Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, September 19, 2016 at 12:16 PM
After two years of dominating the Big Ten's Eastern Division, Ohio State and Michigan State were both supposed to take a step back this year and retool. Both teams had a prime-time audience on Saturday night and showed the nation that they're picking up right where they left off.
Ohio State stocked the NFL draft last spring and even though the raw talent in Urban Meyer's recruiting classes - easily the second-best in the nation behind Alabama - was undisputed, it was still supposed to take a little time to replace the likes of Ezekiel Elliot and Joey Bosa. Instead, the Buckeyes utterly dismantled Oklahoma 45-24 as a (-2) road favorite.
Michigan State, after upsetting Ohio State last year, winning the Big Ten and reaching the College Football Playoff, had to move on after the departure of Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun. The Spartans did a dismantling of their own, beating down Notre Dame 36-28 as a (+8) underdog in South Bend. College football bettors that really believed in Mark Dantonio's program grabbed the moneyline at (+210) and doubled their investment.
What was striking about both teams' performances was how physically dominant they were at the line of scrimmage. It's very much a part of both programs' DNA, but Ohio State was facing a proud home team in Oklahoma that had not only pride, but its very survival in the Playoff race on the line. The Buckeyes' front five gashed the Sooners with ease. Even a team without talented running backs could have made hay in the holes that were created. When you have a duo like Ohio State's Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel, who led an attack that produced 291 rush yards, it becomes even more dangerous for opposing defenses.
Michigan State spotted Notre Dame an early 7-0 lead and quarterback Tyler O'Connor looked uncomfortable. Nothing makes a quarterback comfortable like handing off the football and watching his backs pile up easy yardage. LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes combined for nearly 200 yards and were often into the second level of the defense before being touched.
What does all this mean going forward? If you play the futures market, there's not much to be made by investing in Ohio State. Respect for Meyer kept the Buckeyes' a short 7-1 price to win the national championship and that number may well have dropped by the time you read this.
What Ohio State can offer is game-to-game value. They've covered the number decisively in all three of their games and have a solid passing game in addition to their running prowess. J.T. Barrett has completed 67% of his passes, gets 8.9 yards-per-attempt and has a 10-1 TD-INT ratio. His receiving corps is so talented that they made a living on the fade route in the end zone on Saturday night. The Buckeyes will score points and that means the capacity to cover big pointspreads.
Michigan State is different. O'Connor has shortcomings in the passing game that likely give this team a ceiling in the competitive Big Ten East that also includes Michigan. The Spartans are 5-1 to win the division and have both OSU and Michigan at home, so there could be value there. More likely though, Sparty's value will be as either an underpriced favorite due to lack of respect for the passing game or a value home dog against the Buckeyes and Wolverines.
Ultimately, what both teams showed is that they can still smack people in the mouth at the line of scrimmage and anyone who was a skeptic of either team has to quickly realign their expectations with reality.