The stakes will be as high as they can be when No. 7 Michigan State battles No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
The loser will have two losses and almost certainly will be eliminated from consideration for the four-team College Football Playoff.
“It’s a huge challenge ahead of us,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We’ve got everything on the line here. This is what it’s all about. … This is why you come to Ohio State.”
The winner will be in control to represent the East Division in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 4.
Ohio State (9-1, 7-0 Big Ten) is coming off its most efficient offensive performance of the season, scoring touchdowns on its first six possessions in a 59-31 win against Purdue.
The Spartans (9-1, 6-1) use the legs of Kenneth Walker III, who leads the nation in yards (1,473) and rushing touchdowns (17), and the arm of quarterback Payton Thorne, who is second in the conference to Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud with 21 touchdown passes.
While Ohio State is first nationally at 46.3 points per game and the Spartans 26th (34.6), Michigan State second-year coach Mel Tucker is more of a defense-first coach, as he graphically explained Monday.
“I’m not in the shootout business,” Tucker said. “If it ends up being that, then it’s that. But that’s not the goal. … A shootout to me, when I hear something like that, it makes me want to vomit.”
Tucker’s team has been one of the surprises not only in the conference but in all of college football.
The Spartans were 2-5 in the abbreviated 2020 season, including a 52-12 home loss to the Buckeyes. Aided by an abundance of transfers, the turnaround has been quick for Tucker.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to have this game really mean something. And that’s a good thing,” Thorne said. “Coach Tucker talked last year and he talked in the offseason that he’s not interested in a four-year plan and he’s not interested in getting his recruits here like people talk about. He’s interested in winning now. He said that last year, and he meant it.”
Day said the resurgence of Michigan State exemplifies how tough the conference is to successfully navigate.
“This has been quite a year for the Big Ten,” he said. “If you look at the second half, there have been some unbelievable games. There are no weeks off.”
The weather will be typically cold in Big Ten country this time of the year. The Buckeyes got a taste of it last week when the temperature was a blustery 37 degrees.
The conditions didn’t bother Stroud, the Inland, Calif., native who threw five touchdown passes vs. the Boilermakers to give him 30 for the season.
“I asked him before the game, ‘Can a Cali kid throw the ball in 40-degree weather with 10-mile-an-hour winds?'” Day said Tuesday. “And he said, ‘Yeah, no problem, Coach.’ He just shrugged it right off. It’s always good to see. You never know until you see it, but there will be worse weather coming.”
–Field Level Media