If you go by pedigree and rankings, Ohio State enters the 2014 season as the Big Ten favorite. After all, the Buckeyes – arguably the most consistent team of the BCS era – are 24-2 under Urban Meyer and are ranked sixth in the preseason Coaches Poll.
But if you go by recent history, the Buckeyes won’t even win the Big Ten East division this year. No, that honor may go to Michigan State, which last year went 13-1, beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl and finished the year ranked third in country behind national champion Florida State and runner-up Auburn.
Looking at this year specifically, are the Spartans – ranked eighth in the preseason poll – the best team in the Big Ten?
“I think if you go based on recruiting ranks and the amount of athletes coming in and potential NFL players, Ohio State still has an edge on the rest of the Big Ten,” College Football Preview Magazine writer Phil Steele said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “Michigan State, however, is closing the gap, and I love what Mark Dantonio gets out of his team each and every year.”
Heck, if not for a 17-13 September road loss to Notre Dame, the Spartans may have played for the national title last year. That’s not bad for a team that in 2012 went 7-6 with five of its losses coming by a combined 13 points.
“Last year, they didn’t have a lot of close games,” Steele said. “In fact, they beat every Big Ten opponent by double digits – and that includes Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.”
Ohio State trailed 27-24 late in the fourth quarter and was driving in Michigan State territory to win the game. The Spartans, however, stopped the Buckeyes on fourth-and-2, and Jeremy Langford scored a clock-bleeding, game-clinching touchdown with 2:16 to play to give Michigan State a 34-24 win.
The Spartans finished the year with the third-best scoring defense in America.
“Michigan State’s done it with defense, and they’ve done it with a conservative offense,” Steele said. “Well, their defense will be very, very good this year. It won’t be great like last year, but it’ll be very, very good. Offensively, they may actually have a little bit of punch with Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford. They get that big game against Ohio State at home on Nov. 8.”
Indeed, both teams could be 8-0 entering that game, which is the nightcap to a fabulous day of college football.
“If you’re a college football fan, Nov. 8 is a day to circle,” Steele said. “You’ve got Baylor going to face Oklahoma in the Big 12, which could determine the Big 12 title, and Ohio State going to face Michigan State, which could determine the Big Ten title. And how about Alabama and LSU? That was the premier game in college football and could be once again this year and it could determine the SEC title. That’s going to be a great game day for college football.”