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Northwestern football to play a series with Stanford, starting in 2015

Any excuse to use this picture will do.
Any excuse to use this picture will do.

Jim Phillips announced today that Northwestern and Stanford will play a home-and-home series in football, with the first meeting in Evanston on September of 2015, and the rematch the next September in Palo Alto. The two schools will also play a four game series beginning in 2019.

Northwestern appears to be getting an early jump on the Big Ten/Pac-12 partnership announced in late December that will see every Big Ten school play a non-conference game against a Pac-12 school starting in 2017. NU will also play a home and home against another Pac-12 school, California, in 2013 and 2014.

This news continues a recent trend of difficult non-conference scheduling from Jim Phillips and Pat Fitzgerald. In addition to Stanford and Cal, Northwestern will play series against Vanderbilt, Boston College, Syracuse and Notre Dame in future years, marking a major change in scheduling philosophy. During their current 5 game bowl eligibility streak, Northwestern has greatly benefited from weak non-conference schedules: NU didn't face one FBS team that finished the season with a winning record in those five years and posted a 17-3 overall record in non-conference play. In the next five seasons, NU will be facing three strong opponents in non-conference play in most seasons along with the usual FCS sacrificial lamb, which will make it much harder to maintain their bowl eligibility streak. Stanford in particular is has made back to back BCS bowl appearances and just signed one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

As a fan, it's exciting that Northwestern will be facing some real teams in non-conference play as opposed to the usual scrubs, but Phillips and Fitzgerald may regret playing so many tough games in September if they're unable to reach the six wins needed for bowl eligibility. If the NU football program improves and is able to compete in these games, then it's a great move to schedule tough. But whether NU will be good enough to beat teams like Stanford and Notre Dame remains to be seen.