- Alex Bryan
Buckeyes Go For 4!
Ohio State – Northwestern Preview
After a Big Ten season filled with nothing but boneheaded decisions by leadership and cancellations, the finale is finally here. The No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes are set to take on the No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats in a rematch of sorts from the 2018 Big Ten title game where a Dwayne Haskins-led Buckeyes team defeated the Wildcats, 45-24. For the Buckeyes, this will be a record-tying sixth appearance and are 4-1 with their other three wins over Wisconsin and their only loss coming to Michigan State in 2013.
The Wildcats enter the game at 6-1 with their only blemish coming from a surprising upset against Michigan State, 29-20. The Buckeyes come in at 5-0 after canceling their game against Illinois and having Maryland and Michigan cancel on them with their last game being Dec. 5 against the Spartans. The Buckeyes, however, earned their spot in this year’s title game by defeating then No. 9 Indiana, 42-35, and benefited by the elimination of the six-game minimum rule originally made by the Big Ten’s athletic directors and leadership after the season was uncancelled.
The Buckeyes will also look to one-up their own conference record of three consecutive titles and will “Fight for Four” with a playoff berth on the line. All they need to do is win very convincingly to provide enough evidence to the College Football Playoff committee on why they should be included.
Led by junior quarterback Justin Fields, the Buckeyes will bring the nation’s sixth-ranked offense and put it to the test against the Wildcats’ No. 13 ranked defense in the country. Their defense has been stellar all year and kept opponent’s offenses to an average of only 5.03 yards per attempt in the passing game, which is the best in the nation. This Saturday, however, Northwestern will face a group of wide receivers that they haven’t come close to seeing yet this season. Though it is currently rumored that OSU receiver Chris Olave will be unavailable due to being positive for COVID-19, the Buckeyes still have Garrett Wilson and a slew of other new, promising receivers such as Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming and Gee Scott Jr. Several other players are also rumored to be out due to COVID-19, though nothing official will be released by the team until the morning of the game.
On the Northwestern side of things, they have former Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who is 124-of-210 passing for 1,218 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. They also don’t have a running back with over 300 yards rushing and have the 60th rush offense in the country. Passing-wise, they are one of the worst teams in the country coming in at 180.9 passing yards per game, which is good for 106th in the nation. Ohio State’s defense this season, particularly in the passing game, has been abysmal allowing an average of 268.8 yards per game, which is 111th in the country. However, Ohio State’s rush defense has only let up an average of 95 yards per game, which is sixth in the country. If Northwestern is going to have any shot of beating the Buckeyes, it would seem that they will have to amp up their passing attack significantly in order to have a chance.
While many were frustrated about the Big Ten’s decision to eliminate the six-game minimum rule and many labeled the move “only for Ohio State,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald had a different view. According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Fitzgerald said, “We couldn't predict where the pandemic would lead each team. To Ohio State's credit, they're undefeated. They've beaten everyone they've had the chance to play. I fully support the decision.” The Big Ten is also rumored to be looking into decreasing the number of days a player would have to sit out if they test positive. This would be extremely helpful because should it stay at 21 days, it is very possible that Olave and the other players would have to miss the semifinal of the College Football Playoff due to every conference following their own COVID-19 protocols and rules for the playoffs.
As it stands now, if Ohio State wins, they are in the playoff unless a cruel turn of events were to take place with the committee’s final decision. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that they would face the winner of the ACC championship game between No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson, which is a rematch from Nov. 7 where the Fighting Irish edged out the Tigers, 47-40, in South Bend. The Buckeyes, who lost to Clemson in last year’s CFP semifinal, 29-23, have been preparing for and praying to face them since that night in the Fiesta Bowl where many felt the Buckeyes had victory stolen from them. With a noon kickoff set for the Big Ten title game and the ACC title game set for 4 p.m., Ohio State will most likely have their sights set on that game and may even be pulling for Clemson in hopes they get a chance at revenge. But for now, OSU head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes have their sights set on Indianapolis and look forward to capping a mentally exhausting regular season with adding yet another Big Ten championship trophy to the collection at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus.