Three Things We Learned from Michigan State's Big Ten title

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Spartans' defense prevents one last BCS controversy

Three Things We Learned from Michigan State's Big Ten title

Michigan State ensured the BCS will go out with a whimper.

The final season of a two-team competition for the national title will end again with a simple two-team decision. With Ohio State’s loss, there will be no debate between an undefeated team against a weaker schedule and a one-loss team against a stronger schedule.

That’s the headline as Ohio State is eliminated from the national championship race and along with Urban Meyer’s first loss as the coach for the Buckeyes.

Michigan State can’t be overlooked, though. The Spartans clinched their first outright conference title and Rose Bowl appearance since 1987.

The Spartans relied on a stifling defense in the second half against Ohio State, but an consistently improving offense has been the difference between a good Big Ten season and a conference title. And a contingent of new fans from Auburn.

Three Things We Learned From Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24

Michigan State’s defense comes up huge yet again. The unexpected is a major part of Mark Dantonio’s playbook with a handful of fake field goals and fake punts in his arsenal. In the fourth quarter against Ohio State, it was an onside kick. Michigan State failed to gain possession, but Dantonio can afford to take risks with this defense. The nation’s top defense proved it against Ohio State, especially in the second half. Thorpe Award finalist Darqueze Dennard shut down the passing game as Braxton Miller was 8 of 21 for 101 yards and a touchdown. After Ohio State blocked a punt, linebacker Denicos Allen stopped Miller on a run toward the sideline on fourth and 2 at the Spartans’ 39. The two-headed run game of Miller and Carlos Hyde had its moments, but Ohio State overall was 1 of 9 on third down.

Michigan State doesn't need to kick itself for Notre Dame loss. Auburn is the one-loss team heading to the national championship game rather than the team that actually knocked out Ohio State. The Big Ten schedule is a big reason for Michigan State missing a chance at the national championship game, but the Spartans’ 17-13 loss to an 8-4 Notre Dame is now the only blemish on the schedule. Michigan State was called for four critical pass interference calls in the game, but the Spartans also amassed only 135 passing yards and 119 rushing against the Irish on Sept. 21. Flash forward to Saturday, and Connor Cook completed 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and an interception against Ohio State. As much as Michigan State’s defense has been dominant all season, the Spartans’ offense has improved progressively during the season, helping Michigan State outscore nine Big Ten opponents by an average of 17.8 points per game. A year from now, Michigan State might be a good candidate for one of four playoff spots. Even in the current system, an undefeated Michigan State would have to answer for facing only one ranked team all year.

This isn’t a totally awful development for the Big Ten. The Big Ten lost a chance to play for the national title, and Michigan State may have gone to the Rose Bowl win or lose. In the end, though, this may end up being a net gain for the league. Ohio State likely would have gone to the BCS Championship Game as a major underdog to Florida State. Instead, the Buckeyes could face Clemson in the Orange Bowl while Michigan State faces Stanford in the Rose Bowl. No, it’s not the stage the Big Ten craves, but both teams will be evenly matched in their bowl games. And consider this: Before the season started, one narrative was that Ohio State and Michigan were poised to take a commanding lead in the league. The Wolverines’ struggles mean that won’t happen this year, but Michigan State isn’t going away.

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