Here we go, the only reason the Big Ten bothered to even stage a season in 2020: trying to get one of their teams into the College Football Playoff. That team is #4 Ohio State of course, a program that rules the conference in the same way that Bayern Munich has dominion over the Bundesliga.
If getting the Buckeyes into the playoff means changing the rules and requirements for the league title game, as a stepping stone to the CFP, well so be it. The rules and regulations were all made up on the fly, and without a ton of legitimacy anyway. The next and final sacrificial lamb for the Buckeyes is #14 Northwestern.
“I’m sure we’re going to be underdogs by like 70,” said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald just after completing his regular season. Not quite, but yes, if you know how to bet on college football, then you’re aware that the Buckeyes have been favored by at least 21 in every game this season except one (Penn State on Halloween, where they were -10). The Bucks opened -21.5 here, so not quite 70, but the total is 59.5, so that projects to an OSU 41, NU 19 final result.
Even more eye-popping is the moneyline, which has the Wildcats +850 and OSU -1667. The ESPN Football Power Index gives the favorites a 91% chance of winnig this game, a 86% of making the playoff and a 23% of winning the national title. Only Alabama has better CFP and Natl Title projections. The Big Ten Title game kicks off on Sat. Dec 19, noon on FOX, broadcast live from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Scarlet & Grey head in 5-0 while the Purple come in at 6-1.
The league dropped the minimum games played requirement, in order to boost their cash cow/big brand bellwether athletic program. They clinched the East Division title while on an off week, meanwhile Northwestern found out they were West Division champs via an e-mail. Not joking.
“To Ohio State’s credit, they’re undefeated,” said Fitzgerald.
“They’ve beaten everyone they’ve had the chance to play. I fully support the decision (to drop the minimum games requirement). This has been a very fluid season, and it’s been fluid from day one.”
Northwestern won its second division championship in three years. They also lost the 2018 title game to Ohio State 45-24. In last year’s meeting, OSU won 52-3 in Evanston. However that Wildcats team finished 3-9 overall and went just 1-8 in the Big Ten. This year’s squad won all their divisional games.
“They’re a top-four team,” Fitzgerald said of Ohio State. “If I had a vote, I’d vote them No. 2. I think they’re a complete football team, all three phases.”
Prediction: Ohio State 31, Northwestern 7
It’s really been more of a quasi-season, or a pseudo-season this year in college football, but we still have some reliable constants, and the Buckeyes constantly trucking their opponents is certainly one of those.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.Follow paulmbanks