Scroll down to listen to the sports editors break down Northwestern's sweat-inducing win over Ball State, preview another likely sweat-inducing game against Minnesota and compare Illinois to the mediocre intramural flag football team they played on last year in the fifth episode of Get Home Safe.
There are plenty of quirks to Northwestern’s quarter system, one of which is that the college football season actually kicks off about two weeks before classes start in Evanston.
So this year, I watched the Wildcats beat Stanford and Eastern Illinois from my living room couch. It wasn’t exactly the Ryan Field student section, though it was fun explaining to my pug, Bugsy, why everybody kept jingling their keys.
But after Northwestern’s hot start to the 2015 season, I was pretty excited to get back to campus and see the Wildcats in person. Maybe walking down Sheridan Road would feel different with the ‘Cats in the Top 25?
However, I can report that things in Evanston are pretty much the same.
Norris still feels like Norris. SPAC is still SPAC. Willie the Wildcat hasn’t suddenly enrolled himself in my Jewish History class. Even with all their success, the ‘Cats haven’t transformed Northwestern into a SEC-level #GameDay Fitz-is-God school overnight. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing.
It’s been a while since the Wildcats have been considered juggernauts on the football field, but it’s not a role they’ve handled well in the past. In 2013, that infamous loss to Ohio State sparked a seven-game losing streak, as Northwestern tumbled from the ranks of Big Ten contenders. While it’s taken almost two years, the ‘Cats are finally back on top.
Minnesota rolls into Ryan Field this season for Northwestern’s conference opener, as the Wildcats will seek to validate themselves as a legitimate Big Ten contender. After suffering a ridiculous amount of injuries against Ball State last weekend, NU's depth will be tested against a Golden Gophers team with a ton of playmakers on both sides of the football.
I understand that last Saturday's victory wasn't exactly an awe-inspiring performance. But while the 'Cats suffered a boat-load of injuries against the Cardinals, only one of those players (sophomore safety Kyle Quiero) is confirmed to be out against Minnesota.
This was something that really threw a wrench into the 'Cats season in 2014. A couple players were forced to play out of position just to compensate for all the missing bodies and Trevor Siemian missed Northwestern's season finale against Illinois, a loss which cost Northwestern a trip to a bowl game. Simply put, the Wildcats won't be able to compete with Big Ten powers such as Wisconsin and Nebraska if they've got a banged-up roster.
So with that in mind, Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field could be as much about who takes the field for Northwestern as how they do once they're on it.
The Wildcats are favored this weekend (albeit, by less than a touchdown) as plenty of college football fans around the nation have bought in to the team's hot start. It’s going to be interesting to see how the mood around Evanston changes if the ‘Cats can keep this going. I don’t need Lee Corso and the ESPN guys to show up this season, but it’d be nice to see some definitive proof that the ‘Cats success on the football field is resonating with students this season.
Seriously, it’s not just Northwestern football anymore.