Spartans' Upset: Blessing In Disguise For Big Ten?
by Brandon Cavanaugh
Dec 16, 2013 4:12 PM EST
2013 was supposed to be the Ohio State Buckeyes' year.
Undefeated during his tenure in Columbus, Urban Meyer was destined to lead a team fresh off of sanctions with an unblemished record to the biggest stage of them all. Maybe, just maybe they'd hoist the Big Ten's first national championship in more than a decade.
The Buckeyes had moments where they didn't quite look like the nation's best, but thanks to Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier and a deep supporting cast, tackling their schedule seemed a mere formality.
All that was left was engraving the Stagg Championship Trophy. The Michigan State Spartans were supposed to be the Legends Division’s sacrificial lamb. They certainly weren't supposed to hang with the Buckeyes, and they absolutely weren't supposed to knock them to the canvas with a bloody nose early on.
Ohio State threw everything at its opponent, but perhaps Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio watched the Buckeyes during pregame warmups and saw a bit too much swagger, hubris even. A few hours later, players decked in green and white clutched roses between their teeth. The Buckeyes' dreams lay shattered across Lucas Oil Stadium’s turf, an answer to the Auburn Tigers' prayers. The Big Ten would not have a representative in the final BCS National Championship.
That's not such a bad thing for the conference itself. Thanks to the hard-fought play and champion status of the Spartans, the Big Ten finds itself with two teams in BCS bowls. Yes, that means more money in the conference’s coffers, but something far more important is on the line.
Many Big Ten fans to whom I've spoken aren't concerned with league solidarity during bowl season, but the conference has been the butt of jokes too long. It’s time to reassess. The SEC can get away with that, because the NFL Lite will win its bowl games. If Ohio State beat the Spartans, they’d be facing perhaps the best Florida State team in more than a decade, if not longer. Would the Buckeyes have put up a fight? Absolutely. Would they defeat the garnet and gold? Absolutely not.
Sure, anything can happen in this most illogical sport, but even the SEC champion is nearly a double-digit underdog to these Seminoles.
Ohio State played for all the marbles in 2007 and 2008 only to be unceremoniously dismissed. The Big Ten doesn't need another shiner.
The Buckeyes and Spartans still can build momentum for a league that badly needs positive press as it expands once more. Ohio State can beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl and Michigan State can beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. That's not an infomercial. Once opponents earlier this month, both teams have a solid chance to hold BCS trophies high in the name of Jim Delany.
Don't expect a scoring bonanza between the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions. Michigan State and Stanford feature the nation's Nos. 1 and 3 rushing defenses, respectively. The Spartans' ability to stop aerial assaults thanks to a pass defense ranked No. 5 nationally means the Cardinal will have to contend with the best defense in the land. It's not impossible to score on Michigan State, but if Stanford is to win, Kevin Hogan will have to take a few risks against the "No Fly Zone" led by Jim Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard.
The Spartans washed away what seemed like Ohio State's inevitable fate, but if there's one team that can assist in getting over a frustrating loss, it's Dabo Swinney's crew. Despite falling from grace as a Heisman contender early this season, Tajh Boyd still is a threat through the air. Expect the Ohio State defensive game plan to vary little from the one deployed against the Spartans. The Buckeyes hold a plus-seven turnover margin. Watch for them to bait Boyd into a few missteps.
If Brutus and Sparty are smiling at the end of this season, perhaps disappointed Ohio State fans can consider 2013 a learning experience for Meyer. There’s no shame in being proud if they can help their conference’s national reputation take another step out of the ditch it finds itself in.