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College Football Playoff takeaways: Alabama rolls, Ohio State survives and Northwestern (!) stays in the hunt

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of Indiana University

Like everything else in 2020, the Big Ten is just a little … off.

Northwestern, a program that was 3-9 last season, is now undefeated and three wins away from likely facing Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields — a Heisman Trophy hopeful who hadn’t thrown an interception yet this season — threw three on Saturday afternoon in the Buckeyes’ 42-35 victory against No. 9 Indiana. And Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz — who hadn’t thrown an interception his career — also had three on Saturday (and a fumble), accounting for four of the Badgers’ five turnovers in a 17-7 loss to No. 19 Northwestern.

Those two consequential conference games revealed that while the Buckeyes are still the team to beat in the Big Ten, the Wildcats just might be capable of beating them. Both teams have three regular-season games remaining on the schedule and should be heavy favorites in each of them.

As the College Football Playoff selection committee meets in person on Monday in Grapevine, Texas, to prepare its first of five rankings, Ohio State is 4-0 and is still on target for a top-four finish, but it’s clear the Buckeyes haven’t hit their stride yet. It makes sense, considering they’re only four games into the season, had one game canceled, and are playing in the midst of a pandemic.

The question is when — and if — they will put it all together.

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