COLUMBUS — Championships rings are stylish, and that’s all that matters to Ohio State.
Anything other than claiming some new jewelry and lifting a fourth-consecutive Big Ten trophy won’t matter to the Buckeyes on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Yes, Ohio State wants to pursue a national title. But it can’t do that without beating Northwestern first, and the reality is that will almost certainly be all it needs to do to punch a return ticket to the College Football Playoff — no matter how much meaningless debating or campaigning goes on elsewhere around the country.
“I mean, listen, everybody has their teamâ€™s back and they want to fight for their team â€” and thatâ€™s great,” Day said early in the week. “But Iâ€™m not going to get caught up in the emotion of it all. Our focus is going toward playing in this game, and if we play well, we move on. We know that in our heart, and thatâ€™s just what matters.
“This team is very, very talented. This team has great potential. This team can play with anybody in the country. Thatâ€™s the facts. To be undefeated and to win the Big Ten championship, that speaks for itself.”
The Buckeyes can wrap up that case for the selection committee on Saturday afternoon against the Wildcats, and they are once again heavy favorites to defend their Big Ten crown. Ohio State is unanimously expected to win according to the staff at Lettermen Row, so as always, the guys went deeper with Bold Predictions for what will happen in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Austin Ward: Jeremy Ruckert scores twice for Ohio State
Even if the targets don’t come with any kind of consistency, there’s simply no doubt that the tight ends are a critical part of the success of the Ohio State attack as a whole — and they might be even more important in Indy. When the timing is right to do more than just block, Jeremy Ruckert has proven that he can be a game-changing threat when the football comes his way through the air. That hasn’t happened in the last two outings, which is a bit surprising considering they came on the heels of three touchdowns in the previous couple games before that. But that probably signals that Ruckert is due to slip loose against Northwestern, setting the table for him to add to his already-impressive highlight reel in Indianapolis. Expect a couple scores from the junior tight end in a comfortable win for the Buckeyes.
Birm: Buckeyes will roll up 600 yards of offense
The Northwestern defense has been good this season, holding opponents to under 315 yards per contest through seven games so far. But the Wildcats have not played talent like the Buckeyes have, though, and Saturday will provide a bit of a wakeup call for Pat Fitzgeraldâ€™s plucky gang of purple-clad defenders. Justin Fields will throw for 300 yards and the Buckeyes running backs — along with Fields — will match that on the ground as Ohio State stretches Northwestern thin, from sideline to sideline and up and down the field.
Spencer Holbrook: Ohio State runs for 300 yards in Indy
Northwestern has had a great season stopping the run. That will end against a talented Buckeyes backfield and an offensive line that will be pieced back together. Both times the Buckeyes went against a dominant run defense last year, Ryan Day came out early and put the thought of an opponent stopping the run to bed. And heâ€™ll do it again. Trey Sermon, Master Teague, Justin Fields or whoever else is carrying the ball for the Buckeyes will have success on their way to a 300-yard collective effort on the ground.
Tim May: Buckeyes defense dominates Big Ten title game
According to the stats, Northwestern has the much better defense headed into this game. Ohio State beat Michigan State 52-12 its last time out in what was considered a rejuvenation for the Buckeyes defense, but that was against the Spartans after all. Then again, Northwestern couldn’t stop the Spartans when it had to in its only loss of the year. Defensive pride is on the line Saturday, and it will be the Ohio State defense that walks out having shut down the Wildcats.
Will Crall: Julian Fleming breakout includes touchdown
The time for Julian Flemingâ€™s breakout game has arrived. The freshman receiver has been fifth on the depth chart and heads into the Big Ten championship game with only three receptions and a big strip against Indiana currently on the stats sheet. But he looks like an NFL receiver already, and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields will be looking to spread the ball around against a weak Northwestern secondary. Two years ago Terry McLaruin had a huge night with two touchdowns in the championship win over the Wildcats. I have a hunch that Fleming will do the same.