Andrew Kraszewski: Before we get into today's particulars, let's take a 10,000-foot view for a second. OSU has been at or near the top of all the polls all season, though with more struggling to fight off the rabble than one would expect from a team with this much talent. How do you feel about where the Buckeyes are right now, heading into the weeks where trophies are won or lost?
GoForThree: I have felt like the Buckeyes are about to turn the corner every week for about two months. After J.T. Barrett clowned PSU’s defense, I thought the team had finally found a groove and a plan to build upon. The suspension of Barrett certainly derailed things for a bit, and my hopes that Cardale would live up to the prediction of playing with urgency against Minnesota were clearly unfounded. The net result is that the Buckeyes aren’t in the spot I’d like. They have seemed a bit logey, mistake-prone, and (to some) unimpressive. Yet at the same time, they have the 4th highest margin-of-victory in the country, they lead the B1G in points per game and rush yards per game, and boast the #2 scoring defense in the conference. Also, their MOV is only 0.2 points less than it was at this time last year. So while I feel that they aren’t great right now, I have to wonder how much of that is reality and how much is a result of the tyranny of expectations. I think the Buckeyes can win the B1G easily. I think they can lose the B1G just as easily.
Question for you: In the same vein, many MSU fans seemed to feel like this was the program’s best shot at a playoff berth and a national title run. In light of the injuries and the inexplicable stumble at Nebraska, do you feel that the season has gotten away from you? Do fans feel like this team is poised to get all its crap in one sock and make a headlong run for the playoffs? Or is this team headed for a NY6 Bowl, and would that register as a massive disappointment?
AK: The Nebraska loss was the end of our ability to kid ourselves. We tried to explain away close win after close win over inferior opponent after inferior opponent, but by Nebraska, we had enough data points to know the logical conclusion: this team wasn't going to win a national title without nearly perfect luck and a number of players at key spots stepping up, and neither of those things happened. Losing at Nebraska the way we did was a gut punch, but it was also a dose of reality: if we lost to that team, we were always a long shot to beat OSU, let alone whoever we might see in the playoff. That's not to say the dream is dead- should we win out, I still think we go, as our resume would line up with anyone's- but the veil has been pulled back to enough of a degree that I think most of us have recalibrated expectations.
All that said, I wouldn't categorize another NY6 bowl as a huge disappointment. Sure, the title shot was there if the stars aligned and it probably won't be next season, but they didn't, and this team's warts are too unavoidable for me personally to be mad if we don't get that shot. That said, I don't think MSU has played its best game yet, and if we're going to see it this season, this is the time.
Let us discuss Xs and Os a bit. Are there any matchups you are particularly eager to see or where you think one team has a big advantage? Conklin vs Bosa should be great, but you don't get 17 NFL teams to scout the game without more tantalizing players to watch.
G43: I think the matchup that matters most from an OSU perspective might actually be Calhoun (or whomever plays) against RT Chase Farris. Farris was a disaster last week against Illinois. The Illini have a surprisingly athletic defensive front and Farris got blown off the ball, put on skates, and just plain whiffed more times than I can count. His inability to secure the right side of the line could put the OSU passing attack in deep kimchi. Beyond that, I think Connor Cook is the real matchup folks want to see. He's going up against a strong pass defense, but one that has also shown real vulnerability to certain mid-range routes (KJ Maye knows what I'm saying). Last but not least, is the OSU duo of Barrett and Zeke. Can they make hay against MSU? Can Barrett burn Sparty deep again? Time will tell.
Along the same lines, what do you see as MSU's biggest vulnerability against OSU? What has to work better than it has all year for the Spartans in order to beat Ohio State?
AK:The secondary has got to show up bigger than they have yet for MSU to have a chance. Nasty weather forecast, lack of a Devin Smith-caliber deep threat, and Barrett's hypothetical rust notwithstanding, this group has been a far cry from the No Fly Zone of galactic units past. Both in deep coverage and while tackling in space, Demetrious Cox, Montae Nicholson, Arjen Colquhoun, and the horde of freshmen behind them need to contain this offense's big play capacity and make the Buckeyes earn every yard.
I was tempted, by the way, to cite MSU's season-long disaster that has been special teams, but they finally had a clean week last Saturday, so I'm going to just plug my ears and yell if anyone brings them up.
OK, we have to get this out the door, so let's wrap up with a score prediction. I'll stand by my FULL HOMERSPARTY in the picks piece and say MSU 45, OSU 42...but mention also that if that happens, I'm running not walking to the nearest gas station and playing that number on the Powerball.
G43: I'm going to go FULL PESSIMIST BUCKEYE. I agree with you. OSU has been far too prone to slow starts, and as I said in the picks, I think there is a real consequence to Barrett being suspended. He essentially started fresh last week. I see MSU 30, OSU 21. The only solace is that MSU will virtually lock up the East, and OSU can go into Michigan's toilet of a stadium with anger and violence of action.