Ohio State took on an undefeated Wisconsin team last night in the Big Ten Championship, defeating the Badgers 27-21 at Lucas Oil Stadium to secure the school’s first conference title since 2014. Despite the hard-fought win over the previously fourth-ranked team in the nation, the Buckeyes fell just short of a spot in the playoff. Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia were the obvious picks to be the top three with dominant conference championship wins, with Alabama edging Ohio State for the fourth and final spot.
The Buckeyes had a chance to make a statement with a big win in the conference title game, and after the first half it looked as though they were well on their way. After a long Wisconsin drive that ended in an Ohio State interception, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett found receiver Terry McLaurin for an 84 yard touchdown to open up the scoring. After a Badgers pick-six tied the game at seven, the Scarlet and Gray offense settled in. Ohio State would register two more big scores before the end of the half, one on a 51-yard catch and run touchdown by Parris Campbell, and another on a Barrett keeper after a 77-yard run by J.K. Dobbins. The Buckeyes led 21-10 at half and looked ready to run away with it.
That would not be the case however, as the Ohio State offense stalled for the entirety of the second half. Despite averaging over 10 yards per carry, Dobbins would touch the ball just four times in the third quarter. The abandonment of the run game combined with some easy missed throws by Barrett, including a tipped-ball interception, allowed the Badgers to claw their way back into the game.
Ultimately, it was the Ohio State defense that gave them the edge over Wisconsin. The Buckeyes run defense was phenomenal, holding the Badgers to just 60 yards on the ground – their lowest total of the year. Denzel Ward was every bit of a future first-round draft pick, recording two passes defensed to go along with his first quarter interception. Nick Bosa and the defensive line forced Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook to get the ball out quickly with their consistent pressure. The Buckeyes would seal the game on a Damon Webb interception, his fourth of the year, to win the Big Ten title.
Debates were flying after the game among analysts and on social media over whether Ohio State had earned a spot in the final four. On paper, their argument looked pretty good. The Buckeyes had recorded wins over teams now ranked sixth, ninth, and 16th (with Penn State and Wisconsin both being top-four at the time of those wins) and owned the seventh-best strength of schedule to go along with a conference title. Alabama, the only other team really in contention, only had wins over teams ranked 17th and 23rd, with the 51st strength of schedule and no conference title to add to their resume.
Surprisingly to many, it was the Crimson Tide that got the final spot over Ohio State. The most interesting part of the committee’s decision was that a week prior, chairman of the committee Kirby Hocutt had said there was little separation between the two teams. If reason were to follow, the Buckeyes win in the conference title game would have created the separation necessary to get them in. However, in the end, Ohio State’s 31-point loss to Iowa was too much to overcome. Had they been able to win big over Wisconsin, scoring more than just six points in the second half, they may have given the committee no choice but to put them in.
Finishing the season ranked fifth, the Buckeyes will take on the eighth-ranked USC Trojans in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29th at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.
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