Led by five touchdowns from J.T. Barrett, Ohio State raced away from Michigan State and now is the Big Ten's best hope to make the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State wanted to remind the country of its potential Saturday, and that message came through loud and clear against Michigan State. The No. 14 Buckeyes sunk the eighth-ranked Spartans for the ninth time in 11 games, 49-37, in East Lansing.
Here are three quick thoughts on the Big Ten matchup:
1. J.T. Barrett was a man among boys
Braxton who? That’s a question many Buckeye fans have asked this season, and their quarterback proved why once again Saturday.
J.T. Barrett, who has started all season in place of an injured Braxton Miller, was the best player on the field against Michigan State. The Big Ten's leader in total offense (294 yards per game) shined on his biggest stage of the season, completing 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards with three touchdowns and rushing for 86 yards and two more scores. He threw two touchdown passes within the final four minutes in the first half to help Ohio State rally from behind and enter intermission with a 28-21 lead.
Barrett was a relative unknown at the beginning of the season, but the quarterback might be the most dynamic player in the Big Ten right now. For a Buckeyes team looking to make a last-ditch playoff case, that’s just what it needs.
2. The Spartans missed a chance to lay the hammer down, and it cost them
Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford ran in a one-yard touchdown to give his team a 21-14 lead with 4:37 until halftime. On the ensuing kickoff, Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson fumbled, and the Spartans recovered. Suddenly Sparty had the ball at the Buckeyes’ 18-yard line with a chance to take a two-touchdown lead.
Instead, Michigan State whiffed. Langford ran in a score that was called back due to holding. Then quarterback Connor Cook misfired on a third-down pass to the end zone. The Spartans opted to attempt a field goal, which kicker Michael Geiger sent wide left. Michigan State came away with nothing after the takeaway.
On the very next play, Ohio State scored on a 79-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to Michael Thomas. That sparked a 28-3 run that the Buckeyes used to take over the game. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio will no doubt look back at that second-quarter series as an opportunity missed. Despite the Spartans’ vaunted defense, they simply weren’t able to dig out of that early hole.
3. Have the Big Ten’s playoff chances disappeared?
One man who probably wasn’t happy Saturday was Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. That’s because Ohio State’s win this weekend was actually detrimental to the conference’s playoff hopes. If the Buckeyes had lost, they’d have added to the playoff resume of a conference rival. Their win ruins Michigan State’s much easier path to the playoff.
The Spartans entered the weekend as Big Ten’s most viable playoff contender. Its lone loss came on the road to Oregon, the No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff’s most recent rankings. But the rest of the Big Ten’s soft schedule did the Spartans no favors on a national scale. Their best shot was to win out and hope the selection committee viewed their loss to the Ducks favorably.
Instead, the Big Ten now has to hope the Buckeyes can climb to the top four. Ohio State has just one loss, but unlike Michigan State, which fell in a hostile road environment to a quality team, the Buckeyes lost at home to a Virginia Tech team that is struggling just to get to bowl eligibility. That's not a good situation for the Big Ten.