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Big Ten Championship 2018: Northwestern vs. Ohio State TV, Odds, Predictions

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2018

Dwayne Haskins leads Ohio State's big-play attack.
Dwayne Haskins leads Ohio State's big-play attack.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

While Ohio State comes into the Big Ten title game as a prohibitive favorite over Northwestern, it would be a mistake to count out the Wildcats.

Ohio State is certainly the Big Ten's most glamorous team, and the Buckeyes come into this game off their best peformance of the year as they embarrassed Michigan 62-39 at Ohio Stadium. 

The Buckeyes (11-1) were overpowering in that game, but Ohio State had a rather inconsistent season. They were drubbed by Purdue in their only loss of the season and escaped by narrow margins in victories over Nebraska and Maryland. Both the Cornhuskers and Terrapins are ordinary teams.

Northwestern (8-4) also had a somewhat unusual season. While the Wildcats won eight conference games and lost just one, they were 0-3 in non-conference games. Pat Fitzgerald's team played its best games when the Wildcats were underdogs, and they struggled as favorites.

Since they are getting 14 points in this game, per OddsShark, this would have a chance to be their best outing of the season. The two teams will meet at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night in Indianapolis at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised by Fox.

The winner will represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl game, but if No. 6 Ohio State wins, it could be selected for the College Football Playoffs. Currently, the Buckeyes are on the outside of the playoff structure looking in, but No. 4 Georgia is in a vulnerable position.

The Bulldogs play Alabama in the SEC title game, and they won't make the playoffs unless they upset the powerful Crimson Tide.

If the Bulldogs lose, the final berth will likely go to Ohio State or Oklahoma.

If the Buckeyes go to the playoffs, the spot will be filled by the highest-ranked Big Ten team. That is currently No. 7 Michigan, but it could be 12th-ranked Penn State or No. 21 Northwestern.

Ohio State has a high-powered passing attack led by quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Haskins has thrown for 4,003 yards and 41 touchdowns. Haskins gets support from wideouts Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill. Those two receivers are both speedsters who have combined for 16 TD receptions.

The Buckeyes also have a pair of excellent running backs in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber.

However, the defense has struggled quite a bit this season, and they need linebacker Malik Harrison (64 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss) to have a strong game against the Wildcats.

Northwestern does not have the same kind of firepower as the Buckeyes. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is a tough leader who has battled back from an ACL injury suffered in last year's Music City Bowl. Thorson has thrown for 2,675 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he has also tossed 12 interceptions.

Running back Isaiah Bowser has done a solid job running the ball since moving into the starting position early in the season. Bowser has 736 yards and six touchdowns. He moved into the starting lineup when Jeremy Larkin was forced to give up football following a diagnosis of cervical stenosis.

Linebackers Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher lead the team in tackles. Gallagher has 112 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, while Fisher has 92 tackles and 4.0 TFL. Both will have to be at their best to slow down the Ohio State offense.

      

Prediction

The Wildcats can't compare with the Buckeyes in terms of football pedigree or overall athleticism. However, head coach Pat Fitzgerald excels in getting his team to believe in itself.

The belief here is that the Wildcats will not be intimidated when they take the field in Indianapolis, and they will provide the Buckeyes with a solid challenge. 

They should be in this game well into the second half, but the Buckeyes will take control in the fourth quarter. Ohio State wins this game by 10 points and advances to the Rose Bowl.

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