Big Ten Championship Game
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
#6 Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) vs. #21 Northwestern (8-4, 8-1)
8 p.m., FOX
The line: Ohio State -14
How They Got Here
In the brief history of the Big Ten Championship Game, this is the oddest collective path for both teams to reach Indianapolis. Ohio State was plagued with scandal before the season started, leading to a much scrutinized three-game suspension for Urban Meyer. Ohio State made it through those first three games (wins against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU), but the Buckeyes didn’t look right with Meyer back on the sidelines. The defense was often porous and not at all like what we had typically seen from that side of the ball in Columbus. The offense seemed to lack an identity and was unsure on how to use its many, many playmakers properly. However, the Buckeyes do what they always do- beat Michigan to win the Big Ten East and keep its playoff hopes alive. While this was supposed to finally be Michigan’s year, the Buckeyes put together their absolute best game of the season in a 62-39 spanking of the Wolverines.
Northwestern was written off early in the season after an 1-3 start that included a home loss to Akron (!!!!). But they kept reeling off wins against Big Ten West foes, as well as Michigan State and Rutgers. They clinched the division way back in week 10, and enter the game with seven consecutive Big Ten wins.
Players to Watch
QB Dwayne Haskins - Haskins will likely be in New York as a Heisman finalist after putting up incredible numbers thanks to a slew of gifted receivers at his disposal. While he’s much more of a pocket passer than you typically find in an Urban Meyer offense, Haskins had his two best rushing totals in the final two games of the season, which could be a sign of what to expect on Saturday.
RB JK Dobbins - An incredibly elusive runner who can find a way to reach the end zone on any given carry. He can be a workhorse back at times, but also seems to be forgotten about at times as well.
DE Dre’Mont Jones- A playmaking defensive tackle with the athleticism of a linebacker. Jones led the Buckeyes in sacks, TFLs and fumble recoveries while also scoring two defensive touchdowns on the season.
QB Clayton Thorson - Northwestern’s experienced senior quarterback could be the X-factor in this game. He has the ability to carry the offense with his arm when at his best, but will need to be careful with the ball. Thorson has five games with multiple interceptions in 2018- one more would almost certainly doom the Wildcats on Saturday.
DL Joe Gazino - the most destructive player for a stingy Wildcats defense, Gazino has the ability to get in Dwayne Haskins face and keep him off-rhythm throughout the game.
LB Paddy Fisher - Fisher does everything well and is a big reason why Northwestern was able to ride its defense to a division title. He is a sure tackler, can get in the backfield and create turnovers.
Ohio State Wins if...
The offense is clicking, and they get a defensive or special teams touchdown. If the Buckeyes can put up at least 30, the Wildcats won’t be able to keep pace.
Northwestern Wins if...
The defense can get to Haskins early and keep the offense out of sync, while also being opportunistic and winning the turnover margin by three or more. Also, forcing Ohio State to a field goal will each be a minor victory that can keep them in the game.
Ohio State-30 Northwestern-23
This game is a bit more tricky to predict than you would think. A big part of this has been Ohio State’s inconsistent play throughout the season. They often looked on the verge of disaster, being pounded by Purdue and then just slipping past several poor teams. Then last week they shocked Michigan and looked like a true national championship contender. You also have to consider the mental aspect for the Buckeyes. It’s never easy for a team to get back up in just one week after such an emotionally-charged game. On the other hand, Northwestern was able to clinch the division three weeks ago and was able to do what needed to be done to get past Minnesota and Illinois.
Northwestern’s defense also gives it a chance against just about any opponent. They are capable of finding a way to stymie the Buckeyes offense and staying in the game. The Wildcats don’t have an explosive offense, but could put up some big plays against an Ohio State defense that is far cry from its usual dominance.
Not much would surprise me, but I think Northwestern keeps it close but Ohio State makes the plays to seal the deal in the fourth quarter of a hard-fought battle.