No. 2 Ohio State comes to Indianapolis with its trendy, up-tempo offense and a powerful old-style ground game that has been virtually unstoppable.
No. 10 Michigan State counters with its typically stout defense, which doesn’t allow many opposing offenses to get in sync.
Yes, it’s time to settle in for tonight.
“It’s miserable,” Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman said jokingly this week. “But this is why you coach. These are the games your competitive nature can come out a little bit and say, I’m going to have my offense, my checkers, my pieces are going to be more prepared and play harder and longer and with better technique and effort than yours.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher: To the winner goes an all-expenses paid bowl trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
And if the Buckeyes (12-0) extend their school-record winning streak, the nation’s longest, to 25, the reward may be even greater — what is likely to be their fourth appearance in the BCS title game, their first with two-time national champion coach Urban Meyer.
But few teams pose a bigger obstacle than the Spartans (11-1). A year ago, they fell just short of upsetting the Buckeyes, falling 17-16 in the conference opener.
This year, the Spartans have been even stingier. They lead the nation in total yards allowed (237.7 per game) and fewest yards rushing (64.8), and Michigan State also has the No. 1 passing efficiency defense (91.8). A win over the Buckeyes would give the Spartans their longest winning streak (nine straight) since 1966 and their first Rose Bowl bid since 1988, though coach Mark Dantonio has argued this week his team should also be considered for the BCS championship game.
The question, of course, is whether Michigan State can hold up against Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.
“When you think about Ohio State, you think — first thing that comes to my mind is physical,” Spartans linebacker Max Bullough said. “No matter who coaches, no matter what offense they’re running, no matter what they’re doing, they’re going to be a physical football team. They have big guys on the offensive line. They take pride in being able to be a physical football team.”
All of which raises the bar — for both teams — in what may be one of the weekend’s best games.
“I think they are like fine wine, they get better with age,” Herman said of Michigan State. “They know the strengths of their defense, they know the weaknesses of their defense. I think they understand what you’re trying to do offensively and where the pressure points on their defense are in terms of the plays that you’re running and the ways that you’re trying to attack them.”
Here are three more things to watch tonight:
SILVER BULLETT BAND: While the Spartans’ defense has generated great attention this week, the Buckeyes defense is no second-class citizen. Nationally, Ohio State is No. 5 against the run (100.0 yards), No. 18 in points allowed (20.3) and No. 30 in yards per game (355.8).
ROSY SCENARIO: A loss might not be the end of Michigan State’s hopes. If the Buckeyes go to the BCS title game, there’s a reasonable chance the Spartans could become the second Big Ten team in a BCS bowl and play in play in the 100th Rose Bowl.
That wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize, though the Spartans aren’t thinking that way.
DOUBLE TROUBLE: Hyde and Miller have combined to run for 1,070 yards and 13 TDs in Ohio State’s last three games.
If that continues this weekend, Hyde and Miller could become the seventh and eighth players in school history to reach the 3,000-yard mark on the ground. Hyde needs 33 yards, Miller needs 133.
EXPERIENCE MATTERS?: Michigan State hopes its previous experience in Indy helps this weekend.
The Spartans are back in the title game for the second time in three years. They lost the first league title game to Wisconsin. Ohio State, meanwhile, has 34 league titles, second to Michigan (42), but this is the Buckeyes first trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.
TEMPER, TEMPER: A week after three Buckeyes were entangled in a fight, the Buckeyes come to Indy with all hands on deck.
Neither of the two identified players, starting offensive lineman Marcus Hall and kick returner and backup running back Dontre Wilson, were suspended by the Big Ten or the school.
You can bet some college fans will be watching closely to see if there’s a repeat.