A Northwestern upset Saturday would rank among the most unlikely in college football history
There’s no way, right?
There’s no way Northwestern, a 20.5-point underdog in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, waltzes into Indianapolis and tops Ohio State, obliterating the league’s obvious plans to get a member into the College Football Playoff at all costs. There’s no way FBS’ No. 89 scoring offense can keep pace with the No. 4 team in that category, even with a top 5 defense, because the Buckeyes are simply too deep, too skilled and too motivated.
Did you think you’d ever see a College Football Playoff race determined by a thrown shoe? Or a team with 33 players out due to COVID-19 winning a B1G game on the road? Or the stubborn, archaic B1G bending its own ill-conceived rules to push Ohio State into the Playoff?
It’s 2020. That doesn’t mean Northwestern has much of a chance Saturday. But it does mean if ever there was a year for the whacky to happen, this is as good as any.
It’s probably not gonna happen. But if it did …
It’d match the biggest upset during a conference championship game during the modern era. According to Vegas Insider, Texas owns that distinction for beating Nebraska in the 1996 Big 12 championship — the league’s first ever title tilt.
Since the B1G began playing a conference championship game in 2011, the favorite according to Vegas is 5-4. Michigan State’s win against Ohio State in 2013 marks the league’s largest upset.
The Spartans were a 5.5-point underdog.
In 79 conference championships tracked by Vegas Insider, only one double-digit underdog besides Texas in 1996 has won — Florida State topped Virginia Tech, favored by 14, in the 2005 ACC title game. The favorite is 61-18 in those contests.
So how can Northwestern pull off what many outside of Evanston have already deemed impossible?
“I’ll be sitting around all week trying to figure that out,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said Sunday.
In theory, it’s a tantalizing matchup: the nation’s No. 4 offense against its No. 2 scoring defense. But the body of work is smaller thanks to COVID-19; Northwestern hasn’t seen an offense with near the firepower of quarterback Justin Fields and Ohio State.
And the ’Cats haven’t been consistent moving the ball themselves.
It was just a year ago that Ohio State shellacked Northwestern 52-3. “They probably would have had a better game against their twos than the way we played,” Fitzgerald said.
But it was just two seasons ago that the Wildcats rolled through the B1G West and took on Ohio State in the conference championship game. This is a program that doesn’t beat itself and does the most damage when everyone’s counting it out.
Again, it probably won’t happen. But if it did …
Not only would it be an upset of historic proportions according the sportsbooks. It’d completely undermine an already-beleaguered B1G. Nowhere in the conference’s decision to eliminate championship-game eligibility requirements did the athletic directors’ plans include “Northwestern wins a shocker, ensuring no B1G participation in the playoff.”
It’s been a chaotic year, and Fitzgerald’s squad is full of chaos agents.
Enough to make history Saturday? Probably not. But if Ohio State has an undefeated mark and a conference title for the playoff selection committee to consider, the Buckeyes will have earned it.