COLUMBUS — After beginning the season with five consecutive home games, No. 3 Ohio State will hit the road for the first time this Saturday when they travel to East Lansing, Michigan to take on the Michigan State Spartans (2-3).
When the schedules were first released, Saturday’s game was circled by many as a potential landmine for Ohio State’s hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff. But after three consecutive losses, including a 61-20 scoring differential in the last two, Michigan State is reeling as it prepares for its most daunting task to date.
The oddsmakers have listed Ohio State as massive 27-point favorites, an indication of both how respected the Buckeyes are as one of the best teams in the country and just how far the Spartans have fallen.
Of course, head coach Ryan Day isn’t tuning in to any of the outside noise surrounding the game. During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Day said the expectation for him and his team is that playing at Michigan State will present the same challenges Ohio State has come to expect when traveling to East Lansing.
“We’re going on the road to a tough stadium, certainly a great environment, and it’s going to be hard to win up there,” Day said. “It always is. And this is the first time we’re going on the road. It’s a new challenge for us, a new test.”
Regardless of the opponent, every road game in college football brings with it a new set of challenges given the logistics involved with traveling to the game. Ohio State will feature several key contributors who will be experiencing their first starts or meaningful playing time in a hostile environment, and Day said the two most important characteristics his teams needs to display to remain unbeaten when it returns to Columbus will be focus and composure, which will require great leadership from the veterans.
“You have to do a great job with leadership,” he said. “The older guys who have been through it before have to lead the way because if you haven’t been through that (road experience) before, it’s hard to simulate going into a hostile environment like we’re about to do … There can be a lot more distractions when you’re on the road in terms of when you’re at the game.”
Day added that, at the same time, there are less distractions for the team when traveling to the game given the team is together and shielded from any outside noise from the time it leaves Columbus until the time it takes the field on Saturday.
After winning 11 games a season ago and concluding the season with a victory in the Peach Bowl, Michigan State returned a large portion of the team, leading to high expectations for head coach Mel Tucker’s squad in his second year at the helm. While those expectations have faded quickly, Day believes there is much better football to be played by the Spartans.
“They’ve had a couple injuries here and there, but they’re still very much the same team they were last year,” he said. “A lot of those guys are back. I know they’ve lost a few games here, but we’re expecting a top-10 team when we go up to East Lansing. They’re well-coached, they have really good players. They had an excellent season last year, and those guys are still there. It’s going to be hard, just like it always is, and we know that we have our hands full this week.”
Kickoff between Ohio State and Michigan State is set for 4 p.m., and the game will be broadcasted on ABC.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.