In 2020, Northwestern football’s schedule saw two separate iterations — the first a long-planned schedule featuring non-conference opponents and the second a conference-only slate set after the onset of the pandemic — called off before reaching its final form. Over a year later in 2022, the pandemic is still here and the ‘Cats, along with the rest of their Big Ten counterparts, are still dealing with the repercussions of the initial schedule changes.
On Wednesday, the conference announced new schedules for each of its teams to accommodate cross-division matchups that were cast aside when it canceled its planned conference-only season in August of 2020 before eventually opting to go on with a shorter schedule a month later. The big news for the Wildcats is that they will travel to State College, Pa. on October 1 to take on Penn State for the first time since the Nittany Lions trounced them in Evanston, 31-7, in 2017, instead of road-tripping to Bloomington to face the Indiana Hoosiers as had originally been scheduled for September 3.
The substitution of games will likely be viewed by most observers as a turn for the worse for NU. The Wildcats have gone 6-2 against the Indiana in the Pat Fitzgerald era, a figure that flips to 2-6 when applied to Penn State. Furthermore, after finishing last in the Big Ten at 2-10 in 2021, the Hoosiers are viewed as both a weaker team than the Nittany Lions, who even in a down year for their program finished 7-6, and as less intimidating hosts. This may be a cause of concern for Northwestern, which already has a home battle against Ohio State on the docket and is reeling from several important player personnel departures after a disastrous 3-9 2021 campaign.
In addition to the switch of PSU for IU, the Wildcats have shuffled around the dates of some of their Big Ten games and bye weeks. Instead of having a three-week hiatus in the middle of October — stretching from the first of the month to the 22nd — as had originally been the plan, the Wildcats will now break up their rest time into two bye weeks: one the week of September 3, conveniently placed after their trip to play Nebraska in Ireland, and one the week of October 15. With the Penn State game now occupying the date originally reserved for NU’s home test against Wisconsin, the Badgers will now come to Evanston a week later on October 8.