Prediction Caturday: B1G Championship

Why Northwestern will/won't beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship -  Inside NU

The ‘Cats are once again playing on Championship weekend and represent the B1G West in Indy. Can they pull off the upset and rain chaos upon the CFP picture?

ROGER

What a wild year.

The ‘Cats got off to a great start in mid-October by throttling Maryland. It looked like NU had found a quarterback. After a few nail biters against Iowa, Nebraska and to a lesser extent Purdue, NU was ready to claim the West against Wisconsin. And that they did.

Inevitably, everything came crashing down to earth against Michigan State. Some were wondering how the hell that was possible… even for NU. Surely, it was the usual NU curse. The one where the ‘Cats fall flat on their faces when on the precipice of something nice (after all, we can’t have nice things). But, it really wasn’t that. In hindsight, the loss to Sparty happened because NU isn’t actually that good and the ‘Cats have absolutely no margin for error. 

Unfortunately, it appears as though both the B1G West and the totality of the B1G are as bad as either have been in years. NU’s win at Iowa was the only half impressive accomplishment for the team. Hell, the Cats haven’t even defeated another team with a winning record. There are only 4 of those in the entire conference and NU is one of them. Some may point to the lack of non-conference games as the determining factor for this anomaly, but even then it’s still statistically far fetched that a 14 team conference would only have 5 teams AT OR ABOVE .500 (Minnesota is now .500) at the end of this season. The ACC has 9. The SEC has 7. The 12 team AAC has 6. The 10 team Big12 has 6. Even the Pac12 – with an absurdly limited sample size – has 7.

So, what am I getting at here?

Simply put, NU is overrated at #14 and that’s largely a result of inflationary victories at the time against Purdue and Wisconsin. It turns out that both of those teams are hot garbage. Purdue is probably the worst team in the B1G not named Illinois. Wisconsin has totaled 10 points or more in exactly 2 games this season – their first 2. A lot of people are (rightfully) tearing into the College Football Playoff rankings, but it shouldn’t have anything to do with NU’s ranking which is actually higher than where it should be based on pure numbers. Take a look at what the computers think of the ‘Cats. FPI has NU at #23 and the Colley Matrix has NU at #22 (with a #118 SOS). The OG BCS would rank the ‘Cats at #16.

Enter Ohio State.

They are not overrated. While they have only played 5 games, they pass the computer test, the eye test, the smell test and (sometimes) the COVID test. They have more 5 star wide receivers on their bench than any other B1G team has on their entire roster. Let that sink in. Their offense is lethal. Their defense is better than many of the pundits claim. 

But, Ohio State isn’t infallible either. They have played 1 game in the past 4 weeks. They played like absolute trash for 20+ minutes against Indiana earlier in the season. That level of trash – over an entire half or 3 quarters – could easily lose to an NU team playing well. OSU exposed themselves for having a floor that is fairly low for a team of their caliber. But, that’s not new for the Buckeyes. They have been randomly trounced by B1G West teams (Iowa and Purdue) in recent years when they simply didn’t show up. It’s 2020 and there’s absolutely no reason that can’t happen again. 

so, Saturday…… 

Northwestern is a 20.5 point dog. Rightfully so. They are -1112 straight up. Why in the hell would anyone expect them to win?  Well, it’s 2020. When any sense of normalcy starts returning to the world it seems like all hell breaks loose yet again. 

Game Summary: Ohio State will be rusty early. I expect Fields to miss a few throws that would otherwise seem pedestrian. I also expect him to make a few bad reads trying to tuck it and run when NU is surprisingly well schemed to stop that.

This type of rust won’t be unexpected with only one game played in the previous 4 weeks. But, the longer it goes on the more irritating it becomes for Buckeye nation and Justin Fields.   

Meanwhile, the ‘Cats won’t do much on offense in the first 15 – 20 minutes, but they’ll do enough with Cam Porter and creative uses of both Ramsey’s and McGowan’s legs to give everyone some hope that they can put together a few sustained drives and stay in the game.

As the game goes on, OSU will start pressing defensively to try to create a change in momentum. This is about the time when Twitter will light up with questions from the NU faithful about what could have been for the past 10 years. 
Wait…. what?

Yea. Remember Mick? Our offensive coordinator for more than a decade? The one who allowed us to waste away a top 25 defense year after year? Somehow he’s marshaling a top running game for a CFP contender (Iowa State). But, he never had the audacity to swing for the fences when he had nothing to lose. Bajakian will. And I think it will work.
See you on Twitter.

Game Score: NU 31 – OSU 27

Play of the Game: One of several Bajakian home runs or the Papa Fitz home run call on special teams.

1) Andrew Marty deep ball to Ramsey out of the Wildcat
2) Riley Lees pass to RCB off a reverse
3) Kuhbander run for a TD out of the kicking formation

Player to Watch: Greg Newsome. The ‘Cats need him to be able to hold down the fort with no help. That’s an incredibly tall task, but I think he’s up for it. 

Warrior to Watch: All of us. Are you kidding? The champagne could be flowing like we’re partying in the grass of the West Lot in 1995.

DOC ROCHE

No contest due to COVID.

TRENT

I can’t wait for the game this weekend. The ‘Cats are in their second B1G Championship Game in three years. We join Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State as the only other schools to compete for multiple B1G Championships. 

My first trip to Ryan Field was a home game against Duke in 2007. The Blue Devils held the nation’s longest losing streak at 22 (yes, twenty-two) straight games. Duke beat the ‘Cats to break that insane losing streak, then proceeded to lose every other game for the remainder of the season.

What that experience has done is make me appreciate this moment more.  We’ve come a long ways from my first ‘Cats game til now. I was complaining earlier this week about the ‘Cats lack of respect in the polls while at the same time bemoaning our backbreaking loss in East Lansing that still stings. After taking a pause, I realized that neither mattered. 

What matters now is that we’ve got an opportunity to win the Big Ten on Saturday. When we came to the 2018 game, I partied in Indy and was just happy to be there. This year, there is no partying in Indy, and I’m not just happy to be here. I want to win, and I think we can.

There are a few intangible factors working in our favor:

1.     Coach Hank is retiring after this season. The team is going to be uber-motivated to send him off with a win in the B1G Championship.

2.     Jim Philips is moving to the ACC. I think the players will also play hard for Jim – even though is leaving of his own volition.

3.     The game has zero fans and starts at 11am CT. The ‘Cats are very used to playing 11am CT games with no fans in the stands. This works in our favor.

4.      Peyton Ramsey is named after Peyton Manning. Ramsey is playing in his home state again and in the stadium that hangs Manning’s jersey in the rafters.

5.     No one believes in us.

The biggest factor is the last one. The ‘Cats are one of the best teams in the country at playing hard as big underdogs. We can’t handle being the favorite, like we were against MSU and shat the bed. I think the team will play extremely hard on Saturday, and give the Buckeyes our best shot.

I continue to lament about the Sparty loss, but I would not feel nearly as good about our position coming into this game if we were an undefeated team ranked in the Top 10. In that scenario I could see us getting blown out by 50. But given the MSU loss has dropped us in the rankings and set us up as an enormous underdog – these elements work in our favor for this weekend.

Game Summary:

Before the 2018 B1G Championship Game, I wrote that the NU-OSU matchup was like a college basketball game. Whichever team dictated tempo would have the upper hand. The same holds true in 2020, we can’t get into a track meet with OSU or we will lose. We’ve got to muck the game up, have some semblance of success running the ball, and burn clock to win.

The ‘Cats have not been able to run the ball well at all this year – although I say that after we nearly racked up 400 yards on the ground last week. I think our game plan has to be Peyton Ramsey passing on early downs to then set up the run. If we can connect on some short and intermediate routes against a somewhat suspect OSU secondary, that should open up some running lanes for our RBs (I guess Porter?). Ramsey throws a little fluttery ball without a ton of power behind it – playing in a dome without the Midwest winds whipping around should help him with his accuracy.

I expect a big game from Kyric McGowan, who was the leading receiver for the ‘Cats in the 2018 matchup. Kyric has had two brutal mistakes this year – a muffed punt against Iowa and then the dreadful blown handoff against MSU which basically cost us the game. Aside from those two incredibly harmful plays, he’s been our best player on offense, bar one (Peter Skoronski). He has had extremely sure hands and come up big in clutch situations. I think the senior will ball out on Saturday, both through the air and on the jet sweep.

In the 2018 title game, OSU’s receivers absolutely killed our secondary. Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell, both now NFL stars, tore us apart while Dwyane Haskins threw for nearly 500 yards and played the type of game that got him drafted in the top 10. Our secondary this time around is the strength of our team. We had two first team all B1G-ers with B Jo and Newsome, and have plenty of other talent with Pace as well. They will have the test of blanketing OSU’s (shorthanded???) receivers on Saturday, and I think they’ll do a much better job than two years ago.

The problem, and it’s a big one, is Justin Fields. We’ve had notorious problems with running QBs in the past, and Fields is a prototypical running QB. We can spy him with our senior LBs, but none of them are fast or athletic enough to stay with Fields in the open field. I’m terrified of those 3rd and 8 situations, where our secondary does its job in coverage…and Fields just easily scampers for the first down.

So we need to have Fields basically play a poor game (maybe that one week off of rust will help), we need to be able to run the ball, and we need to win the turnover battle. The ‘Cats have not had a defensive score all year. It’s happening this Saturday…mark my words.

The ‘Cats don’t have the talent or speed that OSU does. But I do think this Buckeyes squad is not as strong as the 2018 version, and the ‘Cats have a better defense and a better O line than two years ago. We also have a lot of intangibles working in our favor. I certainly think we will cover the spread, and I believe we can win this game.

Game Score: NU 33 – OSU 27

Play of the Game: Greg Newsome pick six.

Player to watch:

Offense – Peyton Ramsey. This is his moment. He came to NU to compete in this game, and is playing in his home state in Lucas Oil Stadium, where his namesake took the field for so many years. Need a big game from Peyton.

Defense – Earnest Brown IV. He had a monster game two years ago, with a forced fumble, half a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Getting some pressure on Fields will be critical on Saturday to force some mistakes.

Warrior to watch: whole squad

ANDY

It’s 2020. Anything could happen. I could easily see this game getting out of hand quickly. But I can also easily see Northwestern pulling off the unthinkable. I’m going to predict the latter.

Game Summary: ‘Cats win the toss and defer to the second half. OSU gets a first down or two but the drive fizzles out and the ‘Cats get the ball with decent field position. A well rehearsed drive later and… what’s this? The ‘Cats are up 7-0. The game goes back and forth, and the ‘Cats enter the locker room trailing 14-13. OSU +21.5 bettors are sweating (for good reason). Stupid Darren Rovell is giddy on his stupid Deal Or No Deal style live stream. Howie Mandel rolls his eyes. Did you know he’s a Germaphobe like Warrior ZVon? Google “Howie Mandel Hazmat Suit.” I digress.

‘Cats get the ball to start the second half, and what do you know, it’s a trick play for a big score. A defensive battle heats up, but a big turnover by OSU proves to be the difference. The ‘Cats prevail. OSU goes home crying (and complaining about how something wasn’t fair, despite them not even qualifying for the game!!). The CFP committee poops themselves. The ‘Cats get Chick-Fil-A. Huzzah.

Game Score: NU 23 – OSU 21

Play of the Game: The aforementioned trick play. Everyone will be going nuts by themselves on their home couch.

Player to Watch: Ramsey. We need to put up some points. I don’t think we need to win a shootout, but we certainly aren’t gonna win 13-10.

Warrior to Watch: Everyone. Especially Roger.

PAUL

I am not as optimistic as the other Warriors, but I’ll still put a bottle of champagne on ice if we’re down by 10 or less at halftime. Big Kudos to the coaching staff and the players for getting here two of the last three years. I have to say it’s been an amazing time in NUFB history to be a fan. 

Game Summary: Cats lose. Rovell loses all his money and never takes a deal.

Game Score: NU 17 – OSU 41

Play of the Game: We’ll have a lucky pick or two . Sadly no defensive TDs or successful trick plays today.

Player to Watch: Peyton Ramsey Bolton!

Warrior to Watch: The Squad. We’ll be spread out over 3 time zones and Day is one to watch here with the 9am local start. How amped can he get before kickoff?

HACK

Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what the Cats have here tomorrow, boys. That’s what they’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow we play with them. Tomorrow, we stay with them. Tomorrow, we smack them in the mouth and we shut them down because we can! Tomorrow, WE are the greatest football team in the world. The Cats were born to be football players. Every one of you. And Northwestern was meant to be here tonight. This is our time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great football team Ohio State has. Screw ’em. This is our time. Now go out there and take it.

Game Summary: Justin Fields is the best player on the field, but football is a team sport. It’s the weirdest year in living memory where anything can and has happened, but Ohio State seems to think they are going to waltz to the playoff. As the great philosopher, Mike Tyson, once said, “everyone’s got a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” The Cat’s need to physically dominate this game and hope Justin Fields makes a few mistakes, which he is prone to do. Does 2020 have one last shock in store for us? Let’s hope so…

Game Score: Northwestern 28 – Ohio State -27

Play of the Game: Fields rushes towards the goal line but is stripped by JR Pace. The ball goes out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.

Player to Watch: Whoever is spying Justin Fields

Warrior to Watch: The whole crew – we comin.

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