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Ohio State vs. Michigan State: A Five Year War

In a recent series defined by upsets and road team wins, Urban Meyer holds a 3-2 edge over Mark Dantonio’s Spartans

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

"When your foot is on that jugular, you have to kill that fool.” No. 1 Ohio State had just dispatched an unranked Michigan State team in Columbus, and offensive tackle Kirk Barton was in no mood for niceties. It was understandable, the Buckeyes had survived their first test of the season. And it really shouldn’t have been a test at all.

Prior to Michigan State, things had come easy for the 2007 Buckeyes. In their first seven games, the most difficult opponent on paper turned out to be a breeze. The Buckeyes jumped to a 23-0 lead against No. 20 Purdue, cruising to a 23-7 victory at night in West Lafayette, Ind.

So it wasn’t Ohio State’s first rodeo when they found themselves out to a big 24-0 lead against Michigan State. It was no surprise that first-year Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio was over-matched against OSU’s superior talent. Join the club.

But then something surprising did happen. Michigan State scored two defensive touchdowns in 56 seconds. And OSU dogged a bullet on the first play of the next drive, as two Spartan defenders couldn’t get a handle on a Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells fumble. At the gun, the Buckeyes walked away the victors 24-17 to improve to 8-0 overall.

While it was just one game, the closing Spartan surge would be a sign of the competitive series to come. And ten years later, that 2007 game remains the last time Ohio State beat Michigan State in Columbus.

Since Urban Meyer arrived at OSU in 2012, he and Mark Dantonio have squared off in a five-year war. Sparty remains the only Big Ten program during that span to beat Meyer multiple times, and the only other Big Ten program to make the College Football Playoff. Even so, Meyer holds a 3-2 head-to-head series edge. A series that has been characterized by three trends.

Meyer vs. Dantonio - A Five-Year War

Date Location Ohio State Michigan State Favorite (Spread)
Date Location Ohio State Michigan State Favorite (Spread)
11/19/16 East Lansing, MI 17 16 OSU (-21)
11/21/15 Columbus, OH 14 17 OSU (-14)
11/8/14 East Lansing, MI 49 37 MSU (-4)
12/7/13 Indianapolis, IN* 24 34 OSU (-5)
9/29/12 East Lansing, MI 17 16 MSU (-2)
*Big Ten Championship Game
Historical odds via Goldsheet

1) The games are always competitive, and typically razor-close. Three games have been decided by three points or less, two by a single point. In the five contests, Ohio State has scored 121 total points, Michigan State has scored 120. There’s been little separation between these two programs on game day.

2) The home team loses. The home team is 0-4. Ohio State has won three on the road, while Michigan State has scored the biggest road upset — upending the undefeated 14-point favorite Buckeyes in 2015 (Sparty also holds a 1-0 mark on a neutral field with the Big Ten Championship game victory in 2013). So much for home field advantage.

3) The favorite almost always loses. The bookies in Vegas don’t care about recent series history. Maybe they should. In the Dantonio-Meyer era, only once has the favorite actually won the game outright (and never has the favorite covered the spread). Last year was the only time the favorite came through to win — OSU was favored by 21 and won by a single point.

Coming off a game in Iowa where little went right, the Buckeyes stand as more than two touchdown favorites against Michigan State. Better OSU teams under Meyer have tripped up trying to put the foot on Sparty’s jugular. A series that has consistently upended expectations may be poised to do so once more.