B1G title doesn't matter: Ohio State would be better off playing Iowa
Ohio State doesn’t need a Big Ten championship. Everyone already knows the Buckeyes are the best team in the league. That was settled Nov. 21 when they held off Indiana 42-35.
The College Football Playoff committee believes Ohio State belongs in the Playoff. It has been tipping its hand about that for weeks, voting the Buckeyes into the No. 4 slot in each of its three Tuesday reveals.
Two things are giving the selectors pause:
- The Buckeyes have only played 5 games, half as many as the other members of the current top 4 and the fewest of any team in the CFP’s top 14.
- Outside of Indiana, the Buckeyes have played cupcakes.
Ohio State needs a signature victory this Saturday, against the most credible opponent available. Confined to the Big Ten, the Buckeyes should play Iowa, the hottest team in the league. The Hawkeyes have been the best team in the B1G West since the calendar flipped to November, winners of 6 straight games.
But Ohio State will not play Iowa on Saturday. The Buckeyes will play Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. The conference executives jumped through their own hoops and changed their own rules to make it happen. It was the right thing to do. The rule requiring a minimum of 6 games played was silly from the start.
Let’s not proclaim that the B1G did OSU some big favor, though. The Buckeyes would have been fine either way if the original Championship Week format hadn’t changed. By the original plan, OSU would have faced Iowa in a battle of the No. 2 teams in their respective divisions.
Instead, the Big Ten punted. Scrapping the seeded matchups, the league decided the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket must go on, so Indiana will play Purdue this weekend.
As reward for its winning streak, Iowa gets to play not Ohio State, not AP No. 7 Indiana, but … 2-4 Michigan. Well, it’ll be a win, anyway, assuming the Wolverines show up.
But back to the Buckeyes. A decisive win over Northwestern will get them into the Playoff. But a matchup with Iowa would have been the ideal situation — short of the B1G allowing them to traipse off somewhere to tussle with Texas A&M.
Iowa began its winning streak immediately after blowing a 17-0 lead in its brutal 21-20 loss to Northwestern in Week 2. The Wildcats (6-1) won the West, fair and square. But the Hawkeyes (6-2) have been winning the eye test ever since.
- Starting in Week 3, Iowa is 6-0 and has won by 20.2 points per game. Northwestern is 4-1 — with a loss to Michigan State! — and has outscored opponents by 6.8 points per game.
- Since his disastrous 3-INT day in the loss to the Wildcats, Iowa sophomore QB Spencer Petras has 8 TD passes and 2 INTs, seemingly improving by the week. In the same span, Northwestern grad transfer Peyton Ramsey has 8 TDs and 5 INTs. The contrast is even sharper over the past 2 weeks. Petras has 5 TDs and no INTs, with individual game QBRs of 65.0 and 71.2. Ramsey has 1 TD and 2 INTs, with QBRs of 32.0 (in the 29-20 loss to Michigan State) and 48.9. Truth be told, Northwestern is winning in spite of Ramsey.
- Iowa ranks above Northwestern in every team offensive category and also in total defense. Northwestern is only very slightly ahead of Iowa defensively in points allowed and against the pass.
- Iowa, with Daviyon Nixon and Chauncey Golston leading the way, is way better than Northwestern at pressuring opposing quarterbacks, a key factor in having a chance against Ohio State. The Hawkeyes have 22 sacks (2.75 per game); the Wildcats have 10 (1.43).
- Iowa has at least a little star power on offense, led by RB Tyler Goodson, who is third in the league in rushing yards per game. Northwestern has no backs or receivers among the top 20 in the B1G in yards per game. The Wildcats’ top running back (statistically), Isaiah Bowser, averages 38.2 ypg and has seen his role diminish significantly lately.
Northwestern simply isn’t as good as its record, and not much fun to watch if you’re not part of Wildcat Nation. There is a reason the AP ranks 6-1 Indiana No. 7 and 6-1 Northwestern No. 15. There is a reason the Wildcats are 19.5-point underdogs vs. OSU. The Buckeyes probably need to cover that spread, at a minimum, to close the sale with the Selection Committee.
Iowa would be a better matchup, so it’s a shame the Hawkeyes opened the year with 2 losses before hitting their stride. Right now, with Indiana star QB Michael Penix Jr. done for the season with an injury, Iowa is the second best team in the B1G.
The Big Ten could have stuck to its silly rules and matched the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes as No. 2 seeds. Maybe it should have.