COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Looking at the hot topics and pressing issues as Ohio State gets ready to travel to Michigan State for the Big Ten opener on Saturday at Spartan Stadium (TV: ABC, 3:30 p.m.).
B1G showcase: The Buckeyes can’t officially win the conference, but they figure to have a strong influence on the outcome. If it weren’t for the Buckeyes, the Spartans would have the highest rating in the league heading into Big Ten play and have established themselves as a threat to win a championship. The conference has obviously had some forgettable moments in September, but it will close the month with its only meeting of ranked opponents and a chance to establish a pecking order on the field instead of in the polls.
Something has to give: Nobody has been better at stopping the run in the Big Ten than the Spartans. Only one team has been more effective with its rushing attack than Ohio State, and after four games of shuffling due to injury, it should be even tougher to slow down with a full complement of tailbacks for the first time all season. In a classic case of strength against strength, the team that has the most success in the ground game when the Buckeyes have possession figures to have the edge on the scoreboard as well. The return of Carlos Hyde to partner up with Jordan Hall and quarterback Braxton Miller in the Ohio State backfield couldn’t come at a better time.
Familiar foe: Mark Dantonio obviously is well aware of the series history having worked for both programs, but the Michigan State coach won’t have to worry about seeing an old friend on the Ohio State sideline for the first time. The relationship between Dantonio and former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel is well known dating back to their successful national-title run a decade ago. And while Dantonio called Urban Meyer a “good guy” this week, he also admitted preparing for the Buckeyes this year is “easier when you don’t have a real personal attachment.” That might not necessarily lead to bad blood, but it should add a little more intrigue.
Air attack: Even if the Buckeyes are able to establish themselves as a threat on the ground, the coaching staff is continuing to stress the importance of taking shots down the field and building the passing attack. Ohio State just missed out on a deep play to Devin Smith that was wide open to start the game against UAB, and it can ill afford to let those opportunities slip away against a much stouter defense. The Spartans are going to dare Miller to beat them with his arm, and receivers Smith and Corey “Philly” Brown will almost certainly have a few chances to help him do it.
Closing ranks: The approach at Ohio State has been to treat the game exactly like the others, from practice preparation to meeting with the media. Michigan State has taken the opposite approach, canceling all interviews with its players and clearly treating the start of Big Ten play differently than other weeks. Dantonio indicated the measure allowed the Spartans to “concentrate on who we are” and felt it was necessary to close down ranks to gear up for the Buckeyes. Whether the business-as-usual style helps the Buckeyes stay relaxed or the lack of interviews gets the Spartans more focused remains to be seen and will be up for debate. But only one of those programs will have a win to show for it.