For the third time in Big Ten championship game history, the Ohio State Buckeyes will face the Wisconsin Badgers. And, as is tradition, a spot in the College Football Playoff appears to be on the line for at least one team. This year it will be Ohio State, ranked No. 1 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings leading into conference championship weekend. And considering how Ohio State has performed this season, some may wonder if the Buckeyes can even afford a loss and still reach the four-team playoff field.
Of course, Ohio State would like to avoid that discussion entirely, and these Buckeyes appear set to finish their mission of returning to the playoff after a few seasons out of the championship hunt. Ohio State has handled every team in its way this season, including Wisconsin. The Badgers hope to get revenge for a 38-7 loss in October that drove a nail into the coffin for Wisconsin’s playoff hopes a week after Illinois upset them. The Badgers have not lost a game since being humbled in Columbus. Can they even the season series with Ohio State to punch their own ticket to the Rose Bowl?
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
Spread: Ohio State -16.5
When Ohio State Has the Ball
The Buckeyes are loaded on offense this year, which will make for an incredibly difficult task for a respectable Wisconsin defense. In their earlier matchup, Wisconsin’s defense kept Ohio State within reach for as long as it could, but the Buckeyes saw their talent overload on offense help take care of the game by four scores. Running back J.K. Dobbins was a significant factor in that game by rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns to out-perform his running back counterpart, Jonathan Taylor. Expect another big game from Dobbins, who has been a workhorse for the Buckeyes the last few weeks against Penn State and Michigan.
Ohio State’s passing game is also in terrific hands. Justin Fields was just named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year. He may not have had his biggest of games against the Badgers earlier this year, but he did throw for two touchdowns and run for one more. Fields has been banged up the last couple of weeks but should be good to go this weekend. Fields’ ability to pick up yards on the ground will be critical and potentially back-breaking for Wisconsin defense, which will have to focus on finishing their tackles against the slippery offensive playmakers Ohio State has. Fields can also rely on Chris Olave to make some big catches, as the rising star has done all season long for the Buckeyes.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is closing in on a 2,000-yard season and is coming off a big game to help lift Wisconsin to the division title at Minnesota last week. Taylor only had 76 rushing yards but he had two rushing touchdowns and caught another in critical moments. Ohio State has fared well against Taylor and will hope that Chase Young and the aggressive defensive line will close down any running lanes for Taylor to burst through. Ohio State limited Taylor to just 52 rushing yards on 20 attempts back in October, and he caught just one pass for five yards. He'll need 95 yards to pass DeAngelo Williams and move into No. 5 on the all-time NCAA rushing list.
If Ohio State succeeds in limiting Taylor's impact, then that puts the pressure on quarterback Jack Coan. This is the game Ohio State will want to see because Coan may not be the guy who will make enough big plays under pressure. He may even cough up the football as Ohio State’s defense surrounds and chases him down. Coan can be selective with his passing and likely will not have huge numbers despite having a talented go-to option in Quintez Cephus. Coan passed for 108 yards and a touchdown in the previous meeting with Ohio State this season, but he is coming off a confidence-boosting game with 280 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in the win over the Gophers last week.
Do not be surprised if the Big Ten Championship Game plays out similarly to the previous encounter between the Buckeyes and Badgers. Wisconsin's defense is more than capable of keeping things close for a while, and the Badgers do have a potent running game that can control some clock and move on Ohio State at times. The problem for Wisconsin is they may not be able to keep up the pace with Ohio State once the Buckeyes start getting in a groove on offense.
This has been the case all season long for Ohio Stae and their opponents. Last week against Michigan, the Buckeyes were in an early tussle with their rivals after the first quarter, but Ohio State took advantage in the second quarter by shutting down Michigan's offense and tacking on points themselves. Ohio State has dominated the second quarter this season as they generally take all of the momentum into halftime. Wisconsin knows this from experience. The Badgers managed to score an early third-quarter touchdown to put some pressure on Ohio State in their regular-season meeting, but the Buckeyes responded with authority and went on to win 38-7.
At the end of this game, we could have a strikingly similar result as Ohio State puts a bow on a third consecutive Big Ten championship and stamps their ticket to the College Football Playoff.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Wisconsin 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.