No.8 Michigan State and No.14 Ohio State appear to be the only two Big Ten teams with a legitimate chance of qualifying for the College Football Playoff. After Saturday, only one of those schools will be in contention for the national title.
The rivals are set to go head-to-head at Spartan Stadium. Both teams enter the contest with just one loss, and their eyes on reaching the conference championship game.
The visiting Buckeyes enter the game as 3.5-point underdogs. Ohio State suffered a loss in their second game without injured quarterback Braxton Miller, but they’ve thrived for most of the season, winning seven games by an average of nearly 20 points.
Backup J.T. Barrett has filled in admirably, but it’s been the team’s No.14 rushing attack that has them still alive in the playoff race. Running back Ezekiel Elliot has totaled 709 yards on 5.6 yards per carry, while Barrett has rushed for 496 yards on 105 carries of his own. In their last win, Ohio State rushed for 296 yards on 6.7 yards per carry.
Ohio State has found themselves in trouble when they haven’t been able to dominate the ground game. In their loss to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes got just 108 rushing yards on 40 attempts. They needed overtime to beat Penn State in their only win that was decided by less than 17 points, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, as compared to their season average of 5.3 yards per attempt.
Barrett has led the team to seven wins, but he hasn’t proven that he can make big plays when the running game isn’t working. Against Virginia Tech, who currently ranks 10th in the country in pass defense, Barrett completed just nine of 29 pass attempts. He had his second-worst performance of the year against a tough Penn State defense, completing 12 passes for 74 yards and two interceptions.
Michigan State will likely prove to be a difficult matchup for Ohio State. They rank seventh in the nation, allowing 95.4 rushing yards per game. On Oct. 4, the Spartans hosted Nebraska and their No.8 rushing offense, limiting the Cornhuskers to just 47 yards on 37 carries.
The Spartans have been almost as good against the pass. They rank eighth in the country in opponents’ passer rating.
A few teams have been able to have some success against Michigan State’s defense. Oregon handed the Spartans their only loss, scoring 46 points in the process. However, the Ducks have Marcus Mariota at quarterback, who is one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates.
Michigan State’s offensive attack is much like Ohio State’s, considering they rank 17th in the nation in rushing and 44th in passing. Ohio State has been stout against the run, but Spartans quarterback Connor Cook has proven that he can make plays when needed. In last year’s Big Ten Championship Game victory over the Buckeyes, Cook threw for 332 yards and two scores.
The over/under has been set at 56 total points. Ohio State has failed to score at least 31 points only once, and Michigan State hasn't scored fewer than 27 points in a game.
PREDICTION: Michigan State over Ohio State, 34-24