Should Ohio State Really Be the Big Ten Favorite over Michigan State?

David RegimbalFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, left, talks with Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer during a news conference for the Big Ten Conference championship NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, in Indianapolis. Ohio State will play Michigan State, Saturday for the championship. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
darron cummings/Associated Press

It only took three hours for Urban Meyer and Ohio State to lose it all.

The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes were riding high entering the Big Ten title game last season—just a week separated from a thrilling 42-41 victory over archrival Michigan. It was the most recent triumph in a string of 24 consecutive victories, and Ohio State was one win away from booking a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for a shot at Florida State and a national title.

Michigan State was just too strong. 

The Spartans limited a previously unstoppable Buckeye rushing attack and held Braxton Miller to just eight completions and 101 passing yards. Connor Cook torched Ohio State with 304 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Jeremy Langford kept the Buckeyes off balance with 128 rushing yards and another score.

Connor Cook had little trouble dissecting Ohio State's overmatched defense.
Connor Cook had little trouble dissecting Ohio State's overmatched defense.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The result? Michigan State came away with a 34-24 victory, the Big Ten Championship and the joy of dashing Ohio State's title run.

“It’s going to haunt all of us," Meyer said of the game, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch. "I would imagine, for a little while.” 

"A little while" was an accurate prediction.  

Despite being outclassed by Mark Dantonio's underappreciated squad just seven months ago, various media outlets (and the good folks in Vegas) are pegging Ohio State as the favorite to win the Big Ten in 2014.

Is that fair? 

The Buckeyes do return the conference's two-time MVP in Miller, and as a senior in his third year orchestrating Meyer's offense, he's expected to fuel another potent Buckeye attack. He'll also have a better supporting cast at wide receiver as players such as Dontre Wilson and Michael Thomas look primed for breakout seasons.

Joey Bosa should thrive in a loaded defensive line this year.
Joey Bosa should thrive in a loaded defensive line this year.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ohio State also boasts an incredible defensive line, which could produce three future first-round NFL draft picks. New co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash was brought in to trigger a defensive turnaround—a process that appeared on point during the Buckeyes' spring game.

There are plenty of reasons to be high on Ohio State, but there are also a number of legitimate concerns. 

Meyer must replace four senior starters along his offensive line—a unit that paved the way for the Buckeyes' fifth-ranked rushing offense. Carlos Hyde was the key cog in that attack, and he had a historic season even though he missed the first three games due to a suspension.

The Buckeyes also lost two of their best defenders in linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby. Both were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and both left holes that will be difficult to fill. 

Of course, Michigan State has its issues.

The Spartans will be without cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough, two of the defenders most responsible for shutting Ohio State down in the Big Ten title game. The offensive line is a question mark as it returns just two starters. Bennie Fowler, who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, is gone as well.

At the peak of Jim Tressel's run at Ohio State, the Buckeyes routinely thrashed Michigan State. Dantonio has changed the culture in East Lansing, though, and the memories of John L. Smith fade with each dominant season he puts together.

Mark Dantonio guided Michigan State all the way to a Rose Bowl victory last season.
Mark Dantonio guided Michigan State all the way to a Rose Bowl victory last season.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Spartans have averaged 10.5 wins since 2010. In 2013, they became the first team in Big Ten history to beat each of their league opponents by double digits. They've reloaded year in and year out—proving that they're here to stay.

The Big Ten's inclusion of Rutgers and Maryland forced the league to realign, and Ohio State and Michigan State have been slated in the East Division. That eliminated the possibility of a rematch in Indianapolis, but they'll go head to head in East Lansing on November 8.

That game will be played under the lights on national television. The Big Ten race will be rounding the corner for the home stretch.

Just don't be surprised if Michigan State is leading the pack.


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David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412