On Saturday, Northwestern will begin its 2011 college football season, like most other college teams. But although Wildcat supporters will be focused mainly on Northwestern’s game against Boston College, there are a number of other contests of interest this Saturday for NU fans. Here’s a rundown of five other games Wildcat fans should keep an eye on during college football’s first Saturday of the season.
Western Michigan at Michigan (ABC/ESPN2, 2:30 p.m.): Brady Hoke will make his debut as the new head football coach at the University of Michigan when his Wolverines host the Broncos. Michigan is coming off one of its worst stretches in program history, but the Maize and Blue have renewed optimism after the firing of Rich Rodriguez. Denard Robinson, one of the most exciting players in college football, will play his first college game in a more traditional style of offense. Northwestern will take on Michigan in the Wildcats’ first Big Ten home game of the season on Oct. 8.
Arkansas State at Illinois (Big Ten Network, 2:30 p.m.): There’s no harm in getting an early look at one of Northwestern’s main rivals and its first Big Ten opponent this season. The Fighting Illini lost running back Mikel Leshoure to the NFL –- a player that ‘Cats fans should remember –- but they retain promising quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Illinois will likely roll through Arkansas State, but whether the Illini can establish a new star rusher is worth watching.
Minnesota at No. 25 USC (ABC/ESPN 2, 2:30 p.m.): Northwestern’s decision to play a quality opponent in its opening game is not a common one for other Big Ten teams. While most teams bring in a cupcake opponent for opening day, only two teams will play legitimately difficult games: Northwestern and Minnesota. The Gophers, who hosted USC last season, will travel west for their season opener to take on the Trojans. Though USC is banned from postseason play this year, it will still be worthwhile to watch the first game of the Jerry Kill era in Minnesota and to see whether the Gophers can give the ranked Trojans a good game. Minnesota will meet Northwestern at Ryan Field on Nov. 19.
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (ABC, 7 p.m.): Although Northwestern will not meet the Ducks nor the Tigers this year, Wildcats should tune in to watch this top five matchup just because of the talent that will be on display. If Dan Persa wants a shot at the Heisman, he will have to top talented Oregon running back LaMichael James, who returns to school as one of the frontrunners for the trophy. The game will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
No. 5 Boise State at No. 19 Georgia (ESPN, 7 p.m.): If Boise State can go into Athens and knock off the Bulldogs, they have a chance to run the table and make it to the national championship game. Of course everyone said that last year, and Boise State proceeded to lose to Nevada at the end of the season. The Bulldogs are retooled and could be a surprise team in the SEC this year. No Northwestern connection to either of these games, but it’s probably better than watching Iowa or Ohio State beat down a cupcake-quality opponent.