Ohio State has long been one of the most dominant teams in the Big Ten, and it has maintained that position since Urban Meyer took over the program in 2012. Still, as dominant as it has been, you might be surprised to learn that the Buckeyes have only won two Big Ten titles in Meyer’s first six seasons. The first came during the 2014 season when the Buckeyes went on to win the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes returned to Indianapolis for the first time since then last season, beating Wisconsin 27-21 for their second Big Ten title under Meyer, but they missed out on the College Football Playoff.
Now the Buckeyes are back and find themselves in a similar position. They’ll be facing a Northwestern team that took an unusual route to Indianapolis. The Wildcats finished the season 8-4, going 8-1 in Big Ten play to win the West Division, becoming the first team in Power Five history to win their division despite going winless in nonconference play.
If Northwestern is to win the Big Ten this year it will have to do something else you don’t see very often: beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes have dominated this series, going 61-14-1 in the first 76 meetings and they’ve won 30 of the last 31 meetings.
Ohio State: Ohio State played its best game of the season last week against Michigan, crushing its rival 62-39. As impressive as the victory was, however, it only moved the Buckeyes to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, behind both Georgia and Oklahoma. So if Ohio State wants to reach the playoff this season, it not only needs to beat Northwestern but will have to do so in highly-impressive fashion. This can’t be a close, tough victory. The Buckeyes will need to treat the Wildcats the same way they treated the Wolverines last week.
Northwestern: Way back on Sept. 16, Northwestern blew a 21-3 lead to Akron and lost to the Zips 39-34 after allowing Akron to score two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Can you imagine if somebody told you after that game that this same Wildcats team would go 8-1 in Big Ten play and end up in Indianapolis? As preposterous as it may have seemed then, though, it’s the reality now. The Wildcats have made a habit out of playing close games this season, never winning or losing by more than 14. While the formula might not be pretty, it’s worked for them all season long. Now they’re hoping that following it for just one more week will result in a Big Ten championship.
Game prediction, picks
Northwestern is a great story and it’s a much better team than the one we saw in September. Still, it’s benefitted from a down season in the Big Ten, and it hasn’t faced a task as tough as the one it’s getting in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes advantages in this game are everywhere, and with the extra motivation of a possible playoff berth, I’m fully expecting Ohio State to come out with a performance similar to what we saw last week. Pick: Ohio State -14.5
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