We actually had football news on April 29, and no matter how minute that is, it generally means I'll talk about it, and it turns out it was sorta big news, in fact. ESPN got their annual "HAHAHAHAHA WE RUN THIS SPORT" opportunity to select Big Ten primetime games out of the Big Ten's regular season crop, and they did some Northwestern-choosin:
.@nufbfamily will kick off vs. Ohio State under the lights (7pm) in their 2013 B1G opener on 10/5, to be televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.— Northwestern Sports (@NU_Sports) April 29, 2013
That? That's pretty much perfect, and let's explain.
For starters, you might be scratching your head, trying to remember the last time Northwestern played Ohio State, and if you're a current Northwestern senior, you're probably going to come up dry. Ohio State last played Northwestern in 2008, a drizzle-y, just-above-freezing blowout at Ryan Field wherein Terrelle Pryor laughed at Northwestern's attempts at stopping him and Jim Tressel called a fake punt up about 25 in the third quarter. Because it's 2013, some things don't compute about that sentence, notably Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, and Northwestern getting blown out, none of which are things anymore.
You see, the Big Ten's 11-team scheduling matrix, wherein there were always two teams you weren't playing in two-year stretches, and the Legends and Leaders scheduling matrix, wherein there are always four teams in the other division you aren't playing, also done in two year stretches, magically linked up, with the Northwestern-Ohio State matchup off the board in the last 11-squad iteration and the first 12-squad iteration. Thus, we had four years without Ohio State football.
On the one hand, this was a bummer: Northwestern missed out on Ohio State's sanctions era, when they were hypothetically a weaker team than normal. On the other, this was perfectly fine: Ohio State is typically one of the strongest teams in the conference, and year-after-year, Northwestern skipped them. If NU had played them instead of Indiana the last two seasons, we might have missed a bowl in 2011, and we might not have had a 10-win year last year.
It was sorta tough remembering we were in the same conference as the Buckeyes. They did their thing, being overwhelming and obnoxious, and we did ours. We made jokes about the "The" in peace. They beat Northwestern year after year after year in increasingly heartbreaking fashion in basketball, but the football teams didn't meld. We didn't even get an opportunity to read Land-Grant Holy Land, even as it became great.
Well, now they be doin some meldin. And it's about time. This'll be the first time Kain Colter and Venric Mark ever square off against the Buckeyes, and it should be a good one.
But alas, it should be a doubly good one: as Inside NU noted, there's a lot of reasons to think about ESPN's College GameDay - the lead-in to any real college football fan's gluttonous 12-hour haul through a Saturday, you know, unless you're drinking heavily, or even if you are drinking heavily - taking its first trip to Evanston since 1995.
For starters, the schedule for Oct. 5 is a pretty weak one. There are a few other stops possible - Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State stands out, Baylor vs. West Virginia would be a fun one if Geno Smith were still here - but Northwestern vs. Ohio State sort of stands out.
And, oh, by the way, Northwestern vs. Ohio State should actually be a really, really good game. In case you didn't hear, Ohio State didn't lose last season. In case you didn't hear, they are not particularly likely to lose this season. In part due to light out-of-conference scheduling - we both play Cal! - and in part due to luck of the draw, Ohio State's schedule last year is comprised primarily of chaff, toenail clippings, and beer cans that you've been meaning to throw out but end up just sitting on your dresser for a few weeks. If I had to pick a team to run the table this year, it would be either Ohio State, Bama, or Louisville, and Bama only because Bama is Bama. The Buckeyes will start the season in the top five, for sure.
And, um, Northwestern is kind of good too? We're ranked No. 17 in the postseason poll, and should be above No. 20 in next year's preseason poll. If not, you'd expect Northwestern to move up in the first few weeks of the season next year. Although I won't bet on Northwestern being undefeated in out of conference play, they'll be favored in all four games.
There's a pretty solid chance Northwestern and Ohio State are both undefeated, in which case that game is between a No. 3 or so team and a No. 12 or so team. That's GameDay. Sure, every once in a while they pick gimmicky games that are unique in some way that don't really fit the national picture - last year they went to Navy vs. Troy on a boat, the year before SMU-Houston in a year Houston was top 10, in 2010, they, umm, went to a game at Wrigley Field between Northwestern and Illinois.
And ahhh, yes, the time they went to Northwestern vs. Illinois at Wrigley Field. That was one of the more fun Northwestern football days, even if the team lost the game in blowout fashion. It was a good day to be a 20-year-old stumbling around Wrigleyville in purple. We made a sign, we had a sign taken away. We really want this to be GameDay, and judging from the fact ESPN has put the game in primetime - GameDay days are typically primetime ones - ESPN might too.
Oh, and it's Homecoming. I didn't think I was gonna go next year, because I went this past year, and two years out makes you seem like you're clinging to college life as a post-grad, which I am so very very very dearly, and I don't want people to notice it. But I was going to go to one game next year, and... how could I miss that one? Night games are the best. I also just booked my flight out for Dillo, so we're totally gonna look like Never Graduaters.
Last year, you were able to circle Northwestern-Nebraska on the schedule as a clear standout, and it was: although Northwestern wasn't undefeated coming in, it was still a 29-28 thriller that NU almost won on a last-second 50-yard field goal that went juuuuuuuuuuuust right, and if NU had won, they would've been in a three-way tie to go to the Big Ten Championship game. (I have no clue how they would've solved that.) That was the most pivotal game of Northwestern's season, and you could tell months in advance.
So we have the same thing this year, and again, it's against a red-clad team capable of selling out Ryan Field if we don't do it ourselves, and one that hasn't played in front of a big Chicago alumni base in a long time. So, um, we should sell it out ourselves! NU really kinda sorta needs to bang up the attendance drum for that game - especially if it turns out we're showing NU off on a national stage with GameDay.
Here's to Corso putting on a Willie hat.