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Chicago Thu Oct 03 2013

ESPN GameDay Comes To Northwestern For Battle Against Buckeyes

Northwestern_Wildcats.jpg After defensive lineman Quentin Williams sacked Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell at the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day, January 1, 2013, it sealed the first bowl win in over 60 years for the Northwestern Wildcats and made coach Pat Fitzgerald jump into the arms of a few of his players along the sideline, wiping away tears of joy and purple Gatorade. He had done it -- the former Wildcats linebacker had come back to his academic roots to lead his team to a bowl victory not seen since the Truman administration.

For the next few weeks, proud alumni dusted off their purple scarves, sweaters and ski caps and walked with a little extra giddy-up in their step to work, while flashing a wink and a nod at anyone in orange. Not since the Gary Barnett-led Cats of the mid-1990s has there been this much hype over a Northwestern team that, more times than not, has backed it up on the gridiron.

The offseason came, and with it began more work for coach Fitz in preparation for a follow-up act to the success of 2012 -- certainly a hard act to follow. Eventually, the new season kicked off and the Wildcats jumped to a 4-0 start with wins over Cal, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine, thus earning rank of sixteenth in the polls. But as in the university's motto, "Quaecumque Sunt Vera," ("Whatsoever things are true"), now begins a stretch run of the truest test of all: games against conference foes from within the Big 10. And at the onset of this tough test is the toughest of them all: the fourth-ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State.

All eyes will be focused on Evanston this Saturday with ESPN's College GameDay rolling into town with all of its pageantry and Lee Corso bits. The excitement had been building for the past few weeks as the Wildcats had their off week last Saturday, which rolled into Homecoming this week. The GameDay broadcast goes live on ESPN from 8am to 11am, just south of Lakeside Field.

Urban Meyer, who came in to Columbus before last season, after the Jim Tressel debacle, took his team to a perfect 12-0 record, but he and his team were forced to watch from the sidelines during post-season play. The Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) were suspended last season from making any run at a championship after being scolded by the NCAA from infractions, but now are off the hook and look to run perfection through the north shore Saturday at 7pm.

As of right now, the powerhouse Buckeyes are five-and-a-half point favorites, but some of the prognosticators are picking the Wildcats with the upset. This probably is due to the Wildcats playing the role as "sexy pick of the week," but the home-field advantage also could provide a bit of a boost to the Cats. Another reason for the swing could be attributed to the return of running back Venric Mark. The senior back can do it all, including punt returns (he averaged 18.7 yards per return last season). Mark missed the last three games due to a leg injury, but says he "feels good now" and is "ready to help the team." He'd better -- the defense he'll face will be unlike any he's seen to this date -- more on that in a bit.

The Buckeyes are led by junior quarterback Braxton Miller, who has six touchdowns to one interception with 406 yards passing. The Wildcats are going to have to pressure Miller as much as possible, and can make that happen, as Miller has been prone to getting sacked during his career as a Buckeye (28 times in 2012, 39 times in 2011).

Ultimately, the Wildcats offense is going to be on the run for most of the game, having to hold up against such a stringent defense employed by Meyer and staff. According to USA Today, the Buckeyes boast the eighteenth-best defense in the country, yielding 304 yards per game.

Last week, the Buckeyes held the Wisconsin Badgers to just 104 yards on the ground in route to a 31-24 win. And while 104 yards rushing might sound pretty good, just know the Badgers are the second-best rushing team in the country at 300.6 yards per game. Ouch.

The shutdown on the ground forced the Badgers to win through the air with quarterback Joel Stave. The junior played well with 294 yards passing, two TDs and one pick, but by then it was too late and the fans in Columbus went home happy.

The quarterback-by-committee style in the Wildcats' offense, with senior Kain Colter and junior Trevor Siemian should keep legs fresh against an aggressive line, but, ultimately might have to rely on arm strength instead of foot speed.

On the lighter side of match-ups, there's the one that will be amongst the fans. Buckeye Nation travels well, so it might not be all purple and white in the stands, nor in the form of signage behind the GameDay crew. The jokes also might fly about a certain team's number-one ranking of student athlete-graduation rate versus the others, who may or may not like to sell championship items for tattoos. But, again, that's for the fans to decide.

"Quaecumque Sunt Vera," it's going to be fun and it's going to be loud. Ryan Field will be the center of the college football universe on Saturday, and it's taking place in your backyard. Dust off the purple ball caps and sweatshirts and take it all in.


  • ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg and his "Mike & Mike" co-host Mike Golic will broadcast their early morning show live from Northwestern's Evanston campus from 5am to 9am Friday, October 4, as part of the third annual ESPN Audio Fall Football Tour. Their drive-time show will be broadcast from Northwestern's Deering Meadow -- the two acres of open green space between Deering Library, (1935 Sheridan Road) and Sheridan Road.
  • From 10am to 6pm Friday, October 4, Chicago-based ESPN 1000 will broadcast two local radio shows -- "Carmen and Jurko," a sports talk roundtable co-hosted by 10-year National Football League (NFL) veteran John 'Jurko" Jurkovic and Carmen DeFalco -- And "Waddle and Silvy," co-hosted by former Chicago Bear Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman.
  • During the Pep Rally, Greenberg will announce the results of the Homecoming court voting and crown this year's Homecoming King and Queen. Entertainment begins at 7:15pm Friday when the '90s rock cover band, Mike & Joe, performs for Homecoming revelers.
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