What if I told you a team that just won its first bowl game in over 60 years is the scariest matchup on Ohio State’s 2013 schedule?
It sounds ridiculous, but I’m completely serious. The Buckeye’s Oct. 5th tilt with Northwestern will be one of the toughest on the Scarlet and Gray’s 2013 slate.
The two teams haven’t played since 2008, Terrelle Pryor’s freshman season. That game wasn’t close, as the Buckeyes served up a pretty cold 45-10 beatdown in Evanston.
The contest was football therapy for the 11th ranked Buckeyes who suffered a heart-breaking 13-6 defeat at the hands of #3 Penn State in the previous week.
Pryor had a banner day, tossing for 197 yards and 3 TDs. Beanie Wells and Boom Herron were able to tack on three more, making for a pretty terrible outing for Pat Fitzgerald and the rest of Wildcat nation.
But the team Fitzgerald has taking the field in 2013 will look a lot different than that 2008 squad. Just take a look (pro-tip: pay no attention to the wildly fluctuating volumes or whatever Fitzgerald is doing at 0:05)
The Wildcats went 10-3 last season (5-3 in conference) with losses to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan.
The team rebounded from the loss against Michigan to finish out the year with three wins including a 34-20 drubbing of Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
2012 was certainly a step-forward for Northwestern and the nucleus of that team is coming back.
The Wildcats will return nearly all of their skill players on offense including All B1G RB Venric Mark (226 carries, 1,366 yards and 12 TDs) as well as an effective two-QB system in Trevor Siemian (1,312 yards and 6 TDs) and dual-threat, Kain Colter (8 TDs passing, 12 TDs rushing). The explosive back-field was only behind Ohio State and Nebraska in scoring offense in 2012.
While not as impressive on paper, the Wildcat defense took huge strides in 2012 as well. The unit’s 29 take-aways was good enough for first in the conference. In addition, the squad posted the B1G’s fifth ranked defense. One spot ahead of your very own Silver Bullets.
The unit takes their cues from senior DE, Tyler Scott who led the team in TFL (12.5), sacks (9) and forced fumbles (3) in 2012. The squad also returns a number of talented players in their secondary including safety, Ibraheim Campbell, CB Nick VanHoose and sophomore Traveon Henry. The group combined for 13 INTs on the year, only one behind the conference leading Buckeyes.
No, this certainly isn’t your grandpa’s Northwestern, and Fitzgerald will be looking to prove that under the lights on Oct. 5th.
The game will mark the conference opener for the Wildcats who should come into the matchup undefeated if all goes as planned against Cal, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine.
The contest comes at an inopportune time for Ohio State, who will be fresh off a tough night game in the previous week against Wisconsin (a team Athlon Sports has at #19 nationally and finishing at #2 in the Leaders division.)
Night games are always emotional in the ‘Shoe, so will Braxton and company have enough left in the tank to do it again in an opponent’s house the following week?
Of course this is all speculation, but that’s what the offseason is for. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for the Buckeyes to thrash Northwestern in early October, rendering this piece meaningless.
With that said, I simply don’t see that happening. Fitzgerald is building something special on the banks of Lake Michigan. A win against OSU would be a signature one for Fitzgerald, ultimately ringing in a new era for Wildcat football.
So keep the matchup in Evanston circled on your calendar, because this isn’t your grandpa’s Northwestern.