Big Ten Championship 2018: Ohio State vs. Northwestern Breakdown, PredictionsNovember 26, 2018
The Ohio State Buckeyes picked the right time to play their best game of the college football season.
Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) had struggled in several games this year, and while it came into its regular-season finale against archrival Michigan with a 10-1 record, it was still the home underdog even though the game was played at Ohio Stadium.
But instead of getting pushed around in Columbus by the Michigan defense and struggling to stop the Wolverines offense, the Buckeyes played a dominant game and rolled over the Wolverines 62-39.
They earned the Big Ten East Division title with the win, and they will face the Northwestern Wildcats Saturday night in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. The game will kickoff at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox.
It's no surprise that Ohio State is a 13-point favorite per OddsShark, but does the offensive explosion in the Michigan game mean the Buckeyes have found their game, or will they go back to playing up-and-down football?
Prior to the Michigan game, the Buckeyes had lost badly to Purdue, had been pushed hard by a below average Nebraska team and had given up 51 points to Maryland.
Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats (8-4, 8-1) had lost the Big Ten opener to Michigan but beat eight other conference opponents. Northwestern is not a powerhouse—it also lost all three non-conference games—but the Wildcats found their stride in the conference games and regularly figure out the right formula when it comes to winning games.
Ohio State is playing for a potential invitation to the College Football Playoff. If Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC title game, the fourth and final playoff spot will likely come down to the Buckeyes or the Oklahoma Sooners (11-1).
The first step is beating Northwestern, and it begins with quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who has had a brilliant season and is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Haskins has thrown for 4,003 yards with 41 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Haskins has a couple of top-notch receivers in Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, and it will be difficult for the Wildcats to slow either one down. Campbell has caught 71 passes for 825 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Hill has caught 66 balls for 823 yards and six touchdowns.
Running back J.K. Dobbins has 961 rushing yards and eight TDs, while Mike Weber has 807 yards and five scores.
The Ohio State defense has been ordinary most of the season, but linebacker Malik Harrison leads the Buckeyes with 64 tackles 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson leads the Northwestern offense, throwing for 2,675 yards to go with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Thorson has battled back from an ACL injury he suffered against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl last season.
Isaiah Bowser leads the Northwestern running game with 736 yards and six touchdowns. Bowser became the team's primary running back when starter Jeremy Larkin was forced to give up football as a result of a cervical stenosis diagnosis.
Flynn Nagel and Bennett Skowronek are Northwestern's best receivers, and they have combined for 104 catches and five touchdowns.
Outside linebacker Blake Gallagher leads Northwestern with 112 tackles, and he also has 6.5 tackles for loss.
Northwestern is a tough team that has enjoyed an excellent record in the Big Ten. The Wildcats have proved they can compete with high-level teams, but they don't have the same kind of talent as the Buckeyes.
Northwestern can't win this game if Ohio State plays at the same level it did against Michigan. However, if the Buckeyes get off to a bad start and Northwestern can get off to an early lead, the Wildcats will have a chance to register an upset.
If Ohio State plays error-free football, Haskins should be able to find open receivers throughout the game. Look for Thorson to lead Northwestern to a couple of touchdowns early in the game, but the Wildcats will not be able to keep up the pace.
Ohio State takes charge in the second half and wins the game by 10 points.