Month: September 2019

It isn’t nearly as important or anticipated as the final, but Saturday’s third-place match is good enough to be a World Cup final. It pits pre-tournament favorite Brazil against the Netherlands, which put up one of the two most impressive performances of the World Cup in routing defending champion Spain, 5-1, in the group stage.Brazil vs. the Netherlands, 4 p.m. EDTIN BRIEFSee our World Cup predictions for the latest probabilities.IN DEPTHThe other most impressive World Cup performance was Germany’s 7-1 semifinal rout of Brazil, which is the reason the hosts have to play in this warmup act. Although the score was embarrassing, the outcome — a shot at third place —  wasn’t so bad. Brazil lost to one of the best teams in the world and improved on its quarterfinal exits in the past two Cups. Spain, which flamed out (like some other defending champions), had a far worse tournament. By reaching the semifinal stage, Brazil guaranteed fans two more matches featuring its national team. And other World Cup hosts have played in the third-place match, most recently Germany in 2006 and South Korea in 2002.In the Netherlands, Brazil has a worthy opponent. The Dutch have played in more finals than any other side to never win the Cup, a streak that will continue after their Wednesday loss to Argentina on penalty kicks. Now they can set their sights on a more modest goal: finishing third for the first time in their World Cup history.OK, so the stakes are low and the match is being belittled as a “pointless sideshow” or “meaningless exercise.” But a match between these two teams doesn’t need high stakes to be watchable.Without star striker Neymar and captain Thiago Silva, Brazil wasn’t as good in the semifinal as its top ranking in ESPN’s Soccer Power Index suggested. But it was nowhere near as bad as it looked against Germany. Now Brazil will have Silva back to help shore up its battered defense and to rally supporters behind his teammates.The Netherlands, meanwhile, is coming off an embarrassing performance of a different sort. At least Brazil scored against Germany, while getting off 18 other attempts in 90 minutes. The Dutch, though, took just seven shots in 120 minutes against Argentina in their seminal match, and just one forced a save.The silver lining of a low-stakes match is that neither team should feel pressure to play safe. If these two offenses — still rated two of the four best in the world by SPI — decide to attack, that should make for a great show, even if it is of the pointless-sideshow variety.OFF THE PITCHThe Brazilians and the Dutch both had heartbreaking losses this week, but at least they can go to each other for consolation. The countries’ relationship is strong, dating to the days of the Dutch West India Company. Back then, when the extent of contact was months-long journeys by sea, trade was the only real connection. But times have changed, and travel between the two nations now consists of a 12-hour plane ride, meaning more opportunity to visit for pleasure. So how many Dutch and Brazilian citizens take advantage of this?According to the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, about 102,000 Brazilians visited the land of tulips in 2011, and Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism reports that 72,162 Dutch traveled the opposite direction in the same year. When adjusted for each country’s total population, those travelers make up just 0.4 percent of Dutch citizens and .05 percent of Brazilians. Travel may be easier than it was in the 17th century, but it looks like 12 hours may still be a bit much to endure. — Hayley MunguiaFURTHER READINGCould the World Cup Champion Beat the Best Club Team in the World?U.S. vs. Belgium Was the Best Match of the World Cup So FarMessi Is Better Than Maradona, But Maybe Not PeleHow Does Germany’s Blowout of Brazil Compare to Those in Other Sports? read more

Two of the league’s worst and less-interesting teams — the DetroitPistons and Charlotte Bobcats – consummated a trade that hardly will alter the fate of their respective teams.Guard Ben Gordon, who never fit in Detroit, was shipped with a future first-round pick to the Bobcats for nomad forward Corey Maggette.“We welcome Corey Maggette to our organization in a transaction that provides us with a veteran scorer and defender in addition to increased roster flexibility moving forward,” said Joe Dumars, President of Basketball Operations. “We thank Ben Gordon for his commitment to our organization over the last three years and wish him the best in the future.”Gordon, 29, averaged 12.5 points and 2.4 assists in 26.9 minutes per game last season. He is on the books for $12.4 million in 2012-13 and has a player option worth $13.2 million for 2013-14.Maggette, 32, averaged 15.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game, although he appeared in less than half of Charlotte’s games because of injury. Maggette is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $10.9 million. Detroit makes the sixth team he has played for in his career.The Bobcats actually acquired Maggette in a 3-team trade involving the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings on the night of the 2011 NBA Draft. He didn’t last long. His merry-go-around figures to continue swinging after a brief stay in Detroit. read more

Marcus Lattimore, the South Carolina running back who suffered one of the more gruesome leg injuries on a football field last fall, demonstrated to NFL scouts how far he has come since his surgery on his mangled right knee.“I was a little nervous,” Lattimore told reporters after his workout. “But excited, too, that I could do this.”Lattimore executed a series of drills to show evaluators from 31 NFL teams how far his surgically repaired knee is doing since the horrifying incident on Oct. 27 against the Tennessee Volunteers. He did forward and backward lunges, deep-knee bends, box jumps, step-ups and one-legged balancing drills while holding weights. All pretty remarkable considering the extent of his injury five months ago.Lattimore was praised by former teammates and evaluators, but he still has a significant way to go in his rehabilitation to be considered healthy.“They’ve seen me move a little bit. They’ve seen me use my feet, use my knee,” Lattimore said. “My knee’s fine. I think everything is going to be all right.”Five months ago Lattimore could not be as confident as he was on Wednesday about his future. He was amid another outstanding season for the Gamecocks after returning from a left-knee injury during his sophomore season.But in the second quarter of their game against the Volunteers, he was tackled at the end of a run in a way that caused his leg to contort. The result of tackle was a dislocated knee and several torn ligaments, which was a gruesome sight, his leg flailing limp. Trainers would not even allow him to see the carnage of his injury, forcing them to hold his head and chest down.“Oh my gosh, you thought it was over,” Gamecocks former receiver Ace Sanders said. “What’s he’s done shows the kind of person he is.”Lattimore, who was a projected first-round draft pick, says now that he is not concerned about where he will be drafted, just as long as he gets a phone call from an NFL team.South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he was impressed with Lattimore’s workout, considering the extent of his injuries.Lattimore will not hold a personal pro day as he planned in January. He will allow his meetings with teams at the NFL combine and the Gamecocks pro day, along with reports from renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews be teams determining factor.He will have his knee examined by NFL personnel in Indianapolis on April 5-6, and has meetings planned with St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots. Lattimore has already met with the Eagles.“Once I get on a team, I’ll prove myself and prove that I’m a complete back,” Lattimore said. “I’ll be in full health, so I’ll be good to go.” read more

Barry Bonds’ plaque used to be in the outlined area.The commemorative plaque honoring home run king Barry Bonds’ record 756th clout is  missing from AT&T Park in San Francisco.Giants spokeswoman Staci Slaughter said Tuesday night that the reigning World Series champions are in the process of replacing the plaque, which hung on the brick facade inside the ballpark beneath the flag court area in right-center field until a few days ago. The team is investigating where the missing hardware might be, Slaughter said.“We’re in the process of replacing it,” Slaughter said. “We’re not sure what happened. We’re reviewing video, but haven’t found anything yet.”There is still white glue on the brick wall where the plaque used to be.Bonds, the seven-time NL MVP, broke Hank Aaron’s home run record on Aug. 7, 2007, at home in San Francisco. The slugger hasn’t played since that season, finishing his 22-year major league career with 762 total home runs. He has been back to the ballpark as a fan in recent seasons, receiving standing ovations from the crowd that still cheers him despite allegations he used performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his pursuit of Aaron’s mark.Bonds long has denied ever knowingly using steroids or performance-enhancing drugs and the 48-year-old slugger appealed his obstruction of justice conviction from April 2011 on one count of giving an evasive answer to a 2003 grand jury investigating illegal steroids distribution.In February, a lawyer for Bonds urged a federal appeals court to toss out the slugger’s obstruction of justice conviction, saying a rambling answer he gave while testifying before a grand jury in December 2003 was not a crime. read more

Friday’s France-Switzerland tilt represents a battle for first place in Group E, as both teams are tied with three points after winning their first matches. But though the winner will be in the driver’s seat for advancement, the stakes aren’t especially high for the loser either.Italy vs. Costa Rica: 12 p.m. EDTFrance vs. Switzerland: 3 p.m. EDTEcuador vs. Honduras: 6 p.m. EDTIn briefIN DEPTHAs things stand, France has a 91.8 percent chance of getting into the knockout stage of the tournament, and the Swiss check in at 80.9 percent. Ecuador and Honduras — who make up the rest of Group E and also face off Friday — lag far behind, at 20.3 and 7.1 percent, respectively.Honduras has a bleak outlook, mainly because they are the second-worst team in the World Cup field, according to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI). But Ecuador, according to SPI, is essentially Switzerland’s equal; the only difference in its advancement probabilities stems from Switzerland’s thrilling added-time victory over Ecuador on Sunday. For Ecuador, it was the one that got away; without that win, the model projects Ecuador to amass only 2.8 points within the group — they’re likely to beat Honduras but will be clear underdogs against France.Meanwhile, if Switzerland loses to France on Friday, the Swiss would still project to finish second in the group, because the meek Honduran squad is their only remaining hurdle. In fact, if the Swiss lose to France, Ecuador beats Honduras, and Switzerland only earns a draw against Honduras (an unlikely outcome), the Swiss would still be expected to advance over Ecuador by a slim margin — unless Ecuador beats France (or draws and posts a better goal differential than Switzerland). In other words, there are a lot of ways the Swiss can get out of Group E that don’t depend on them picking up points against France.The situation playing out in Group D, where Italy will face Costa Rica at noon Friday, is superficially similar. Like France and Switzerland, Costa Rica and Italy won their first matches of the tournament. Neither team’s odds of advancement are quite as high as its counterparts in Group E, though, mainly because there are no weak sides like Honduras to pick up easy points against. Costa Rica is the worst SPI team in the group, and it ranks 25th in the world.Whoever loses will have a fighting chance against Uruguay to qualify for the knockout round in the group’s second position. But that’s nowhere near as favorable a spot as the France-Switzerland loser will be sitting in after the day’s action ends.YesterdayLuis Suarez and Wayne Rooney prompted many questions before Thursday’s Group D showdown between Uruguay and England. Would Suarez, who missed Uruguay’s loss to Costa Rica in its World Cup opener because of knee surgery, be match-fit for 90 minutes in a must-win game? Could Rooney, whose performance against Italy brought his place in England’s lineup into question, break his career World Cup scoring drought?Those questions were answered in Sao Paulo.Suarez hadn’t played since May 11, but there was no evidence of rust. Of his four shots, two were on target — both goals. The latter goal, breaking a tie in the 85th minute, virtually ensured England’s second-consecutive loss in the tournament’s group stage, something England hadn’t experienced since 1950.Uruguay beat a European team at the World Cup for the first time in 16 matches since 1970, but don’t blame Rooney. He got off four shots, including two on goal and another that hit the post. Rooney found his World Cup breakthrough with a 75th-minute equalizer. The goal took him 10 World Cup matches — 758 minutes of play.England’s 78.1 pass completion percentage ranked in the bottom 35 percent of all teams in this World Cup, but it was easily the best in this game. Uruguay posted the worst completion percentage by a winning team in a World Cup win since at least the 1966 tournament (the start of ESPN Stats & Info’s data set). Uruguay’s 59.2 pass completion percentage against England was the only team performance in a game below 65 percent at this tournament.Other attacking and possession statistics favored England, including second-half touches in the attacking third (89 to Uruguay’s 57). The biggest stats, however, belonged to Suarez: two shots on target, two goals, 2-1 to Uruguay. — ESPN Stats & Info GroupOFF THE PITCHAs neighbors, France and Switzerland have a lot more in common than a World Cup match. Given their proximity, it makes sense that there would be population overlap. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data from 2009 shows that Switzerland has provided over twice the amount of nationals living in France than the other way around; there were 90,551 Swiss nationals living in France and 42,862 French nationals living in Switzerland. But given the population of each country, the French living in Switzerland make up five times the share of Swiss who made the opposite trek.There is one caveat to that data: Things have gotten icy between the two countries since it was compiled. In December 2012, France’s president, François Hollande, announced that wealthy French residents of Switzerland would have to pay French taxes and Swiss taxes, which one Swiss politician called a “declaration of war.” It’s unclear how this spat has affected migration between the countries, but it’s safe to say that the two nations are no longer as chummy as they once were. — Hayley MunguiaFURTHER READINGWe’re Telling England There’s a Chance!Defending World Cup Champions Keep Flaming OutCORRECTION (June 20, 10:05 a.m.): A previous version of the chart in this article showed the incorrect proportion of France’s projected 53 percent win. read more

4Q49.348.846.4 2Q49.855.256.3 Is the Beard at risk of burning out?James Harden’s effective field goal percentage by quarter James Harden’s style of offense isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some fans feel like his trademark stepback move is a travel the vast majority of the time he does it. Some knock his tendency to draw fouls, sometimes fooling referees into giving him free throws when he barrels toward the rim.But whatever you feel about the reigning league MVP, he’s putting together a solid case this season to win the award for a second time. Harden has compiled video-game numbers lately, averaging 42 points, 8.4 rebounds and 9.7 assists since the calendar flipped to 2019. And his Houston club — which struggled badly out of the gate and has watched just about every one of Harden’s teammates fall victim to the injury bug — is now 14-4 over its last 18 games.But Harden’s incredible play raises an important question: Can the 29-year-old realistically keep up what has been a near-historic one-man show without burning out during the NBA playoffs?That dilemma is a ways off, though. For the time being, the Rockets have to be thrilled with the production they’ve gotten from Harden, who scored 57 points in Monday’s win over Memphis. He has notched 30 points or more in 17 straight games, the longest streak since the merger in 1976.The Rockets star has long been a statistical outlier, but this season has brought some eye-popping metrics, even when judged against Harden’s lofty standards. He leads the league in points per game and is scoring 5 more on average than the No. 2 scorer, Steph Curry. And he drives to the basket an NBA-high 20 times per game. The Beard averages a league-high 37 minutes per night1Tied with Washington’s Bradley Beal. and has launched 512 3-pointers, almost 13 per game — the most in the NBA.But Harden’s craziest offensive number, and perhaps the one that’s most concerning, is his 691 direct isolation plays (a 1-on-1 play that ends with a shot, turnover or foul).2Specifically, 1-on-1 plays where the ball-handler shoots, gets fouled, turns the ball over or makes a pass that produces a shot attempt within one dribble of the catch. That’s more than any other NBA team has had so far this season. Once more for emphasis: According to stat-tracking database Second Spectrum, Harden all by himself has gone 1-on-1 more than any team’s full roster, combined, has.Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets have resorted to having Harden isolate more, with both Chris Paul and Eric Gordon out of the lineup, but all that 1-on-1 play can be super draining. And that could be one reason that Harden’s shooting percentages have been falling considerably during games. (In particular, in fourth quarters, he’s shooting just 47.4 percent3Down from 62.7 percent in the first, 57.1 percent in the second and 56.5 percent in the third. from the restricted area — perhaps a sign that he’s fatigued and not getting enough lift to finish shots over taller players.)During the 2016-17 campaign, Harden dominated much like he has this season before ultimately burning out and having one of the most lifeless series-ending showings ever for a star player. In fact, the lefty has seen quarter-by-quarter declines in his efficiency numbers each of the past three seasons. 3Q54.753.455.1 quarter2016-172017-182018-19 1Q54.1%57.7%56.9% Sources: NBA, NBA Advanced Stats Although it might seem too early to start talking about burnout, it’s worth noting that Harden’s degree of single-handed dominance is approaching 2016-17 Russell Westbrook levels. Harden has a current usage rate of 39.9 percent, down slightly from the NBA-record 41.7 percent mark that Westbrook posted after Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City to join the Warriors.The problem is that players who log usage rates that high in the regular season generally don’t enjoy much playoff success. In fact, no player who had a regular-season usage rate of 35 percent or higher has ever won an NBA championship in that season. And of the players with the seven highest single-season usage rates, none made it out of the first round of the postseason in those years.4Not counting Harden. DeMarcus Cousins failed to reach the postseason in 2016-17, and Westbrook failed to get there in 2014-15.Even if the Rockets did want to limit Harden’s usage before the playoffs, Houston is running out of other players to use — at least at the moment. The team lost yet another weapon on Sunday, when Clint Capela damaged his right thumb ligament. He’ll now miss 4 to 6 weeks.Capela’s absence, on top of Paul’s, is a huge blow. The Harden-Paul-Capela trio was essentially unbeatable last season, and the Rockets went 42-3 in the regular season when that lineup took the court. Without those two or Gordon, Harden has no choice but to go out with guns blazing. In the three games this season in which Harden scored fewer than 20 points, the Rockets lost by a whopping 18, 19 and 27 points.D’Antoni’s teams have long been top-heavy, and that flaw has reared its ugly head come playoff time. But now, the thin nature of the Rockets’ roster is showing itself in January, and it’s putting even more strain on an MVP who’s already carrying a historic amount of weight on his back.Check out our latest NBA predictions. read more

At the Warzycha dinner table, soccer is rarely discussed. Still, the sport remains a way of life for the family of five. Ohio State midfielder Konrad Warzycha didn’t start playing organized soccer until he was 8 years old, but it is no surprise that the game came naturally to him. His father, Robert, played professionally for 18 seasons, overseas and later for the Columbus Crew, where he currently serves as the team’s head coach. “Everything that I know and how I play is based on how he’s taught me,” Konrad said about his father. “From an early age, he’s always helped out as a coach on my club teams and always given me advice, and I always look to him for advice.” Konrad was born in Poland and lived in both England and Hungary by the time he was 8 years old. It was not until Robert joined the Crew for the team’s inaugural season in 1996 that Konrad began playing organized soccer in a recreational league in Dublin, Ohio. “In England there really wasn’t a team for younger kids and in Hungary I went to an all-Polish school and didn’t know many people who played,” Konrad said. “My parents didn’t really know how to go about signing me up for a league.” Konrad picked up the game quickly and joined a club team, Blast Futbol Club, in 1998. At Dublin Jerome High School, Konrad was twice named team MVP, and was a first-team All-Ohio selection as a senior in 2006. Konrad is the oldest of Robert and Eliza Warzycha’s three children, but his younger siblings have also found success on the soccer field. His brother, Bartosz, 20, played a collegiate season at Marshall University, while his sister, Olivia, 18, was a 2009 All-Ohio selection her senior year at Dublin Jerome. Despite his family’s ties to the game, Konrad insists that soccer is not what defines his family and that the game is rarely discussed in the Warzycha household. “Sure, it’s something that we have in common, but we don’t really talk about it much at home. We just talk about regular family stuff,” Konrad said. OSU men’s soccer coach John Bluem had been a friend of Robert’s even before Konrad came to OSU and said he sees similarities in the father and son’s style of play. “His father was known for his powerful right-footed shot, and Konrad has that same kind of strength and power in his right-footed shot,” Bluem said. Konrad’s senior season at OSU has gotten off to a fast start, as he leads the team in both goals and total points, with four and eight, respectively. He is 47th on TopDrawerSoccer.com’s rankings of the top collegiate players in the nation. “He’s off to a very good start,” Bluem said. “He’s a very physically dominating player, with great size, strength and speed. He’s great on the ball and a very good passer. Also, he has the ability to score goals,” Bluem said. “I think he has some more goals in him.” The Buckeyes (5-2-1) opened conference play with a 1-0 win over Michigan, a trend Konrad hopes will continue as Big Ten play wears on. “Our goal is to win the Big Ten regular-season title and then make it to at least the third round of the NCAA championships,” Konrad said. “Last year we got a high seed and then didn’t really show up for our first game.” Bluem said accomplishing those goals will have a lot to do with Konrad’s play on the field. “We hope he just continues to play well for us and do the things that he does best,” he said. “He’s a heck of a player, and I think he has a future in soccer after college.” If it were up to Konrad, that future would happen in America, as opposed to returning overseas. “I definitely want to see if I can play here first because we’ve been here for so long,” he said. “This is where my family is.” read more

A late surge was not enough for the No. 8 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team against Notre Dame Wednesday. The team lost for the second time this season, 9-4, against the No. 3-ranked Fighting Irish in South Bend, Ind. After an early first period goal from sophomore attacker Reegan Comeault that tied the game, 1-1, the Buckeyes failed to find the back of the net again until the beginning of the fourth quarter. In the meantime, the Notre Dame scored five goals of its own to take a 6-1 lead into the fourth quarter. Despite an OSU comeback that saw three goals within six minutes, the Buckeyes could not dig themselves out of their hole, as the Fighting Irish scored a goal after each of OSU’s to end the game, 9-4. OSU was outshot by Notre Dame 42-27 on the day, an opponent season high. The Buckeyes’ four goals against the Fighting Irish marked a season low for the typically high-scoring offense. Before Wednesday, OSU hadn’t scored less than seven goals in a game since March 3, 2012, against Penn State, when the Buckeyes lost, 5-2. Senior attacker Logan Schuss added to his point streak of 52 games with an assist to sophomore midfielder Jesse King with five minutes remaining in the game. The road loss comes after OSU upset then-No. 9 Virginia, 11-10, on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. Junior midfielder Michael Italiano was named Eastern College Athletic Conference specialist of the week on Monday for his performance against the Cavaliers with eight ground balls. Italiano had five more against the Irish Wednesday. OSU split its string of four games against top-10 teams, 2-2, bringing the team’s overall record to 5-2. The Buckeyes are set to play against Bellarmine on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Louisville, Ky., before they return home to host the defending national champion, No. 6 Loyola Maryland, a week later. read more

Freshman forward Nichelle Prince (7) looks for a shot during a match against Indiana Sept. 26 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU won, 3-1.Credit: Ryan Robey / For The LanternAfter tallying just two goals in its last two games, the Ohio State women’s soccer team netted two goals in the first 18 minutes en route to a 3-1 win over Indiana.The Hoosiers surrendered all three scores before halftime Thursday, allowing one more goal than they had in all of their previous matches of the season combined.“It says a lot about how hard our forwards have worked to get to that point,” Buckeye junior forward Kayla Varner said. “We’ve been working hard, going into practice early, getting shots off. It felt rewarding, I was happy about it.”Varner opened the scoring for the Buckeyes in the fourth minute, scoring on a cross from senior midfielder Danica Wu.“Danica had an awesome cross, and I just happened to be there and finish it,” Varner said.Wu would also be in on OSU’s second goal, getting a ball through to sophomore forward Michela Paradiso, who found the back of the net in the 18th minute to give the Buckeyes the 2-0 advantage.“I’m proud of the way that we got in, and the variety that we are creating in our attack,” coach Lori Walker said. “I thought that worked out pretty well for us.”With just five minutes left in the half, the Buckeyes struck again. Freshman defender Taylor Schissler found fellow freshman midfielder Alexis Degler on a long ball, finishing from short range to put the Buckeyes up 3-0.“In the first half, we played really solid. We only had five shots and scored three goals, so we were efficient in what we did,” Walker said.Degler’s goal marked the second time this season three different Buckeyes scored in a single game.“The most important thing is that we had three different people getting on the board tonight. I think it’s good after losing (graduated forward) Tiffany Cameron … she carried a lot of our goals last year,” senior goalkeeper Rachel Middleman said. “It’s awesome that we got some people up on the board tonight.”Indiana would not get on the board until the 66th minute, getting a scoring strike from junior midfielder Abby Smith to get the previously unbeaten Hoosiers on the board. Ohio State outshot the Hoosiers 7-6 in the second half, but the Buckeyes were not happy with their performance.“I’m proud of us that we won, I’m proud of us in the first half, but the second half does not represent the kind of soccer that we want to play,” Walker said.The Buckeyes (7-1-2) are scheduled to host Purdue Sunday at the Bert L. & Iris S. Wolstein Field at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at 1 p.m. read more

Junior wide receiver Devin Smith (9) dives into the end zone during The Game Nov. 30 at Michigan Stadium. OSU won, 42-41.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorUrban Meyer has won every game since taking the reigns at Ohio State, but it was one game in particular that stood out.The team has ripped off 24 straight victories since Meyer took over, including 16 in the Big Ten but it wasn’t until OSU’s first conference victory under Meyer that his presence seemed to be truly felt.That win came Sept. 29, 2012, when the Buckeyes traveled to East Lansing, Mich., and beat Michigan State 17-16.It was a game Meyer and his players mention often, the crossroads of what has now become the nation’s longest winning streak.“Last year, it was a big turning point for us,” OSU junior wide receiver Devin Smith said Monday. “I felt like after that game, the team started to get a little closer, the leadership started to grow and got a lot stronger and led the team to keep winning ball games and be 12-0.”The Buckeyes used the momentum gained from earning their first big win on the road to run the table in 2012, never really facing a challenge for much of the rest of the season.Saturday, OSU and the Spartans meet again — this time with the 2013 Big Ten Championship on the line and for the Buckeyes, a likely berth in the BCS National Title game.A 2012 NCAA-imposed postseason bowl ban kept the Buckeyes home last December, but now with it all back in play, it’s the Spartans who once again stand in their way of getting to their ultimate goal.Redshirt-senior Corey Linsley said it “absolutely” is ironic that the same team OSU beat to turn their 2012 season in the right direction now could keep it from getting a chance to play for the crystal ball.“We were just talking about (that) in the weight room the other day. Everything changed last year for us (after beating the Spartans),” Linsley said Monday. “And now everything’s on the line for us … I’m sure they want to get us. They feel like they maybe should have won that game.”Against the Spartans last season, OSU took the lead late in the third quarter when then-sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller connected with then-sophomore Smith on a 63-yard strike that proved to be the game winner. It was Miller’s only touchdown of the game, but helped catapult his team to victory and on to an undefeated season.Meyer said he’s studied and learned a lot from that game, but this year’s Buckeye team is better than it was a year ago.“I learned quite a bit,” Meyer said Monday. “They were very good (last season). We were not very good. I’m not taking anything away from Michigan State because they are excellent. But we’re a much better offense than we were a year ago, but that was a street fight last year.”Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said during Sunday’s Big Ten teleconference there was one big thing that stuck out about last year’s loss at home to OSU.“I’d say missed opportunities,” Dantonio said. “We hit a trick play down I think to the 5-yard line but were misaligned, which resulted in a penalty. Came back the next play, hit a deep crosser and dropped the ball. We get a fumble recovered where we scooped it and scored. They blew the whistle or something and it didn’t count, so we ended up driving partly down the field and having to settle for a field goal rather than a touchdown. So opportunities like that, we had the lead briefly in the fourth quarter, I believe, or third quarter, I believe, and they hit a deep one to Devin Smith.”The intensity and magnitude of the game with the Spartans coupled with the chance to play for the BCS title caused Linsley and a few of his teammates on the offensive line do something they aren’t used to once they got back from Ann Arbor Saturday night: take a dip in the cold tubs.“I don’t think I’ve ever done that before after a game,” Norwell said. “The level of focus that that gave us, it was a moment of intensity there for a second, but now it’s a level of focus that our dream is here. The chase is real.”The journey Meyer has taken OSU on since he came to Columbus seems to have come full circle — all the way from the turning point in the form of last season’s win against Michigan State, to now.“That’s one of the interesting things about college football. Everything I guess just kind of comes back,” sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said Monday. “That was a big game for us last year, and that was a dog fight and I expect it’s going to be a dog fight this weekend too. It’s going to be a big game. They’ve really got a good defense and their offense has been hitting their stride lately so Buckeyes gotta play Buckeyes football.”OSU looks to fulfill a goal of capturing a Big Ten Championship when it takes on the Spartans Saturday, scheduled for a 8:17 p.m. kickoff at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. read more