EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Once again, the biggest game of the Big Ten regular season might be Ohio State against Michigan State.
That's nothing new, but it's also not what was predicted in 2017.
"No one expected us to be here at this point, except for us," Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke said Tuesday. "It's a big moment. We realize it. I don't think it's one of those where we've got nothing to lose, because we do have stuff to lose - the Big Ten championship on the line, and we definitely want to be there."
Saturday's game at Ohio State will merely be the latest of several matchups between the Buckeyes and Spartans this decade that had major conference title implications. Michigan State beat Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten title game. Since then, the teams have been in the same division, and in 2014 and 2015, they split two meetings that essentially decided who would play in the league title game.
The matchup lost a lot of its luster last season, when Michigan State went 3-9, but the 13th-ranked Spartans (7-2, 5-1, No. 12 CFP) have rebounded and will have the inside track to a division title if they can beat No. 11 Ohio State (7-2, 5-1, No. 13).
The Buckeyes are double-digit favorites over a Michigan State team that hasn't won a Big Ten game by more than eight points, and if the Spartans lose, this will still have been an encouraging season with an inexperienced team. After coming this far, however, Michigan State now has high stakes to play for.
"We have a lot to lose. We're in control right now. So we do have a lot to lose and we want to stay in control," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We're excited we have this opportunity, but we've worked for this opportunity and we've channeled everything to get to November, knowing that last week was going to be a challenge, this week and then the following two weeks."
The Spartans edged Penn State last weekend on a last-second field goal.
"We certainly haven't played flawlessly. There's a lot of things we've got to correct and be able to move forward on," Dantonio said. "I think that somebody said we're playing with house money. I don't know. So we'll just keep going."
Michigan State was expected to lean on its running game this season, but Lewerke has become the key to the offense, attempting 113 passes over the past two games and reaching 400 yards passing in each.
His performance against Penn State was particularly impressive since it came on a wet day that included a lengthy weather delay in the second quarter. Lewerke is only a sophomore, so the future looks bright for both him and the Spartans.
But right now, the focus is on the present. Michigan State's next chance to contend in the Big Ten came sooner than expected.
"We've got this tremendous opportunity down there in Columbus, versus a great opponent, very worthy opponent," safety Khari Willis said. "We're looking forward to the showdown."
NOTES: Dantonio said CB Josh Butler will miss the game following the death of his father. "The funeral is on Saturday," Dantonio said. "I know he appreciates the outpouring of support from people across Spartan Nation. But he's OK. He's doing OK. I think it's a day-to-day thing for him, and obviously very, very difficult situation and our prayers are with him."
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