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Week 15 Game of the Week: Ohio State vs. Michigan State

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If Ohio State is going to make the BCS National Championship game, the Buckeyes must first prove their worth with a win over Michigan State, the only team in Big Ten history to win every conference game by double-digits and the best team the Buckeyes will have faced all season. Neither team is accustomed to a tight matchup, yet that's what this should be. It's more likely than not that the Buckeyes win and earn a spot in the title game, but look for a close, low-scoring Big Ten Championship game.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are 12-0 straight-up and 5-5-1 against-the-spread against the nation's 61st ranked FBS schedule. OSU is coming off of a one point road win at Michigan in which the Wolverines had a chance to take the lead with 32 seconds left in the game, yet missed a two-point conversion. Prior to that game, Ohio State had not really been challenged since a game at Northwestern that OSU led by just three points in the final seconds. Ohio State currently ranks fifth in our College Football Power Rankings that are built to suggest which teams would be favored over which other teams in the country if all got to play each other on a neutral field. This is actually the highest that OSU has been in the Urban Meyer era (despite not losing any games in that stretch). The Buckeyes rank as the country's second best run offense (behind Auburn) and rank 26th in passing, 12th in run defense and 18th in pass defense according to our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics.

Against opponents common to Michigan State, Ohio State is 6-0 and has won by an average score of 45.7 - 24.0. Michigan State is also 6-0 against those opponents (Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and Michigan) and has out-scored those teams by an average score of 30.5 - 9.5. Technically, Ohio State won by 0.7 more points per game than Michigan State, but that includes a 56-0 win at Purdue that never needed to be that much of a blowout and the final touchdown Northwestern gifted OSU while trying to score on its final play (several laterals led to a Buckeye TD from a fumble in the end zone). More notable to me (and the Predictalator) is the fact that Michigan State held common opponents to 15.5 fewer points a game than Ohio State (this plays well into our pick on the UNDER as well).

Having played the nation's 60th ranked schedule, Michigan State is 11-1 straight-up and 6-4 against-the-spread. The fact that these teams have played almost identical schedules helps us put their numbers into appropriate context. The Spartans have won eight games in a row since a September 21 loss at Notre Dame, 17-13. Even in that loss, Michigan State held Notre Dame to 4.2 yards-per-pass and 2.4 yards-per-run. It was also the first significant start in quarterback Connor Cook's career (and the first time he had been asked to throw more than 22 passes in a game - he's gotten a whole lot better since then). Michigan State ranks tenth in our College Football Power Rankings and has the best defense in the country (maybe the best defense we have seen in either of the last two seasons). The Spartans rank first nationally against the run and third against the pass. Unfortunately, for them and this matchup, Michigan State is just 45th in passing and 52nd in running. The defensive prowess should keep this game incredibly close, but the lack of big play ability from Michigan State's offense ultimately costs the team the win.

According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Ohio State wins on average just 55.4% of the time and by an average score of 24-21. As 5.5 point underdogs losing by just a field goal on average Michigan State covers the spread 54.1% of the time, which would warrant an $18 wager from a normal $50 player. The UNDER (51.5) is actually the strongest play in this game and covers 59.3% of the time, enough to justify a $73 play from a normal $50 player.

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