(Sports Network) - Both unranked despite 3-1 records, the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes are set to clash in what figures to be a highly competitive Big Ten Conference opener.
Michigan State has played three inferior opponents thus far and crushed all three by a combined score of 117-13. Last week, the Spartans had no trouble with Central Michigan, as that game ended in a 45-7 triumph. The lone road game for the club thus far happened to come against the toughest opponent, Notre Dame, and the Spartans stumbled to a 31-13 defeat. It is unclear just how good Mark Dantonio's team really is, but this matchup with Ohio State figures to provide the answer.
Speaking of the Buckeyes, they are guided by first-year head coach Luke Fickell. After falling to Miami-Florida two weeks ago in a game that wasn't even competitive, Ohio State bounced back strong with a 37-17 romp over Colorado last weekend. Fickell's group is now 3-1 overall and will face three consecutive ranked opponents following this affair.
Ohio State owns a 27-12 series lead over Michigan State, which includes seven straight wins over the Spartans. The clubs haven't done battle since 2008.
There is certainly no shortage of talent at the offensive skill positions for Michigan State. The Spartans are led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 947 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. His favorite target is clearly B.J. Cunningham, who has already made 29 catches for 428 yards and a score. As for the ground attack, Le'Veon Bell leads the way with 217 yards and six touchdowns, while Edwin Baker has an almost identical rushing yardage total (216).
Those four players mentioned, as well as the supporting cast, has led Michigan State to 32.5 ppg and 417.2 total ypg. While the offense is racking up points in bunches, the defense has been outstanding. Opponents are only managing 11.0 ppg and 172.2 total ypg against the mighty Spartans, who have been tremendous against both the run and the pass. Foes are managing a meager 2.7 yards per rushing attempt and 7.6 yards per pass completion. Through four games, MSU has permitted only five touchdowns to opposing offenses. Keep an eye on Denicos Allen, as he has five TFL to his credit.
Last week against Central Michigan, Bell ran for three scores and Cousins threw for 213 yards and a touchdown. Michigan State held the ball for over 38 minutes and limited the overmatched Chippewas to 2-of-12 success on third-down conversion attempts. Four interceptions were notched by the Spartans, who yielded a mere 112 total yards in what was yet another dominant defensive effort.
That Michigan State defense will have to contain a few talented Ohio State freshmen this weekend in Braxton Miller and Devin Smith. Miller made his first collegiate start at quarterback last week and threw a couple of touchdown passes against Colorado. Sure, Miller completed just 5-of-13 passes for 83 yards, but he didn't throw an interception and proved capable of leading the team. Fellow rookie Devin Smith was on the receiving end of both scoring strikes. Miller added 83 yards on the ground, and Jordan Hall rushed for 84 yards and one touchdown.
Moving forward, Miller will be the quarterback of the Buckeyes, as he provides more athleticism and a better opportunity for production than Joe Bauserman, who has obviously been demoted. Smith has eight catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns, while Jake Stoneburner has four receiving scores to his credit. Those two players figure to be the main targets for Miller both in this Big Ten opener and all season. Leading the ground attack is Carlos Hyde with 263 yards and three scores, while Hall provides plenty of backfield balance. OSU is generating 28.0 ppg and 340.8 total ypg.
The Buckeye defense certainly got the job done against Colorado, limiting the Buffaloes to 314 total yards and 17 points. OSU came up with a pair of takeaways in the contest and held the visitors to 3-of-13 success on third down.
Overall, Ohio State is surrendering 15.8 ppg and 276.2 total ypg. The Buckeyes are limiting opponents to 99.2 rushing ypg at a clip of 3.5 yards per carry and have been solid against the pass as well. Andrew Stewart paces the club with 24 total tackles, while Etienne Sabino has 4.5 TFL, including a pair of sacks.
Ohio State has the obvious advantage of playing at home, but Michigan State may very well be the better of these two teams. Expect this one to be decided on the final possession.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan State 27, Ohio State 24