It had been the most difficult of seasons for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Prior to hosting Michigan in the regular-season finale, the Buckeyes did not look like a championship-level team despite having won 10 of their first 11 games.
They had been blown out in their only loss to Purdue, had struggled in beating a below-average Nebraska team and had allowed 51 points in a narrow victory at Maryland.
The season had been marked by inconsistency—at least by Ohio State standards—and Michigan was coming into Ohio Stadium as a favorite in their annual battle. The Wolverines had the best defense in the country and were determined to end a six-game losing streak to the Buckeyes.
It all may have looked like it would line up in Michigan's favor, but that only lasted until kickoff. Ohio State rolled once again, crushing Michigan by a 62-39 margin.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was clearly thrilled with the way the game played out.
"Extremely proud of our players, the way they fought through it," Meyer said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "And like someone was saying, nothing's ever good enough. And obviously some adversity earlier in the year—not some, big-time adversity. And to come back against your rival and play like that, that's a focused team that loves each other and cares about each other."
The win means that the Buckeyes are still alive for the Big Ten Championship and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State and Northwestern will meet in the Big Ten title game Saturday in Indianapolis.
The Buckeyes (11-1) certainly would have a big advantage over the Wildcats if they can come close to matching the way they played against Michigan.
However, consistency has been a factor for Meyer's team, and Northwestern has shown quite a bit of resiliency under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
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Ohio State is certainly the more athletic and explosive team, and the Buckeyes have far more speed on the perimeter than the Wildcats. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has had a remarkable season, as he threw for 396 yards and six touchdowns in the win over Michigan. Parris Campbell caught six passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, and the wideout also showed off his speed on a 78-yard touchdown run.
Haskins is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate with 41 TD passes, the most ever by a Big Ten quarterback.
The Wildcats (8-4) were ranked in the No. 19 spot in the CFP rankings, and they come into their first Big Ten title game having won seven of their last eight games.
After dropping their Big Ten opener to Michigan, they reeled off seven straight conference triumphs, including a 24-16 win over Illinois in the regular-season finale.
However, they lost all of their nonconference games, including back-to-back home losses to Duke and Akron. They also dropped a 31-21 decision to Notre Dame.
The Wildcats depend on quarterback Clayton Thorson and running back Isaiah Bowser to lead the offense, and while Northwestern does not have a big-play offense, the Wildcats have shown they can move the ball on a steady basis.
Northwestern generally plays close games, and they averaged 23.6 points per game going into their regular-season finale while allowing 22.2 points.
Northwestern will try to use a balanced offense to move the ball and maintain possession, while the Buckeyes are going to attempt to use their speed to put together explosive plays and gain control of the game early.
It's easy to call for the favored Buckeyes to blow out the Wildcats.
They are the more dominant team, they have more athleticism and they have been in this position many times. While Northwestern has been a solid team for many years, it can't compare with the Buckeyes.
The record indicates that Ohio State has won 30 of the last 31 games played between the two teams, and that dominance dates back to the 1970s.
However, Ohio State has rarely found its stride this season, and the win over Michigan was a peak effort. The Buckeyes won't be able to match that performance, and Thorson and the Wildcats should be able to take advantage.
That means they will keep the game close well into the second half, but it does not mean they will win the game. Northwestern may earn a moral victory in this game by playing competitively, but Ohio State will win the Big Ten title game.