Published Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:48 pm / Updated at 11:47 pm
football
Barfknecht: Finally, lights shine brightly on a Big Ten showdown
Big Ten championship game: Michigan State vs. Ohio State
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: FOX
Radio: 1620 AM KOZN

If ever a conference were in need of some good news in football, it's the Big Ten.

After a season in which big names sputtered (Michigan, Nebraska), Cinderella fell flat (Northwestern) and key players suffered debilitating injuries (Taylor Martinez, Venric Mark, Jake Ryan), relief is here.

The Big Ten championship game between No. 2 Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) and No. 10 Michigan State (11-1, 8-0) is tonic for all.

OSU, with a victory, appears set to give the league a shot at its first national championship since the Buckeyes won it 11 seasons ago with an upset of Miami.

Michigan State, with a win, would break a 26-year Rose Bowl drought. Even with a respectable loss, it appears the Spartans would earn an at-large bid to the Rose Bowl, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary and desperately wants a Big Ten school involved.

All too often this season, the national spotlight shone anywhere but the Big Ten.

Not this time. ESPN's “College GameDay” will broadcast from Indianapolis in the morning and the game is set for prime time on Fox.

(Memo to Commissioner Jim Delany: See what happens when you schedule quality night games after October? The nation actually pays attention.)

The Heisman Trophy won't be decided in this game, but one of the invitations to New York might.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who missed two full games and most of a third with a sprained knee, has played his way into the conversation as a runner-up to the favorite, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

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Note that Michigan State's Mark Dantonio was voted coach of the year by media and coaches, though Urban Meyer has won his first 24 games at Ohio State. No Buckeyes head man has been voted Big Ten coach of the year since Woody Hayes in 1979 despite OSU being the most successful program during that time.

Dantonio is a deserving winner. His case is very strong. It's just that the scent of Ohio State hate/jealousy sometimes lingers in the air come awards season.

As for the game itself, don't take a bathroom break anytime the Ohio State offense and the Michigan State defense face off. This is a classic strength vs. strength matchup.

Michigan State is No. 1 nationally in total defense, No. 1 in rushing defense and No. 4 in scoring defense. Ohio State is No. 6 in total offense, No. 2 in rushing offense and No. 3 in scoring offense.

As much as I respect Michigan State's defense, I still wonder if the glossy rankings are a result of the schedule.

The Spartans have played one offense ranked in the top 50 (No. 11 Indiana). The national rankings of the other FBS offenses faced: 52, 60, 74, 76, 81, 83, 107, 112, 121 and 123. Murderer's Row, that isn't.

Indiana scored 28 points and gained 351 yards against MSU. Nebraska, ranked 60th nationally, scored 28 points and gained 392 yards while using a backup freshman quarterback, three backup offensive linemen and two backup wide receivers.

Here are the Big Ten teams Michigan State didn't play because of the scheduling crossover, and their national offensive rankings: No. 6 Ohio State, No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 46 Penn State.

You can't penalize a team for playing what has been scheduled. But you can question what the results really mean.

Michigan State hasn't faced anything close to Ohio State's Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and what longtime Big Ten observers are calling an offensive line as good as any in 15 to 20 years.

Yes, Ohio State faces high pressure to remain unbeaten. Michigan State will play devil-may-care football, knowing it likely will go to the Rose Bowl no matter what.

But I'm sticking with my original pick from August: Ohio State 34, Michigan State 24.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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