The first real test of the season comes under the national College Gameday spotlight Saturday in Evanston. The #16 Northwestern Wildcats open their conference schedule against Big Ten favorite, #4 Ohio State Buckeyes. Both teams come into this game undefeated. Ohio State is 5-0 with a quality win over ranked Big Ten rival Wisconsin. The Wildcats haven’t really taken on a serious competitor yet this year. They are coming off the bye week 4-0 with dominant wins against teams they should have beaten. This is the first test Northwestern has to face in order to show the nation how good they really are.
This game has already been labeled abroad as the biggest game for Northwestern football since the Rose Bowl in 1995. This is also the first time ESPN’s College Gameday will be held in Evanston since that year. Excitement has already been building on the campus of Northwestern with the Mike and Mike show already on Friday morning. It will only grow exponentially until Saturday kickoff at 7pm CST on ABC. We’ve seen Coach Fitzgerald doing interviews building hype this whole week. Even Michael Jordan’s statue at the United Center has a Northwestern Jersey with Fitzgerald’s #51.
To win this game, the Wildcats need to establish a physical presence early. They’ve averaged over 200 rushing yards a game this year when Ohio State has allowed under 100 rushing yards a game so far. Hopefully, getting All-American Venric Mark back from injury will help the running game even more. Gaining the speed of Venric Mark will help employ the ever so important read option with quarterback Kain Colter. The Wildcats can be very explosive if Kain and Venric are both running at full cylinders. However, the Northwestern defense has to be fast and physical because OSU has they’re own weapon in quarterback Braxton Miller. To contend against Braxton Miller and Ohio’s offense, the Wildcats must bring their overall game speed up. They have a good defense but need to play fast in order to keep up with the high powered offensives at the top of the nation.
Is it the end of the world if the ‘Cats lose this matchup? No, they are definitely playing one of the best teams in the nation and probably won’t fall too much in the rankings. Therefore, a win will be monumental. If Northwestern pulls the upset, it will be one of the biggest statements of the year. Northwestern will become a serious national contender and will be covered as much as Ohio State, Michigan as well as many powerhouses in the SEC. The potential gain of popularity can boost recruiting for the following year. It’s just a question of whether or not this will be the biggest game in a decade or the most overhyped. We can only find out Saturday night along with the entire nation.