#6 Ohio State Buckeyes vs #19 Northwestern Wildcats: B1G Title Game Preview


amos alonzo stagg trophy big ten title

The 2018 Big Ten Championship Game will feature the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes versus the #19 Northwestern Wildcats, a match-up of two teams at opposite ends of the league spectrum on several dimensions. OSU has arguably the largest and most zealous fan base in the league; NU not so much. 

Likewise when it comes to media attention and history of overall success. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on the attention disparity between Northwestern and Ohio State:


“Coach Meyer is as good a coach as there is in the country. Their group won’t get fazed at all. He knows how to handle outside distractions. For us, a lot of people are going to say we have no chance. We’ll take the purple to Indy and hopefully we’ll compete and I expect that they will.”

When it comes to just the football aspect (which again, this is why we’re here) the two teams are more evenly matched.

Big Ten Football Championship Game Northwestern Wildcats vs Ohio State Buckeyes FYIs

Kick-off: 8:17 pm ET. Saturday, Dec. 1, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

Broadcast: TV- FOX, Compass Media Networks. Radio- WGN

Spread: Ohio State Buckeyes  -14.5

The winner will earn the Amos Alonzo Stagg Championship Trophy (featured/intro image) and for the Buckeyes, a potential chance to maybe earn a playoff berth. For Northwestern, a chance to play in the Rose Bowl Game for the first time since 1995.

“We’ve got an unbelievable opportunity this week, I’m fired up, the support from our students, we’ve got a chance to get this team to the Rose Bowl and if that doesn’t fire you up I don’t know what does,” said Fitzgerald, who was AP Defensive Player of the Year as a middle linebacker on that ’95 Cats team. 

“We have a big challenge ahead.” Fitzgerald didn’t get to play in that Rose Bowl, a very one-sided loss to USC, due to a broken leg suffered in the win over Iowa that season. Yesterday, Fitz officially won Big Ten Coach of the Year. 

Series Notes:

The Wildcats and Ohio State Buckeyes last met on Oct. 29, 2016, with OSU claiming a 24-20 victory at home. OSU leads the all-time series 61-14-1. The series is so lopsided that Northwestern has won just once in the 31 meetings since 1972, and that was in 2004.

rose bowl usc northwestern

Statistical Comparison:

Northwestern Wildcats       Ohio State Buckeyes

PPG                                    23.6                           43.3

OPP PPG                           21.7                            25.8

YPG                                    351.7                          543.9

OPP YPG                           372.7                          398.8

Fun Fact: There are two high schools in America named after A.A. Stagg, one in California, the other in Palos Hills, Illinois. The school in Illinois is the main rival to Carl Sandburg high school in Orland Park, Illinois, alma mater of Pat Fitzgerald.

osu logo

Match-up to Watch:

Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher, labeled by many a “Baby Fitz” on if playing against the run pass option this season so many times will help against trying to stop the entourage of Ohio State Buckeyes play-makers in the offensive back field:

“I think so, it’ll help us be disciplined. We have to be prepared, patient with our reads and react fast.”

If Ohio State has a balanced offense, and they establish both the ground game and the air attack early, this one will be a route. If NU makes them one dimensional early, it’ll go down to the wire.

Northwestern Player to Watch: RB Isaiah Bowser

NU was expected to build their offense around Jeremy Larkin this season, but he had to retire early from football due to a medical condition. After he left, the run game declined severely, degrading to among the worst in the nation, until Bowser, a true freshman, stepped up and started Mario Karting his way through opposing defenses.

When NU badly needed a new feature back, he came in and seized the opportunity. He’ll be the primary offensive weapon on Saturday. He also grew up in Ohio, was recruited by OSU, but ultimately not extended an offer from the program. 

“I was recruited by them a bit, everyone around me was an Ohio State fan,” he said this past Saturday night. “I’m glad where I am now.”


Northwestern Wildcats Preview:

In order to win, the Wildcats offense will need to spread out the Ohio State Buckeyes defense and beat their safeties and linebackers in space. If they play in a phone booth, forget about it, it’s a massive mismatch. Now that we’ve said that, and mentioned RPOs, I would like to add: gap sound, gap integrity, eye discipline, stands ’em up at the point of attack, 50/50 balls and high points the football.

With that, we’ve now gotten all the 2018 college football season buzz words and cliches in.

Last weekend saw Fitzgerald play it extremely close to the vest in a 24-16 win over Illinois. He pulled his starters in the second half, never considered putting them back in as the score tightened and really watered down the playbook.

After the game he referred to the: “limited ability that I allowed our coordinators to have. I tied their hands a little bit.”

northwestern wildcats

Fitz stripped down the game plan and overrode his coordinators many times on what they wanted to call. He could easily do that because the opponent was Illinois, who are such a dumpster fire right now that they could be had even in this stripped down mode.

Northwestern was clearly not all that interested in last Saturday’s contest and that was evident by who was on the field in the second half, and they still won. At this point in the Lovie Smith regime, the Illini look like NU’s practice squad.

“That was the plan,” Fitz said of resting his regulars in the second half and making sure they didn’t get hurt for the title game. “I felt like we could win with the personnel in the game.”

Fitzgerald takes pride in never discussing scheme in media opportunities, but he did discuss his tendency to prepare for opponents a week in advance:

“I have this weird mind that lets me open a drawer, watch an opponent, and close that drawer and be ready to play.”

pat fitzgerald northwestern football

Northwestern will have sort of an advantage of an extra-week of quasi-prep for Ohio State; having had little to worry about with the Illini. They’ll need it, given the massive challenge in front of them.

Ohio State Player to Watch: QB Dwayne Haskins

He’s obviously going to win Big Ten MVP, and by a landslide margin. Today he was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for a conference-record sixth time this year. The old mark also belonged to a Buckeye quarterback- Troy Smith.

He threw for 396 yards and a school record-tying six touchdown passes in The Game last weekend. He also broke the Big Ten season records for passing yards and TDs. Both records had belonged to former Purdue QBs. His 42 TDs surpassed Drew Brees’  39, accomplished in 1998, and his 4,081 yards passing eclipsed Curtis Painter’s 3,985, set in 2006. He’s Heisman level. Look at his  numbers, and where he ranks nationally in those stats.

Nothing more need be said.

Ohio State Buckeyes Preview:

It’s the fourth title game appearance following berths in 2013, 2014 and 2017. The Buckeyes are 2-1 in the format, having beaten Wisconsin in 2014 and 2017.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off their most complete game of the season, having just torched their most hated rivals. They finally put it all together, showing a formidable run game to supplement the dominant air attack that’s been there all along. The Buckeyes completely shredded Michigan in man to man coverages, burning their previously number one ranked nationally defense on crossing routes over and over again.

It will be key for the NU defense to keep the Buckeyes playmakers in front of them on those routes, and perhaps try more zone  coverages, because we just saw Michigan get destroyed in one-and-one.

ohio state buckeyes basketball

In the most recent edition of the greatest rivalry in all of sports, OSU scored their most points ever in the series, which has now seen them claimed seven victories in a row and 14 of the last 15. It was the most points Michigan has ever given up in a regulation game since 1891 versus Cornell.  The 547 yards accrued by the Bucks was the 4th highest single game total allowed in Michigan history.

Given how almost no one expected the Ohio State Buckeyes to win coming into that one, it’s quite clear that the Buckeyes are trying to send as loud a message as possible to the playoff committee.

Also, if Lebron James tweets anything about this game, look for every television network to blow that up as much as possible, because that’s where sports media is in 2018. No matter what happens Saturday night, PLEASE DO NOT DO THE “Urban Meyer overcame adversity” angle.



Prediction: Ohio State Buckeyes 34, Northwestern Wildcats 23

“I hope we stop talking about the 1-3 start,” Fitzgerald said Saturday night. “I wish the narrative would change to going 15-1 over the last 16, winning eight out of nine this year. The way that they worked the past two weeks knowing Indy was ahead. They deserve a lot of credit.”

All true all around. Strongly Agree. However, this is a Buckeye team playing their best ball of the year at the most important time, and we’ve already covered how lopsided this series has been.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Lineups.com and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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