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Challenging home schedule a talking point at Big Ten Media Days

As the Wildcats gear up for the season, the marquee names coming to Ryan Field this fall have provided some excitement.

If you’ve been following Northwestern football’s official twitter account this offseason, there’s a decent chance you’ve already memorized the 2018 home lineup.

Those are just two examples of the near-constant hype the Wildcats have been dishing out on social media regarding their demanding slate. Though it is nearly impossible to back up their claim, the overall upcoming Northwestern schedule has been ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten in difficulty by both Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports and Matt Smith of 247 Sports and Southern Pigskin, with the latter also placing the Wildcats at 8th in the country. With the home schedule providing the meat of the difficulty and big names, it’s safe to say that it at least propelled those rankings.

Playing in the typically-thin West division, the Wildcats have been accused of playing a noticeably weak schedule in past successful seasons. For Montre Hartage, this year’s slate is a chance to potentially turn some heads: “It’s a great opportunity to show people that we are contenders,” he said. “We are who we are because of what we do every week.”

That chip on the shoulder mentality has always been part of the Wildcats under Pat Fitzgerald. This year, with all of the big names coming to Ryan Field, Northwestern may have a chance to successfully flip that narrative.

Clayton Thorson looked at the schedule similarly. “It’s huge. To play all these teams at home is big for us. We know their fans are going to travel well so it’s going to be a challenge but it’ll be fun.”

Indeed, the Wildcats will face four of the highest-drawing teams in the country in consecutive home games (with Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame lined up in the meat of that schedule), so their home-field advantage might not exactly be there. But, those games are still not road games, which is important. Even if Wisconsin fans occupy nearly half of Ryan Field, that’s still better than playing at Camp Randall with 80,000 red-clad fans screaming when you have the ball.

But with 11 Power 5 teams on the schedule (Notre Dame is typically included in that designation), a surprise 10 win season from the Wildcats this year would leave them on the edge of the playoff conversation rather than squarely on the outside looking in. That change, mainly due to the difficult home schedule, has Northwestern and their players salivating.