We've come down to the end of the week talking Northwestern football and that means it's time to actually begin breaking down how the season itself plays out. After all, we've talked all about the players and the variables at hand all week.
So, today we get moving by breaking down the Wildcats 2013 schedule, one that our staff thinks could be one of, if not the single most difficult from beginning to end in the Big Ten. Let us dive into the schedule with our weekly breakdown...
Our Schedule Rankings:
Non Conference: 3rd - Playing two teams from fellow BCS auto-qualifying conferences is a big deal in the Big Ten, it doesn't happen often and with a trip out west to Cal to open the season things get real, really quickly. Syracuse at home the next week shouldn't be the shootout it was last season with Ryan Nassib gone for the Orange.
Conference: 3rd - This is brutal overall schedule, however on the bright side is that games against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State are all at home with the only real test on the road coming against Wisconsin. It also doesn't help that the OSU and Wisconsin games as well as the Michigan and Michigan State games are back-to-back
Now let's take a look at the actual setup of the schedule and see what this season could hinge on for the Wildcats, shall we?
Winnable Games: vs. Syracuse, vs. Western Michigan, vs. Maine, vs. Minnesota, at Iowa, at Illinois
Overall these games should all be wins and that means Northwestern guarantees bowl eligibility for themselves. The one game that I wouldn't have too much of a problem putting into the next category is the trip to Iowa, only because Kinnick is such a tricky place to play. If you stick around for when we get to Iowa week you'll understand more why I believe this game should stay in this category and not move to the "swing game" category.
Swing Games: at California, at Wisconsin, at Nebraska, vs. Michigan, vs. Michigan State
Northwestern has taken a huge step forward in terms of expectations and games that they should and could have a change of winning in 2013. Just take a look at the list above and ask yourself where these games would've been on a list just three years ago. The Nebraska series has been very interesting since the Huskers joined, with the pair of games these two have played being classics and expecting anything else in 2013 would be foolish considering how these two teams matchup. The closest game to not being on this part of the list is the game at Wisconsin and that's because the Wildcats historically struggle in Madison. However, at this point in July we don't have enough answers about some of the big questions surrounding the Badgers to know they'll be good enough to consider this game in the final category - Not a Chance in Hell. Northwestern and Michigan have played some great games and it could go either way this season and Michigan State is well... We don't know enough about them either and that's why they fall in this category. If they are a mirror image of last season then this moves to the winnable games side for the Wildcats. The most interesting game for me on this list is the season opener at Cal and that's because the Big Ten struggles so bad out west. It's the first ever meeting between these schools since 1948 and while Cal is breaking in a new coach that whole west coast thing scares the crap out of me.
Not a Chance in Hell Games: Ohio State
Yes they Wildcats (or should we say #B1Gcats, right NU marketing?) get the Buckeyes at home, but there's this little thing called history between these two teams that Northwestern has to combat. By that I mean the Wildcats have just one win since 1972 against the Buckeyes and went from 1972 to 2004 without beating the Buckeyes. I guess the silver lining is that these two teams haven't met on the football field since the 2008 season and that means neither set of players were around these programs when they last met. However, knowing the history and the fact that this comes as the Big Ten opener I just don't see a way this game is a W for the Wildcats and I'm a huge fan of their ability to get to Indy this year.