The no. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes will have the eyes of the nation upon them as they play a Friday night road game against the Northwestern Wildcats in a rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship Game. Game time is at 8:30 EST on Friday, October 18 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. Fans can watch the game on FS1.
Oddsmakers list the Buckeyes as 28-point road favorites over Northwestern with an over/under of 49.5 points. Click here to see all of this week’s college football odds.
Ohio State has been one of the most impressive teams in the country on their way to being 6-0. Prior to getting last weekend off, the Buckeyes trounced a ranked Michigan State team 34-10 in what actually tied their smallest margin of victory this year. In addition to beating the Spartans, Ohio State also has wins over Indiana and Nebraska to get to 3-0 in Big Ten play.
Of course, the road to the College Football Playoff will be far more difficult the second half of the season. The Buckeyes have a showdown with unbeaten Wisconsin lined up for next week, as well as games with Penn State and Michigan in November. It’s possible that Ohio State will be looking past Northwestern ahead of those games with ranked teams.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are trying to salvage their season and get to their fifth consecutive bowl game. Northwestern has won 19 games over the past two seasons, but they have just one in the victory column this year. The Wildcats have dropped three straight games at the start of Big Ten play, losing to Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska to make them 1-4 overall.
If the Wildcats are going to go bowling, they’ll need to win five of their last seven games. With every loss, the margin of error shrinks. The good news is that Northwestern will play five of their final seven games at home. However, they still have to play three more ranked teams, starting with Friday’s date with Ohio State.
As mentioned, these teams met in the Big Ten title game last year, a 45-24 win for Ohio State. Historically, the Buckeyes have dominated this series, accumulating seven straight wins over Northwestern. The Wildcats haven’t beaten Ohio State since 2004, a win that snapped a 24-game losing streak at the hands of the Buckeyes. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has done a lot during his tenure in Evanston, but he’s 0-6 against Ohio State.
For the record, I hesitated a little before making this pick. If I was Ohio State, I’d be awfully tempted to look ahead to Wisconsin next week and pay little attention to Northwestern. As we know, that’s a recipe for disaster. We’ve also seen Ohio State have at least one slip-up per season in recent years. However, this game is too much of a mismatch to ignore, so I’ll eat the points and look for the Buckeyes to cover.
The thing that pushed me over the edge is how bad Northwestern has been offensively this year. In their four games against power-conference teams, the Wildcats are barely averaging 10 points per game. They’ve played three different quarterbacks and none have worked. Aidan Smith got the surprise start last time out against Nebraska but didn’t fare much better than Hunter Johnson. Smith managed just 136 yards passing and threw a costly interception. Even his running abilities didn’t do much to open up a vulnerable Nebraska defense.
I just don’t see how Northwestern expects to score points in this game. The Ohio State defense has been largely overshadowed by the offense this season, but they deserve a ton of credit. The Buckeyes got a little lazy and gave up 21 points to Florida Atlantic in their season opener. But in their other five games, they’ve given up a total of 32 points, which averages out to a little over six points per game. That’s a fair estimate for how many points the Wildcats can expect to score, making it a little easier for the Buckeyes to cover four touchdowns.
To be fair, the Northwestern defense is one of the best in the Big Ten this year. They’re giving up under 20 points per game. They held a potent Nebraska offense to 13 points in their last game and even limited Wisconsin to just 24 points. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop Justin Fields and all of Ohio State’s weapons.
Last time out, the Buckeyes racked up over 500 yards of offense and 34 points against Michigan State, who was easily the best defensive team Ohio State has faced this year. The most impressive part is that they ran for 323 yards against a stout MSU run defense. If they did that kind of damage against the Spartans, the floodgates should eventually open against the Northwestern defense as well.
Admittedly, Friday night road games can be tricky, even for Ohio State. That makes me a little hesitant to lay down the points in this game. But the Buckeyes can score against any team and the Wildcats can’t seem to score against anyone. To me, that equals a lopsided win in which Ohio State covers the 28-point spread.