The Wildcats and Buckeyes will battle it out on Saturday for the title of Big Ten Champion.
Northwestern (8-4, 8-1 Big Ten) surprised a lot of experts this season by winning the Big Ten West. The Wildcats looked down and out after a 1-3 start to the season, including losses to Duke and Akron at home. But Northwestern rallied to win seven of its next eight to win the division and earn their spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Ohio State (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) started the year scorching hot by scoring 40 or more points in its first four games but hit a mid-season lull that gave Buckeyes fans a scare. OSU squeaked past Penn State, Indiana and Minnesota, then lost to Purdue, 49-20. The Buckeyes bounced back with three wins, although not convincingly, to set up a matchup with Michigan to win the Big Ten East. Ohio State played their best game of the season against the Wolverines and defeated their rivals, 62-39.
Northwestern didn’t place anyone on the All-Big Ten First or Second Teams that were announced Wednesday, which is par for the course for this Wildcats team. Of the eight games Northwestern won, seven were by 10 points or less. The Wildcats have some very talented players this season, but they never seemed concerned about stats or accolades, winning was always the goal. Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson tore the ACL in his right knee in the Music City Bowl last season and was questionable heading into this year. Thorson split time with junior TJ Green to start the season but now is starting to look like the quarterback he was a year ago before the injury. Thorson has eight total touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last four games. While Thorson’s leadership has been key to the Wildcats’ success, the emergence of freshman running back Isaiah Bowser has kept the Northwestern offense on track. With just two carries through the team’s first six games, Bowser has exploded for 736 yards over Northwestern’s final six games, including four 100-yard rushing performances.
Ohio State has statistically the second-best offense in country. The Buckeyes have a potential Heisman Trophy finalist in sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who threw for 4,081 yards and 42 touchdowns this season. Both of those totals set Big Ten records, breaking Purdue’s Curtis Painter’s passing yards record and Drew Brees’ touchdown record. But Ohio State also has great balance in their offense, with a nearly 50/50 split between their passing and running this season. The running back duo of sophomore J.K. Dobbins (206 carries, 961 yards) and junior Mike Weber (140 carries, 807 yards) combine for one of the best 1-2 punches in college football. Ohio State also has one of the deepest receiving corps in the country, led by senior Parris Campbell, who has a team-high 72 catches for 903 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Neither team’s defense has been particularly strong this season, but the Buckeyes have been able to get after opposing quarterbacks. OSU averages nearly three sacks and seven tackles for loss per game, both second in the Big Ten. Northwestern’s defense, similarly to their offense, doesn’t stand out in any areas, but has done enough to win. Where the Wildcats do stand out is in their lack of being penalized. Northwestern has been called for the fewest penalties in the country this season, just 34 total flags thrown on the Wildcats in 12 games. Ohio State, on the other hand, has been called for almost three times the number of penalties, 98, which ranks 123rd in the country.
If this game gets out of hand, it will likely favor the Buckeyes. A tight game, on the other hand, might lean toward the Wildcats.