On the Beat: Ohio State won’t call Michigan State a rival — but it should

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is room for only one true rival at Ohio State, and it’s pointless to even suggest to Urban Meyer that maybe there’s another team worthy of that label.

For the Buckeyes, nothing comes before The Game and “That Team Up North,” and obviously nobody is suggesting the pecking order is ever going to change.

But there actually might be another program that commands more attention than most at Ohio State. And if Michigan State isn’t exactly a close second to the Wolverines, it’s certainly on deck.

(But definitely don’t call this The Game’s Little Brother, because the Spartans don’t seem to like that moniker much. In fact, it usually just makes things worse, right Wolverines?)

At any rate, the physical nature of the matchups since Meyer arrived to do battle with Mark Dantonio, the couple of upsets in that span and the sky-high stakes all point to a series with added importance. In fact, the closeness only adds to the intrigue, with the last five games having a combined score separated by just a single point.

Both Ohio State players and coaches alike have avoided referencing the school by name at times, instead electing to call it the “Green Team.” Even this week after a Tuesday practice, junior defensive end Sam Hubbard slipped in a reference to a rivalry with the Spartans.

Maybe Meyer won’t call it that. But if it looks like a rivalry, feels like a rivalry and sounds like a rivalry — it’s probably safe to assume that deep down, Ohio State considers it one.

“We’ve got a lot of history, lot of close games and I don’t know exactly what makes it so tough,” Hubbard said. “I think it’s just a rivalry.

“They’re a great program, a tough-minded program, they train hard and train just like we do. It’s a fistfight every time we play them. That’s what it’s going to be like this Saturday.”

The Spartans offered a clear reminder of that last season even as they suffered through a disappointing season that included just three wins. In snowy conditions, they still put together another game plan that frustrated Ohio State, didn’t back down from the hard-hitting challenge and ultimately forced the Buckeyes to stop a 2-point conversion attempt just to survive in an unexpectedly thrilling 17-16 contest.

Chris Worley-Ohio State-Michigan State-Malik Hooker-Big Ten-Buckeyes-Spartans
Ohio State survived at Michigan State last season by stopping a late 2-point try. (Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10)

That game fits the old cliche of “throwing out the record books” when rivals collide, but that won’t be a problem at the Horseshoe this weekend. This meeting will have a more familiar, high-stakes vibe with the Big Ten East title on the line and the winner likely punching itself a ticket to Indianapolis for a chance to win the conference title.

And, of course, claiming some bragging rights. You know, just in case those matter for either team when the opponent isn’t Michigan.

“You still look at the standings and Ohio State and Michigan State are No. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten East,” Meyer said. “And everybody knows this game — this is our sixth year of playing them or something — usually it’s just a prize fight. So, the tougher team usually wins.

“We have great respect for them and they’re playing well. And we’ve got to understand what we’re going to play against.”

The Buckeyes are fully aware of who they’re dealing with this week.

Is it The Rivalry? Certainly not. But Ohio State had better come ready for the next-best thing.

The post On the Beat: Ohio State won’t call Michigan State a rival — but it should appeared first on Land of 10.

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