Spring buzz about Northwestern’s upcoming season felt stronger and more pervasive than last season. That makes sense, when you think about it – Northwestern is coming off a 10-win season, its first bowl win in more than 60 years, Pat Fitzgerald and his staff are pushing NU into new recruiting stratospheres and the outsiders view on the Wildcats, and their chances in the upcoming season, has been anything but last year’s middling 7-win ceiling. People are excited, and for good reason.
But if there’s one particular thing about the upcoming season that has Northwestern fans – at least those in and around Evanston – giddy about 2013, it’s the Wildcats’ week-six game against Ohio State. My sincerest apologies if I just spoiled the most titillating of scheduling surprises, but here’s the deal: Northwestern plays Ohio State, at home, on Saturday October 5, and – according to an official NUSports.com report Monday afternoon – the game will take place at 7 p.m., with the promise of ESPN/ABC umbrella coverage.
This scheduling highlight isn’t breaking news; we’ve known Northwestern would host Ohio State this season for a while now. But the Wildcats’ recent 10-win season (and the resulting expectations bump), combined with Ohio State’s undefeated and likely improved outfit walking into Welsh-Ryan next season adds an entirely new and more competitively alluring angle to the events. Northwestern is going to be very good next season. Most people would agree Ohio State is going to be even better. But how much better? And wouldn’t this be just the occasion where Northwestern pull off a massive cross-divisional upset, and quite possibly hand Urban Meyer his first loss as a Big Ten coach?
Viewed from a scout’s vantage point, or whatever football-exclusive analogy you prefer, this game has all the makings of a Big Ten classic, or something close to it. Here’s the best part: It’s entirely conceivable Northwestern could be that week’s ESPN College Gameday Destination. Go ahead, nod in historically consistent Northwestern fan skepticism, play down the possibility, keep a level head about the entire premise, expect the worst.
I don’t disagree with that mindset – landing College Gameday is a hugely exciting yet hugely exclusive opportunity. Most programs outside of college football’s crème de la crème elites never experience the jovial early-morning campus-side studio festivities. It’s fair to remain wholly dubious about the whole thing, because last time I checked, college football’s most widely-recognized pre-game bandwagon hasn’t visited Northwestern on Northwestern’s actual campus since 1995, when the Wildcats hosted Iowa in the midst of a Big Ten championship-winning season.
If they do make the trip, a few things will need to happen. Both Northwestern and Ohio State will need spotless undefeated records as a baseline. The next biggest hope is that the rest of the weekend’s national college slate is thoroughly mediocre enough to leave ESPN brass with no other choice. Early Braxton Miller Heisman buzz can’t hurt the Wildcats’ chances, either. Should all or some or enough of those contingencies fall into place, it will be a unified win on so many levels. Fans’ already exalted excitement levels will reach a glorious Saturday morning climax. Northwestern will put itself on the map in an early-season primetime clash. Insert cliché here about recruiting benefits.
It would be an uplifting moment for program and fan base and school and community. College Gameday is a weekly rite of passage for any college football fan. Staging it in Evanston would be a tremendous opportunity.