KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:17 p.m. ET
SITE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
SERIES: Michigan State is 13-28 against Ohio State, including a 17-16 loss last season in East Lansing
BCS RANKINGS: Ohio State 2nd, Michigan State 10th
KEYS TO THE GAME
Since Mark Dantonio took over the Michigan State program in 2007, the culture has absolutely changed for the Spartans.
Before his arrival, a successful season was one that ended in a bowl game - any bowl game. Thoughts of returning to the Rose Bowl were fine, but in most seasons, it wasn't realistic.
All that has changed in the last seven seasons. The Spartans have been to a bowl game in every one of those seasons, have won 11 games three times, won a share of a Big Ten championship in 2010 and have captured two Legends Division titles in three seasons.
And now Michigan State has a chance to play its way into that elusive Rose Bowl once again. For the second time in three seasons, the Spartans are in the Big Ten Championship game, this time facing Ohio State for the right play in Pasadena.
The game two years ago against Wisconsin was big, but this one might be even bigger.
"I haven't thought about that too much," Dantonio said on Sunday afternoon, "but it's an opportunity to go to a Rose Bowl and win an outright Big Ten championship which we have not done yet, done outright, so I would say it's got to be pretty high up there."
There have certainly been plenty of big games at Michigan State, the Dantonio era included. In that time, the Spartans have beaten Michigan five times in six seasons, beaten every Big Ten opponent at least once and have 35 Big Ten victories since 2008, officially more than any other team.
But considering that in the 16-year history of the Bowl Championship Series the Spartans have never qualified for one of the BCS bowl games, getting that done against an Ohio State team that hasn't lost a game in two seasons would make this Saturday's game one of the biggest in program history.
And, of course, there's the fact Michigan State hasn't played in a Rose Bowl since after the 1987 season.
"It is an important game for the history of who we are right now," Dantonio said. "We've pointed at things like this since coming here in 2007. I think every program, regardless of who the head coach is, as they move through their program they establish an era of winning or losing whatever it is. It goes with it.
"Right now one of the things we have done, for us is we have been relatively impressive, but we are not there yet. I keep saying that. We are not there yet. We still have things to do. So we are looking forward to the opportunity. We look forward to play against Ohio State. I consider them a great program, a great tradition."
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer let his players hoot and holler when, on the bus ride home from their overtime victory in Ann Arbor the Buckeyes learned of Auburn's upset of No. 1 Alabama, but when they disembarked in Columbus, it was right back to the business at hand -- facing the nation's top-ranked defense from Michigan State. Meyer made that priority list very clear when he was pushed to comment on the potential avenue to the national championship game.
"I'll have a comment on that on Sunday. We have to play a game," Meyer said. "And for someone to ask about something like that now, that's cheating my football team, and there will be no conversation about what happens after this game until after this game. We've got to go watch Michigan State's defense and see if we have any comments about anything after this game."
So there will be no getting the cart in front of the horse for the Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0). While Buckeye Nation has been preoccupied with the BCS rankings and the possibility of an undefeated Ohio State team getting closed out of the national title game, Meyer has fought to keep all of that nonsense out of the Woody Hayes football facility.
"We just jumped right into a very good team, an excellent team in Michigan State, and want to do the best job we can to make sure our team is prepared," Meyer said.
While obviously pleased that his team was able to escape Ann Arbor at 12-0, Meyer winced when reminded about Michigan's 600 yards of offense.
"Obviously we've still got some things to work on, but I don't want to ever take away from a rivalry win, one that was a classic," he said. "This team finds a way to win and I'm most appreciative of that as a coach. It's a very purpose driven team."
Meyer expects the Spartans, who have quietly forged an 11-1 record and gone unbeaten in the Big Ten, to be ready for anything Ohio State throws at them.
"This will be a very stiff challenge for us," he said. "They have an excellent, excellent defense and a much improved offense that's scoring a lot of points."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--Senior linebacker Denicos Allen has had some of his best games against Ohio State and will be a key in this matchup against quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. Allen and his teammates terrorized Miller two years ago, but last season, Miller had the upper hand. Allen will have a chance to get the final word in this matchup and could be a big factor in putting pressure on Miller and forcing him into quick decisions.
--Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as he has steadily improved all season after not starting the opener. Ohio State's pass defense has struggled this season and Cook has a chance to have a big day if the offensive line can hold up against a solid Ohio State defensive front.
--Sophomore wide receiver Aaron Burbridge has slowly worked his way back onto the field after a hamstring injury a few weeks ago sidelined him for a couple of weeks. The season has been a bit of a disappointment for Burbridge, who was expected to have a breakout season. The matchup with Ohio State could be his chance to finally have a breakout performance in on a big stage.
--Senior safety Isaiah Lewis is a native of Indianapolis and the last time Michigan State played in the Big Ten title game, it was Lewis' roughing the punter penalty in the final two minutes that sealed Wisconsin's victory. Lewis has pointed to this moment ever since that game two years ago and is determined to make amends not only for his hometown fans, but for his teammates, as well.
--RB Carlos Hyde has rushed for 589 yards and seven touchdowns in the last three games, and with 1,290 yards, he's the first running back for an Urban Meyer-coached team to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Hyde rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the last seven games, including two 200-yard performances.
--QB Braxton Miller finished the season as the Big Ten leader in passer efficiency with a 164.3 rating, and also leads the Big Ten with 295.0 yards of total offense per game in conference games. The junior has 1,759 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, and also rushed for 891 yards and eight more touchdowns, despite missing nearly three games early in the season due to injury.
--DB Bradley Roby, a junior who has already announced his intention to jump to the NFL after the 2013 season, is tied for the team lead with three interceptions and is third on the team with 63 tackles. A 2012 first-team All-American, Roby leads the Buckeyes with 13 pass break-ups and has also blocked a pair of punts.
--LB Ryan Shazier leads the Big Ten with 122 tackles, 21.0 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. The junior has 50 tackles in his last three games, including 16 at Illinois, a career-high 20 against Indiana and 14 in the most-recent win at Michigan.