November 11th, 2017
Sorry Michigan, Big Ten East title at stake this
the weekend between Spartans and Buckeyes
By KEITH GAVE
For everybody except the legion of Walmart Wolverines fans, the Michigan-Ohio State match coming up in a few weeks at the Big House is quite literally just another game on the Big Ten schedule. The No. 11 Buckeyes’ most important game of their season is Saturday when No. 16 Michigan State visits the Horseshoe.
Seriously, no game has greater implications for Big Ten East Division teams because this game is, essentially, the de facto divisional championship game. Because both teams suffered unexpected losses – the Spartans at Northwestern in triple OT and OSU a humiliating thumping at Iowa last week – the winner of Saturday’s game will own a one-game lead on the other with two games left to play.
Michigan and Penn State, both of whom had designs on representing the East against Wisconsin in the West for the Big Ten championship, are 4-2. Both are now also-rans.
If Michigan State and all its Ohio recruits find a way to knock off the Buckeyes yet again, their road to the Big Ten title game is pretty smooth, with only Maryland and Rutgers remaining on the schedule. If the Buckeyes prevail Saturday, they still must beat Michigan in Ann Arbor in their traditional regular-season finale. And they won’t.
Remarkably, despite wins at Michigan and over Penn State last week in East Lansing, the Spartans enter Saturday’s game as 16-point underdogs to Ohio State, which was embarrassed at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes provided the blueprint for beating the Buckeyes. Stop the run, which the Spartans excel at, and make quarterback J.T. Barrett beat you with his arm. And that isn’t easy either. Only two quarterbacks have thrown for more than 200 yards against the Spartans this season.
Meantime, redshirt sophomore Brian Lewerke is fast-emerging as an elite Big Ten quarterback – and arguably the best in the league at the moment. In the absence of a dominant running game that was supposed to be the Spartans’ calling card this season, Lewerke has had back-to-back weeks of 400-plus passing yards. In the last 20 years, only two other Big Ten quarterbacks have done that.
Lewerke will have his work cut out for him to get the Spartans into their fourth Big Ten title game – but the mere fact that we can write this sentence speaks to the remarkable job coach Mark Dantonio has done to turn around a program that went 3-9 last season.
Buckle up, sports fans. This is going to be a great Big Ten football game, with a lot of marbles on the line.
No. 16 Michigan State (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) vs. No. 11 Ohio State (7-2, 5-1)
at Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Line: Michigan State plus-16
Prediction: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 24
No. 21 Michigan (7-2, 4-2) vs. Maryland (4-5 2-4)
3:30 p.m., Saturday.
At Maryland Stadium; College Park, Maryland.
TV/Radio: BTN; WQON-FM (100.3)
Line: Michigan minus-16 1/2
The education of redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters continues with another on-the-job-training assignment against an opponent the Wolverines should handle easily. All Peters has to do is hand the ball off, get out of the way. Michigan’s running backs and its defense will control this game and determine the outcome.
This should be an easy Wolverines’ victory against the Sybil of the Big Ten. I mean, how does a team that can beat Texas lose to Rutgers?
Peters needs the work because the competition ramps up considerably next week, against Wisconsin and exponentially the week after when Ohio State comes visiting in what is already being billed as the biggest game in coach Jim Harbaugh’s three years in Ann Arbor.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Maryland 7
Detroit Lions (4-4) vs. Cleveland Browns (0-8)
1 p.m., Sunday
at Ford Field
TV/Radio: CBS; WQON-FM, 100.3
Line: Detroit minus-9.5
Anyone who calls this a “trap game” – half-expecting the Lions to find a way to lose to a winless team after a rare win at Green Bay hasn’t been paying attention.
These aren’t the same old Lions. Not your father’s Lions. Not your grandfather’s Lions.
What you saw Monday night in Green Bay was not a mirage. A Detroit team without a running game marched into one of the most challenging arenas in sports and dismantled a traditional NFL power. The Lions did it because they have, right now, the hottest quarterback in the league. Not just the highest-paid. The best.
The Lions survived the most difficult part of their schedule, finishing the first half at 4-4. Six of their remaining eight opponents have losing records. They have a better than average shot at winning all of them. If they can stay reasonably healthy, they can win at least six, finish with 10 or more wins, make the playoffs and perhaps even host a playoff game.
Better stated, the Lions will go as far as Matthew Stafford’s right arm will take them. Look for him and his teammates to make an emphatic statement Sunday, keeping the Browns hapless – and winless.
Prediction: Detroit 30, Cleveland 9