It was a wild weekend in the Big Ten. The Michigan State Spartans beat the Penn State Nittany Lions in a game that took more than seven hours to complete due to weather delays. Ohio State was also upset by the Iowa Hawkeyes, who not only beat the Buckeyes, but demolished them.
After a 3-9 campaign last year, who would have thought this Michigan State team starting and playing several freshmen and sophomores would be 7-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play at this point in the season?
All of this leaves the Big Ten conference, and particularly the Big Ten East division, in a frenzy. Wisconsin is the only team in the conference without a single loss of any sort. Every other team has at least one conference loss and at least two losses overall. The Spartans and Buckeyes are both 5-1 in conference play and will meet Saturday afternoon in a showdown, which in all likelihood, will determine the winner of the East division.
Michigan State completely controls its own destiny in the B1G. If the Spartans take care of business, the Big Ten East is theirs and a trip to Indianapolis for a shot a Big Ten title is certain. This weekend will be a huge challenge in Columbus for this young Michigan State team. Michigan State needs to win at Ohio State and then proceed to win at least one of the final two games to win the division. There are certainly other scenarios, but that is the easiest path.
There is a reason Ohio State is currently favored by more than two touchdowns. The Spartans are on the road, coming off of an emotional win, and are playing against a dynamic offense. Ohio State is coming off of an embarrassing loss and will be ready for redemption. All signs point to an Ohio State victory, right?
Not so fast. Michigan State has won against Ohio State three times in the past six meetings — more wins than any other Big Ten team has against Ohio State in the span. The Spartans have won two in a row in Columbus. Excluding the neutral site Big Ten Championship game in 2013, the road team has won the past six contests in this series.
The Northwestern loss in triple overtime still looms somewhat large. If the Spartans would have been able to pull that off, a loss this weekend would still keep Michigan State alive with some help, while a second conference loss would (most likely) all but end those chances. But I love the way the team responded, beating the No. 7 ranked Nittany Lions, despite a three-hour delay. That is no easy feat. The Spartans must not focus on the emotional win over PSU, or the Northwestern loss any longer.
Michigan State needs to go 1-0 this week. It will arguably be the toughest test of the season in the horseshoe. The resilient Spartans have shown they’re not afraid of anybody with wins against Iowa, Michigan and Penn State.
This team will not back down from the intimidating Buckeyes or anyone for that matter — the program has eight victories over top-10 teams in the past five years (yes, I know, the Buckeyes currently rank 11th in the AP Poll, but worth mentioning) — only trailing Alabama in that regard. But again, the past means little this weekend and the Spartans are well aware of what Ohio State is capable of.
A Big Ten championship for Michigan State would have seemed like a near impossibility at the beginning of the season. Now, it is well within the Spartans’ reach.