COLUMBUS, OHIO – The entire Big Ten season has been leading to this: No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Ohio State. Just about everything that has come before will either be validated or forgotten.
There have been a few bumps along the way, and the biggest game on the regular-season schedule for both teams has lost some of its luster from when it looked like a potential 1-2 matchup in September.
But it is still a really big deal.
The loser cedes control of the Big Ten East title. Without that, there is no Big Ten championship, and without that, you might as well say goodbye to the College Football Playoff.
"All the goals are right in front of us," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
The first 10 games of the season for the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) seemed like preliminaries. Playing nothing but unranked teams, they haven't been nearly as dominant as expected for the first unanimous preseason No. 1 in the history of the Associated Press poll.
Still, they arrive at the make-or-break part of the season as expected and in position to repeat. With one good performance against the Spartans, all the angst about the Buckeyes goes away.
Of course, if Ohio State does not take care of business in the Horseshoe, then the skeptics can claim that the Buckeyes have, indeed, been fraudulent all along.
"I think people are still unsure of what we got," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "It's a game to go out there and show who we are and what we can do."
Michigan State (9-1, 5-1) lives in a perpetual state of proving its worth. The Spartans are 13-point underdogs.
"We're used to it around here," center Jack Allen said. "Every big game we're in, we're always expected to lose and feel like, 'Surprise a lot of people and make a lot of people look foolish.'"
The Spartans tussled into the fourth quarter with some weaker teams early in the season, needed a miracle to beat rival Michigan, and then lost at Nebraska on a debatable touchdown.
But if Michigan State, 5-1 in its past six games against top-10 teams, can beat Ohio State for the second time in three years and end another 20-plus-game Buckeyes winning streak, the blemishes will be hardly noticeable.