Redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne understands the massive implications of Michigan State’s upcoming game against Ohio State.
“On our side of the division, as of late ... in order to get to Indy you gotta go through Columbus,” Thorne said after MSU’s win over Maryland. “We know that, and it's gonna be a huge game for us.”
The Buckeyes have served as judge, jury and executioner of Big Ten football over the past decade. Ohio State has won five of the last seven Big Ten championships, including the last four. To win the conference, you must take down the annually formidable football machine from Columbus.
The last two times Michigan State won the Big Ten championship, the Spartans had to take down Ohio State on the way there.
In 2013, Michigan State defeated the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship to reach its first Rose Bowl in 25 years. Two years later, MSU beat Ohio State in Columbus with backup quarterback Tyler O’Connor under center. That win over the defending national champions led to another Big Ten title and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Every time Michigan State has been in a position to reach the promised land in a season, Ohio State has stood as a looming roadblock that must be hurdled to achieve the team’s ultimate goals.
Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker said he is aware of the historic implications of playing Ohio State for control of the Big Ten East but is more concerned with focusing on this year’s Buckeyes team rather than looking at past matchups.
“Obviously,” Tucker said, “Preparation is gonna be the key; that's where our focus is going to be leading up to the game. History is not necessarily predictive of the future. It's all about what happens on game day.”
There have been countless occasions where Ohio State has curbed Michigan State’s season and crushed its dreams, too. For example, sandwiched in between MSU’s Big Ten title victories, a freshman quarterback named J.T. Barrett had his coming out party in Spartan Stadium to take down an MSU team and prevent them from being in the Playoff consideration in 2014.
In 2017, Michigan State traveled to Columbus to play Ohio State for the Big Ten East Title. Ohio State crushed MSU’s dreams of shocking the world and winning the Big Ten East. The Buckeyes took care of business and rolled to yet another Big Ten title and Playoff appearance.
“I thought going down there we had a good chance to beat them that year, my redshirt freshman year,” six-year senior guard Luke Campbell said. “But, we didn't rise to the occasion, we didn't play to our potential, we didn't execute, which is what it takes to beat this team, you got to execute. This year I feel like we understand the challenge ahead of us and we're not taking it lightly, but I think we got to dudes to do it.”
The Buckeyes have easily handled MSU throughout the years and led the all-time series 34-15, including a five-game winning streak against the Spartans since 2016. However, when MSU’s wins have come over Ohio State, it has propelled them into a higher stratosphere on a path to its ultimate goals. Despite some differing circumstances, this year has been no different for MSU and Ohio State.
Michigan State has defied expectations all year long to reach an improbable 9-1 record. On the flip side, Ohio State suffered an early slip-up but has recovered and transformed into an unstoppable force destined for yet another Big Ten Championship and Playoff appearance. The Spartans now stand with the Buckeyes between them and its first Big Ten East title in six years.
Sounds familiar, right?
Once again, Michigan State must march into the belly of the beast and win in order to keep moving towards unthinkable heights. With College Gameday in town for the Spartans' second appearance on the season, the four-time defending Big Ten Champion Buckeyes are waiting for the opportunity to clinch their fifth-straight appearance in the Big Ten Championship.
Michigan State has reiterated time and time again throughout the year that the team is still focused on its goal of a Big Ten Championship, and ultimately, a National Championship. It almost seemed as if it were a joke when players and coaches were repeating this early in the year, but MSU has defied every expectation so far.
Sitting at 9-1, the Spartans have a chance to seize their dreams after an improbable season to this point. Every step of the way, MSU has gone above and beyond what was expected and is now in a position to do it again. Even after the slip-up to Purdue, the Spartans’ dreams remained in front of them.
“Our goals are still ahead of us,” Tucker said following the loss. “We're gonna block out all the noise; we're gonna circle the wagons.”
This weekend will be the culmination of the work Michigan State has put in to this point. With the Big Ten East most likely decided by who wins the game, MSU can realize its team goals for the first time in over half a decade.
The heightened stakes have not caused a change in Tucker or the players in preparation. Stoic as ever, Tucker said in his press conference the team will continue to prepare like they normally would for any other game while harping on the execution of fundamentals.
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“You gotta prepare during the week for a 15-round fight,” Tucker said. “Scared money doesn't win. You got to play to win, and then you have to have competitive greatness. Be at your best when your best is needed. Your good players need to play good.”
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