5 things the College Football Playoff committee needs to see from Ohio State vs. Northwestern
It’s on. Finally.
Yes, a championship is always a big game, but this seems to have a little more juice behind it.
After everything we’ve seen in 2020, college football has stumbled to the finish line. Then again, Ohio State is glad to play for a lot of reasons. Another game gives the Buckeyes more visibility and more evidence for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
And that gets them one step closer to playing for a national championship.
So many things have had to go right this season for Ohio State to be in position to get back to the Playoff. But so far, even with a few bumps in the road, enough of them have happened, and the Buckeyes are right where they need to be heading into Saturday’s B1G title game in Indianapolis (noon ET, Fox).
Now, one of the few things left that stands in their way is Northwestern, a team that has had a wonderful comeback year. It’s a team that has a stout defense, a good running game and a motivation to beat the Buckeyes after losing to them two seasons ago in this game.
Vegas has set the Buckeyes as 20-point favorites, and they may have to win with some style to cement their place in the Playoff. Yes, this is another audition.
So here are 5 things Ohio State needs to do when it faces Northwestern on Saturday:
1. Win big
Maybe it goes without saying, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. In years past, it seems like Ohio State has always scored a big win when it needed it most. OSU has delivered an eye-popping score that really stands out on the crawler or the ESPN highlights. It’s always been something that makes the nation say “Wow.”
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The Buckeyes need to do it again against Northwestern. Of course, they’ll be motivated — there’s a championship, as well as history, on the line. No team has ever won four straight outright B1G titles. Well, now’s your chance, and I bet winning by 20 would go a long way to impressing the Selection Committee.
Simply, the Buckeyes need to continue to show the country they belong on the biggest stage with Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. They need to back up the talk and really impress with what they can do. And to go along with all of that, it’ll be nice to have head coach Ryan Day back on the sidelines, too.
I think they need 50 or more points in this one.
2. Put up huge offensive numbers
Call it style points. Call it whatever you want.
But Gary Barta, chair of the Selection Committee and athletic director at Iowa, said two weeks ago that one of the reasons Ohio State was ranked fourth was essentially because of the explosive qualities of the offense. They need to again live up to that reputation. That means putting up big numbers, especially through the air, where Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson need to continue to shine.
(By the way, as an aside, it’s criminal that neither Olave nor Wilson are finalists for the Biletnikoff Award. The finalists include wide receivers from Arkansas State, North Texas and Central Florida. I mean, really? But I digress.)
3. Get a big day from Justin Fields
Fields needs to continue to be a player whom the nation wants to see. After his 3-interception day against Indiana, his image took a hit, but he was able to regain some momentum with his remarkable performance against Michigan State two weeks ago.
Another performance like that could cement Ohio State’s standing in the top four, not to mention the growing sentiment that Fields may be the best quarterback in Ohio State history. While that distinction may not mean as much to the talented Buckeye, it’s just another example of what could be on the line Saturday.
If Fields can put up his usual numbers — and let’s not overlook the importance of Fields using his legs — then people will start talking about him again. He may not be in the Heisman conversation anymore, but he will definitely be in the national title conversation.
4. Avoid the second-half collapse
In their last contest, for the first time in a long while, the Buckeyes were able to hang on to a big lead and not allow a team back into the game. They bludgeoned Michigan State and kept them from mounting any kind of momentum. That took two things, working in tandem, to happen: the offense had to keep working and the defense had to perform for the entire game.
They will have to do that again to impress the committee.
Most know that Northwestern — despite its loss to Michigan State — is a very good team. If Ohio State can jump on them early, and continue to dominate for a full game, it will reflect well on the Buckeyes.
5. Avoid giving up big plays
This one falls squarely on the defense.
Against Michigan State, one instance of poor communication gave up one big play — a pass and catch of more than 50 yards. It was a marked improvement from previous games. Against Indiana, the Hoosiers torched Ohio State for 4 passing plays of 50-plus yards and 10 passing plays of 15-plus yards.
“If we don’t give up those big plays, we probably run away with this game, but we didn’t,” Day said after the Indiana game.
They must avoid this to show they are, on defense, worthy of playing in the Playoff. Northwestern relies on their run game to set the tone. They will try to control the clock and keep the ball out of Fields’ hands. The Buckeyes defense needs to make stops, get off the field and give the ball back to their talented quarterback.
Regardless, Ohio State is lucky. I’m sure the team is thankful just to be in this game.
But to keep the rest of their dreams alive, the Buckeyes need to come out and do one more thing.
They need to dominate Northwestern.