So much can change in one week. So much did change in one week for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
One of the great victories of the Urban Meyer era, a 39-38 win over Penn State, preceded the worst loss of his career, a 55-24 setback at Iowa. A team on the doorstep of breaking into the top four in the College Football Playoff ranking dropped out of the conversation. J.T. Barrett’s Heisman Trophy hopes ended just as they were peaking.
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All that remains for the No. 13 Buckeyes is the chance to win a Big Ten championship — and that’s no small accomplishment even in an era where programs like Ohio State will always be judged by whether they made the playoff. Coach Urban Meyer has one Big Ten title in his first five seasons.
“You never know what can happen,” left tackle Jamarco Jones said. “This is college football. We’ve seen some crazy things happen in the last few years. There’s always stuff to play for. The Big Ten title is our No. 1 goal at the beginning of the year every year. We still have that goal in front of us.”
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Ohio State resumes its chase of a spot in the Big Ten title game at noon Saturday, hosting No. 12 Michigan State. Each team is 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the conference. Here are five storylines to watch:
1. Injury update: Hybrid back Parris Campbell, one of Ohio State’s most dynamic playmakers, missed the Iowa game with a head injury but said he’s 100 percent this week.
“I watched the game in my apartment,” Campbell said. “It was a helpless feeling knowing my guys were going through that.”
2. Stretch run: The Buckeyes follow this game with a home game against Illinois and then a road game at Michigan. They control their own destiny in that if they win all three games they will earn a spot in the Big Ten title game Dec. 2 in Indianapolis.
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Michigan State is in the same situation. Penn State and Michigan (both 7-2 and 4-2) will need some help to claim the top spot in the Big Ten East.
“I can see we’re a hungry team right now,” Campbell said. “Coming off that loss, it was just a shocking feeling for everybody. The mentality right now is win out. We’re worried about this week. We’ve got to beat Michigan State. That’s the goal.”
3. Competitive series: Four of the last six meetings between Ohio State and Michigan State have been decided by three points or fewer.
Michigan State beat the Buckeyes 17-14 on a last-second field goal two years ago in Columbus. The Buckeyes won 17-16 on the road last season by stopping a two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter.
“Usually, it’s just a prize fight,” Meyer said. “So the tougher team usually wins. We’ve got to understand what we’re going to play against. We have great respect for them, and they’re playing well.”
4. Confident Spartans: Michigan State bounced back from a 39-31 triple-overtime loss at Northwestern to beat Penn State 27-24 last weekend in East Lansing, Mich. The Spartans’ last five wins have been by eight points or fewer.
“We’re playing better,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I still don’t think we played our best game yet. I don’t think we’ve peaked yet, so we’ll continue to try and do that as we go. But we’re playing with a competitive edge, I would say.”
5. Touchdown machine: Johnnie Dixon has caught two touchdown passes in each of the last two games and leads Ohio State with eight.
“The opportunity has been there for me,” Dixon said. “You’ve just got to make the best of it when they come. I’ve been in a great position to make plays. It could go either way. Terry (McLaurin) could be in there doing the same thing. Sometimes I’m in there when the play’s called.”