Coming into the 2018 season, Michigan State was responsible for 25 percent of Urban Meyer's losses at Ohio State and conceivably cost the Buckeyes a chance at two national titles.
Not Michigan, Penn State or Wisconsin. The biggest thorn in Ohio State's side have been the Spartans, who play host to the Buckeyes this Saturday for a noon showdown in East Lansing.
Dating back to 2012, Ohio State has won four of the six matchups with Michigan State, but the series had been remarkably even until last year's blowout Buckeyes victory. In Meyer and Dantonio's first five games against each other, the combined score was startling: Ohio State 121, Michigan State 120.
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Last year's result is the clear outlier. Ohio State was a week removed from its 31-point upset loss to Iowa and came into the Michigan State contest feeling particularly feisty. The Buckeyes ran for 335 yards in the 45-point win — the largest margin of defeat a Dantonio-coached team has ever suffered.
Those two losses linger, even still.
In 2013, the two teams met in the Big Ten title game and the Buckeyes, riding a nation-best 24-game winning streak, were a near-touchdown favorite. A win would've sent the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl for a BCS National Championship Game showdown against Jameis Winston and Florida State.
The Spartans stifled Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the first half, and quarterback Connor Cook sliced through a shoddy secondary to build an early 17-0 lead. The Buckeyes scored the game's next 24 points, but faded down the stretch before falling 34-24.
Two years later, Dantonio and the Spartans spoiled another undefeated Buckeyes season. This time, it came in the confines of Ohio Stadium when Meyer and the staff seemingly forgot Ezekiel Elliott was on its roster. One of the most talented teams in school history managed just 132 yards of total offense on that rainy afternoon, and Michael Geiger kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to knock off Ohio State 17-14.
Meyer has put together the first winning streak in his series against Dantonio with a closer-than-it-should've-been win in 2016 and the massacre a season ago.
Can the Buckeyes make it three in a row?
They'll have to do so against a team and coach who prioritize this matchup. A fifth of Michigan State's roster grew up in the Buckeye State, and Dantonio has always used that to his advantage in this series. Few coaches play the disrespect card better, and he showcased earlier this week how ingrained he is in this rivalry.
“In the past number of years, we’ve played basically for the championship in that game. I would say in 2015 we did and certainly in 2013 we did and it had a major impact," Dantonio said this week. "In 2014, that team that won was probably going to go to the playoffs and that’s what happened, they won the National Championship.”
Meyer has a similar respect for the Spartans.
"Obviously a big one this week against Michigan State," Meyer said. "Very strong rivalry, and we have a lot of respect for that team."
Recent history certainly suggests this game will make or break Ohio State's season. The Buckeyes come in ranked No. 10 in the recent playoff ranking, but a win over the Spartans keeps them in the race. A loss, however, would assuredly knock the Buckeyes out of playoff contention.
That's what's on the line this Saturday.