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Championship Aspirations | Ohio State vs. Northwestern Matchup Preview

Photo courtesy of Aaron Doster – USA Today Sports

It’s that time of year again for the Ohio State Buckeyes, the seemingly annual trip over to Lucas Oil Stadium is upon us. Just two years ago we saw the Dwayne Haskins led team finish their two-peat of the B1G Championship and today we have a chance to see history, with a familiar foe standing in the way.

That’s right, Ohio State will be looking for its 4th consecutive outright B1G title, something that has never been done in the conference’s storied history. It’s tough to put into words how much the Buckeyes have asserted their dominance since the conference moved to the championship game model, so I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

Heading into the 10th year of the championship game’s existence, Ohio State will be making it’s 6th appearance (won the Leaders division in 2012 but the team was serving a postseason ban in the wake of “Tattoo-gate” so Wisconsin was the next eligible option) on Saturday. In the previous 5 showings, even with a 10 point loss, the Buckeyes are +17.8 points per game against their opponents. Ohio State also owns the largest margin of victory with the infamous 59-0 beatdown of the Badgers in 2014.

It’s clear to see that the team out of Columbus, Ohio has been the cream of the crop in the conference for years, and they will look to continue that trend against the Wildcats of Northwestern. As I mentioned earlier, this game will be a rematch of the 2018 B1G Championship game in which the Buckeyes came away with a 45-24 win. I think this game holds much larger implications than that iteration, beyond even the four-peat.

This season has been especially confusing for the College Football Playoff Committee due to the extenuating circumstance that is COVID-19. COVID has caused problems every step of the way this fall, and arguably the Big 10 has been tripped up the most. Starting with Commissioner Kevin Warren’s premature decision to cancel the season and leading to the conference’s ultimate decision to amend the 6-game eligibility rule that was initially instituted, it’s been a dumpster fire.

Thankfully, the B1G made the correct decision, and is allowing the undefeated and consensus best team in the East division to compete for the conference title. The team will be taking on a very good rendition of the Wildcats, boasting a 6-1 record and the 14th spot in the CFP rankings.

Pat Fitzgerald is one of the more underrated coaches in the country in my eyes, and what he’s been able to put together this season is nothing short of special. A nearly 50/50 offense run by veteran transfer from Indiana Peyton Ramsey has proven a great gameplan for the roster, keeping the team in close games. That’s where the defense comes in, and they’ve done their part outside of a terrible loss to Michigan State. This team won’t put up many points and they haven’t allowed many thus far this season, but Ohio State is without question the most explosive offense that Fitzgerald’s team will see.

Justin Fields had a great week against the Spartans, and much of his impact came outside of the box score. Whether it be the downfield block he made on Trey Sermon’s touchdown run or his ability to be patient and not force the ball into poor situations, it’s been impossible to overstate his impact on the team. In that game, we also saw the rushing attack take off for a season high 322 yards. The running game was a key factor in the Buckeyes success last season, and the glimpse that was shown against Michigan State lends to the idea that we could see that same level of impact on a slightly smaller scale.

The defense also came up huge in Ryan Day’s absence, playing their best game of the season by far. I expect that improvement to continue into this game against a team that tends to lack big play potential at the level of a team like Indiana. The run defense has been elite all year, and forcing Northwestern to play from behind early could lead to many coaching opportunities for Kerry Coombs’ secondary. The Wildcats aren’t a bye week by any stretch, but this one seems pretty straightforward to me for the Buckeyes.

Win and you’re in.

As nice as it is to be able to claim Big 10 Champion status, this program and these players have bigger things on their minds. That being the College Football Playoff. The team has positioned itself as well as possible given the circumstances, and a win on Saturday almost assures the opportunity to avenge last year’s Fiesta Bowl debacle.

This Ohio State team will come out fired up, looking to cement themselves squarely inside of the College Football Playoff. Northwestern will fight, and they may be able to stay in the game at points throughout the first half but the Buckeyes will pull away at some point and it will get ugly.

I’m not sure that we will see a legendary performance circa the 59-0 game in 2014, but I don’t think this one will be anywhere within the 20 point spread.

Ohio State 51, Northwestern 16

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