COLUMBUS — When the Big Ten football schedule was announced, Saturday’s Ohio State at Michigan State game was expected to be one of the marquee games of the season.
Ohio State would be looking for revenge for a 17-14 loss to the Spartans last season that ended the possibility it could play for back-to-back national championships. And for Michigan State, it would be a chance to show again it was an elite team.
Some people even wondered if it might be scheduled as a night game to give it maximum exposure. Instead it will kick off at noon, a time slot Ohio State rarely is placed in these days.
It hasn’t worked out as expected, at least for Michigan State. The Spartans opened their season with wins over Furman and Notre Dame, then lost seven in a row before routing Rutgers 49-0 last Saturday.
That seven-game losing streak was the longest by a Michigan State football team since the 1982 team lost its first seven games. It also was the third-longest in the 120 years MSU has played football.
Ohio State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) is favored by three touchdowns over the Spartans (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten). Based on what the teams have done on the field this season, that’s probably a pretty fair assessment.
But if history has taught us anything, it is that Michigan State can turn predictions upside down. MSU has beaten Ohio State in three huge games when the Buckeyes were favored, going back to the late 1990s.
Besides last year, the Spartans won 34-24 in the 2013 Big Ten championship game to keep the previously undefeated Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff. And in 1998, Michigan State came back from 15 points down in the second half to beat No. 1 Ohio State, a loss that might have cost OSU a national championship.
If you’re looking for a similarity to this season, it would have to be the 1998 game. In 2013 and 2015, both teams were ranked in the top ten. But, like this season, the 1998 Michigan State came into the game against OSU feeling like it had underachieved in a big way.
In 1998, Ohio State was undefeated and Michigan State was only 4-4, though it had beaten Notre Dame earlier in the season. Ohio State had a 24-9 lead in the third quarter But two costly turnovers helped MSU scored 19 unanswered points and claim the victory.
Is there a chance something like that could happen today? There is always a chance. But it’s not likely.
Michigan State has righted the ship a bit lately. The Spartans have averaged 244 yards rushing in their last four games. L.J. Scott has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of those four games and the quarterback situation has stabilized with the job apparently belonging to Lima Central Catholic graduate Tyler O’Connor the rest of the season.
Michigan State has led in every game it has played and it has had the lead in the fourth quarter in three of its losses. But there have been issues that have not been fixed and probably won’t be fixed until next season.
Michigan State has a history of surprising Ohio State. But the Spartans won’t add to that list today.
The prediction: Ohio State 28, Michigan State 7.