A fourth straight Big 10 championship game victory would be impressive for Ohio State on Saturday, but the Buckeyes are looking for more than just a win.
Hoping to stay inside the top four of the college football rankings when they are released Sunday, Ohio State is seeking to solidify its playoff resume with a dominant victory over Northwestern at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The criticism Ohio State is facing is, that with only five games to date, it lacks the complete body of work to be considered worthy of a playoff spot. The other teams in the top four — Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame — will end up with 11 games.
“We definitely have something to prove,” said OSU defensive back Shaun Wade on Tuesday. “Like I’ve been telling a lot of my teammates, we’ve got to blow them out. We have to come to play because we’ve only played five games and everybody else in the nation has played eight or more. We have to come to play and show the world what we can do.”
The consensus feeling from many of the college football “experts” in the national media is that the Buckeyes will get in the playoffs if they beat Northwestern.
But there is also a belief that if the Buckeyes only squeak out a narrow win they will leave the door open for a team like Texas A&M, which is currently sitting in the fifth spot. The Aggies’ only loss was to top-ranked Alabama. In addition to having only played five games, the Buckeyes are lacking impressive wins. They do have the win over 11th-ranked Indiana, but that is their only victory over a team with a winning record.
At number 14 in the playoff rankings, Northwestern and its 6-1 record offers the Buckeyes a legitimate opponent Saturday. Beating the Wildcats is of course a necessity for Ohio State’s playoff hopes. On top of that, winning by several touchdowns would quiet those who feel Ohio State has not done enough to play for a national championship.
“We’re one of the top four teams in the country for sure,” quarterback Justin Fields said this week. “If we go out there Saturday and handle business like we are supposed to, we should be where we want to be.”
While OSU head coach Ryan Day does not believe the margin of victory should matter, he did acknowledge that style points do mean something with the way the college playoff system is set up. “It goes against everything we’ve been brought up with,” said Day. “I don’t think there is another sport in the work where anything other that winning matters, so it’s very unique. If you win by one point in the NFL, you’d win the Super Bowl … but in college football it’s different and this year it’s even more strange.”
Like Wade, Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert said that winning decisively is on the team’s mind this week.
“I mean we try not to think about it as much, but what it comes down to is that every other school has more games than us. Every game that we have is looked at under a microscope. We try and just put the best game out there on film and really dominate and execute every play because that’s what they’re watching.” O