by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Tournament or not, the national television cameras will be there to capture it all, as Northwestern will play somewhere between seven and nine games on ESPN's family of networks this season. Four of those contests will be on the always elusive ESPNU, but the Wildcats already have a couple of games lined up for ESPN and ESPN2. Let's take a look at what they have to look forward to.
Northwestern will make its national conference debut on January 3, as it hosts Michigan at Welsh-Ryan Arena. ESPN2 knew what it was talking about with this evening telecast, given the fantastic regular-season battles these two teams had last year. The Wildcats are then demoted to ESPNU for less exciting games against the Nittany Lions (January 10, 8 p.m.) and the Hawkeyes (January 13, 5:30 p.m.), although last year's contests at University Park and Iowa City turned into true nailbiters.
Somewhat surprisingly, the intrastate rivalry gets little love this year, as both Illinois-Northwestern games will be featured on the Big Ten Network, a sharp decline from their CBS Sports appearance from Welsh-Ryan Arena a couple of years ago. That could be due to the Wildcats' continued March frustrations or the Fighting Illini's general demise. Northwestern is back on ESPNU when it goes to Lincoln to square off against Nebraska on January 26, understandable since the Wildcats had their way with the Cornhuskers last year.
The golden games for the Wildcats come toward the end of their schedule. Perhaps anticipating another big upset like the one Northwestern had against Purdue a couple of years ago, the Wildcats will host the Boilermakers for a noon start on ESPN2 on February 2. Their trip to West Lafayette might also make it on CBS or ESPN depending on how the teams are looking come February. No one should be surprised that Northwestern's home game against Ohio State on February 28 will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2, given the buzzer-beating dramatics that occurred the last couple of years between these two teams, particularly at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Their road game in Columbus, on Valentine's Day, will wisely be back on the Big Ten Network, since that's far more likely to turn into a rout. Finally, on March 10, Northwestern travels to East Lansing, and with two huge upsets of Michigan State in the past four years, that game might also be on ESPN or CBS.
Of course, the real question is whether Northwestern will be able to excel in the limelight for once. Past ESPN games against Illinois and Purdue and Ohio State have resulted only in blown leads and heartbreak for Wildcat Nation. This year, the Wildcats will certainly have their opportunities to reverse that trend.