Here Come The Big Ten Bullies: The Buckeyes
There have been numerous articles written outlining the importance of Saturday’s primetime showdown between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Northwestern Wildcats.
• It’s a battle of two undefeated teams
• It’s Ohio State’s biggest test until the Michigan game
• It’s a chance for Northwestern to make a big statement that they can play with anyone on the national stage
But the most important aspect of this game from a Northwestern perspective is making that statement not necessarily to the nation, but to itself.
These two teams haven’t played since 2008, so none of the players ever have faced each other in college. But that’s irrelevant on the larger scale. Ohio State always has been the one team that Northwestern simply cannot handle, no matter the environment. Those three Big Ten titles since 1995? NU did not play OSU during any of those seasons.
The Buckeyes are the one team in the Big Ten that scares Northwesterrn fans. Ohio State asserts its dominance early in games and does not relent. Deep throws are completed with regularity and its defense is always devastating.
The Buckeyes are the bullies of the Big Ten and Northwestern, far too often, has been their punching bag.
I remember traveling to the Horseshoe in 2007 in Pat Fitzgerald’s second season as head coach at Northwestern. NU finished 6-6 that season, but for the whole year, you had the sense this was a Northwestern team on the verge of a breakthrough.
The Wildcats won thrillers against Michigan State and Minnesota, and gave Michigan all it could handle. That breakthrough would happen the following year when the ‘Cats won nine games and played a great Missouri team to the wire in the Alamo Bowl, starting the Wildcats' current streak of bowl games.
But on that day, I have never witnessed a team as overwhelmed as Northwestern was by the Buckeyes. Just look at this box score. It was 28-0 after the first quarter. Ohio State's Brian Robiskie looked like a first-team All-American.
What we’re about to see this Saturday was not only unthinkable, it was laughable seven seasons ago. I’ve watched a lot of football and that first quarter will never be forgotten. I have never seen such dominance.
The Buckeyes did anything they wanted in that 58-7 blowout. The problem has been that the scenario of Ohio State doing anything they want against Northwestern is something that occurs almost every time the teams meet.
A lot has changed with both teams over the years, but the fear that Ohio State instills into the hearts of Northwestern fans has not abated. The lingering effects of the Ohio State beatdowns for the Wildcats from 2006-08 during the first three years of the Fitzgerald era are still strong.
Yes, Northwestern beat Ohio State in 2004. So it’s been done — 14 times to be exact in the history of their rivalry. The only Big Ten teams that Northwestern has defeated fewer times than Ohio State are Penn State and Nebraska, and they haven’t been members of the Big Ten for long.
Ohio State has put up 2,057 points in the series while surrendering only 688 since the teams first played in 1913. That is the most points Northwestern has given up to any Big Ten opponent and the fewest points they’ve scored against Big Ten teams not named Penn State or Nebraska.
I am sure Northwestern players believe they can compete with anyone, but a victory on Saturday would validate that belief and then some. A win would mean that Northwestern would enter the AP Top 10 under Fitzgerald for the first time. This program needs more fan support from the city of Chicago and there will be a sea of red at Ryan Field on Saturday. A win would be a monumental step in showing the city that this is a team worth rooting for, not a flash in the pan.
A win over Ohio State on Saturday would put Northwestern on track for its first Big Ten title since 1936 in a season when it had to play the Buckeyes.
There’s only one problem.
The following week, the Wildcats go to Madison, Wisc., to face the Badgers. Beating Wisconsin on the road might be an even bigger challenge. But somehow I doubt Northwestern will get caught looking forward to the three-time defending champion Badgers on Saturday.
Not with the bullies of the Big Ten coming to town.