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September 30, 2013

Finally, it's OSU week

EVANSTON-The wait is almost over.

After an offseason of anticipation, Ohio State week has finally arrived.

For these 4-0, 16th-ranked Cats, this game is arguably the biggest since the 1995 Rose Bowl, and head coach Pat Fitzgerald isn't going to ignore the hype.

"With the Twitter-sphere, that's impossible," he said.

Northwestern knows what it is up against with the No. 4 Buckeyes, and what the rewards might be if they can pull off an upset this weekend.

"We're playing a team that's undefeated since Coach [Urban] Meyer has been there," Fitzgerald said. "[They're] very well-coached, got great talent, they execute [and] make explosive plays."

Despite Ohio State's success, Fitzgerald and crew are confident in their ability to compete and win. Northwestern might be the underdog, but this team isn't going to back down.

"I think we're pretty darn talented, too," Fitzgerald said.

Quarterback Kain Colter who said he's had this game "circled on his calendar," doesn't think the Wildcats need the perfect storm to win this game.

"We don't need to play out of this world," Colter said. "We just need to play our game."

In the Big Ten, however, every game can make or break championship hopes. For that reason, Tyler Scott seemed well -aware of this weekend's importance.

"It's huge," he said. "This is why you come to play Big Ten football."

After a few off weeks -- one bye week and two lackluster performances -- the Cats better hope they're prepared to play at this level. Wide receiver Tony Jones thinks they are, and he said the team is ready to finally play a complete game.

"We're hungry," he said. "[We're] ready to eat."

On the Mark: As is his style, Fitzgerald didn't give too much away regarding Venric Mark's status for Saturday's game.

"If Venric has a good week, we'll have him in some capacity this weekend," Fitzgerald said. "I'm optimistic, but we'll see how the week goes."

Mark did practice last week, and his teammates spoke as if he would play.

"Whenever you've got [No.] 5 back there, it makes my job a lot easier," Colter said.

Against a team with as much as speed as Ohio State, the return of Mark certainly makes victory seem a little easier to attain.

Miller the killer: Braxton Miller returned to the field last Saturday against Wisconsin, and he showed why he is an explosive player and Heisman favorite. He threw for four touchdowns against the Badgers and will certainly pose a problem for the Wildcat defense this weekend.

"He's a dynamic athlete and he can score from anywhere on the field," Scott said. "We just have to be really gap-disciplined across the front."

Staying in their assigned roles was something both Scott and Damien Proby stressed, as well as keeping the QB in front of them at all times.

They're fans, too: For all of us who celebrated after ESPN announced that College GameDay would take a trip to Evanston for the first time since 1995, it's worth noting that the players were just as happy. When the team got together last weekend to watch the Ohio State-Wisconsin game, GameDay was definitely on their minds.

"I was rooting for Ohio State so we could get GameDay," Colter said.

Proby, meanwhile, said watching the game together not only allowed the team to bond and relax, it gave both sides of the ball a chance to get perspective from the other side.

"I may not see the same reads as Kain would," said Proby, who noted that film sessions are normally done separately.

Quick hits

  • Northwestern's home contest against Minnesota on Oct. 19 will be a peanut-free day at Ryan Field. Fitzgerald said he hopes to give fans who are normally unable to attend due to allergies, especially young kids, the chance to see Northwestern play.

  • One "lucky" reporter forgot to put his phone on airplane mode before laying it on the podium during the press conference, and Fitzgerald answered the phone when someone called toward the end of the press conference. Fitzgerald, of course, ended the call with his trademark "Go 'Cats."

  • Northwestern benefactor Pat Ryan will serve as the honorary captain for this weekend's game.

  • Brandon Vitabile, Scott and Proby were named players of the week, while Tony Jones and Dean Lowry got props for their big plays. Matt Alviti, Cole Johnson and Kyle Queiro were the practice team players of the week, according to Fitzgerald.

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