College Football Insider: Something new at Northwestern

  • Updated: October 3, 2013 - 10:34 PM

Northwestern hopes to have a frenzied home crowd on hand for Saturday’s showdown with Ohio State.

hide

Pat Fitzgerald is preparing Northwestern to play one of its biggest games in school history.

Photo: MATT MARTON • Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked this week to compare the atmosphere at Wildcats home football games now to when he played there in 1993.

“Night and day, my friend,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald was a linebacker on Gary Barnett’s teams that seemingly came from nowhere to win Big Ten titles in 1995 and 1996. The Wildcats won another share of the conference title in 2000 before backsliding for a few years.

Now, in Fitzgerald’s eighth year as coach, Northwestern is definitely a program on the rise. After going 10-3 last year, the school began construction on a $220 million lakefront facility that will double as a football headquarters and student center.

Northwestern still ranks last in the Big Ten with an average home attendance of 34,629, but there won’t be an empty spot at 47,000-seat Ryan Field on Saturday, when the No. 16 Wildcats take on No. 4 Ohio State.

ESPN’s “College GameDay” is coming to Evanston on Saturday morning, and the game itself will get prime-time treatment. This is Northwestern’s chance to prove it’s a serious Big Ten contender again.

As recently as last year, Nebraska fans flooded Ryan Field, creating noise levels that forced the home team to use a silent snap count. It’s been the same thing with Ohio State fans in previous years.

“They probably have more alumni in the Chicagoland than we do from a pure numbers standpoint,” Fitzgerald said, noting that Ohio State has close to 50,000 undergraduate students, compared to 8,000 for Northwestern. “But our fans have been incredibly supportive. Our season-ticket sales are at an all-time high. I’m expecting a very solid home-field advantage for us.”

Still, a skeptic can’t help wondering: Is Northwestern for real?

Last year, the Wildcats quietly came a few plays from winning the Legends Division, losing 29-28 to Nebraska and 38-31 to Michigan, before winning their first bowl game since 1949, a 34-20 victory over Mississippi in the Gator Bowl.

Most of their top weapons returned, including the quarterback combination of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. That duo has completed 70.5 percent of its passes this season.

“The only reason why this two-quarterback system works is because of our young men,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re good friends, they have the utmost respect for each other, and they want what everyone in our program wants, and that’s what’s best for the team.”

Northwestern went 4-0 in nonconference play, winning at California, followed with home victories over Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, and they will have Venric Mark back from a leg injury. Mark was an All-America punt returner last season and averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a running back.

The Ohio State defense was impressive in a 31-24 home victory over Wisconsin last week, but the Buckeyes lost senior safety Christian Bryant to a broken ankle on the game’s second-to-last play.

“This is the one guy I thought was an incredible leader,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “He was very important to our staff and team, so it’s a sucker punch.”

Northwestern should be able to score against Ohio State, but the big question is can the Wildcats stop an offense that ranks sixth nationally, averaging 48.2 points per game.

“There’s an All-Big Ten player at every position on their offense,” Fitzgerald said.

But Northwestern has made 19 interceptions in its past seven games dating to last season. If Braxton Miller gets careless with the ball, the Wildcats will be ready to pounce, and so will their fans.

Big Ten Short Takes

• Everyone knew Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis was good, but he looked Eric Decker-like against Ohio State, with 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. He did all that, despite being shadowed by Ohio State All-America cornerback Bradley Roby.

On the other side of the ball, Badgers linebacker Chris Borland was all over the field, making 16 tackles in the losing effort. No team will enjoy playing the Badgers the rest of the way.

• Gophers fans would feel better about last week’s 23-7 loss, if Iowa follows through with another victory over Michigan State. Last year, Iowa won a defensive struggle in East Lansing 19-16 in double overtime. Iowa trailed 13-6 until Mark Weisman ran for a touchdown with 55 seconds left, forcing OT, and Mike Meyer hit two more field goals to win it.

• Illinois still looks like the most improved team in the conference. After going 2-10 in Tim Beckman’s first year, the Illini are 3-1 heading into Big Ten play.

Illinois has enough playmakers to potentially give Nebraska’s porous defense another test Saturday in Lincoln. Washington rolled up 615 yards against the Illini three weeks ago, but the young defense made strides of late, holding Miami (Ohio) to 250 yards last week.


BIG TEN POWER POLL

1. Ohio State (5-0, 1-0): Back at full strength against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes looked capable of running the table.

2. Northwestern (4-0): The Wildcats have another test next week, at Wisconsin, before the Gophers visit Oct. 19.

3. Michigan (4-0): The Wolverines’ 17-game home winning streak is the longest of any BCS conference school.

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1): Melvin Gordon said his left knee is fine and that he will be ready for Northwestern next week.

5. Michigan State (3-1): Spartans fans hope the week off helped their team sort out its quarterback mess.

6. Nebraska (3-1): With Taylor Martinez still hobbled, Tommie Armstrong Jr. will start, and Ron Kellogg likely will play.

7. Penn State (3-1): After playing Indiana on Saturday, the Nittany Lions face Michigan and Ohio State.

8. Iowa (4-1, 1-0): The doubts are starting to subside for redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock.

9. Illinois (3-1): Nathan Scheelhaase threw four touchdown passes last year. This year, he has thrown 12.

10. Gophers (4-1, 0-1): Facing Michigan, Northwestern and Nebraska, will need an upset victory to avoid a 0-4 Big Ten start.

11. Indiana (2-2): The Hoosiers face Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan before Gophers visit on Nov. 2.

12. Purdue (1-4, 0-1): True freshman quarterback Danny Etling offers the Boilermakers a new ray of hope.

  • related content

  • Joe Christensen's Big Ten power poll

    Thursday October 3, 2013

    BIG TEN POWER POLL1. Ohio State (5-0, 1-0): Back at full strength against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes looked capable of running...

  • Joe Christensen's Big Ten short takes

    Thursday October 3, 2013

    • Everyone knew Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis was good, but he looked Eric Decker-like against Ohio State, with 10 catches for...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Denver 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Carolina 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Detroit 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Green Bay
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Denver 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Portland 7:00 PM
Houston
Utah 7:00 PM
Memphis
Toronto 7:00 PM
Chicago
Atlanta 7:30 PM
Dallas
LA Clippers 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Sacramento 9:30 PM
Golden State
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Washington
Nashville 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Florida
Arizona 9:00 PM
Vancouver
San Jose 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Calgary 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Ark-Little Rock 55 2nd Half 5:27
Bradley 42
Brown 65 2nd Half 3:45
Central Conn St 48
Stetson 38 2nd Half 9:30
Florida State 46
Ill-Chicago 40 2nd Half 5:28
Northwestern 49
Ohio 34 2nd Half
George Washington 43
Southern Utah 2:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Elon 25 1st Half 5:40
Kennesaw St 29
Dartmouth 3:00 PM
Penn State
Green Bay 3:30 PM
UC Irvine
DePaul 3:30 PM
Colorado
Lewis & Clark 4:00 PM
Portland
SC State 4:30 PM
Abilene Christian
Manhattan 5:00 PM
Fordham
Truett-McConnell 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Citadel 5:00 PM
Michigan State
Miami-Ohio 5:00 PM
Ohio State
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
Purdue
Idaho 5:00 PM
Northern Ky
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Albany
North Dakota St 6:00 PM
Alcorn State
UT Martin 6:00 PM
Butler
SE Louisiana 6:00 PM
UCF
Oakland 6:00 PM
Clemson
Florida A&M 6:00 PM
East Carolina
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
IUPU-Ft Wayne 6:00 PM
Illinois State
Norfolk State 6:00 PM
James Madison
Binghamton 6:00 PM
Mount St Marys
Towson 6:00 PM
Navy
Long Island 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Notre Dame
William & Mary 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
Liberty 6:00 PM
Princeton
Delaware 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Colgate 6:00 PM
Syracuse
Kansas 6:00 PM
Temple
Mercer 6:00 PM
Tennessee
East Tenn St 6:00 PM
VA Commonwealth
Va Military 6:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Bucknell 6:00 PM
Wake Forest
Alabama A&M 6:00 PM
Western Mich
New Orleans 6:05 PM
Indiana
Columbia 6:30 PM
Connecticut
Long Beach State 6:30 PM
St Johns
Wofford 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Southern U 7:00 PM
Baylor
UAB 7:00 PM
Chattanooga
Char Southern 7:00 PM
Colorado State
North Florida 7:00 PM
Iowa
NC Central 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Rice 7:00 PM
Lamar
Central Mich 7:00 PM
McNeese State
Coppin State 7:00 PM
Michigan
Furman 7:00 PM
Minnesota
SE Missouri St 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Weber State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma
Grambling St 7:00 PM
TCU
Loyola-Chicago 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Penn 7:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Chicago State 7:00 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Simpson 7:05 PM
Drake
Tenn Tech 7:05 PM
UMKC
Murray State 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
Oral Roberts 7:05 PM
Missouri State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Air Force
Milwaukee 8:00 PM
Arkansas
Wisconsin 8:00 PM
California
Coll of Charleston 8:00 PM
LSU
North Dakota 8:00 PM
Marquette
Northern New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
UC Santa Barbara 8:00 PM
Oregon
Miami-Florida 8:00 PM
Providence
Northeastern 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Kent State 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
UC Davis 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
Lewis-Clark State 8:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Walla Walla 8:05 PM
Portland State
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Marshall 9:00 PM
Nevada
Boise State 9:30 PM
Houston
UC Riverside 10:00 PM
San Diego St
Tulane 10:00 PM
Washington
Loyola Marymount 10:00 PM
Wichita State
Nebraska 12/23/14 12:00 AM
Hawaii
BYU 21 2nd Qtr 3:57
Memphis 24
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Holy Cross 78
Temple 59 FINAL
Villanova 64
Georgia Southern 68 FINAL
Southern U 52
Xavier 60 FINAL
Kennesaw St 61
Eastern Michigan 52 FINAL
Michigan 81
Brescia 56 FINAL
Marshall 127
(21) West Virginia 50 2nd Half 7:07
Ohio State 76
UMBC 73 2nd Half 4:45
MD-Eastern Shore 63
Cornell 68 2nd Half 5:43
Loyola-Maryland 49
St Bonaventure 56 2nd Half 5:22
Georgetown 61
New Hampshire 38 2nd Half 6:51
Northeastern 55
Eastern Washington 32 2nd Half
Florida 27
Rice 29 1st Half 4:35
Texas Southern 21
Butler 3:05 PM
Illinois State
UC Davis 4:00 PM
(16) Stanford
Washington St 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Sacramento St 4:00 PM
San Jose St
SIU-Edwardsville 4:30 PM
UMKC
Oakland 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Belmont 6:00 PM
(14) Georgia
George Mason 6:00 PM
Longwood
Kansas 6:05 PM
Creighton
Abilene Christian 7:00 PM
Kansas State
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Missouri
Hampton 7:00 PM
DePaul
Florida State 7:00 PM
Tulane
Murray State 7:00 PM
Illinois
Fla Gulf Coast 7:05 PM
Arkansas State
BYU 8:00 PM
Utah State
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How much do you like the Gophers going to the Citrus Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close