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October 4, 2013
It almost seemed like this game would never arrive. Between Mike and Mike and College GameDay, the hype seemed almost unbearable. But, at long last, the 4-0 Wildcats find themselves primed for a matchup with undefeated Ohio State.
Can Northwestern find a way to pull the upset on Homecoming and find a way to convince the nation it is a force with which to be reckoned?
WildcatReport's intrepid staff has the answers right here.
Where does this game rank all-time among the biggest games in Northwestern history? By many accounts, this is the biggest regular season game since the Penn State game in '95. I'll have to take their word for it, as I wasn't even two years old.
Northwestern wins if Venric Mark makes some explosive plays. The Cats have missed him so far this season, but his return adds another dimension to the offense.
Northwestern loses if The secondary gives up deep plays and the defensive line - playing without Sean McEvilly - can't stop the inside run.
The bottom line I've thought all season that Ohio State would win this game. Northwestern's matchups with WMU and Maine did nothing to change my mind. But this morning, as I watched Mike and Mike live from Deering Meadow, something changed. I know OSU is more talented, and I know Northwestern will need the perfect storm to win. But after hearing the belief in the voices of Mike Greenberg, Michael Wilbon, Pat Fitzgerald and the fans, I think the Cats find a way.
Prediction Northwestern 34 Ohio State 30
Where does this game rank all-time among the biggest games in Northwestern history? Well, behind the pair of games against No. 1 Notre Dame in the early 1930s, which had serious national championship implications so late in the season, or the Rose Bowl games. Should Northwestern win, it will rank right up there with the Gator Bowl victory as a launching pad to the next level for the Pat Fitzgerald regime.
Northwestern wins if it can keep the Buckeyes out of the endzone during their redzone trips. Ohio State has scored touchdowns on 87.5% of their drives once they are inside the 20, third in the nation.
The bottom line: I've been saying this aloud to anyone who will listen for the past month. Pat Fitzgerald had two weeks to prepare his team for this game and Ohio State just played Wisconsin. NU will win this game.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, Ohio State 30
Where does this game rank all-time among the biggest games in Northwestern history? In terms of regular-season games, it may be the biggest, but I still think last year's bowl victory was bigger.
Northwestern loses if
the secondary gives up big plays like it has been.
The bottom line: Ohio State is a well-oiled machine, but it hasn't seen a team as good as NU yet. Still, I don't think the Wildcat defense can stop the firepower of Braxton Miller and co.
Prediction Ohio State 31 Northwestern 21
Where does this game rank all-time among the biggest games in Northwestern history? Well, the two Rose Bowls have to top the list, right? But this is without question the biggest game since the 1996 Rose Bowl - all the other bowl games included - and the biggest one in Evanston since a linebacker named Pat Fitzgerald led the Cats to a win over Penn State in November of 1995, with ABC legend Keith Jackson in the booth.
Northwestern loses if The Buckeyes get the ground game going. Braxton Miller & Co. are going to make plays in the passing game. But if NU allows Carlos Hyde to gash them between the tackles, NU won't be able to match them score-for-score.
The bottom line: I picked the Cats to win this showdown before the season. Three weeks ago, I still would have picked NU. But my confidence has been shaken by a couple lackluster performances against Western Michigan and Maine. I see the Cats falling a couple plays short in a high-scoring affair. Forgive me, Fitz, for I have sinned.
Prediction Ohio State 41 Northwestern 37
Where does this game rank all-time among the biggest games in Northwestern history? I don't know about history, but in my viewing of Northwestern football (since 1980), I would place this in top three.
Northwestern loses if the offense can not establish the run game and the defense is unable to contain Braxton Miller, allowing him to scramble and hit big passes, especially to the tight end.
The bottom line: Since the second half of the Syracuse game, Northwestern has been very vanilla with its play-calling both offensively and defensively. The Cats will need to show all their cards if they expect to keep up with the Buckeyes. Unfortunately, I still see an improved Northwestern team at a level below Ohio State.
Prediction Ohio State 31 Northwestern 24
Where does this game rank all-time among the biggest games in Northwestern history? Depends on if they win or not. Nothing approaches '95 at Notre Dame; the first step is always the biggest. If they lose, it's a disappointment on the level of '05 versus Michigan (where NU came in ranked #21 and Michigan at #25, but the Wolverines won 33-17). If NU wins, then it beats out 2000 versus Michigan (the 54-51 win that proved the power of the spread offense) and ties '62 at home against Notre Dame (NU clobbered the Irish 35-6 and moved to #1 in the AP poll as a result.)
Northwestern loses if
Ohio State doesn't get rattled into realizing it's not "just Northwestern" anymore. Ohio State has always counted on winning the "arms race" of raw talent to provide depth and superior coaching to out-scheme. Both factors can be called into question, but if they aren't, then the 'Cats are going to be disappointed before halftime.
The bottom line: I've come up with twenty scenarios and each one is just as viable as the last. My best guess: Ohio State scores the first touchdown (NU may or may not have a field goal before or after) but a key turnover give NU a short field and a touchdown gives the Cats momentum. The key player on Northwestern's offense turns out to be Dan Vitale, who confounds the Buckeye defense with several short and medium routes. The difference maker will have to be on defense, with the pass rush. If the Wildcats rush four and try to confound the Buckeyes' O-line with linebacker and safety blitzes, then the Buckeyes will score at will. Rushing only three, perhaps with Damien Proby left to spy on the running game seems much more promising. The only question I can't answer: Who gets the big interception? Nick VanHoose and Ibraheim Campbell are good choices -- but my money's on Chi Chi Ariguzo.
Prediction Northwestern 42 Ohio State 38