Saturday, December 19, 2020, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana, noon ET
Buckeyes vs. Wildcats Betting Preview: Buckeyes (-20.5), Wildcats (+20.5)
No. 9 Ohio State is playing for more than just its fourth straight Big Ten title.
The Buckeyes (5-0, 5-0 Big Ten) are looking to cement their spot in the College Football Playoff despite critics contending they haven’t played enough games and weren’t impressive when they did play.
“Like I’ve been telling a lot of my teammates, we have to blow them out,” Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade said. “We have to come to play. … We have to show the world what we can do.”
The Buckeyes have had three of their last five games postponed due to COVID-19 issues, including last week’s game against Michigan. Day said he expects most of the 23 players who missed the Dec. 5 game at Michigan State because of COVID-19, injuries or other illnesses to be cleared to play against Northwestern.
The cancellation of the game against Michigan left Ohio State one game short of the minimum six the conference declared would be needed to play in the championship game, but the league then relented and gave the Buckeyes a waiver.
They were the only undefeated team in the conference and notched a 42-35 win over second-place Indiana in the East Division. The Buckeyes have played only once since the win over the Hoosiers on Nov. 21, routing Michigan State on Dec. 5.
Justin Fields has been the leader for the Buckeyes. Fields is 107-for-137 (78.1 percent) passing for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, with three interceptions. All the picks came in the win over Indiana.
“The way that he carries himself, the way he leads that offense and the team, he makes such great decisions with the ball,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
A win over Northwestern should earn the Buckeyes a shot at their first national championship since 2014.
“This team can play with anybody in the country,” Day said. “To go undefeated and win the Big Ten championship, that speaks for itself.”
No. 14 Northwestern (6-1, 6-1) knows the odds are against it, just as they were in the 2018 conference title game, which the Buckeyes won 45-24. But this is a different group of Wildcats.
“I think last time we had the approach of we were happy to win the West,” Wildcats receiver Riley Lees said. “But I think our goals have superseded that, and our expectation now is to win the Big Ten championship, and that’s going to be our mindset going into this game.”
Ohio State is fourth nationally in scoring average at 46.6 points per game. The Wildcats want to keep that offense off the field by using drives like the 17-play, 64-yard march guided by quarterback Peyton Ramsey in the team’s 28-10 victory over Illinois last week. Cam Porter capped that long drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
“Peyton Ramsey’s given them a shot in the arm,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “They’ve controlled the football, they’re smart and they really don’t turn the ball over. So, when you do that, you’ve got to really be on your game. They’re not going to give you anything.”
Northwestern averages 25.3 points per game to rank 90th of 127 schools. Ramsey has passed for an average of just 174 yards a game passing but the Wildcats have used crew of running backs — Drake Anderson, Isaiah Bowser, and Evan Hulls all have over 200 yards — to rush for just over 170 yards a game.
Defense is what really gets it done for the Wildcats. They have held opponents to just 14.6 points and 313.9 yards a game in total offense. They have allowed just 121.9 yards a game rushing.
“It’s very hard to run the ball on them, and they keep it all in front of them,” Day said. “They force you to work down the field.”
Buckeyes vs. Wildcats Betting Pick for December 19, 2020
The two teams are meeting for the third time in the last two years with the Buckeyes winning the 2018 Big Ten title game 45-24 and romping 52-3 in the regular season in 2019. They have two common opponents this season with the Buckeyes routing Nebraska 52-17 and Michigan State 52-19. The Wildcats beat the Cornhuskers 21-13 but lost to the Spartans 29-20.
Buckeyes vs. Wildcats Betting Pick:
Buckeyes 45, Wildcats 17
Buckeyes vs. Wildcats Best Bet for December 19, 2020
Both teams are solid defensively with the Wildcats holding their seven opponents to just 14.6 points a game and the Buckeyes giving up only 23.2 in their five outings. The big difference is on offense where the Wildcats have averaged 25.3 points a game to Ohio State’s 46.6.
Buckeyes vs. Wildcats Best Bet: OVER 57.5