11, they are the most improved offense, certainly in the Big Ten and maybe one of the most improved in America."
There is no doubt that this going to be a physical game between two teams that can play shutdown defense. Ohio State certainly has the better offense, although if Langford can get into a groove, the Spartans should be able to move the ball. A week ago it was looking as if the Buckeyes might go undefeated for a second straight season and still not have a chance to play for the national title. Now that that is a distinct possibility, don't expect them to squander the opportunity.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 24
12/04 10:51:11 ET
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