The entire Big Ten season has been leading to this: Ohio State vs. Michigan State.
The winner is on track to play for the conference title and make a case for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The loser is left to play its way into a nice bowl and hope for the best. A championship of any kind this season will be highly unlikely.
On Saturday, six games pit ranked teams against each other, and they’re dripping with playoff implications from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 to the Southeastern Conference. None of those games has more at stake than the rematch of last year’s Big Ten title game at East Lansing, Michigan.
The Spartans kept Ohio State from playing in the final BCS championship game and snapped the Buckeyes’ 24-game winning streak in Indianapolis last year.
The Buckeyes (7-1) then lost the Orange Bowl to Clemson. Then they lost star quarterback Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury before this season started. And they lost at home to Virginia Tech.
With J.T. Barrett blossoming into a fine replacement for Miller, Ohio State hasn’t lost since — but outside of their passionate fans, nobody seems to take them seriously.
“This is a game to get the respect that Ohio State deserves and has had in the past. You have to go compete and win this game and it’s going to be a task. But that’s real,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Michigan State (7-1) went to Oregon in Week 2 and played the Ducks tough for about three quarters before letting them fly away.
The Spartans, like the Buckeyes, have been going about their business rather quietly since.
The Big Ten has afforded both teams with few opportunities for the types of victories that can get the selection committee’s attention. The Spartans got one against Nebraska. Ohio State has been laying waste to the middle- and lower-tier of the Big Ten, save for an overtime victory at Penn State.
That makes Ohio State-Michigan State basically a playoff elimination game. And because the Buckeyes and Spartans now play in the same division, the Big Ten East will be all but out of reach for the loser.
No pressure, guys.
No. 4 Alabama (minus 6½) at No. 14 LSU
Tide has won three straight in series. Bama hasn’t won four in a row against Tigers since 1989-92 ... Alabama 24-20.
No. 5 Oregon (minus 9½) at No. 20 Utah
Led by DE Nate Orchard, Utes lead nation in sacks at 4.88 per game. Can Ducks keep QB Marcus Mariota comfortable? ... Oregon 28-21.
No. 9 Kansas State (plus 5) at No. 6 TCU
Frogs QB Trevone Boykin’s chance to shoot up Heisman charts ... TCU 38-24.
No. 13 Ohio State (plus 3½) at No. 7 Michigan State
Buckeyes need healthy and mobile Barrett to keep Spartans’ defense honest with option ... Ohio State 27-24.
No. 8 Notre Dame (plus 1) at No. 11 Arizona State
ASU’s Jaelen Strong might be most overlooked great receiver in nation ... Arizona Stat 34-28.
No. 10 Baylor (plus 4½) at No. 16 Oklahoma
Sooners have been at their best when QB Trevor Knight runs ... Oklahoma 44-30.
THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
No. 19 Clemson (minus 22½) at Wake Forest
Demon Deacons are last in nation in yards per game (213.5) and per play (3.4) ... Clemson 28-3.
No. 18 UCLA (minus 4½) at Washington
See Shaq run. See Shaq tackle. See Shaq score. Huskies RB/S Shaq Thompson expected to play both ways this week ... Washington 28-23.
Virginia (plus 18) at No. 2 Florida State
Fabulous freshmen making Seminoles more explosive offensively ... Florida State 35-13.
Texas A&M (plus 21) at No. 3 Auburn
Do Aggies have any fight left after three straight SEC losses and an ugly victory against Louisiana-Lafayette? ... Auburn 48-21.
No. 17 Georgia (minus 10) at Kentucky
Bulldogs try to bounce back from stunning loss to Gators with another win against Wildcats. Georgia has won four straight and six of seven in series ... Georgia 35-21.
Colorado (plus 15) at No. 21 Arizona
Buffaloes are better that last year but still winless in the Pac-12 ... Arizona 42-17.
No. 22 Duke (minus 3½) at Syracuse
Orange need to win final three to become bowl eligible ... Duke 28-21.
No. 23 Marshall (off) at Southern Miss
Herd QB Rakeem Cato has thrown a TD pass in an NCAA record 40 straight games ... Marshall 48-14.
No. 24 West Virginia (minus 3½) at Texas
Longhorns need two wins in final three games to reach bowl eligibility in coach Charlie Strong’s first season ... Texas 28-24.
No. 25 Wisconsin (minus 17) at Purdue
Badgers lead nation in total defense (253.8 yards per game) and are fourth in yards per play (4.32) ... Wisconsin 31-20.
Record straight: 16-2; vs. points: 13-5.
Record straight: 141-41; vs. points: 84-96-2.
Best bet: 5-5.
Upset special: 4-7.