Does Ohio State get a competitive advantage on Northwestern by not playing this weekend?
There are a lot of assumptions being made, but one big thread of them goes like this: The Big Ten is going to carve out for Ohio State an exemption to their own rule that in 2020 a team must play six games to qualify for the league championship game. The Buckeyes are 5-0 and have decided to either not play, or been forced to cancel, three games this season. Without an exemption, they won’t play for a conference title.
Once the Big Ten does this, the assumption continues, Ohio State will go to the Big Ten Championship and clobber Northwestern on their way to the College Football Playoff. But before the Buckeyes allegedly cleared path to glory goes national, it ought to be asked whether or not it’s fair to the Northwestern Wildcats that Ohio State sits home Saturday after Michigan called off their rivalry game for reasons of Covid-19, while the Wildcats play in-state rival Illinois at home and put their bodies and record on the line against the Illini.
Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. There are two primary schools of thought on the topic.
One says it’s a clear advantage. Ohio State can sit back and practice and sharpen their game on both sides of the ball while letting key players heal from whatever nagging injuries a five game schedule has left them with. They’ll take the field against Northwestern fresh, full of energy, and with a massive advantage of strength and stamina over a team that went into hard battle a just six days earlier.
The second school of thought has it as a disadvantage. The only way to truly sharpen your sword is in battle. There are diminishing returns to constantly practicing against yourself, according to this school, because players grow sluggish, disinterested, and lose their edge when it comes to game speed and intensity. When they take the field the seasoned battlers on the other side will own an initiative advantage in the early stages of the game, which could make the final difference in a close contest.
So, which is it for the Buckeyes: An unfair advantage because of rest, or a burden to be overcome as they take on teams ready to hit the throttle immediately once the ball is kicked? Ohio State’s sluggishness at times and inconsistency might suggest it’s the latter.