Big Ten Championship Picks: Michigan State vs. Ohio State Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 12/4/2013
When the Spartans and the Buckeyes meet on the field in Indianapolis, it will be a study in contrasts. The Buckeyes are where they are thanks largely to an impressive offense. Michigan State has a world-class defense. Ohio State is loaded with highly-touted recruits at every position. The Spartans have exactly one starter, Max Bullough, who was a four-star recruit, and they have no five-stars.
Though both coaches have had success, they have followed different paths. Urban Meyer came to Columbus as a savior — arguably the biggest star in the world of coaching after two national titles at Florida and an unbeaten season at Utah. Mark Dantonio was just 18-17 in his three years as a head coach at Cincinnati before landing in East Lansing, and he was seen as a compromise candidate by many despite having previously served six years coaching DBs for the Spartans. This is a clash of the blue bloods versus the blue collars, and it should be a classic.
While the stakes are high for both squads, they aren’t equal. Ohio State is playing for a shot at a national title. Some would argue that Auburn should leapfrog the Buckeyes if they beat Missouri, but I neither think they should nor they will. Win and the Buckeyes are in — likely against Florida State. Michigan State can’t reach those heights, but with a win they would win their first Big Ten Championship of the championship game era, and they could play in their first Rose Bowl since beating USC in 1988. More importantly, by beating the Buckeyes they would earn some national credibility for their program and especially their defense. For a program that has almost always operated in the shadow of giants and has an inferiority complex that has no limits, that is a big deal.
Michigan State vs. Ohio State Betting Storylines
There is a real risk of a letdown for the Buckeyes after their last outing. Meyer has been keenly focused on developing an enhanced hatred of Michigan in the program. Their annual showdown last week was one of the most exciting the two have ever played — Michigan missed a two-point conversion at the end of the game to lose by a single point. There was a whole lot of emotion that went into that game — as evidenced by the first half brawl — so the team could find it tough to rouse their emotions again here. They also could feel some shellshock because of how stunningly their defense was exposed. A Michigan team that had been struggling to move the ball badly for most of the season outside of two games threw the ball wherever and whenever they wanted to. The Wolverines were also able to run much better than expected. The middle of the Michigan offensive line had been just plain terrible all year, but that unit was able to look average or better against a Buckeye front seven that should have run all over them. It was the kind of performance that could really shake the confidence of a team.
The biggest issue for the Spartans, though, is that throwing the ball isn’t their offensive strength, so they may be challenged to replicate the success Michigan had even if the Buckeyes haven’t done enough to remedy those problems.
The Michigan State defense has been outstanding. The unit ranks first in the country both in total yards and rushing yards allowed and it is Top 10 in passing yards and points. The defense has been a shutdown force, and has allowed opponents to rush for just 64.4 yards per game. The Buckeyes sit second in the country for rushing at 322.1 yards per game, and Carlos Hyde, who is averaging a stunning 7.8 yards per carry (by contrast, Mark Ingram won the Heisman while averaging 6.1 yards), is the best running back in the country for my money. Add in a QB in Braxton Miller, who is more effective with his feet than his arm, and you have an epic clash of strengths.
The Buckeyes haven’t really been slowed down on the ground this year, but they haven’t faced a defense anything like this. The Spartans have been all but impossible to run on, but this is a whole new class of opponent for them in this regard as well. Handicapping this game is really as simple as looking at this matchup. Whichever team wins the running battle when the Buckeyes have the ball will win the game. .
Michigan State vs. Ohio State Big Ten Championship Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with the Buckeyes favored by 6.5 points. That quickly fell to the 5.5 points where it seems to have settled. Michigan State is pulling in a solid majority of the action, but it seems unlikely that the line will drop in a meaningful way before kickoff barring a major development. The total is sitting at 51.5 points.
The Spartans are 7-1-1 ATS against teams with a winning record and 6-0 ATS in their last six games played on FieldTurf. The game has gone “under” the total in four of the last five meetings between the teams. Ohio State has gone “over” the total in their last four games against teams with winning records but under in their last five games on neutral fields.
Big Ten Championship Picks: Michigan State vs. Ohio State Predictions
This is a very tough game to call. Carlos Hyde is a beast, and he is coming off an exceptional game. He will have more success running against this defense than anyone else has had. The Buckeyes defense is not playing very well, though, and the Wolverines provided their bitter in-state rivals with a blueprint for exploiting some weaknesses. I think the Buckeyes are the better team and have a big-game edge. This is a lot of points to be giving up against a defense this strong, though. I don’t see a lot of value on either side, but I lean towards taking the Spartans and the points.
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