Northwestern vs. Ohio State Odds & Picks: Our Favorite Bets for Saturday’s Big Ten Championship
Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured, from left: Northwestern wide receiver Riley Lees (19) and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (1).
Ohio State vs. Northwestern Odds
Saturday marks a big day for Ohio State.
Despite a shortened schedule, a win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship would almost guarantee the Buckeyes a spot in the College Football Playoff. A loss, however, would certainly knock them out of the top four.
With a 6-1 record, the Wildcats hope to play spoiler. But our college football staff isn’t confident in the longshot upset.
Northwestern vs. Ohio State Staff Best Bets
Our college football staff broke down five bets for Saturday’s Big Ten Championship, including a spread pick, two totals, a team total, and an alternate line.
Click on any of our staff’s picks in the table of contents below to skip to an individual author’s betting analysis.
Laying -20.5 in a conference title game is always a little scary… but not when you’re backing an offense like Ohio State’s.
Ohio State ranks No. 4 in the country in offensive Success Rate, and is the No. 1 team in passing Success Rate.
Fields is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and has the pleasure of throwing the ball to stud wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave who rank first and second in the Big Ten in receiving, each averaging over 100 yards per game.
The Northwestern defense is fantastic. The Cats rank eighth in the country in Success Rate but they are much better against the pass than the run.
After struggling to run the ball in the first couple games, the Buckeyes have figured out their running game and now have the seventh-best rushing offense in the country.
They use both Master Teague (169 yards and 2 TDs vs. Indiana) and Trey Sermon (112 yards and a TD vs. Michigan State) and can ride whoever has the hot hand. Plus Fields can use his legs as the best dual-threat quarterback in the country.
The weakness for the Buckeyes, as we learned against Indiana, is they are vulnerable to giving up big plays in the secondary. Northwestern doesn’t have the weapons on the outside that the Hoosiers have in order to take advantage of that. The Wildcats rank just 84th in passing explosiveness and 92nd in offensive Success Rate.
Ohio State has been criticized all season for not playing enough games and for other variables largely out of its control. The Buckeyes can control the statement they make in Indianapolis this weekend and will look to leave no doubt they are firmly one of the top four teams in college football.
Even though Northwestern is 6-1, its offense has been terrible this season. The Wildcats are 92nd in Offensive Success Rate and 88th in explosiveness, per College Football Data. The main issue is that they can’t run the ball.
Northwestern is gaining a measly 3.9 yards per carry and ranks 109th in Rushing Success. It ran the ball with a ton of success in its last game against Illinois, gaining 7.1 yards per carry.
But the strength of the Buckeyes’ defense is in its front seven. Ohio State is allowing a measly 3.4 yards per attempt and ranks 12th in Defensive Rushing Success. Ohio State should force quarterback Peyton Ramsey to throw more than he wants.
Ohio State’s offense numbers are damn impressive, even with the small-sample-size caveat. The Buckeyes are gaining a crazy 7.0 yards per play, much of which can be contributed to quarterback Justin Fields.
In his five starts this season, Fields is averaging a ridiculous 10.3 yards per attempt and has thrown 15 touchdown passes. That’s made Ohio State No. 1 in Passing Success Rate. However, this is going to be by far the best pass defense he’s faced all season long. Northwestern leads college football in yards per attempt allowed at only 5.0 yards and is third in Defensive Passing Success.
I have only 49.33 points projected for the Big Ten Championship, so I think there’s some value on the under at 57.5 points. Pat Fitzgerald is also an under coach who will muddy this game up:
Northwestern comes into this matchup with the 100th-ranked offense in FBS, averaging 351.4 yards per game. They have an offensive PPA per play of 0.12, which ranks 90th in FBS. This really is just not an offensive-minded team. The Wildcats make it count is on defense.
They rank 13th in yards per game and third in defensive PPA per play of -0.02. The Wildcats are top 25 in generating defensive havoc, which they do on 20% of plays. The Wildcats are going to have to win the defensive side of the ball almost every series in this one to hang with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State is just unequivocally good. They have the sixth-ranked offense in FBS in both yards and offensive PPA. The offense is susceptible to havoc, allowing havoc on 15.4% of plays. This isn’t bad, ranking 39th in the nation, but an area of vulnerability that Northwestern will have to exploit.
Defensively, the Buckeyes have the 39th ranked defense in FBS that is giving up 363.8 yards per game. The Buckeye run defense is stout and will dare the Wildcats into testing their secondary as this game goes on.
Both of these teams prefer to rush the ball with Ohio State rushing on 57% of plays and Northwestern on 58% of plays. Additionally, both teams have strong defenses and should come out fired up.
I expect this to be a run-heavy affair with a lot clock chewed up. My model has the total for this one at 52.35 points. I think you are getting a lot of value on the under, especially since Northwestern doesn’t have the ability to light up the scoreboard but does have one the nation’s best defenses.
by Matt Wispe
Northwestern’s offense has improved from 2019, but they’re still a team that plays in lower-scoring games. They rank 99th in offensive SP+ and have averaged 25.3 points per game.
Ohio State’s defense has primarily been exploited in the passing game via explosive plays. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that goes against their offensive philosophy. They average just 1.7 passes of 20 yards or more per game, which ranks 14th-worst nationally. And while they have an adequate passing success rate of 43.2%, they average just 5.9 yards per attempt.
While the defense has been a question mark for this Ohio State team, the run defense has been a pleasant surprise. The Buckeyes have allowed a rushing success rate of 32.8% and stuff 21.8% of runs. And in this matchup, they’re likely to dominate the trenches as Northwestern generates just 2.57 line yards per attempt and OSU’s defensive line only allows 2.34.
If Northwestern continues to try to run the ball on nearly 60% of its offensive plays, it’ll struggle to score.
Northwestern games have gone under in six of seven games, but betting against Ohio State’s offense isn’t a road I like to go down often. So rather than betting against Ohio State’s offense, I’ll focus on the worse offense in the game particularly when their offensive strategy plays into the strengths of the defense.
Ohio State isn’t shy about running up scores, particularly when the final result has the potential to secure them a spot in the College Football Playoff. In 2014, the Buckeyes blasted Wisconsin 59-0, besting the closing number by 63 points. That performance was enough to vault them into the four-seed of the inaugural CFP.
The following season, they hoped a big win over Michigan late in the season would be enough to impress the committee. The Buckeyes were a one-point favorite and ended up winning by 29.
Ryan Day also hasn’t been shy about running up scores since he took over in Columbus, even promising to “hang 100” on their northern rivals if given the chance this season. These factors may seem anecdotal to some, but I believe they speak to the feeling inside the Buckeye locker room.
A team as talented as Ohio State rarely gets to play the “no one believes in us” card, but the national media is providing them with plenty of bulletin board material here. There’s also Justin Fields’ failed Heisman campaign, which came apart through no fault of his own. I wouldn’t be shocked if this game turned into a showcase for Fields.
The final reason I’m willing to bank on a Buckeye blowout is Northwestern’s offense, or, lack thereof. Last week’s game against Illinois was a blast from the past, and not in a good way.
Northwestern attempted just 12 passes and ran for 411 yards. Wildcat formations and other direct snaps aided most of their drives as they methodically moved the ball on the Fighting Illini. This won’t work against the Buckeyes’ sixth-ranked run defense.
This is a horrible matchup for an overachieving Northwestern team, and I foresee a major blowout in Indianapolis.