The conference, bragging rights, and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff are all on the line when the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) host No. 9 Michigan State Spartans (9-1, 5-1) in a Big Ten showdown Saturday in Columbus.
Each side is coming off a victory, but Ohio State experienced a bit of a slide in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll while the Spartans and head coach Mark Dantonio climbed five spots back into the top 10 ahead of Tuesday’s newest CFP rankings.
Urban Meyer's squad lost three first-place votes in the most recent AP poll, but it had more to do with No. 3 Alabama’s blowout win at then-No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 1 Clemson’s victory at Syracuse than Ohio State’s 28-3 triumph at Illinois.
But Ohio State is still undefeated thanks to running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 181 rushing yards and two scores and quarterback J.T. Barrett’s 150 passing yards and two total touchdowns against the Illini, and is likely in position to remain in the CFP’s top four and could move up with a win over the Spartans
Capitalizing on losses by Baylor, LSU, Stanford and Utah, Michigan State return to the nation’s elite after losing at Nebraska on a controversial final play two weeks ago.
Quarterback Connor Cook’s status for the game appears safe despite suffering a shoulder injury and forced to leave at halftime of the Spartans 24-7 win over Maryland, with Dantonio telling reporters afterwards that the senior likely could have played the final two quarters against the Terrapins.
Cook completed just six of his 20 passes for 77 yards and an interceptions against Maryland, numbers far lower than his 143 passer rating on the season. Currently tied for the conference lead with 21 touchdown passes, Cook’s also third in the Big Ten with 248.2 yards per game and he’s connecting on 56.3 percent of his attempts.
The Spartans will need Cook’s experience and skill against a Buckeyes secondary ranked No. 3 in the conference, allowing 171.6 yards per contest and overall No. 2 in the country with 13.8 points allowed per game. Ohio State’s pass rush is also third in the conference with 30 sacks this season.
Cook’s health may also determine the effectiveness of conference-leading receiver Aaron Burbridge. He’s already eclipsed the millennium mark with 65 receptions for 1,021 yards and six scores.
The Buckeyes have plenty of star power on offense. Barrett torched Michigan State for five total touchdowns and 386 yards from scrimmage in last season’s 49-37 victory in Lansing. How the Spartans' defense performs against the duo of Barrett and Elliott should be the game's most important storyline.
The sophomore Barrett’s has returned as the starter and totaled 622 passing yards and eight touchdowns, and another 403 rushing yards and eight scores to complement Elliott’s Big-Ten best 1,425 yards and 16 trips to the end zone.
The Spartans defense ranked fifth against the run in the conference with 121 yards allowed per game and 13 total touchdowns through 10 games.
Betting Line: Ohio State -13
Prediction: Ohio State over Michigan State, 37-30