Mailbag: Could Michigan State beat Ohio State?

Just two weeks are left in the regular season, and things are heating up down the stretch. Among the hot button issues: Who is the second-best team in the Big Ten? Michigan State or Wisconsin? Read about that, and more, in my weekly mailbag. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Do you think Michigan State could beat Ohio State? I don’t. – Shaun Taylor

Anytime a team plays defense like Michigan State plays defense, it’s going to have a good chance to win every game. And, you’ve seen that play out this fall. It would be a classic matchup to have that Buckeye offense square off with the Spartan defense. The game may come down to the MSU offense vs. the OSU defense. And, I would have to give the edge to the Buckeye defense.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota will be two top teams in what will be the biggest Axe game in over a decade. I’d say that qualifies as a big-time game. – Matthew Anderson

Yes, the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be good. Wisconsin is playing about as well as any team in the Big Ten—if not the nation. The defense has been very impressive this season. And Minnesota has been one of the feel-good stories of 2013, bolting to an 8-2 mark and winners of four league games in a row for the first time since 1973. I can’t wait to see the clash. Minnesota has lost nine in a row to Wisconsin and is just 4-18 vs. the Badgers since 1991 in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. This one is gonna be pretty simple: Whoever can run and stop the run will win.

Would you please justify Minnesota AND Nebraska being ranked ahead of Iowa? Just silly IMHO! – John Kiel

You can make a case for Iowa to be ahead of both schools. The Hawkeyes did win at Minnesota earlier this season. But I think the overall resumes of the Gophers and Nebraska are a bit more impressive. The Hawkeyes will have two good chances to impress with season-ending games vs.  Michigan and at Nebraska. Win those, and Iowa will get plenty of respect in the power poll. But, let’s go ahead and compare resumes:

Minnesota wins: UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, San Jose State, Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, Penn State.

Nebraska wins: Wyoming, Southern Miss, South Dakota State, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan.

Iowa wins: Missouri State, Iowa State, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue.

Do you really think the Hawkeyes have beaten a more impressive group of teams than Minnesota or Nebraska? I guess I disagree. So, I rest my case.

Can you tell me how Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah isn’t getting any love for his performance against MSU? The Spartans were hyped as the best D in the country and nobody is talking about them anymore or how impressive the Nebraska offense was. Deserves some mention. – Drew

No doubt, Abdullah was impressive vs. a Michigan State defense that entered last Saturday No. 1 in the nation in total defense (210.2 ypg) and No. 1 in rushing defense (43.4 ypg). What did Abdullah do? He ran 22 times for 123 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. It was a yeoman effort and Abdullah’s nine 100-yard rushing game of the season. And he leads the Big Ten with 1,336 yards rushing. Have people stopped talking about the Michigan State defense? Uh, no. Oh, and the Spartans won the game, which is one reason why more light hasn’t been shone onto Abdullah’s effort.

Do you think Penn State’s Allen Robinson is the best receiver in the country? – Justin Brosious

There are some who have better numbers, but Robinson has to rate among the best in the game. He recently was named a Biletnikoff semifinalist. Robinson has made 81 catches for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns. And he’s done it all with a freshman quarterback throwing to him and not having much complementary help around him at receiver. It’s really quite incredible.

It seemed like Ohio State went through the motions against Illinois and some play was sloppy. Was it because of the early 28-0 lead? Or is there anything the coaching staff can do to inject some energy for OSU? – Jonathan

It has to be difficult for the Buckeyes to get up for some of the teams on their schedule. But, that’s what good teams do. They take control of an opponent and never let up. Ohio State has done that on several occasions this season. I just think fans should stop worrying about OSU trying to score “style” points. (Baylor will fall back on its own, I think. Give it time.) I don’t think any amount of style points is going to help the Buckeyes ascend the BCS standings. Ohio State’s best and likely only shot to get to No. 1 or 2 in the BCS standings will be to just win out and then hope a team ahead of it loses.

Who should Wisconsin fans root against to help the Badgers get an at-large BCS bowl? – David Aronson

Wisconsin needs to finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings to be eligible for an at-large selection. The Badgers are No. 19 now. So, whatever teams you see ranked ahead of the Badgers leading into the No. 14 spot, root against those! Here are the teams from No. 14-18:

  • 14. UCLA
  • 15. Fresno State
  • 16. Northern Illinois
  • 17. Arizona State
  • 18. UCF

Don’t you wonder where Wisconsin would rank if not for the injustice of that loss at Arizona State?

What are you drinking to put Michigan State ahead of a good Wisconsin team that got screwed at Arizona State and lost by a TD to Ohio State? Come on, Tom!! – Gary Engberg

Losses still count as losses, right? It just came time for me to acknowledge Michigan State as the second-best team in the Big Ten. The win at Nebraska was a nice signature victory for the Spartans that sealed the move. When you look at Wisconsin’s schedule, what teams of note have the Badgers beaten? UMass, Tennessee Tech, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, BYU and Indiana. That’s it.

Michigan State has toppled Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State, Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan and Nebraska. The loss was at Notre Dame.

Be honest: The MSU resume is more impressive. It’s just too bad these schools can’t play this season.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (26 Comments)
Stephen Johnson on 11/18/2013 @ 3:18pm EDT Said:

If Ohio State turns the ball over 5 times inside their 30 yard line, I think Michigan State will have an excellent chance to win. Just like at Nebraska

SylvanGreen on 11/18/2013 @ 4:06pm EDT Said:

The moral of that story is don’t turn the ball over 5 times inside your 30. I don’t care if you’re Ohio State or Alabama.

D Schmidt on 11/18/2013 @ 5:27pm EDT Said:

Michigan State’s defense is good; but, still overrated. Look at the lack of offensive-oriented teams on their schedule. Only Indiana and Nebraska are any good offensively and both scored 28.

Doug on 11/18/2013 @ 6:25pm EDT Said:

people may think MSU’s defense is ovverated, but they are still the best in the big ten, and with their offense coming alive, look out

Stephen Johnson on 11/18/2013 @ 6:29pm EDT Said:

And re: Nebraska. Imaging had Nebraska not turned the ball over and /or where they did. How many points would Michigan State have actually scored? Less, certainly. Also the Nebraska defense would have been able to stay off the field longer and rested. Certainly, Nebraska would have scored more. Ball security is the number one predictor of defeat.

Spartan in Los Angeles on 11/18/2013 @ 8:14pm EDT Said:

True dat Doug I intend to give them a phone call before the Ohio State game I have a plan for us to jump out 10-0 at the beginning of the game

Doug on 11/18/2013 @ 8:45pm EDT Said:

I can see that Magic, get them behind, they’re not used to that !

matt on 11/18/2013 @ 10:18pm EDT Said:

as long as wisconsin reclaims the #2 spot after a smashing of a ranked minnesota team (sorry minny, ur not in the big leagues just yet) I will be ok with tom giving MSU a nugget this week. That resume ends up being better than MSU’s.

We cant just take strict wins and losses either, as the debacle in the desert proves. I’m curious what the point differentials for both teams are all year. Also, MSU hasnt played ANY team the quality of OSU or ASU. Again no disrespect to NU or ND, but , not top tier this year, and its obvious.

The eye test tells me UW is slightly better than MSU. WAY better offense, and a defense on par with MSU.

but like i said, give MSU a nugget for its most signature win of the season. really looking forward to the B1G title game. That will be the true measure of MSU for the entire season.

Grant on 11/19/2013 @ 10:37am EDT Said:

I think OSU destroys MSU in the title game. OSU will not commit 5 unforced turnovers. OSU defense>Nebraska D. and OSU offense>Nebraska offense at this time. Nebraska put up 28 with 5 turnovers, and a freshman QB, with a mangled line. OSU has neither of those. Could get ugly like last years title game.

    Stephen Johnson on 11/19/2013 @ 11:59am EDT Said:

    The smart money would figure that Ohio State will win the game. The margin no one knows. The problem is that last year Nebraska had beaten Wisconsin and had to play them again in the championship. History showed that the game was not even close and Wisconsin won in a blow out. That is the great thing about college football. While you think you know what will happen, you never know for sure. THAT IS WHY YOU PLAY THE GAME in college. In the pros…who cares.

Michael Mohr on 11/19/2013 @ 10:45am EDT Said:

Put me on board the train that has Wisconsin at #2 and MSU #3. As an Ohio State fan, if I had to choose my opponent for the CCG and had to pick one of these two I would much rather play MSU. That offense doesn’t scare me in the least.

Doug on 11/19/2013 @ 11:38am EDT Said:

Hey Matt, ND beat ASU or did you forget that. MSU’s win at Neb and demolition of a Michigan team that was at that time one of the best offenses in the big ten is better than what wisconsin has done. If you want to count a close loss to OSU as a good thing, I didn’t think that wis fans were counting moral victories. Wis defense on par with MSU’s? oh boy. so far Wis does have a better offense but the way MSU’s is playing, it’s not as big a gap as you want to believe.

Madison1991 on 11/19/2013 @ 11:38am EDT Said:

Indiana scored 14 of their 28 in garbage time. That game was never in doubt. Give it a rest.

Douglas on 11/19/2013 @ 12:31pm EDT Said:

@Stephen Johnson – How do you figure they would have scored more? Why did they have more possessions that ended in punts than scoring drives? They really only had 3 scoring drives, the 4th was a meaningless one during garbage time. MSU had 3 scoring drives and 2 scores off forced fumbles that their defense created. MSU only had the ball after the 5 TO’s combined for a total of 4:36. You can throw the defense was out there too long excuse out the window.

    Stephen Johnson on 11/21/2013 @ 10:53am EDT Said:

    Douglas – Thanks for your response, how ever misguided and confused it was. I was simply saying that had Nebraska not turned over the ball inside their 30 yard line 5 times, Michigan State would have had to cover a much greater distance in order to score. In a few of the turnovers the Nebraska defense was able to hold them to either a field goal or on downs. THe point is that when the defense gets the ball back, but the offense turns it back to the other team in two or three downs, it wears on the defense mentally. I also believe had Nebraska had their 4 season starter in good health in the game, the offense would have been more efficient than a redshirt freshman who has averaged three turn overs in at least 3 of the five game where he has started. All of this is simple and not complicated. I am taking nothing away from Michigan State’s victory. They did a very good job on both offense and defense and deserved the victory. That was not the question of the story. Will Michigan State be able to beat Ohio State? Odds are that they will not, but in college football, anything is possible and what does happen is many times unpredictable and not expected. That is why we play the game in college football. Also, I appreciate your attempt to remove a contributory effect of the defense being on the field too long. As I pointed out, it wasn’t the duration, as much as the disheartening effect of having to go back out to the field so quickly on 5 different times due to very quick turnovers. It is as much of a psychological effect as it is physically being tired. But then, you already really know that.

laker-hockey/msu-everything-else on 11/19/2013 @ 1:43pm EDT Said:

and the last TD for NU was garbage time also.

JoshM on 11/19/2013 @ 2:44pm EDT Said:

People riding MSU’s jock are fans or ridiculous.. they didn’t win that game, Huskers gave it to them. That vaunted defense? Abdullah single handedly showed vulnerabilities. The Husker defense has been much better in recent weeks than most people want to give credit for as well, the offense just hung them out to dry in that game. Gregory is the best young defender playing right now. By the time Mumphrey or however his name is spelled caught that TD, the game was over cause the defense was tired as hell trying to cover the offense’s mistakes.

bigtengrad on 11/19/2013 @ 4:22pm EDT Said:

Doug, Wisconsin’s total offense is ranked 12th nationally, while MSU’s is ranked 87th. I would say that is a large gap. And seriously, is “garbage time” the Spartan fan go-to line? Could you please let me know exactly when “garbage time” begins, so that I know when to turn the channel or leave the stadium? Thanks.

Mary Brennan on 11/19/2013 @ 9:08pm EDT Said:

The last TD Nebraska scored was actually against the MSU starting defense, according to the guys calling the game. In fact they seemed shocked that the first stringers were still in the game. So call it garbage time if you want, it was still against their first string defense.

Doug on 11/20/2013 @ 12:23am EDT Said:

that’s when MSU was beating NU by 20 with a minute left and the game wasn’t in doubt. hey desmond, michigan stinks this year so you come on here hating on msu, i get it. using the name bigtengrad lol how’s your buddy silverman doing? you want some of that ? hey grant, msu did force a couple of those turnovers, are you sure osu wouldn’t give the ball up?

Rob on 11/20/2013 @ 10:01am EDT Said:

Although it will not be determined on the field this year, people are missing the best indicator of who is better: MSU or WI. They played on the field the past several (recent) years. WI fans want to talk about bad ref calls? How about the blocked into barely…I mean running into the kicker call that cost MSU the game (punt return came back to inside the 5 yard line). Other than that call/game, MSU has beaten WI on the field every year for the past few – including last year in Madison with most of the same players as this year. Case closed!

Matt on 11/20/2013 @ 1:49pm EDT Said:

How about the fact that Iowa BEAT MN @MN!!! in dominating fashion. When Iowa beats Nebraska next week you will see that Iowa is the 2nd best team in this division. You “experts” kill me. MN has beaten nobody!!! Nebraska is average and Penn State is bad this year.

TonyBob on 11/26/2013 @ 4:17pm EDT Said:

I love seeing all of the MSU hate. It’s going to make BIG GREEN’s victory against OSU even better. I smell roses!

    Stephen Johnson on 11/26/2013 @ 5:40pm EDT Said:

    TonyBob – If you are sure that Michigan State is going to win, then you need to stop sticking roses up your nose. They are effecting your brain.

Josh Walker on 11/30/2013 @ 5:20pm EDT Said:

the OSU/MSU game will be quite the spectacle. MSU is great against the running game and OSU has a great running game. If MSU can hold OSU’s running game the win will go to MSU.

Paul Grattarola on 12/5/2013 @ 3:15pm EDT Said:

With the way the BIG is desperate to see OSU in the BCS Championship game I am wondering how the game will be officiated? Will there be an OSU biased crew?? I know that sounds rediculous but like I said The BIG is desperate to get into said game. I will be very interested to see how many pass interference calls there are. Just say’n!