College football: Ohio State has improved, Michigan State hasn’t

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Michigan State has pulled off some painful and season-wrecking upsets of Ohio State in the last 25 years on the football field.

Ohio State appeared headed to the first BCS national championship game in 1998 when the Spartans erased a 15-point lead in the second half to beat the Buckeyes and hand them their only loss of the season.

In 2015, Ohio State was undefeated in November and going for back-to-back national championships when Michigan State won 17-14, led by Lima Central Catholic grad Tyler O’Connor, who played quarterback on a day when starter Connor Cook was out with an injury.

Once again, that was Ohio State’s only loss of the season.

It might surprise you to discover that Michigan State did the most damage to the Buckeyes away from Spartan Stadium, not at its home on the MSU campus.

Going into today’s game between Ohio State and Michigan State in East Lansing, OSU has not lost at MSU since 1999.

Since 2000, Ohio State is 9-0 on Michigan State’s home turf. There were a couple of 17-16 OSU wins in 2016 and 2012. But other than that, OSU’s margin of victory at MSU since 2000 has ranged from 12 points on the low end and 40 points on the high end.

Ohio State is unbeaten on the home fields of five other Big Ten schools since 2000 but there are no surprises among that group. OSU is 9-0 at Indiana since 2000, 8-0 at Illinois, 6-0 at Minnesota, 4-0 at Rutgers and 3-0 at Maryland.

It is 8-3 at both Michigan and Penn State. It is 5-1 at Northwestern, 3-1 at Nebraska, 5-2 at Wisconsin and 3-2 at Iowa.

Who has been the toughest road trip for OSU since 2000? That is Purdue, which has beaten the Buckeyes five of the eight times the two teams have played in West Lafayette during that time frame, including a 49-20 rout in 2018 when OSU was ranked No. 3.

Speaking of tough road trips, that’s not what anyone expects today when No. 3 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) plays at Michigan State (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten).

Last season, OSU was ranked No. 4 and MSU was No. 7. But OSU rolled to a 49-0 halftime lead and won 56-7 behind one of C.J. Stroud’s best games (32 of 35 for 432 yards and 6 touchdowns). And the Buckeyes’ defense held Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker to 25 yards rushing.

Ohio State is as good or better offensively than it was last year and has improved on defense. Michigan State has not improved. In fact, it has been a disappointment.

The Spartans have lost their last three games to Washington, Minnesota and Maryland. Walker is gone and so is their running game, which averaged 60 yards a game in the three losses. Quarterback Payton Thorne has thrown eight touchdown passes and six interceptions and did not throw a touchdown pass in two games.

Their defense ranked No. 130 against the pass last season and it is only slightly better this season at No. 115.

Michigan State was ranked as high as third or fourth overall in the Big Ten in several preseason predictions.

Even in its two wins, over MAC teams Western Michigan and Akron, the Spartans didn’t play up to those predictions. They look a lot like Wisconsin, only with a slightly better quarterback.

Ohio State will be playing its first road game of the season after five straight home games. That shouldn’t be a factor in the game, though, especially if OSU gets a big lead and sends the students back to their dorms and apartments by halftime.

The prediction: Ohio State 42, Michigan State 21.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

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