This Saturday, the Northwestern Wildcats will travel 140 miles to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium, a venue at which they haven't won since 2000.
Over the past 15 seasons, the two teams have faced each other eight times, with the home team winning on every occasion. So while many Northwestern fans were surprised when Wisconsin initially opened as a 10.5-point favorite for Saturday's game despite both teams currently sitting at 8-2, Vegas may not be off base at all.
Northwestern's history at Camp Randall in recent years hasn't been all that pretty. The Wildcats are 0-4 in their last four trips to Madison, and have been outscored 170-50. Wisconsin's average margin of victory in those four games has been 30. The Badgers have put up an average of 42.5 points per game.
In Northwestern's defense, Camp Randall Stadium has been a very difficult place to play over the last 10 years for any opponent, not just NU. Since 2005, the Badgers are 67-8 at home and 35-8 at home against Big Ten foes. But nonetheless, Northwestern's struggles have been particularly glaring.
Let's take a look back at Northwestern's last four games at Camp Randall:
Oct. 23, 2004 | Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 12
Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) was already upset-minded heading into this game against the undefeated and No. 6 Badgers (7-0, 4-0), having already knocked off No. 7 Ohio State earlier in the month at Ryan Field. In this game, however, Northwestern had less success as Wisconsin jumped out to a 24-0 lead. The Wildcats struggled to find a rhythm early on against a tough Badgers' defense, with quarterback Brett Basanez completing just 5-of-18 passes in the first half and throwing for a mere 34 yards (he ultimately finished the game with 185 passing yards). Wildcats' running back Noah Herron, finished with decent numbers as he ran for 109 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, becoming the first running back to gain 100 yards against the Badgers that season. But this game wasn't as close as the score would indicate.
Oct. 7, 2006 | Wisconsin 41, Northwestern 9
Nov. 27, 2010 | Wisconsin 70, Northwestern 23
Oct. 12, 2013 | Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 6
This game came one week after Northwestern (4-1, 0-1) played host to College Gameday and lost 40-30 to Ohio State. The Badgers (3-2, 1-1) had started the season slow, but managed to get back on track against the Wildcats as they racked up 527 yards of total offense en route to a blowout victory. Joel Stave connected with Jared Abbrederis for a 63-yard touchdown through the air in the first quarter to give Wisconsin a 7-3 lead, and from there the Badgers never looked back. Melvin Gordon ran for 172 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown run, and James White also had a big day on the ground as he eclipsed 100 yards and found the end zone once as well. It was a rough day offensively for the Wildcats, as quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter were sacked seven times throughout the day. Northwestern also struggled to sustain drives, converting on just two of its 17 third down attempts.
So is there a relevant takeaway from Northwestern's struggles? Yes, absolutely. Camp Randall might be the toughest place to play in the conference. It's no coincidence that Northwestern is 0-4 there over the past 15 years despite being 4-0 when the Badgers have visited Evanston over that time period.
It's not just the venue though. On all four occasions, Wisconsin had a better team than Northwestern, especially in 2004, 2006 and 2010. That's where this year could be different. Although the Badgers are probably still the superior team, the talent gap is far slimmer than it has been, and that at least gives Northwestern a shot to snap the streak. But it won't be easy.