The final score at Ryan Field may have read 40-30 Ohio State, but the reality of what took place on Saturday night is that no one was a loser at all in this matchup.
Well, unless you happened to be in a Las Vegas sportsbook and you bet on Northwestern with the points (hint, my personal pick was OSU by six points, grrr).
Seriously though, the ultimate winner may have been the credibility of the Big Ten as a whole—and that's because the league put on a show that the entire college football world could see, and its best advocate on the national stage won.
Let's face facts, love 'em or hate 'em (and there's usually no in-between)—Ohio State was, is and always will be a national brand, and with that brand the Buckeyes bring the biggest possible spotlight to the league.
You, know...the league that has struggled to stay ahead of even the mighty ACC on the respect scale?
Ohio State will be talked about on Monday, Tuesday and the rest of the week, and a lot of it will be because of this game and its now-18-game win streak.
Northwestern's chances of being talked about all over the country two days from now? Not good, regardless of the result. Sure, the upset would've been fun to talk about for a while, but when the honeymoon wore off...then what?
In a day and age where the Big Ten is struggling to stay relevant on the national stage, it helps to have its biggest brand and the most passionately loved/hated team at the forefront of the national discussion.
Does it mean Ohio State is in the BCS National Championship picture for good? No, but having a team in that discussion and likely to stay there the rest of the season sure does help the reputation and respect level a bit.
It also didn't hurt that Ohio State showed it was more than Braxton Miller and did it more than once. Carlos Hyde going for 168 yards and three touchdowns on the biggest stage sure will do that for you.
Now, if you are Northwestern, playing well and losing is zero consolation, especially given the opportunity to take the spotlight for itself, but a feel-good story of the "little school that could" doesn't bring the spotlight that Ohio State could for the rest of the season.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Northwestern is a bad team or it won't be successful. In fact, I think it proved nearly as much as OSU did, and at a minimum, it proved it is the class of the Legends Division.
Oh, and don't be shocked if this game happens again in Indianapolis either. The college football world could do worse than seeing a rematch of what happened on Saturday night in Evanston, that's for sure.
As much as watching Northwestern become relevant (which I think we all did regardless of the loss) is cool and all, the reality of the situation is that the Big Ten's best chance to get itself back in the national discussion is with its most visible team also being its best team.
After winning games against the two biggest challengers in conference, it's hard to say Ohio State isn't both of them—and for the Big Ten as a conference, that's a win-win situation.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. Follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.
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