SHAWN WINDSOR: MSU football in familiar spot as B1G underdog behind U-M, OSU

CAMP: MSU coach Mark Dantonio and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer talk during a camp this summer. OSU is picked to win the Big Ten East. (Courtesy photo)

CAMP: MSU coach Mark Dantonio and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer talk during a camp this summer. OSU is picked to win the Big Ten East. (Courtesy photo)

A recent preseason college football poll picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten championship. The same poll picked the Buckeyes to win it last year.

They didn’t. Michigan State did, which is easy to forget because of the Alabama loss and the 24-hour Jim Harbaugh coverage.

In any case, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s poll hasn’t accurately predicted the Big Ten champ yet. (The paper began its preseason writers’ poll when the Big Ten stopped polling writers in 2010.)

This is not a slap at the Plain Dealer. It’s a slap at the writers. Like myself. No wonder the Big Ten stopped asking us.

Then again, that’s part of the chaotic verve of college football, right? All that guessing, from year to year, from month to month, from week to week. Remember when we dismissed the Spartans’ Big Ten title chances after an early November loss to Nebraska?

Spartans fans do. They were among those dismissing.

Hey, speculation helps sustain the sport — in the NFL, by contrast, it’s gambling and fantasy leagues.

But back to the issue at hand: Who is going to win the Big Ten title?

Easy.

How am I supposed to know?

If I had to guess, I’d say Michigan, because, you know, who has it better than them? Also: defense. U-M has a very good one returning.

Yet picking the Wolverines means believing they can survive in Columbus and in East Lansing. Both of those games seem like a toss-up.

As for the poll, it’s not hard to understand why the Plain Dealer settled on the Buckeyes, even though the program lost 12 players to the NFL draft, including 10 in the first three rounds, and even though only six total starters return.

It’s all about talent, and Urban Meyer’s ability to stockpile it. He has recruited almost as well as Nick Saban in the past several years. But beyond the assumption that Meyer simply will plug in more future pros for the pros that just left, there is J.T. Barrett.

The returning quarterback, who should be the league’s most gifted offensive player. U-M and MSU, meanwhile, must replace their starting QBs.

Of the 39 voters who participated, 27 choose OSU and 11 picked the Wolverines to win it — Iowa got the other vote. This is a good reminder of our default setting when it comes to the Big Ten … it’s still about Michigan and Ohio State.

Remember that the Spartans should be much better in the secondary and will have linebackers as good as anyone in the conference. MSU employs the most gifted defensive lineman around — Malik McDowell — who will guide a bevy of explosive young players in that position group.

MSU has running backs, tight ends and added a few playmakers on the outside of its offense. Yet few give them a chance because Connor Cook graduated and the offensive line lost three starters, two of whom were All-Americans.

So why do we think U-M will replace its underrated quarterback and compete for a national title and MSU won’t?

History.

And the fact that we still aren’t sure MSU is a program.

The Spartans may well lose to OSU and U-M — both games are in East Lansing — and very easily could lose to Notre Dame, too. If they win every other game, including a bowl game, MSU would finish 10-3.

Is that taking a step back? Especially if the OSU and U-M games are close losses?

The truth is that we expect the Spartans to beat most of the teams on their schedule now. We just aren’t ready to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to OSU and U-M, even when all three teams have plenty of questions to answer.

MSU should be good enough to knock off one of the big three on its schedule. U-M and OSU should be good enough to knock off everyone and win it all. As always, it will come down to a few plays.

We don’t need a poll to tell us that.

Contact Shawn Windsor: (313) 222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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