NOVEMBER usually is the time to determine the pretenders and the contenders in college football. After all, the legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes once commented, "In November is when the contenders rise to the top and pretenders fall by the wayside."
Undoubtedly, that is true, but Oct. 1 is vitally important for OSU and Michigan State as they line up for their first game of the Big Ten season this year.
It appears to be an even match as both teams have 3-1 records.
Unfortunately, that isn't the whole story. The Buckeyes are unranked, and the Spartans are No. 25 in this week's USA Today/Coaches poll.
Among the other plus factors for MSU is that the team leads the nation in total and pass defense, is third in pass efficiency defense and eighth in fewest points allowed.
OSU also ranks second in the Big Ten and fifth in the NCAA in kickoff returns at 30.8 yards per return.
The Buckeyes are well aware of the records and what they're facing. OSU running back Jordan Hall, one of the team captains for the upcoming game in the 'Shoe, recognizes it as a big challenge but added, "I'm looking forward to it."
Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio pointed out the Spartans also are motivated, and he emphasized the importance of winning on the road in order for the football season to be a success.
"Michigan State," according to OSU head football coach Luke Fickell, "is probably as good up front as we've seen. They're going to definitely get on your guys outside. They're going to put pressure on you, whether it's four, five, six men. I think we understand that. How we handle it will be the key."
And OSU appears to be handling things better, and Fickell noted OSU continues to focus on getting better.
He praised freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, adding that although the "ball wasn't coming out of his hands as well as he would have liked or anyone else would have liked," Miller settled down and still got up and continued to compete.
"I think that's the No. 1 important thing we saw from him - his demeanor, how he competed," Fickell emphasized.
After commenting on the Buckeyes' very active defense, Dantonio said he thought "the big story right now is Braxton Miller, a guy who's carried the ball 30 times in three games. Pretty much the last game was his first full-time start so he's running the ball as much as some of the tailbacks really are."
Although OSU still missed some tackles against Colorado, Fickell indicated the Buckeyes had done better in that game than against Toledo and Miami. Adding they have to get better in that regard, he said it's now a heightened focus.
Among Michigan State's touchdown leaders for 2011 are quarterback Kirk Cousins, 81-117 passing for 947 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions; running back LeVeon Bell, 38 carries for 217 yards and six touchdowns; wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, 29 catches for 428 yards and one TD; and running back Edwin Baker, 216 yards and one TD.
The Spartans in their first two games defeated Youngstown State, 28-6, and Florida Atlantic, 44-0, and then was trounced by Notre Dame when the score was 31-13.
They rebounded against Central Michigan, 45-7, last week.
Saturday's game marks the 40th contest between the Buckeyes and the Spartans in football with OSU leading the series, 27-12.
A LOT of Michigan State's coaches are from Ohio, including Dantonio, according to Fickell. Also, OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel's son is on the MSU staff.
Mike Tressel is the Spartans linebackers/special teams coach, and his uncle is former OSU head football coach Jim Tressel, who is admired by many. The Spartans also have 25 Ohioans on their roster...
DANTONIO recently was in Zanesville when his father, Justin, underwent a medical procedure and later died. His father, who died Aug. 28, was insistent for Dantonio to get back on the job. At a press conference Aug. 30,
Dantonio reported his father on the day he died asked the coach, "What are you doing here? You need to get back to work. But that's him. So by coming back (to MSU) last week when he was a little bit stable, I was honoring his wishes. By coming back after he passed, it's very surreal, but I was back doing what he wanted me to do. I'm honoring his memory by doing that."...
THE REGARD that Fickell and Dantonio have for each other was evident in this week's press conferences. In addition to pointing out that the two families are close friends, Dantonio said he thought that Fickell was thrown into a very tough situation but he had responded. "I think he's what Ohio State needs, and I just want to publicly say that right now.
Dantonio was OSU's defensive coordinator from 2001-03. Fickell, who also was an assistant coach at the time, said that Dantonio is "probably the one guy that I stay most in contact since he's gone."...
MICHIGAN State has not won in Columbus since 1998 when OSU was rated No. 1...
ABC will air the game at 3:30 p.m.