THE BASICS: No. 4 (CFP) Ohio State makes its fourth consecutive Big Ten championship game appearance, and sixth overall, Saturday with a 12 noon game against the No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The game will be nationally broadcast on FOX and it will be played in front of no more than 2,000 family members of players, coaches and program staffers as each team was allotted 1,000 tickets for such distribution. Ohio State’s 5-0 record includes a 42-35 victory over No. 12 (CFP) Indiana, the second-place team in the Big Ten East with a 6-1 record. Ohio State led 28-7 at halftime and then 35-7 before a talented IU quarterback/receiver combo elevated onto an uncommonly good wavelength for three second-half scores. Three Ohio State games were cancelled this year because of COVID-19 concerns/protocols: by Maryland (Week 4), by Ohio State (Week six prior to Illinois game) and by Michigan (Week 8). Northwestern lost a game at Minnesota in Week 7 (Dec. 5). Ohio State is 4-1 in Big Ten title games, including four consecutive wins.
SEEKING TITLE NO. 39 Ohio State ranks second in Big Ten Conference history with 38 Big Ten championships. The team has won 10 championships in the 2000s, with only Oklahoma’s 13 in front of Ohio State. That total includes titles four times in the last six years (2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019). Ohio State has not finished worse than first for nine consecutive years in the Big Ten’s divisional alignment standings. The 2011 season was the only season when Ohio State did not win or share its division title. The Buckeyes are making their sixth Big Ten Championship Game appearance, which ties Wisconsin for the most on any school.
SCOUTING NORTHWESTERN: Champions of the Big Ten West, Northwestern is No. 14 in the latest College Football Playoff Top 25 and finished with a 6-1 regular season record. The Wildcats won their rivalry game last week, topping Illinois 28-10 behind a rushing attack that totaled 411 yards. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, a transfer from Indiana, has started all seven games and is completing nearly 60 percent of his passes (124 of 210) for 1,218 yards and nine touchdowns. Drake Anderson is the team’s leading rusher with 256 yards and two touchdowns on 62 carries this season. Isaiah Bowser has carried the ball 77 times for 229 yards while Cam Porter is coming off a 145-yard effort last week vs. Illinois. Northwestern is second in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 14.6 points per game. The Wildcats have not given up more than 29 points in any game this season. Northwestern also ranks in the top 25 nationally in rushing defense (21st, 121.9 yards allowed/game) and passing defense (21st, 192.0 yards allowed/game). It also leads the country in team pass efficiency defense (93.26). Freshman cornerback Brandon Joseph leads the team and the Big Ten with five interceptions. Senior linebacker Paddy Fisher is the team’s leading tackler with 65 total stops and 3.5 tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Blake Gallagher, also a senior, has 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH: Something has to give on Saturday when one of the nation’s top offenses meets one of the nation’s top defenses. Ohio State possesses the No. 4 scoring offense in the country and is averaging 46.6 points per game. The Buckeyes have scored no less than 38 points in each of it games this year. Meanwhile, Northwestern has the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, allowing an average of just 14.6 points per game. They’ve given up no more than 29 points in each game this season. A reason for the Wildcats’ success on defense has been its play against the pass. Northwestern ranks No. 1 nationally in pass efficiency defense (93.26) and 12th in total interceptions (12). Ohio State, led by the stellar play of QB Justin Fields, is second nationally in team passing efficiency (196.1) and has just three interceptions in 137 attempts.
QUICK HITTERS: • Crowned Big Ten West Champions for second time in three seasons • NU is one of four Big Ten programs to make multiple appearances in the Big Ten title game • The Wildcats have won six straight games over West Division opponents, longest active streak in the division • Finished B1G play with a .750 winning % or better four times since 2015. Tied for second most in Big Ten. • Swept the West for second time in three seasons; Won 17 B1G West games since 2017 – most in the Conference • First undefeated season at home since going 5-0 during the 1996 season • Northwestern has been ranked in the AP Top-25 six straight weeks, longest streak since 2013 season.
LAST TIME OUT Northwestern won the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the sixth consecutive year … NU’s six-game win streak over Illinois is tied for its second longest win streak over a Big Ten opponent (six straight vs. Wisconsin 1929-37; seven straight vs. Indiana 1959-65) … NU has rushed for 300 or more yards in four straight games against the Illini … The Wildcats have outscored Illinois, 189-78, in the last six meetings … Pat Fitzgerald is 11-4 against NU’s in-state rival. BEST IN THE WEST Northwestern won its second Big Ten West Division championship for the second time in three seasons … Northwestern is one of only four Big Ten programs to make multiple appearances in the Big Ten Football Championship Game … Since 2017, Northwestern has won 17 games against west division foes – the most in the division. PRETTY, PRETTY, PRETTTTTTY GOOD In the last 50 seasons, Northwestern has completed a Big Ten campaign undefeated or with one loss five times (2020, 2018, 1996, 1995, 1970). Pat Fitzgerald has been involved in four of those five seasons as either a player or a coach. LOOKING BACK AT 2018 Northwestern is meeting Ohio State in the title game for the second time in three seasons … Seven NU players who started in the 2018 game are still on NU’s roster (OFF: Isaiah Bowser, Kyric McGowan; DEF: Blake Gallagher, Paddy Fisher, Chris Bergin, JR Pace, Cam Ruiz) … NU scored 14 unanswered in the 3rd quarter to pull within three, 24-21 … NU tallied 418 yards of offense. TROPHY TOUR Northwestern has an opportunity to fill the trophy case: West Division Trophy (Dec. 5), Land of Lincoln Trophy (Dec. 12), Amos Alonzo Stagg Championship Trophy (Dec. 19), Bowl Game (TBD). A win on Saturday would give Northwestern its ninth Big Ten championship and its first since 2000. DEFENSE IS THE IDENTITY • NU has allowed 102 points through the first seven games (14.6 points per game), lowest total through first seven games since the 1995 season. Opposing offenses…4.1 points in second half (all season) … 8.2 points at Ryan Field in 2020. • Only one team has scored more than 20 points against Northwestern in the last eight games. • Top-25 nationally in total defense (13th; 313.9), scoring defense (2nd; 14.6) rushing defense (21st; 121.9), team passing efficiency defense (1st; 93.26), redzone defense (9th; .722), 3rd down conversion pct. defense (11th; .309). • NU has recorded 16 takeaways (12 interceptions, four fumble recoveries) this season, the most through seven games since 2013. The Wildcats defense has forced a turnover in 10 of its last 11 games. • Of the 492 total offensive plays NU’s defense has faced only 21 have gone for 20-or-more yards.. • Held three teams to fewer than 100 rushing yards … Surrendered two rushing TD all season, fewest in FBS (min. 5+ games played) HOW ‘BOUT HANK DC Mike Hankwitz is in his 51st season of coaching college football (13 at NU) … Since his days as a GA in 1970 for Bo Schembecher, Hankwitz has compiled a record of 399-205-7 … Broyles Award nominee … DC for Colorado’s 1990 national championship run.
SECOND HALF SHUT DOWN Northwestern has held its opponent scoreless in the second half in four of seven games this season … The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 75-29 in the second half this year … NU has outscored opponents 49-3 in the third quarter of games … The ‘Cats defense has allowed two TDs and three FG in the final 30 minutes of games this season, while also forcing 20 punts, nine turnovers, six turnover on downs (Note: MSU’s 4th QTR TD was scored by its defense on the final play of game). CLASSIC ‘CATS Northwestern has won three of seven games by one score this season … Dating back to the beginning of the Pat Fitzgerald era in 2006, the Wildcats have 48 one possession game wins, tied with Navy for the most in the FBS during that span.