The Ohio State-Michigan State football series is one that feels older than it really is.
Though it might seem like the Buckeyes and Spartans have been playing since right after somebody first put air in a pigskin bladder and started booting it around, the reality is the two Big Ten foes have only met 46 times and only began playing on a yearly basis in 1965. Even that is a stretch, however, because within that span are six gaps of consecutive years when the two did not play.
As recently as the 2009 and 2010 seasons, these two “rivals” were not on each other’s schedule, which begs the question, is it really a rivalry? By the standards of Auburn-Georgia (122 meetings since 1892) or Army-Navy (118 meetings since 1890) or even Ohio State-Michigan (114 meetings since 1897), probably not. But lately it could be described as a real on-field feud for sure.
In five of the last six years both have entered the game ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 as they do this year (OSU at No. 8, MSU at No. 24), and in three of the last five years, this game has played a role in determining the eventual Big Ten champion.
In 2013, MSU’s 34-24 upset in the Big Ten title game ended the 24-game winning streak Urban Meyer had posted to start his stay in Columbus, and more importantly, knocked OSU out of the Bowl Championship Series national championship picture. The next season, OSU’s 49-37 regular-season win in East Lansing in what amounted to the Big Ten title game was a key step in the Buckeyes’ winning the national championship that year. And in 2015, a 29-15 regular-season win in Columbus sent MSU to the Big Ten championship game, and eventually into the BCS playoffs where it was summarily crushed by Alabama.
The most recent memory for both teams, however, is a 48-3 OSU demolition last season in Columbus that still stings the Spartans.
“They came out and asserted their will on us,” MSU senior safety Khari Willis said, and that pretty much sums it up.
At first glance, it would seem a lot of things line up right for the Spartans in this one. MSU coach Mark Dantonio, who was defensive OSU’s defensive coordinator in 2001-03 which included a national championship season in 2002, has a 29-11 record (a .725 winning percentage) in games his teams have played in November since taking over in East Lansing in 2007. He is the only coach in all the Big Ten to defeat Meyer twice during his OSU tenure. And the Spartans will host the game in Spartan Stadium. So everything should be super in Sparty world huh?
Well, not so fast. In a strange twist, the Buckeyes, who lead the overall series 31-15, actually have a better winning percentage (.762) on the road than they do at home (.625). OSU holds a 16-5 advantage in East Lansing and a 15-9 advantage in Ohio Stadium. So you’d have to say the Buckeyes are good at dotting the I in this one at home and on the road.
Still, this has been a season of turmoil for Meyer and this OSU squad, and though they are 8-1, ranked second in the Big Ten East (5-1) and 10th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the Buckeyes seem off balance at a crucial time of the year. After getting taken to the woodshed in a 49-20 loss to Purdue in a national primetime TV game two weeks ago, they barely beat an anemic Nebraska squad 36-31 last week and have struggled on defense at times all season. Somehow it just feels like they standing on tiptoes at the edge of the Grand Canyon.
MSU, which comes in 6-3 (4-2 in conference) and already knows it’s probably out of the playoff picture, would love nothing more than to give the final shove that sends the Buckeyes crashing down and out of the national title talk once again. With homefield pride and national playoff implications on the line, both teams expect a 12-rounder for sure.
“I told my dudes that games like this one come down to toughness,” OSU junior cornerback Damon Arnette said. “They have a good team and good players, but so do we. Every year it doesn’t matter what their record or our record is, you have to go in swinging.”
The two teams first met in Columbus in 1912 with MSU winning 35-20. They didn’t play again until 1951, and MSU won that one in Columbus as well, 24-20. In fact, the first four games were played in Columbus, and MSU won three of those.
Starting in 1967, it became all Buckeyes as they won 21 of the next 32 meetings up through 2008, including stretches of eight, five and seven consecutive wins. Since 2011, OSU has managed only a 4-3 advantage, and the Spartans hope to even that mark on Saturday.
If they do, maybe this one will finally start living up to its feel of a real college football rivalry after all. H&A
Photos courtesy Michigan State Athletics
Ohio State vs. Michigan State will air Saturday at 11 a.m. CST on FOX.
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