If either Ohio State or Michigan State win out, they should still be able to get into the College Football Playoff. However, the loser of Saturday’s game will not have a chance.
These two longtime conference foes first met in 1912 and have played some great games in their 49 (Ohio State leads 34-15) contests. Here are the top five.
5. Ohio State 17, Michigan State 16
East Lansing – Sept. 29, 2012
Urban Meyer's first Big Ten game as Ohio State head coach proved to be a rite of passage. The Buckeyes got on the board first with a Jordan Hall touchdown run. Michigan State kicked a field goal in the first quarter and then hit another on its first drive of the second half to make it a one-point game. Ohio State then extended its lead with a field goal by Drew Basil. On the next drive, Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell found Keith Mumphery for a 29-yard touchdown pass to put the home team ahead 13-10. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller responded on the ensuing possession with a 63-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith to retake the lead at 17-13. A fumble by Miller in the fourth quarter gave MSU the ball on its own 46-yard line and the offense was able to convert the turnover into a field goal. After the two teams traded punts, OSU managed to put together a nine-play, 20-yard drive that chewed up the remaining four minutes of clock. "This was a war. This was two sledgehammers going at each other," Meyer said of the game that was “good for college football and good for the Big Ten.” Well stated.
4. Michigan State 11, Ohio State 8
Columbus – Oct. 15, 1966
This game's ugliness added to its memorability. The Spartans were undefeated and ranked No. 1 when they faced 1-2 Ohio State in the torrential Columbus rain, but this game would cost them their top billing. The only score in the first half came on a bad snap during an MSU punt that gave the Buckeyes a 2-0 lead even though they had never crossed midfield. In the third quarter, kicker Dick Kenney booted a field goal to put the Spartans on the board at 3-2. Then early in the fourth quarter, OSU head coach Woody Hayes went against convention and called a slant pass on first down. Buckeyes quarterback Bill Long, who finished the game with three interceptions, hit wide receiver Billy Anders for a 47-yard touchdown. Kicker Gary Cairns missed the extra point to make the score 8-3. With its back against the wall, MSU's offense took the ensuing kickoff and put together a seven-minute, 84-yard drive that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Bob Apisa on fourth down. The Spartans then lined up to kick the extra point, but Kenney took the snap directly and tossed a pass to holder Charles Wedemeyer for the two-point conversion. The Spartans hung on for the win, but the sloppy performance, which included seven fumbles (only one was lost), cost them their top spot in the AP poll. They would go on to tie Notre Dame in one of the greatest college football games of all time and share the national title with the Fighting Irish.
3. Michigan State 17, Ohio State 14
Columbus – Nov. 21, 2015
With both teams playing for the lead in the Big Ten East division and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff, Ohio State took a 14-7 lead in the third quarter and Michigan State responded with methodical offense. The Spartans put together a long 13-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game. They then got the ball back on the Buckeyes 48-yard line with a little over four minutes to play. Instead of trying to move the ball quickly, Michigan State took its time, using the run game to chew up the clock. Then Michael Geiger kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired for the win.
2. Ohio State 28, Michigan State 21
Columbus – Oct. 16, 1993
Undefeated Ohio State took a 21-10 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to three touchdown catches by speedster Joey Galloway. After an unproductive third quarter of offense, the Spartans finally closed the gap when kicker Bill Stoyanovich booted a 21-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, but he then missed a 39-yard field goal on the next drive. It was his fourth missed field goal in a game wrought with missed opportunities for the Spartans. A shanked punt by Scott Terna on the Buckeyes' ensuing possession gave MSU the ball on Ohio State's 38-yard line. Spartans quarterback Jim Miller capitalized on the following play, hitting Scott Greene with a touchdown pass. On the two-point play, Miller found receiver Mill Coleman in the end zone and the game was tied 21-21. Buckeye quarterback Bret Powers, who was sharing snaps with Bobby Hoying that season, then engineered an 80-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by Raymond Harris with 1:06 left for what proved to be the game-winning play. The Buckeyes went on to split the Big Ten title with Wisconsin.
1. Michigan State 28, Ohio State 24
Columbus – Nov. 7, 1998
This game tops the list for its significance and gutsy performance by the Spartans. Ohio State was ranked No. 1 and Michigan State was 4-4 in a season plagued with inconsistency. Oh, and the Spartans had lost five games in a row to Ohio State. It looked like it would be six straight, as the Buckeyes jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the first quarter. Michigan State's Paul Edinger kicked the second and third of his five field goals for the game to make it 17-9 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Ohio State's Damon Moore intercepted Bill Burke's pass, raced 73 yards and then flopped into the end zone to put his team up 24-9. Not only did Moore reinjure his shoulder on the ill-conceived dive, but he also was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and unknowingly re-energized the seething Spartans. The momentum turned on the next possession. Michigan State's Craig Jarrett took a bad snap and kicked a line-drive punt that hit OSU's Nate Clements on the shoulder and the Spartans recovered the ball on their own 49-yard line. Burke then hit Lavaile Richardson with a 23-yard touchdown, but missed the extra point to cut the lead to 24-15. Ohio State then fumbled on its next possession and Edinger kicked another field goal to close the gap to 24-18. Burke then led MSU on a 92-yard drive that was punctuated with a three-yard touchdown run by Sedrick Irvin that put the Spartans up 25-24 in the fourth quarter. Ohio State fumbled again and Edinger added another field goal to extend the lead 28-24.
The Buckeyes had one final chance with less than two minutes remaining, as David Boston returned Jarrett's punt 26 yards to midfield. Quarterback Joe Germaine completed two passes to put his team on MSU's 15-yard line, but then threw three straight incompletions. On fourth down, Germaine underthrew Dee Miller and was picked off by Renaldo Hill. The win was Michigan State head coach Nick Saban's biggest to date.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.