Saturday Night's Alright for Playing (Except on the Road)

By Kyle Rowland on May 6, 2013 at 9:30a
Camp Randall gets tougher when the sun goes down.

It’s easy to strike up a conversation about Ohio State’s football schedule when the Buckeyes have “Michigan” printed for late November. The annual clash of college football titans is regarded as one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. It’s a throw-the-records-out type of game that is competitive and physical on an almost yearly basis.

Trips to Ann Arbor are especially treacherous for Ohio State. But that isn’t until the 12th game. Before that, the Buckeyes must navigate a relatively light course. All it takes is one slip-up, though. It only takes one glance at the past, oh, 143 seasons to understand the difficulty of traversing a full schedule unscathed. Even in victory, last season’s Purdue game was a perfect example.

When Ohio State finished 12-0 last year, chatter about a national championship haltered fairly quickly due to the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule. It could be a detriment again in a season Ohio State is eligible for the postseason. A September trip to California will not present the Buckeyes with an easy victory, as the Golden Bears showed in Columbus last year. Cal has a new, up-tempo offense this season and the first road test is never relaxed. But where the slate got tougher was the announcement of a night game at Northwestern.

Some may scoff at that assessment. Sure, the Wildcats don’t bring the cache that conference opponents in the SEC bring, but this isn’t your father’s Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald, the hero of the mid-90s resurgence, which included the improbable Rose Bowl run in 1995, has quietly built a budding Big Ten power on the shores of Lake Michigan – not that Ohio State has noticed. It’s been four years since the two schools played.

The Wildcats won their first bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl with a New Year’s Day win over Mississippi State last season. They also finished with 10 wins and the three losses came by a combined 19 points. With a bulk of the offense returning, Northwestern is thinking Legends Division championship in 2013.

Kain Colter and Venric Mark might not be household names, but they have the ability to be one of the most dynamic quarterback-running back tandems in the conference. Mark is one of the top players in the country that few have heard of. He finished 2012 as the Big Ten’s third-leading rusher with 1,366 rushing yards – six yards per carry – and 12 touchdowns.

Ohio State has a night date at Ryan Field in OctoberOhio State has a night date in Evanston in October.

An almost entirely new front seven could have difficulty with the mobility of Colter and Mark. Colter also has the services of five-star wide receiver Kyle Prater. The game is still early enough in the season that cohesion could be an issue for the Silver Bullets.

Ryan Field will never be confused for Ohio Stadium. And scarlet and gray will be scattered throughout the 47,000-seat venue, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Ohio State has a history of struggling at Northwestern at night.

Games played under Musco lights and a moonlit sky on the road are generally tougher. That’s a fact in college football. The Buckeyes are well aware, falling victim at Penn State, Wisconsin and Northwestern in the past 10 years. They’ve even lost three home night games during that same span.

What were once viewed as novelty games have turned into the norm. Fans have embraced night games and TV networks drool when the ratings come back. Coaches do their own salivating because of the free advertising for recruiting purposes.

“I do think our schools understand and recognize just how special that big stage can be on Saturday night,” Big Ten Senior Associate Commissioner Mark Rudner said last week.

As recently as 15 years ago, not every Ohio State game was televised live. That era, even for Louisiana-Monroe, is gone.

“People view a night game as more of an event,” Tom Schott, Purdue associate athletic director for communications, said to the Lafayette Journal and Courier last week. “There’s something unique about a night game that makes it more special. There’s prime time television to show off your program. It’s an event for people coming to the game and it’s exposure for people watching it on TV.”

During Ohio State’s national championship season of 2002, the theme of close victories was established early on with a miracle win at Cincinnati. Next in line was Northwestern. The Wildcats would finish the season 3-9 overall and just 1-7 in the Big Ten. But in October when the Buckeyes came to town, they didn’t appear to be a lost team.

The game is most remembered for Maurice Clarett’s Jekyll and Hyde performance. He had 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but also fumbled three times and was seen arguing with running backs coach Tim Spencer. Ohio State won, 27-16.

Two years later was a different story. The Buckeyes would not leave victorious, the first time in 25 games against Northwestern. Ohio State entered the game undefeated and ranked seventh in the nation. The 33-27 overtime loss sent the Buckeyes into a tailspin that included three consecutive losses, dooming a once promising season.

Night games have that potential. Ohio State is 30-13 all-time, impressive when the pitfalls are considered. But in recent years, road games at night have doubled as haunted houses. 

The Buckeyes bid a national title adieu in Madison during the 2010 season after a crushing loss, while the next season included blowing a 21-point second-half lead at Nebraska.

Urban Meyer hopes 2013 resembles a fun house.


Comments Show All Comments

Hamsterdam's picture

I would not be surprised if the California game ends up another night game ... be it on FOX at 7:30 p.m. or perhaps 10/10:15 p.m. on the new FOX Sports 1. FOX has the Pac-12 and Big 12 and other than Tennessee at Oregon, there isn't another real big game that week in those two conferences.  

AndyVance's picture

The Cal game would be an awesome night game experience, but given that they'll schedule it on east-coast time, I'd have a hard time picturing it at the 10 p.m. slot... The 7:30 concept makes for an interesting possibility, though.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

I hope not. It's hard enough waiting for the games that come on at 8 p.m.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

CC's picture

I'm going to that game and would love to see the bucks hand the hippies an L under the lights!

Mike Honcho's picture

I hate Fox productions.From the music to their announcers. And after Joe Buck made the comment that Aj Hawk was taking a pay cut going from the Buckeyes to the Green Packers I have really hated Fox.

Ethos's picture

Can't wait for this game, simply because I already have tickets to it :)

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

AndyVance's picture

A high-stakes night game (relatively speaking, that is) played in Sweet Home Chicago has the makings of an awesome away-game weekend for Buckeye faithful.

nickma71's picture

A solid dose of reality right between the eyes. So said Gary Barnett with the falseness of an uprising Nerd squad after a 51-3 beating. The Nerds always looked ok when they didn't line up against the Scarlet and Gray.

otrain2416's picture

Northwestern is definitely a threat. They're coming off of a 10 win season, beat two SEC bowl eligable teams in the process. Returning both their QBs, RB, and 3 leading WR. Not sure what their O-line or D is looking like. We definitely need to come out hot vs them and not let them have any momentum. The one thing I like about this years team is we've been practicing the 4-2-5 consistently so we should be better prepared for the spread than we were last year. Also NW offense is similar to ours in ways with the spread offense with a little more focus on the run and dual threat QB

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

BrewstersMillions's picture

OSU is going to pillage Northwestern. 3 score minimum. Northwestern is a fine example of getting every last bit off success out of limited (all be it, increasing) talent. They aren't bad but Ohio State is going to be one of the best teams in the nation. I understand some fans want to be modest and that's cool but its ok to embrace greatness as well. Every year, there are only a handfull of legit title contenders and Ohio State is one of them. They are too big, fast, deep, and well coached to fall in a big game to a team still looking for a true signature victory.
Naga....Naga...Not gonna happen.
OSU 45
Nerdwestern 21.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Too low. I want 55.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

USMC11917's picture

Bookmarked..I'll either sing your praises or humble you after the game bro. Your confidence is applaudable.

Earle's picture

Yeah, not buying the NW hype.  A good team, to be sure, but the Buckeyes are on a whole 'nother level.  Could an upset happen?  Sure, but don't think for a minute that the Bucks will be caught by surprise.  And I have a feeling the home field is a bit overblown as well; I think we'll see a lot of Scarlet in the stands.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

chitown buckeye's picture

Agreed, OSU fans typically take ownership of their football and basketball facilities when the Bucks are in town. I wouldnt believe it would be any different for a night game in Evanston. I know a lot of local OSU fans already circling the date and getting tickets. Dont see much of a homefield advantage.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I agree - the worst thing that could happen for NW against Ohio State is for the game to be hyped-up all during that week. And that'll probably happen if NW starts 4-0 (at Cal, Syracuse, W. Michigan, Maine).

Bucksfan's picture

Never say never, guys.  Yeah, the Buckeyes are going to be far and away the class of the B1G, and it's really hard to find a team with the horses to pull off the unthinkable.  But Ohio State has some weaknesses.  The passing game isn't a sure thing yet, and the defense has a lot of holes to fill, too.  I have a feeling that there are going to be some stellar games and some not-so-stellar games.  I remember that 2004 game at NW, and we were all watching it on TV and looking at each other like, "Did that just really happen?!"  Of course, the 04 team kinda sucked, but still...
Oh, it's only May...bummer.

BrewstersMillions's picture

Oh OSU definitely has weaknesses. Every team has them, even all mighty, iron clad Bama has some problems-for all of his deserved praise as a defensive mastermind, the elite scrambling QB's tend to be Saban's Achilles heel. His defenses really struggle reigning in the free lancing QB like Newton and Manziel (and Brax, amirite?). OSU has them but part of knocking off a team that is vastly superior requires having the ability to attack those weaknesses. OSU's passing game is probably the biggest hurdle between them as a good team and them as a great team and that legit concern of yours is only going to be answered by production (or lack there of) in games-same with the defense so from where we are sitting in May, perhaps it is a bit too soon to declare a 20 plus point victory. Of course, if OSU gets the train rolling by the time they head to Evanston, I might amend my prediction.
Worst case scenario, if OSU's passing game remains pedestrian or only slightly removed, I still don't know how NU can answer what should be one of the nation's best rushing attacks. I guess my gusto is sort of coming from that fact. OSU is so good on the ground, or should be anyway, that a mediocre passing game can be over come when the defense on the other side of the line isn't that great to begin with.

Earle's picture

I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that they lay an egg at some point during the year.  I just don't think it will be this game.  I just think Urban will have them ready to play against a good team under the lights.  There are only a handful of teams capable of beating the Buckeyes at their best, but they proved last year that at their worst they were capable of almost  losing to anyone (anybody remember Purdue).  My games of concern are Cal, Purdue, and Illinois, because those are potential let-down games on the road.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

BoFuquel's picture

If I was in Cal's shoes I would make it a nooner.That would mess with the easterners mind more than a night game.Yet you still get the 3:00PM audiance back east, You can still impress a lot of eastern talent if you win, to come and californicate with ya.Hit the sleeping giant before he wakes up.GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

bukyze's picture

I too will be at the Cal game, but am worried about containing their offense.  But then again, I'm always nervous before every Buckeye game.  I'm not one to guarantee any win against any team, because it historically always brought me bad luck.  NW worries me as well - Colter and Mark are extremely dangerous.  And we better get our special teams coverage a hell of a lot better than last year, because Mark has the ability to score on any punt.

chubler's picture

With two dangerous, experienced quarterbacks and all rookies on the Dline (most importantly the ends), NW's offense could put some serious points on the board. of course, with two Northwestern quarterbacks, they could also end up putting some serious points on the OSU side of the scoreboard. And no one forget how easy it is to stop even the best running teams from moving the ball if they can't throw... it all depends on how miller and the front 7 develop. If they're shaky, this is a tossup.