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Where are we Wednesday: Battling uphill

Saturday’s matchup with the Badgers comes with huge implications.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday brings the biggest game since November 10, 2018. Almost two years after Northwestern took down Iowa to clinch the division, the Wildcats are once again on the verge of massive win that could determine the division’s leader come December, but the battle ahead will be an uphill climb. Northwestern has the chance to enter the next decade having proven the massive step up they have taken as a program.

The win in Kinnick may have clinched the West, but this Saturday at Ryan Field is another chance to take control on a national stage.

The consistency the program has shown since the Gator Bowl (with the exception of last season) has been the proof that Northwestern has made it to the next level. 2018 proved to Wildcat fans that Northwestern had the potential to be something special. While last season was a step backward, this season will prove whether the program has once again taken a giant leap forward or remains nothing more than an occasional contender.

The Wildcats are off to their best start since 1996. The implications of this game are tremendous. On a national stage, Northwestern can prove themselves as perennial contenders for the Big Ten West and will have defeated a top-10 opponent. The stakes of this game for the program are massive, as Wildcats have the chance to set the tone and shift the entire perception of this school’s football team.

However, beating the opponent in front of them is no easy task. While Wisconsin is still somewhat of an unknown factor, having shut down their entire program for two weeks due to a COVID outbreak, the Badgers appear to be the real deal. Their commanding win over an (albeit extremely poor) Michigan team, should remind the Wildcats that this game will be difficult to win. However, the Wisconsin football outbreak serves as a stark reminder of the contexts we play this season in — there are 260,000 active COVID cases in Cook County, home of Chicago and Evanston. Around the country, cases are rising everywhere, and we’ve seen more football teams having to cancel games.

It makes sense to me that this would be the season a school like Northwestern would thrive in. Consistency and discipline are two of the key values Northwestern prides itself on, and that’s exactly what is required to succeed in a pandemic.

The fact that Northwestern football has gone the entire season with no positive tests nor quarantine is a testament to this discipline. Especially as COVID rates in Evanston and the broader community have rose. The past week has seen a record high of 78 students in the community testing positive. Every weekend, the mostly empty stadiums serve as a stark reminder of what we’ve lost, and what these players are sacrificing to be there.

The Wildcats are also once again beginning to command national respect, reminding the country that what they had seen two seasons ago is once again possible this year.