When the 8-4 Northwestern Wildcats take on the 11-1 Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday night for the Big Ten Championship, quite a few people are predicting a blowout win for the Buckeyes. Vegasinsider.com has the Buckeyes as 14.5 point favorites, up from 13, which means people are loading up on Ohio State. On paper, this prediction may make sense. One of the great aspects of sports, especially college athletics, is that the games are not played on paper. The game will be decided on the field by 20ish year old college kids experiencing the full range of human emotions, sometimes all on the same play. They will be guided by slightly more emotionally stable coaches(at least in some cases) that also live and die on each play. There are three key match-ups that I think will be the major factors in deciding the 2018 Big Ten Champions.
Ohio State’s “Defense” vs. Northwestern’s “Playmakers”
The Buckeyes back seven has been atrocious most of the season. It was like watching my nieces and nephews running straight toward the ball every time, with absolutely no concept of angles and lanes. Except with my nieces and nephews I expect them to grasp that concept at some point. The Buckeyes never quite did, until they played their arch rivals. While certainly not perfect, Ohio State played a much better game on the back end against Michigan.
The million dollar question on the Ohio State side is did they play better because of the rivalry game, or because Michigan isn’t really a big play offense?
Northwestern won 7 of their last 8 games this season, and during that streak managed 30+ points 3 times. In their final 3 games, against Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois, they scored a combined 63. In the 90s, this wouldn’t be cause for concern. In the modern age of football, many games are decided in a shootout. Only two Northwestern receivers have averaged more than 13 yards per catch, and they have only combined for 27 catches on the season. Isaiah Bowser has looked impressive in his freshman campaign at running back, but the Sydney, Ohio, native is more of a grinder than a game-breaker.
Can Northwestern take advantage of the missed assignments and bad angles in the OSU back end?
I think this match-up ends up being a bit of a wash. Northwestern will exploit some mistakes, but because of an overall athletic advantage, Ohio State will limit just how damaging those plays are. I look for Northwestern to score right around 30.
OSU Run Blocking vs. Northwestern’s Run Defense
The Wildcats have played well on defense all season, and their run defense is solid. They are 32nd in the nation in yards given up per game, at 134.7. While the 4.04 yards per rush isn’t great, they do a great job of keeping teams in front of them and keeping the score low.
The Ohio State rushing offense is 4th, in the State of Ohio, and 56th in the nation. If the Buckeyes managed 10 less yards per game, they would have fallen to 5th in the Buckeye state, below Kent. However, the Buckeyes average 4.42 yards per rush, so the potential for them to be a good running team is certainly there.
There are two factors, at least in my mind, as to why Ohio State isn’t the running team of years gone by. The desire of the offensive linemen and the coaches. The coaches seem to give up on the running game relatively quickly, or are more interested in trying score immediately. The offensive linemen aren’t always on the same page trying to blow people off blocks. Much like the back end of the defense, the Buckeye linemen played well and sustained their blocks against Michigan. If they can do that against Michigan, I am confident they can do that against just about anyone. The question is the want to. I think they will want to against Northwestern.
Here I give the Buckeyes the edge and think this will be the deciding factor in the game, allowing Ohio State to score in the 40s and win the game. With one giant
Oklahoma vs. Texas, the Redux!
The Big 12 championship game is being played at noon. The playoff committee has spoken, and with the 5th ranking they gave OU, if the Sooners win, they are in. Ohio State, no matter how many times they deny it in the press conferences leading up to this game, is well aware of how important this game is to their future, providing Ohio State wins the Big Ten championship.
Of course Ohio State players and coaches really, really want to win the Big Ten Championship, regardless of playoff implications. However, there is no denying the Big 12 championship game result will play heavily on the psyche of 20ish year old kids, and their 50ish year old coaches.
The two main match-ups I am watching on the field in the Big Ten championship are OSU’s back end defense and their run blocking. A big portion of that match-up will be effort on the OSU side. Even with a Texas win, there could certainly be some emotional letdown on the Buckeye sideline. A few years back, Michigan State won the Big Ten after OSU was gift wrapped a chance to play for the national championship thanks to an improbable field goal attempt return by Auburn. Did the pressure of playing for a trip to the national championship affect OSU? Was there an emotional letdown after cheering so hard for Bama? That’s what makes this aspect of the game so magical. We really don’t know. I am certain the Bama result had AN impact, just not sure how much and which direction. Same with the OU/Texas game. It will have an impact.
On my paper, I have OSU winning 42-31. What actually happens, we’ll just have to tune in, which is why sports are glorious.
Who do you have winning the Big Ten Championship?
The Winner Of The Big Ten Football Championship Game Will Be
This poll is closed
Ohio State, because better athletes
jNW because F OSU
Northwestern because Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job and they are a really good team
No idea what you are talking about, football season ended last week, and maybe basketball season already, too. See you next year!