In a certain sense, Saturday’s conference championship resembles how many envisioned the game prior to the season. The Ohio State Buckeyes, the consensus top program in the Big Ten, would take on a capable but comparatively inferior opponent coming out of the West, in this case the Northwestern Wildcats.
Of course, the path to the game featured numerous surprise turns, perhaps none more glaring than the conference amending its rules at the 11th hour to allow the Buckeyes to play in the game despite falling short of the original six-game requirement. While that decision certainly rankled the 6-1 Indiana Hoosiers — as well as numerous coaches and commissioners in other conferences — it also gave the Big Ten the best chance of putting a team in the College Football Playoff.
But while Ohio State’s inclusion suggests a one-sided affair, Northwestern has reason to believe in its chances of pulling the upset. Entering the week, the Wildcats defense ranks No. 1 nationally in Football Outsiders F+ metric. The unit, one of the program’s most talented in years, has given up more than 20 points just once all season. Combined with a steady offense headed by transfer signal-caller Peyton Ramsey, Northwestern has the ingredients to muck up a game against a superior opponent.
Of course, Ohio State has already shown the ability to thrive in less-than-ideal circumstances. When a COVID-19 breakout decimated the Buckeyes’ offensive line, quarterback Justin Fields continued to play at a Heisman-contender level, bad snaps and all. And while Northwestern has the statistically better defense, Ohio State doesn’t trail by much. The unit ranks 11th in F+ entering the week.
Game Time/TV Channel/Streaming
You can watch Northwestern versus Ohio State on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 12:00 p.m. ET on Fox, or you can stream it via the Fox Sports Go app with a cable or streaming service login.
Point Spread, Totals, Odds, Trends
Point spread: Northwestern vs. Ohio State -18.5
Point Total: 56.5
Money line: Northwestern +600, Ohio State -1000
- Over the last two seasons, Northwestern has a 4-6-0 record against the spread as the underdog.
- Also during that stretch, the Wildcats have an over record of 4-6-0 as the underdog.
- Since 2019, Ohio State has a 12-6-0 record against the spread as the favorite but an 0-2-0 record against the spread in neutral-site games.
- During the same period, the Buckeyes have an over record of 9-7-2 as the favorite (0-2-0 in neutral-site games).
Northwestern: (30% of handle, 31% percent of bets)
Ohio State: (70% of handle, 69% percent of bets)
The Best Bet
Ohio State will almost certainly win this game, but Northwestern’s stellar defense should make this an uglier affair. If the Wildcats can grind down the clock on offense and limit possessions, the Buckeyes will have a hard time building the nearly three-touchdown advantage required to cover.
Pick: Northwestern +19
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