B1G Breakdown: Position by position

Some feel the Big Ten title game clash between Ohio State and Michigan State is the most anticipated league battle since No. 1 Ohio State played No. 2 Michigan in 2006. It very well could be.

Here’s a look at the matchups for each team. Who has the edge?

Let’s go position by position.

***OFFENSE***

BACKFIELD

Michigan State: In September, this area was a mess. Now, it has become an unabashed strong suit. Connor Cook has emerged as the unquestioned leader at quarterback, but he’s still a work in progress. His passing can be spotty but he has 17 TD strikes with just four picks. Jeremy Langford is a physical runner who has proven to be the answer at running back, eclipsing the 100-yard rushing barrier in each of the last seven games and has 1,210 rushing yards on the season. No one saw this coming.

Ohio State: Braxton Miller may be nation’s most deadly weapon. No one is better in the open field as a runner (891 yards rushing), as he’s the quintessential big play waiting to happen. He also has augmented his passing, ranking No. 2 in the league in passing efficiency. Carlos Hyde is a physical runner who can carry the Buckeye to victory. He’s arguably the top back in the Big Ten, running for more than 100 yards in each of the last seven games. Hyde has 1,290 yards rushing on the season in about seven games of work.

Advantage: Ohio State

[ MORE: Dienhart: Finally, a big B1G title game ]

RECEIVERS

Michigan State: This unit was plagued by myriad drops in 2012 and entered the season under intense scrutiny. Well, the receiving corps has stepped up big time. Bennie Fowler (31 catches for 496 yards and six TDs) has been the leader, but Tony Lippett also has been effective with a team-high 35 grabs for 454 yards. Macgarrett Kings, Jr., has been a revelation as a sophomore. MSU doesn’t get much receiving-wise from its tight ends.

Ohio State: This group incurred the wrath of Urban Meyer upon his arrival in 2012. Now, it’s a strong unit. There is no Terry Glenn, Ted Ginn,  David Boston or Joey Galloway, but Devin Smith and Corey Brown are physical targets who run good routes and can make plays. Smith leads the team with 644 yards receiving (41 catches) with eight TDs. Brown has a club-best 49 receptions for 596 yards and nine scores. Evan Spencer is another bigger wideout who can pose some matchup issues. The tight end tandem of Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett is sneaky good; they can block and catch. Each is 6-6, 250.

Advantage: Ohio State

Listen to the Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort, Ryan Shazier and Michael Bennett: 

LINE

Michigan State: The Spartan front was maligned by injury in 2012, which prevented the unit from developing chemistry and cohesion. But it all has come together for the group this fall, as it has been the strong point of the offense. Guard Blake Treadwell has been the best of the bunch. Tackle Jack Conklin is a former walk-on who is excelling as a redshirt freshman. Center Jack Allen plays with the physicality of a defensive lineman. He’s a stud.

Ohio State: Urban Meyer has said time and again how well he thinks this unit has played this year. No doubt, the group has come a long way since the first spring practice in 2012. Left tackle Jack Mewhort is the lynchpin who is among the best in the program’s recent history. Right tackle Taylor Decker could be the next great one. Corey Linsley is a force in the pivot. Guard Andrew Norwell is a brawler on the interior.

Advantage: Even

[ MORE: Michigan State vs. Ohio State: This is what good football looks like ]

***DEFENSE***

LINE

Michigan State: End Shilique Calhoun has made everyone forget about William Gholston. Calhoun plays hard every down and is equally adept at playing the run as he is at rushing the passer. Fellow end Marcus Rush is a bit light in the pants, but he can get after it. Micajah Reynolds is a massive presence (6-5, 320) on the nose. Tyler Hoover (6-7, 310) is difficult to root out of the interior, too. Depth is good, allowing for a rotation of fresh bodies.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes had to replace all four starters from 2012. No big whoop. This is an uber-talented group. Noah Spence has emerged as a pass-rushing force with a quick first step. Tackle Michael Bennett is an underrated presence who ran rush the passer. Precocious end Joey Bosa has been one of the most impactful true freshmen defensive linemen in the nation. Guy is gonna be an All-American.

Advantage: Michigan State

Listen to the Michigan State’s Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard and Connor Cook: 

LINEBACKERS

Michigan State: This is the top group of linebackers in the Big Ten. Max Bullough is the man in the middle, a heady, tough player who is like a coach on the field. Denicos Allen is a safety masquerading as a linebacker. He’s always around the ball and in the backfield, excelling in space. Taiwan Jones is a massive presence (6-3, 232) who can take on the run in the boundary. Jairus Jones and Ed Davis bolster this deep corps. So much talent.

Ohio State: This was an area of concern in 2012, but it has improved this season. Ryan Shazier is without peer in the Big Ten. He’s a deadly blend of athletic ability and power, able to take on blocks and make plays from sideline to sideline. He’s tops in the league in tackles and TFLs. He’s also the Big Ten’s best defensive player. Curtis Grant is a former five-star recruit whose is starting to pay dividends. Joshua Perry and Carmen Williams are promising sophomores who can run and hit.

Advantage: Michigan State

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Michigan State: The Spartans may have the best collection of defensive backs in the nation. Darqueze Dennard may be the top cornerback in America, a true shut-down force who takes away one-third of the field. Trae Waynes is a big corner (6-1, 175) on the other side who is underrated. The safety tandem of Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond is without peer. Two physical hitters who can play in space.

Ohio State: This is the most suspect area on the Buckeye defense. Losing heavy-hitting safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury hurt. He was a senior captain who broke an ankle in the Wisconsin game. Corner Bradley Roby is a future first-round draft choice who is equally adept at covering as he is playing the run. Doran Grant is a physical corner who can be beat. Safeties Corey Brown and C.J. Barnett are solid but can get lost in coverage.

Advantage: Michigan State

Listen to Coach Urban Meyer and Coach Mark Dantonio: 

SPECIALISTS

Michigan State: The Spartans have one of the nation’s top punters in Mike Sadler. He should have been a Ray Guy Award finalists but wasn’t. Shameful. Sadler averages 42.4 yards per boot and is adept at placement with 29 inside the 20-yard line. Michael Geiger arrived as the nation’s most touted kicking prospect and has delivered, nailing 12-of-13 field-goal attempts. Kid has a big leg, drilling all six of his attempts between 40-49 yards with a long of 49. Macgarrett Kings, Jr., and Andre Sims are good punt returners.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes usually score touchdowns. But Drew Basil is a capable kicker, hitting 8-of-9 field-goal attempts but his long is from just 45 yards. Aussie Cameron Johnston is a good punter, averaging 43.6 yards per boot with 23 kicks inside the 20. Lots of athletes on the coverage teams.

Advantage: Michigan State

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, 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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4 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (4 Comments)
Urban Hater on 12/3/2013 @ 12:40pm EST Said:

good to see Tressel”s players getting the awards…

Will Edwards on 12/3/2013 @ 3:41pm EST Said:

The offensive line category shouldn’t be considered even. Ohio States offensive line is significantly better than MSUs.

Meatball on 12/3/2013 @ 4:50pm EST Said:

Looks like BTN is picking MSU.

mark on 12/3/2013 @ 4:54pm EST Said:

Tom,

Maybe I read this wrong but wouldn’t you want to compare the offenses against the defenses?. Comparing an offense with another offense is a moot point.