The teams that will play in Indianapolis on Saturday for the Big Ten championship game have a lot of differences on and off the field.
A charter member of the Big Ten in 1896, Northwestern has won eight conference championships — the same total Ohio State claims since 2002.
Ohio State is among the elite college football programs of all time, claiming eight national championships and 36 Big Ten titles.
The only private school in the Big Ten, Northwestern has about one third as many students as Ohio State, which was founded “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes” as a land-grant university.
Of course winning is important to Northwestern fans, but they have been known to chant, “That’s all right, that’s okay/you’re gonna pump our gas some day” after watching their team come up short again.
Ohio State leads the all-time series 61-14-1 and has won 30 of the last 31 meetings between the programs.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former Northwestern linebacker, referred to his alma mater a “white collar school with a blue collar mentality as a football team” during a conference call this week.
While Ohio State has signed the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten eight years in a row, Northwestern’s average ranking in that time is roughly No. 9, according to 247Sports.com.
That site measures Ohio State as the most-talented team in the country this season while the Wildcats are ninth in the Big Ten and No. 46 overall.
The Buckeyes are led by their high-scoring offense while Northwestern is a defense-first team. The Wildcats are the least-penalized team in the Big Ten while Ohio State is the second-most, but the squads do have at least one thing in common.
The Buckeyes and the Wildcats both had their share of inconsistencies en route to Indianapolis.
Northwestern started the season by beating Purdue 31-27, but that was followed by losses at home to Duke and Akron, teams that went a combined 11-12 in the regular season.
After blowing a 17-0 lead against Michigan in Week 4, the Wildcats were 1-3. Now they are Big Ten West champions for the first time.
Although Northwestern has won seven of its last eight, that successful stretch has not exactly been dominating.
While the Wildcats beat Michigan State and Wisconsin by double digits, they took down Nebraska (4-8) and Rutgers (1-11) by only three points apiece.
Northwestern also mixed in a 10-point loss to undefeated Notre Dame along the way, and they beat Illinois by only eight points a week ago while resting some regulars.
“I really don’t think it’s anything magical,” Fitzgerald said of the team’s turnaround. “The kids just rolled their sleeves up and went to work.
“You can only control the controllable, and if you went back and watched especially the Akron and Duke games, we beat ourselves. We didn’t play very well. We didn’t coach very well. We didn’t execute. It was very disappointing. I think our leadership really stepped up. They just kept grinding and working to get better and the credit all goes to our players.”
Now Fitzgerald knows there is a whole new challenge awaiting.
“Every skill guy can score just by catching a hitch,” he said of Ohio State, a 62-39 winner over Michigan last week after a season of ups and downs on and off the field. “Every guy in the backfield by making one guy miss can take it to the house. (Quarterback Dwayne Haskins) is just so efficient. His touchdown to interception ratio is absolutely incredible.
“We’re gonna have our hands full. There’s no doubt about that.”
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