For most of this season, Ohio State was discounted as a contender in the College Football Playoff for a number of reasons. However, the Buckeyes have put everything together at just the right time, and they find themselves in a position where they could very well be in the Final Four when all is said and done.
To get there, they will have to take on a Northwestern team that is tough as nails and surely won’t let the Buckeyes waltz straight into more meaningful games to finish the season.
Ohio State is a 14-point favorite at BetOnline heading into the Big Ten Championship Game, where they hope to make one last claim to a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State ranks seventh in the nation in scoring, putting up a jaw-dropping 43.3 points per game on the season. A lot of those points came in non-conference blowouts early in the season, but they have been in rare form offensively as of late also, scoring 52 and 62 in back-to-back games for an average of 57 points per game. Chef Dwayne Haskins has been cooking up fifty-burgers left and right for an offense that should be able to blow away that of Northwestern.
The Buckeyes are 56th in the nation in rushing, averaging 181.4 yards per game. But the strength of the Ohio State offense is through the air, where the Buckeyes average 362.5 yards per game, which is behind only Washington State for the best aerial attack in the country.
If not for Tua Tagovailoa being perhaps the greatest athlete who has ever lived, there would be a lot of buzz around Dwayne Haskins’ Heisman Trophy candidacy. Haskins has over 4,000 yards passing already this season, completing a nice 69% of his passes and averaging nearly nine yards per attempt.
Defensively, the Buckeyes are 57th in the country in points allowed, giving up 25.8 points per game to their opponents this season. The concern for the Buckeyes in this game is their defense, as getting stops has been a big issue for Ohio State as of late. In their last two games, they have allowed a combined 90 points, for an average of 45 points per game against Maryland and Michigan, two teams that aren’t exactly known for lighting up the scoreboard at the highest level.
Ohio State isn’t in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings just yet, but they have a genuine shot to get there with a win in this game. A win, combined with wins by Alabama and Texas could see them easily into the top four, where they could end up with the death sentence known as a game against Alabama in the next round.
Northwestern Big 10 Championship Analysis
Northwestern is 108th in the country in scoring offense, averaging 23.7 points per game for the season. On the ground, the Wildcats rank 120th in the nation, averaging 114.8 yards per game. Through the air, they are 62nd in the country with 237 yards per game. There is no secret that if Northwestern is going to win the Big Ten title, they are going to have to rely on their defense in this game and limit the number of possessions that Ohio State gets for the game with their running game. Clayton Thorson will have to have a good game at quarterback as well.
Thorson, whose name makes him sound like a nordic god, has over 2,600 yards passing this season, but has 14 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions on the year as well. For Northwestern to have any shot in this game, he is going to have to be a more productive passer with regard to touchdowns and will have to avoid turning the ball over. It will have to be a nearly mistake-free game for the Wildcats to have a chance to pull the upset here.
But Northwestern is 29th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 21.7 points per game to their opponents. Holding Northwestern to that few points in a game is as rare as getting Urban Meyer to remember one of his scandals, but Michigan State managed it earlier this year, and it certainly isn’t impossible.
Northwestern had a three game stretch earlier this year that saw them lose to Duke, Akron, and Michigan consecutively. The fact that they are in the Big Ten title game despite all of that speaks to how resilient a team they are. They will need every bit of that resiliency if they are going to shock the world here.
Northwestern vs Ohio State Trends
Northwestern enters the biggest game of their season at 8-4 straight up on the season and 6-4-2 against the spread. Northwestern has been a covering machine in Big Ten play for a few years now, going 20-5-1 against the spread in their last 26 Big Ten games. This season, they are 4-0-1 against teams with winning records, meaning that they should be ready to play in this game as well.
Ohio State comes into the Big Ten title game at 11-1 straight up on the year and 5-7 against the spread. They are just 2-6 against the spread in their last eight overall games, as they have struggled to live up to expectations after a hot start to the season in non-conference play. But they did just blow out their biggest rivals in Michigan, and are 7-2 against the spread in their last nine neutral site games.
It would be a great story if Northwestern managed to surprise everyone and beat the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes in this game. But great stories aren’t possible without having the talent to match up with a team, and Northwestern just doesn’t look like they can keep up with an Ohio State offense that is firing on all cylinders.