Northwestern’s opponent in Big Ten Championship Game is all but set.
The conference changed its six-game minimum requirement for teams to qualify for the championship game in Indianapolis on December 19 after a Wednesday meeting of athletic directors, according to several reports. The deal is agreed to and is expected to be made official later today. As a result, Northwestern will face No. 4 Ohio State in the title game.
This decision came in response to Michigan to pulling out of its rivalry game against No. 4 Ohio State due to COVID cases within its program, leaving the Buckeyes with only five games played heading into Champions Week. The conference feared that if the Buckeyes did not have a Big Ten title on its resume, it might have a harder chance earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Ryan Day’s squad already had two contests canceled this season: one against Maryland due to an outbreak within the Terrapins program and the other against Illinois as a result of numerous cases among the Buckeyes.
There was some debate about if playing in the conference championship game mattered for Ohio State’s Playoff resume, as it likely would’ve been matched up against Iowa, which has a similar ranking to that of Northwestern.
As much as Indiana would have provided a more winnable matchup for NU, the conference saw no reason to keep its undefeated East leader out of the Championship Game due to fungible pandemic formalities. Ohio State beat Indiana 42-35 on November 21 and even with a loss would still win the East Division.
Had the Big Ten not reversed its earlier decision, No. 12 Indiana (6-1) would have represented the East in Indianapolis, although the Hoosiers may also be dealing with COVID cases of their own.
The ‘Cats will face the Buckeyes for the third consecutive season. OSU won the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game 45-24 before blowing out Northwestern 52-3 in Evanston last year. Ohio State has won the past eight contests between the two schools. Northwestern has beaten OSU just once since 1971, when it upset the sixth-ranked Buckeyes in 2004.