Staff Predictions: Big Ten Championship Game
No. 14 Northwestern enters the Big Ten Championship Game as 20-point underdogs against No. 4 Ohio State. But as Joey Galloway and Milo Eifler can attest to, the Wildcats are at their most dangerous when you count them out. Can Pat Fitzgerald’s crew pull off the upset of a lifetime? Here’s what our staff had to say:
Eric Rynston-Lobel (@EricR_L): Ohio State 48, Northwestern 28
As good as Northwestern’s defense has been, I just don’t see how they slow down the Buckeyes. Justin Fields’ scrambling ability scares me as does their ability to run the ball outside and stretch the field vertically. I also don’t see the ‘Cats being able to score enough to keep pace. I expect a hard-fought effort from Fitz’s group, but not enough to claim a Big Ten championship for the first time in 20 years.
Players to watch: Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson
One of Ohio State’s two best receivers will match up with Greg Newsome, the other with either Cam Ruiz or A.J. Hampton. I suspect whichever receiver Newsome isn’t defending will have a big day in Indy.
Kevin Sweeney (@cbbcentral): Ohio State 34, Northwestern 23
Northwestern’s defense does enough to keep OSU to its lowest point total of the season, particularly with rumors that the Buckeyes could be shorthanded on offense due to COVID-19 protocols. But just like the game in Indy two years ago, NU just can’t quite keep up with a team loaded with future NFL stars and can’t run the ball consistently enough to control the clock. But in the end, the ‘Cats cover the spread and acquit themselves quite well against one of the titans of the college football world.
Player to Watch: AJ Hampton
Northwestern’s secondary is in a much better place than it was in either of the last two meetings with the Buckeyes. While much of that can be attributed to the dominant play of Greg Newsome and Brandon Joseph, the play of Hampton has also been critical. Hampton will be matched up with one of Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson and will have to play well to ground this OSU aerial attack.
John Volk (@jk_volk): 27 Ohio State, 20 Northwestern
Northwestern will hold Ohio State’s offense under 30 points for the first time all year long, but the Wildcats will need to hold the Buckeyes under 20 to have a real shot. The Wildcats have lived and died by the turnover this season and with Ohio State’s ability to take care of the football, Peyton Ramsey and the offense won’t get the early jump start they need. However, a late touchdown will make it a very respectable one-possession loss for the ‘Cats.
Players to Watch: Eku Leota and Adetomiwa Adebawore
While much has been said about the dynamic Ohio State offense, the Buckeyes are among the Big Ten’s worst in protecting the quarterback. For comparison, Northwestern has given up six fewer total sacks with two more games played than OSU. Defensive line was one of the biggest question marks for the Wildcats entering the season, and while it hasn’t taken over any games, players like Leota and Adebawore have certainly flashed potential. If they can generate consistent pressure, this game could stay close.
Brea Lassek (@BreaLassek): Ohio State 34, Northwestern 24
Ohio State heads into Saturday as a 20.5-point favorite; however, this year’s Big Ten title game will be closer than the last time these two teams met in Lucas Oil Stadium. Northwestern will struggle to establish the run game early against an Ohio State defense that allows only 95 rushing yards per game. Although the Wildcats’ secondary will limit OSU’s passing attack, watch for Justin Fields to make up for it on the ground.
Player to Watch: Greg Newsome II
Most likely matched up against Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson, Newsome will take away one of Fields’ main targets.
Ryan Choe: Ohio State 31, Northwestern 17
In order for the ‘Cats to win and claim the Stagg Championship Trophy, the defense must slow down Ohio State’s explosive offense, the running game cannot rush for less than 100 total yards and Northwestern must win the turnover battle and score points off those turnovers. Although the ‘Cats have proved to be formidable this season and crazier things have happened before, my prediction is that the ‘Cats leave Lucas Oil Stadium in defeat for the second time in three years.
Player to Watch: Kyric McGowan
With No. 1 wideout Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman likely covered by star Ohio State corner Shaun Wade, McGowan could see a number of targets against the Buckeyes.
Andrew Neville (@AndrewNeville20): Ohio State 31, Northwestern 20
This will be a closer game than many are expecting, as Pat Fitzgerald will have his team ready for the early kickoff and prepared to battle a more talented Buckeye team. Northwestern will force a couple of first half turnovers to keep this game competitive, but in the end Justin Fields makes just enough plays to vault the Buckeyes to the victory.
Player to Watch: Greg Newsome II
Newsome will likely be matched up one-on-one vs. OSU’s top receiver Chris Olave. If Newsome can be as lockdown a corner against Olave as he was on Purdue WR David Bell and other No. 1 WRs this season, NU’s chances of winning increase exponentially.
Margaret Fleming (@mgfleming12): Ohio State 28, Northwestern 14
Northwestern has certainly beaten good teams this year, but Ohio State is on another level. I’m expecting a strong start for the Buckeyes and a Wildcat comeback that is too little too late.
Player to Watch: Blake Gallagher
His best game this year was against Wisconsin, so hopefully he’ll rise to this challenge as well.
Adam Clark (@adamclark_21): Ohio State 39, Northwestern 16
With the ‘Cats unable to get anything going on the ground early, Ohio State’s many offensive weapons will overwhelm the Northwestern defense. Ramsey will throw two second half touchdowns, but that’s all the Wildcats will muster against the staunch Ohio State defense.
Player to Watch: Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman
Not only is his name a mouthful, but he is a handful to guard on the outside. Look for him to snag a deep ball or two.
Jacob Brown (@cubsfan57): Ohio State 38, Northwestern 7
OSU has Northwestern outmanned in every way possible. The only way that NU can win this game, or even keep it close, is to control the pace of the game and determine who has the ball when. Northwestern doesn’t have the talent at QB, OL or WR to compete with a talented OSU secondary.
Player to Watch: Cameron Porter
After a breakout performance against Illinois, the young running back is going to need to keep the ‘Cats in the game.