Trying to determine the most important game of a team's season before the season begins is not easy. There are a lot of things to take into consideration - how good that team will be, how good that team's opponents will be, when the game takes place, etc. Even the seemingly simple task of defining "important" can be tricky. What's important to one team -- what its realistic goals are -- may not be important to another, you know? In looking at Northwestern's schedule, I've identified four strong candidates.
Wisconsin, Oct. 4
The favorite in the West destroyed (35-6) the Wildcats in Madison last season. Northwestern should give the Badgers a tougher game in 2014, at Ryan Field. If anyone's still holding out hope that the Wildcats can win the division, this game could be something of a make-or-break proposition. Win it, and you're alive in race. Lose it, and you're probably playing for second place or worse. The preseason hype surrounding Wisconsin is somewhat misplaced, in my opinion, so this game could be closer than a lot of people think.
Nebraska, Oct. 18
These teams have played competitive, exciting games since Nebraska joined the Big Ten three years ago. Here's to hoping this year's matchup brings more of the same. The reason this one's important is simple: if Northwestern has a shot at winning the West, it needs to beat the projected best teams in the West. The Wildcats may have a better chance against Nebraska than they do Wisconsin. Maybe not. Either way, it'd be hugely helpful to win one of those. Also, it's homecoming! You want to win that game.
at Iowa, Nov. 1
I'm going back to the "maybe Northwestern has a shot at winning the division" storyline. As has been the case with Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa have played some fun games in recent years (not as fun, but fun) and could be developing a bit of a
one-sided rivalry. The Wildcats have won six of the last nine matchups between thee two teams, and with Iowa primed to compete for the division title, getting a W at Kinnick would be a big deal. Northwestern really should have beaten this team last year.
Michigan, Nov. 8
This game comes at a time when we'll have a pretty good idea of where Northwestern will finish in the division race. Let's assume the Wildcats lose at Notre Dame and beat Illinois and Purdue (none of which are sure things). The Michigan game figures to be something of a toss up. The Wolverines (East) are talented, but how good are they, really? If Northwestern's season goes way worse than planned, beating Michigan could put the Wildcats in position to salvage bowl eligibility.
Are there any other games on Northwestern's schedule that stick out as extraordinarily important? Let us know. An ESPN.com blogger chose the Sept. 27 trip to Penn State, explaining how, because it's the first Big Ten game the Wildcats play, it could "set the tone." Maybe there's another game I'm missing. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
|Sat, Aug 30||California|
|Sat, Sept 6||Northern Illinois|
|Sat, Sept 20||Western Illinois|
|Sat, Sept 27||at Penn State|
|Sat, Oct 4||Wisconsin|
|Sat, Oct 11||at Minnesota|
|Sat, Oct 18||Nebraska|
|Sat, Nov 1||at Iowa|
|Sat, Nov 8||Michigan|
|Sat, Nov 15||at Notre Dame|
|Sat, Nov 22||at Purdue|
|Sat, Nov 29||Illinois|