After last week's news that the Northwestern-Ohio State game would be broadcast in primetime on ABC, ESPN or ESPN 2, the Big Ten Network added two more night games to the Wildcats' schedule — Syracuse on Sept. 7 and Western Michigan on Sept. 14. The Syracuse game will kick off at 5 p.m. CT, while the Western Michigan will kick off at 8 p.m. CT. The news was first reported by Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. This means that almost half of NU's home schedule — three of seven — will be played in primetime, after just one primetime game last year — against Vanderbilt.
The primetime schedule is a reflection of NU's preseason hype this year. The Wildcats are expected to be ranked in the top 25 of the major polls come August 31, and while they'll almost certainly be heavy favorites in both of the BTN night games, those are important games as far as the Ohio State game is concerned. If the Wildcats can win both of the BTN night games and beat Cal and Maine in the non-conference season, then there's the potential for the NU-OSU game to be a meeting of top 15 teams, and the potential of playing on ABC and bringing ESPN's College Gameday to Evanston. That would be huge for the athletic department from an exposure standpoint.
Attendance-wise, as pointed out by Jon Davis of NU Highlights, the night games give the Wildcats the chance to reach heights they haven't seen since the 1990s:
With two sure sellouts and two non-con night games, NU is aiming for best attendance since 1998 when they averaged nearly 41k.
— NUHighlights (@NUHighlights) May 6, 2013
Those "sure sellouts" are the Ohio State and Michigan games, and as Davis points out, the Wildcats haven't had two home sellouts since 1998. The non-conference night games — Syracuse and Western Michigan — will likely attract more fans because the games will be played at night, which is crucial since students won't be on campus yet. The other three teams playing at Ryan Field this year are Maine, Minnesota and Michigan State. The Maine and Minnesota games won't be huge draws — only the freshmen and some upperclassmen will be on campus for the Maine game — but the Michigan State game has the potential to have decent fan support, since MSU has a solid program and the game will be played in November with bowl positioning at stake in the weeks to come.
Overall, NU couldn't have asked this schedule to shape up much better than it has, especially in a season that figures to be pretty successful for the Wildcats.. Now it's time to see if the on-field results match the hype.