It has come time for football season, and after four years of covering almost every Northwestern game, I'm leaving the Ryan Field press box. If NU ever gets good again, I'm sure one of the companies that pays me to write about football will send me back to the press box for a game.
But for now, I will be attending other games across the Midwest, watching games while working from home and occasionally attending NU games because I enjoy drinking cider and whiskey (yeah, I'm weird) and eating brats with friends.
Now that I'm out of the press box and will be able to choose whether I want to watch a Northwestern game (rest assured, I will watch most of them), here is my ranking on which ones I want to watch the most. The order is subjective and based on my opinion, so I don't care if my reasoning makes no sense. Stats and reasoned analysis are for losers. So here goes.
12. Eastern Illinois
Some FCS opponents belong in the same league as Northwestern. For instance, I think North Dakota State might actually be better than NU. But Eastern Illinois is not one of those teams. If football were the only consideration, I'd be all for Power 5 teams only playing other Power 5 teams — and I think that the changing TV climate will force NU and the rest of the country to start scheduling better.
Given that this game is not against NDSU, Northern Iowa, Illinois State, Eastern Washington or any FCS team that can even hang with NU, I don't expect to remember the score of this one a year later.
11. Ball State
Some of you seem to think Ball State is better than Purdue. Ball State is not better than Purdue. Ball State is terrible, and this game is at night, when real games will be happening.
I will be at my grandparents' 90th and 85th birthdays instead of watching this game. I probably won't lose sleep over it.
No, Purdue isn't as bad as Ball State, but the Boilermakers are still pretty bad. At risk of angering the coaching staffs of both teams, I'm going assume neither of these teams will be playing for anything on a national scale when they meet on November 14.
So this game is actually super important for both teams, but it's also going to be boring as hell. Don't get me wrong, I love great defense. Watching Pat Angerer and Adrian Clayborn destroy the triple option in the 2010 Orange Bowl was one of the most tantalizing football things I've ever experienced.
But a team with a pretty good defense and a pretty bad offense just makes me sad. Minnesota (and quite possibly Northwestern) will just make me sad. Congrats to the team that wins this game 14-10.
See: Minnesota. Except this game matches up the best state with the best school, so it should be a little bit better.
7. Penn State
This game probably shouldn't be particularly entertaining, but Northwestern turns into Alabama whenever Pat Fitzgerald faces James Franklin, so that should mean some highlight reel plays.
This game excites me because I have literally no idea what to expect. I think Duke will take a step back this year, but I also don't know if I expect NU to win. Also, it's a real game against a real team in the middle of non-conference season. That has to count for something.
This game is at Soldier Field, because Illinois decided to give NU an extra home game. The Illini are a giving people. Anyways, this game will definitely be bad, but something really dumb will definitely happen, and likely many dumb things will happen! Like ...
Btw, the ref immediately throwing the flag in the nut shot GIF is the most underrated part of that whole sequence.
Anyways, come to Northwestern-Illinois for the laughs, stay for the sideline interference penalties (and some more laughs).
(GIF via Gifulmination)
If you haven't figured it out by now, I love hilariously bad football and despise boring football. It's a fine line, but last year's Northwestern-Michigan game fell firmly in the former category.
That's not going to happen again, because Jim Harbaugh would probably malfunction and call his rogue robot army to the Big House on the spot, but I'm really fascinated with what Michigan is going to be this year. And I think it could be a pretty good game. We'll see.
Wisconsin isn't going to be great in Paul Chryst's first year, Madison is fine but overrated and the Badgers are almost certainly going to beat the living hell out of Northwestern, because that's what happens when NU goes to Madison. But maybe they won't. Who knows.
I don't know exactly what to expect out of Stanford, and I assume the Cardinal will be better than NU. That said, this is the opener and we're going to be seeing a lot of new things out of the Wildcats — a new quarterback, a new offensive line, a group of exciting running backs with some new additions, etc. Something tells me Fitzgerald learned from Cal last year and is going to throw the book at Stanford, and we're going to see a lot of secrets that nobody saw coming.
One can dream, at least.
Just like the rest of the Big Ten West, I don't think Nebraska is going to be that good this year. However, there's a lot of excitement around the Huskers' program with new coach Mike Riley, and this game has the potential to have a lot of Big Ten West implications if both teams can mildly surprise in the early going.
Northwestern-Nebraska games have been awesome ever since the Huskers entered the Big Ten (okay, last year was a bit of an exception, but it was still a fun atmosphere/day/night game). Plus, Northwestern pulled out some cool uni's. There might not be a Hail Mary at the end of this one, but I expect a really fun game and hopefully some well-played football. This is the one I have circled.