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Imperial Communiques: OSU @ MSU

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In which we swirl expensive liquors whilst considering the cruel barb of fate that is being in a conference with a terrible reputation. Also, some game stuff.

Gregory Shamus
Andrew Kraszewski: We come to it at last: the great battle of the B1G season. Even ESPN isn't ignoring this one (actually, I was very surprised they picked it over Bama-LSU).

As sort of a preamble, it feels like Ohio State's gone about as far under the radar this season as I ever remember them being. This, despite an offense that has adjusted unbelievably well to the loss of Braxton Miller, an athletic young defense that has gradually improved as well, and a guy with two natty rings walking the sideline. Even during the terrible season after Tatgate, I feel as though OSU got a lot of press, albeit for undesirable reasons.

Do you think, if you agree this is the case, that OSU's low profile this fall is a function of the early VT loss? That's has grown some ugly warts since it happened, and thus done serious damage to the Buckeyes' playoff hopes. Or is it just the lack of a sellable face of the program with Miller down (though, again, Barrett's proven a pretty nice successor)? Or does it more reflect the national media's disdain for the conference at large? I could be making all this up, but OSU has historically sucked up a lot of media oxygen, and that doesn't feel like the case this year despite the team looking pretty freaking good. Por que?

GoFor3: I would agree, though I think it's a two-fold case. With the loss of Carlos Hyde, most of the football world's expectation for a productive Buckeye offense this year rested on the shoulders of Braxton Miller (pun intended). With the loss of his talent under center, I think the Buckeyes really fell off the map for most people. The loss to VT after strolling through a few tuneups really buried the perception of the Buckeyes as a possible contender for most folks. I can't blame anyone for feeling that way, as I did, too. It would be hard to say anyone reasonably expected J.T. Barrett to progress so quickly, imperfect though he may be.

I think you're absolutely right that the VT loss looks worse and worse by the week. Realistically, some allowances should be made for how the team has grown since then, especially on the offensive line and at QB. Similarly, some allowances should be made for the fact that Michael Brewer's best performance of his lifetime came on a Saturday night in Ohio Stadium. That being said, the loss is still damning. Were the Buckeyes to win the B1G, I think it very realistically could keep the entire league out of the playoffs.

OSU has absolutely "[sucked] up a lot of media oxygen" in years past. As a dyed-in-the-wool Buckeye fan, it's nice to have a break. Even last year, the potential for the Buckeyes to be in the national championship was more than a little terrifying, given the horrendous state of the defense at season's end. From that perspective, a season of reduced expectation in the media has translated into a welcome shifting of the spotlight. The team is certainly good. They're getting better each week. The issue, it seems, is a combination of factors. The perception of a disastrously bad B1G (which is an inflated criticism) hurts. OSU is a good team, but they're currently viewed by most as being good in the context of a bad conference. The fact that the lone foray into Power 5 competition this year ended in Hindenburg-esque disaster at home only serves to reinforce that perception to most of the country.

AK: Distance seems to have soured people on this prospect, but I remember hearing many people, and not just MSU fans, say after the title game that MSU would at least have had a good shot against either FSU or Auburn. Going and getting embarrassed would not have been a good look for the conference, but from a Spartan perspective, playing for our first title in 50ish years would have been worth the risk. Therein, I think, is the true difference in perspective that sustained success like OSU's brings, because you're far from the first Buckeye I've heard express the sentiment that if the matchup isn't very good, it might be better to miss the title shot altogether in favor of a more winnable, still-pretty-good high-level bowl. Of course, part of that is the confidence in the constant parade of talent you have coming that makes the ebbs in team quality pretty mild, and nobody else in the conference is really at that point right now (I do think MSU is close and can get there, but we aren't quite yet).

We'll see pretty soon (as it is currently Tuesday afternoon) whether it's possible for a 1-loss B1G champion to remain in the playoff conversation based largely, I would think, on how far Ole Miss falls. If they remain top 10, then the #bias has infected the committee and we might as well draw up our own secession papers (that's what you do when things aren't going your way, right? Take your ball and go home in a huff?) because we'll never get a fair shake.
To be sure, a home loss to a disappointing team like Va Tech is a big-time anchor, but the reduced pressure has probably been good for all the young players OSU is relying on. Now that Barrett is rolling and the rest of the team is coming together, are you starting to eyeball the bigger prizes again? I'll put it this way- if OSU wins on Saturday, what do the Buckeyes need to do the rest of the year for you to be satisfied? And what about if OSU loses, what would you expect out of them then? Should MSU prevail on Saturday, I'd certainly consider a CCG appearance the baseline; once there, I'd be quite confident in our chances against anyone from the West, which basically places the fate of our season in the hands of the playoff committee. Reasonable?

GF3: Yes, I would agree that seeking more realistic matchups is becoming a theme among Buckeye fans. That can be viewed two ways, but I prefer to see it as a bit of a return to earth. The 2002 season was certainly a special year for Buckeyes, but a lot of factors had to come together for that crystal football to end up in Columbus (which is really the case for most NC teams, save perhaps Alabama). Yet Buckeye self-perception really ran away from reality for some years after. In my opinion, we went through this period of many folks in Columbus and the great Buckeye diaspora thinking that every OSU team belonged in the national championship conversation, and that just wasn't true. I recall the morning in 2007 when I walked into work and saw the aftermath of a Saturday that vaulted the Buckeyes into the BCS championship against an SEC power. I'd like to say I knew then that OSU was in trouble, but I clung to enough optimism to make me watch the ensuing disaster.

OSU certainly has the talent pool to keep good things going, and I think we owe that to a general change in the mentality of recruiting that OSU was really the first to embrace. But you're absolutely right that MSU is building that talent pool, and more importantly building a reputation as a program where talent wants to be.

I think your baseline for MSU is quite reasonable, indeed. I don't see any of the teams in the West really having the balance to beat you. The West is a great place to be if you run the ball well and don't do much else well. MSU's defense matches up like beasts against the offenses in the West, especially since their two best teams have shown a tendency to wait until the half to start moving the ball to the best of their abilities. Only Sparty's annoying habit of forgetting to play one of four quarters saved Nebraska from outright embarrassment. Given the talent and body of work of this MSU team, I'd go as far as to ay that a win on Saturday might really make a CCG win your baseline. Does that get you in the Playoff? As I write this (now Wednesday) it seems clearer than ever that we aren't in the midst of a "playoff committee," but in the midst of a very fancy poll system which will likely not work in the B1G's favor in any 2014 scenario.

To my mind, a loss to Sparty doesn't ruin the Buckeyes' season, especially if MSU wins the B1G (though being a technical third would stick in my craw, as I very much think the Buckeyes are second-best in the B1G behind Sparty). Either way a win over Michigan is a must. If the Buckeyes lose to this UM team, I will lead the pitchfork-and-torch crowd to Meyer's doorstep. More so than ever, Michigan is a must-win this year because they're so terribad. To that end, if OSU wins on Saturday, Meyer has to win the CCG to satisfy me. He can't go the game again and let the offense devolve into running a QB on 4th down instead of his sure-thing running back (I'm totally not still bothered by that 11 months later, Tom Herman) in a crushing loss. So is it better for OSU to win on Saturday? Of course. But that will only serve to ratchet up expectations.

AK: I think that covers the birds' eye view pretty well; let's zoom in a little. There are potentially great matchups all over the field in this one, and a veritable boatload of future pros on display. You've got Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall, and Dontre Wilson against Trae Waynes, Kurtis Drummond and Darien Harris; Ezekiel Elliott looking for room to run against Taiwan Jones and, conversely, Langford against an underappreciated run-stuffing front; J.T. Barrett trying to escape the loving embrace of Ed Davis; Tony Lippett vs Doran Grant; and two potentially awesome DE-OT matchups in Bosa/Conklin (if/when Bosa flips to blindside) and Calhoun/Decker. And on top of it all, probably the two best in-game coaches the conference has to offer in Dantonio and Meyer. Considering what all those guys are capable of individually, it's little surprise these are the two best teams in the league. Are there any individual matchups you find especially compelling? And finally, bring us home with a score prediction; I'll call it MSU 38, OSU 34 in a barnburner.

GF3: I think you covered the individual matchups pretty well. I think the most compelling matchup is the MSU front seven against the Buckeye offensive line. The unit has come a long way, or so it seems. That's a tough thing to measure, because VT threw a very complex scheme at them that they haven't seen executed well since. Add to that the offensive drought in the 2nd half in Happy Valley, and there's reason to question how well this offense actually performs against a mobile, athletic front. There's real potential for Sparty's defensive line and blitzing linebackers to eat OSU's lunch. I think the OSU defensive line has the same potential to wreak some havoc, but probably not to the same degree. The key one-on-one matchup(s) will probably be between J.T. Barrett and whomever is chasing him in, around, and out of the pocket. I firmly believe those matchups will decide the game, and probably not in OSU's favor.

I'll best your score prediction. I like MSU solidly in this one, because I think the youth and inexperience really shows for the Buckeyes. MSU 34, OSU 17. OSU's second TD score comes late. As shameful as it is to admit, the Buckeyes have not defeated a top ten opponent in the regular season since 2006. I fear that the streak continues.