Created on Friday, 06 December 2013 Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
It's seemingly come down to one game for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
They've been embarked on "The Chase" since last season's 12-0 season ended and they're NCAA post-season ban was lifted.
And as the signage around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus reads, "The Chase is real."
However, Urban Meyer made sure his team - and media - knew early in the week there'd be no talk about any possible bowl destinations, which could include a trip to Pasadena, Calif. for the BCS National Championship on Jan. 6 if the Buckeyes can take care of their business this weekend.
That's exactly where the Buckeyes' focus lies because for only the second time in its football history, Ohio State will take part in a non-bowl game the week after meeting Michigan. It's the first time since 1942.
If the Buckeyes are to achieve their 25th consecutive victory since Meyer took over at OSU, they'll have to do it against the nation's top-ranked defense in Michigan State in the third annual B1G Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday night.
Both teams had clinched their spots in the title game a week prior and finished off undefeated regular conference seasons last week. The Buckeyes beat their rival and Michigan State took down Minnesota, 14-3.
Thanks to the dramatic Auburn victory against Alabama in the Iron Bowl last Saturday night, the Buckeyes are up to No. 2 in the BCS rankings, meaning a solid victory over the Spartans should - for all intents and purposes - send the Buckeyes to the BCS title game for the fourth time.
The Buckeyes had a short amount of time to enjoy the cherished 42-41 win over 'the team up north' because preparations for the Spartans began shortly after their return to Columbus.
"We've had some bruisers," Meyer said. "That's because we've turned to that kind of style of offense, which is the kind of offense we want to be. We (had) to be smart this week with what we (did). We had to be really efficient with these guys. Plus, it's finals week."
While this is Ohio State's first time in a conference championship game, Meyer is certainly no stranger to it. He guided Florida to three SEC title games during his career in Gainesville.
Thus, the Buckeyes dug right into the preparations.
"We jumped right into a very good team, an excellent team, Michigan State and we want to do the best job we can to make sure this team is prepared," Meyer said.
It doesn't take a football scientist to figure out the key matchup this weekend. The Big Ten Championship and the Amos Alonzo Stagg Trophy will most likely come down to whether or not the highly touted Spartans defense can contain the efficient and high-powered Ohio State running game.
Through the course of 12 games, the stats haven't lied. No team has been able to slow down the Buckeyes, who are averaging 321.3 rushing yards to go along with 48.3 points. Those numbers rank second and third, respectively, in the nation.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Spartans defense is ranked first nationally, allowing just 237.7 yards per game. They allow 11.8 points, which ranks fourth.
So, the question becomes ... what's going to give?
"Michigan State has as fine a defense as there is in America," Meyer said. "They have very good players, excellent scheme and they're well coached."
As for the Spartans, their approach has been the same basically all season, according to head coach Mark Dantoni, who is a Zanesville native and former OSU Defensive Coordinator under Jim Tressel.
"We've sort of come after every football team we've played," Dantonio said. "Nothing has been easy as we've gone through the season. It's very, very exciting for us as we move to this next stage, I guess, of our goals."
The Buckeyes' offense has become basically a totally ground oriented squad, but it's not because of lack of confidence in the passing game. It's more about Meyer's main objective to win a game and the best way to do that is handing the ball to Carlos Hyde or letting quarterback Braxton Miller make plays with his legs.
"It's going to be exciting for our defense to match up with them," Dantonio said. "It'll come down to the basics of playing football. You need to block, you need to tackle, you need to catch the football in all different aspects of the game. It's going to be a challenge at all different angles as we approach this game."
Hyde, who is the first tailback to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in Meyer's spread offense, has produced 1,290 yards in just nine games. He's also scored 14 touchdowns.
Miller, meanwhile, hadn't been running the ball much early in the season, but through the month of November, he really turned it up a notch. He's up to 891 yards and eight touchdowns. Throw in his 1,759 yards and 21 touchdowns passing and it adds up to his Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
"I think we've done a nice job of competing and playing against those offenses in the past and limiting the opportunities that they've had and shut them down basically," Dantonio said. "But, this is different in the fact that Miller is more of a tailback. He's a power runner, he's a spin runner and you have to force him into making mistakes."
The Ohio State ground game has been highly successful not only because of the guys carrying the ball, but also the line. The unit of Jack Mewhort, Marcus Hall, Taylor Decker, Andrew Norwell and Corey Linsley has started every game.
The Buckeyes received some big news on Monday when the Big Ten announced it wouldn't further punish Hall nor freshman Dontre Wilson for their roles in a fight during the game at Michigan. Hall was also caught by camera making a hand gesture to the Wolverines crowd as he departed the field.
The Ohio State defense was torched for more than 500 yards and 41 points last week. Michigan State's offense hasn't been explosive this season. It averages 380 yards and 29 points a game, which rank 84th and 63rd, respectively.
Spartans quarterback Connor Cook has been solid for Michigan State. He's passed for 2,119 yards and 17 touchdowns against just four picks. Junior running back Jeremy Langford has ran for 1,210 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The top pass catcher for the Spartans is Tony Lippett. He's caught 35 passes for 454 yards. Macgarrett Kings has caught 34 passes.
? The Spartans and Buckeyes didn't meet during the regular season, but they met in a slugfest last season in East Lansing. The Buckeyes prevailed in that game, 17-16.
"I learned quite a bit (from last year's game)," Meyer said. "That was a street fight last year and certainly between the tackles, so we have to be ready for that."
All told, this will be the 42nd meeting all time between the Buckeyes and Spartans. Ohio State maintains a 28-13 edge in the series, but the only concern is getting to a 29-13 edge.
- THE GAME will kickoff at 8:17 p.m. and be broadcast on FOX with Gus Johnson and Charles Davis on the call.
- MICHIGAN STATE has 26 players on its roster from the state of Ohio.
- THIS WILL be the first and last time OSU and MSU will meet in the conference championship game. They'll both be in the same division next season when the conference expands to 14 schools.