2018 Big Ten Championship Game Picks: Ohio State vs. Northwestern
Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Northwestern Wildcats, Saturday Dec. 1, 8 p.m. ET
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was just named Big Ten Coach of the Year. It was the first time he received the honor in his 13-year career at Northwestern. Amazingly, no Ohio State coach has won the award since 1979 despite that school's dominance. But individual awards don't matter when it comes to this game. Really, there is only one thing that does matter - which Ohio State team shows up. If it's the same team as the one that humiliated Michigan last week then this will be an ugly beatdown. That team was really dangerous and by far the best in this game. But if the Buckeyes that lost to Purdue, almost lost to Nebraska and needed overtime against Maryland show up, then this will be much more of a contest. It all comes down to that - which is a pain for handicappers who aren't also psychologists.
The biggest challenge in a game like this is putting aside clear and obvious mental biases and evaluating the game properly. It has been clear for a long while now that Northwestern was headed to this game. The Big Ten West was a total mess this year, so Northwestern wrapped it up weeks ago with wins over Wisconsin and Iowa. So, people have had the opportunity to get used to the idea of them being in this game for a while. Their opponent wasn't determined until The Game last week. However, whether it was Michigan or Ohio State, the one constant was that virtually everyone was viewing this game as all but a gimme for either team. When a result has been assumed for that long, it can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming a result without evaluation. I'm not saying that picking Ohio State would be a mistake here - far from it, in fact. But it is important to do the work on your handicapping even when you know how things are going to turn out.
Ohio State vs. Northwestern Betting Storylines
Northwestern is 8-1 in the conference - a school record that earned Fitzgerald his hardware. But what does it mean, really? They didn't play Ohio State or Penn State. Michigan was their only conference loss. Wins against Michigan State and Wisconsin were less impressive than they could have been because both programs had off years. And they lost all three nonconference games - including home losses to Akron and Duke that don't look great. They won their division almost by default and wouldn't be in this game if it weren't for the divisional imbalance. Not all 8-1 conference records are created equal, and this one is tough to get excited about.
Michigan had the top-ranked defense in the country heading into last week's game. Ohio State absolutely shredded it last week, piling up 62 points, which was the second most Michigan had ever allowed. Dwayne Haskins was dialed in and confident. And now a defense that ranks second in total yards nationally is up against a defense that is not very good overall and has particularly struggled against the pass. Dwayne Haskins threw for 396 yards and six touchdowns against that Michigan juggernaut. If the team is close to as dialed in this week as they were last week, then they offensive sky is pretty much the limit here. And they should be pretty dialed in with the potential for a playoff spot that seemed all but lost just a week ago now being a real possibility.
Ohio State vs. Northwestern Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Ohio State favored by 12.5 and moved almost instantly to 13 points. It very quickly moved again to 14 points and has remained stable at that level . Three-quarters of bets have been on the Buckeyes so far, so it is quite possible that the line will move through the key number of 14 before kickoff. The total opened as low as 57.5 and has moved fairly quickly up to 61.
The Wildcats are a strong 20-5-1 ATS in their last 26 conference games and 4-0-1 ATS in their last five against teams with winning records. The Buckeyes are just 2-6 ATS in their last eight games overall but are 7-2 ATS in their last nine neutral-site games. The Wildcats have covered just once in the last six meetings between these teams - all as underdogs.
Ohio State vs. Northwestern Predictions and Picks
I know I talked about not buying into the hype here. And while I am trying not to, I am also incapable of seeing any real choice but to give up the points here and go with the Buckeyes. Ohio State's defense is not great, but it has been improved lately, and it's not against a hugely dynamic Northwestern offense. And if the Buckeyes set a tone early on offense, it is very tough to imagine the Wildcats being able to keep up. It is as much of a mismatch as it appears on paper. Ohio State is the pick.
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