Ohio State vs Northwestern

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No. 4 Ohio State is going for its fourth-straight Big Ten Championship title when the Buckeyes face No. 14 Northwestern on Saturday at noon in Indianapolis. It was only a matter of months ago that we weren’t sure this game would even happen. The Big Ten was the first Power Five conference to decide about the 2020 season, initially deciding to postpone it. Then after seeing conferences like the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 get a season going without too many problems, along with some pressure from within the conference, the Big Ten relented.

Viewing information

Event: Big Ten Championship Game
Date
: Saturday, Dec. 19 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis
TV: FOX | Live stream: WATCH FREE HERE

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It reversed course and decided to try and fit in an eight-game schedule in eight weeks with one ultimate goal: to be eligible for the College Football Playoff. The Big Ten also change its mind about requirements to play for the Big Ten title when it became clear that Ohio State its lone CFP contender wouldn’t meet them. And now, here we are, with the Buckeyes taking on an upstart Northwestern team that would love nothing more than to ruin everybody’s playoff party.

Story lines

Ohio State: Ohio State and Nebraska were two of the most vocal opponents of the Big Ten’s initial decision to postpone the 2020 season. Of the two, Ohio State had the most legit gripe. While Nebraska might have fancied itself a College Football Playoff contender, Ohio State has always been one, and it was losing the chance to compete for a national title. Now, thanks to a couple of reversals, Ohio State has its chance.

Northwestern: It’s been a remarkable turnaround in Evanston this season. At this time last year, the Wildcats season was over. The team was 3-9 and at the bottom of the Big Ten West. This year, they’ve gone from worst to first, having gone undefeated in five division games (the lone loss came to Michigan State). Now, after surpassing nearly everybody’s expectations, Northwestern has a chance to do it again

Northwestern’s biggest strength

Northwestern wins because of its defense. The Wildcats are first in the Big Ten in scoring defense and second in the country allowing only 14.6 points a game. They’ve also only given up more than 20 points just one time this season, which ended in a 29-20 loss to a subpar Michigan State team.

Northwestern is particularly good at forcing turnovers with 16 this season, including 12 interceptions. The Wildcats have a stout run defense allowing 121 yards a game — but something’s got to give when they face an Ohio State team that averages 251 yards a game, first in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation.

Northwestern’s biggest weakness

Pat Fitzgerald’s team is one dimensional on offense. The Wildcats have run the ball 309 times this season while only throwing 212 times. And when they do throw, the Cats aren’t very successful. Northwestern ranks second to last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game and second to last in yards per pass. Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey, a transfer from Indiana, has nine touchdowns this season and six interceptions with an underwhelming 59 percent completion percentage. If Ohio State can stop the run, which they’ve been able to do in five games, Ramsey won’t be able to keep up with Justin Fields and OSU’s high-powered offense.

Ohio State’s strengths

The Buckeyes are one of the most well-balanced teams in the country. OSU’s rush attack is lethal and top 10 in the country, and its passing game is equally effective averaging 281 yards a game and three touchdowns a game. Despite an uncharacteristic three inceptions against Indiana, Justin Fields has been close to perfect. Fields has a pass efficiency rating of 196.12, second only to Alabama’s Mac Jones and is No. 1 in the country in completion percentage at .781 this season.

Ohio State will also likely benefit from the return of four starters on the offensive lineman who missed OSU’s last game against Michigan State after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Buckeyes still have one of the best defensive fronts in the country when it comes to quarterback pressure percentage and defensive line rating as rated by Pro Football Focus.

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