Stakes will be high for No. 2 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game — though there might be some good consolation prizes for the loser.
The Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) need a win to keep their national title hopes alive and it would help if it was an impressive victory to fend off a one-loss SEC champion in the BCS standings. But even with a loss, the Buckeyes are well-positioned to receive an at-large BCS bid.
The Spartans (11-1, 8-0) need a victory to guarantee a desperately coveted spot in the Rose Bowl, where they haven’t played since 1988. But if they lose, and Ohio State plays for the national title, the Spartans could go to the Rose Bowl anyway.
“It’s all on the line,” Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard said.
The Leaders Division-champion Buckeyes, coming off a 42-41 victory against Michigan, have one of the top offenses in the country, averaging 48.2 points a game to rank third in the country and 530.5 yards to trail just five teams.
The Legends Division-champion Spartans are among best on defense, giving up a nation-low 237.7 yards and 11.8 points per game to rank fourth.
Soon after Ohio State stopped archrival Michigan on a 2-point conversion Saturday with 32 seconds left to stay undefeated, linebacker Ryan Shazier nailed a scouting report on Michigan State.
“They’re a really good team with a really good defense and an offense that’s getting better,” the Butkus Award finalist said. “I can’t wait to play them in Indianapolis.”
The Buckeyes have won 24 straight games, a program record and the longest active streak in major college football.
Ohio State also was 12-0 and won its division by two games last year, but its season ended after the regular season because of NCAA sanctions stemming from the tattoo scandal that rocked the program and led to ex-coach Jim Tressel’s exit.
The Spartans have won eight games in a row since losing 17-14 at Notre Dame to earn their second berth in the Big Ten title game in three years. They blew their last opportunity to end the school’s Rose Bowl drought.
In the inaugural conference championship game two years ago, Michigan State’s Isaiah Lewis ran into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman to negate a return to the Badgers 3 and give them a first down with 1:37 left in a 42-39 setback.
“Tough to lose it as we did, but you have to take tough times sometimes,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said after that game two years ago. “But we’ll rise again.”
Lewis, now a senior, said he’s happy that happened during his career.
“You don’t even understand, the last time I was in Indianapolis, I was heartbroken,” Lewis said Saturday after the Spartans beat Minnesota 14-3. “I was embarrassed to lose that game. The way that I left that game — the play that happened — it just left a bad taste in my mouth.
“I’m just ready to go back.”