Win and they’re in.
That’s the prevailing opinion on Ohio State’s postseason situation, at least.
Though they’ve only taken the field five times this season, a victory against 14th-ranked Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Saturday will most likely secure the Buckeyes a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff, and a shot at the National Championship.
And while this weekend’s contest will see the Buckeyes’ (5-0) elite offense square up against a ferocious Wildcats (6-1) defense, one of its bigger storylines comes from off the gridiron entirely. Due to the cancellation of their Dec. 12 matchup with the Wolverines, the Bucks originally looked to be ineligible for the title game, before the Big Ten amended its rules to give its best team a shot at the natty.
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“I try not to spend too much time thinking about that. I think each conference had their own individual year with their own challenges and different things that had gone on,” Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day said during a Dec. 13 press conference. “And because of that you’re seeing a different number of games, different seasons; there’s just a lot of challenges that come with it. So we’re just going to take it one week at a time.”
But even now, Ohio State continues to deal with an influx of new COVID cases.
Although not yet confirmed by the school, Nick Neuheisel of SiriusXM reported that a “star wide receiver” from the team will be forced to sit out Saturday’s game due to a positive COVID test. He’s likely referring to either Chris Olave or Garret Wilson, and this is a major blow for OSU if true, although nothing indicates so far indicates the status of the game itself is in jeopardy.
And speaking of the game itself: Will the Buckeyes be able to muster enough firepower against the Cats, who boast the nation’s 13th-ranked defense? As Northwestern has allowed on average 313.9 yards per game and the 6th-ranked offense of Ohio State has averaged 532.4 yards each contest, something has to give.
One of the key aspects of the matchup will be how the Buckeye deals with so many missed games this year. Not only has OSU played in two fewer contests than Northwestern this year, they haven’t taken the field since their Dec. 5 victory against Michigan State, and they’ve missed three out of their last five games.
According to Day, though, the Buckeyes used their off-time well, creating game atmospheres in order to keep players and coaches sharp.
“What we try to do is, on those off-weeks, we try to make it as much of a game as possible. We did that on Friday. We tried to simulate a game; we played about a half of football, had special teams go out there, put us on the sidelines,” said Day. “We’re trying to simulate the best we can to keep us in that rhythm, to try and keep that momentum going the best we can.”
So only time will tell if Ohio State’s inactivity will claim the better of them, or if the Bucks can get in a rhythm, flex the muscles we know they have, and pave their path to the College Football Playoff.