Football: Northwestern nears long-awaited game

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

Smiles crept upon the faces of seniors Tyler Scott, Kain Colter and Damien Proby and junior Tony Jones at Monday’s press conference when asked about how long the team has been thinking about Saturday’s game against No. 4 Ohio State.

They giggled and exchanged glances at one another, waiting for the others to speak up and say what all Northwestern fans wanted to hear.

After Scott claimed the Wildcats had only been thinking about the Buckeyes since the end of the Maine game, Colter jumped in.

“I’m not gonna lie,” Colter said. “This is a game I circled on my schedule just because I haven’t played these guys before.”

It’s no secret that there’s tremendous buzz surrounding the Cats’ Big Ten opener this weekend. ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew is rolling its set onto the Lakefill, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic will broadcast live radio show “Mike & Mike” from Deering Meadow the day before the game, and the average ticket resale for the event is up to $162 as of September 23 — the highest ever for any NU football game. Even coach Pat Fitzgerald, who’s usually known as an old school guy, can’t hide from all the social media chatter.

(Evanston, Northwestern prepare for first ‘GameDay’ visit since 1995)

“In the Twitter-sphere, that’s impossible,” he said. “I think you embrace whatever it is that comes along with college football. That’s why we have the structure within our program. Nothing changes for us this week. Our routine is our routine. We do what we do, and hopefully we put together our best week of preparation.”

NU started its season without star senior tailback Venric Mark, who has been day-to-day with a lower leg injury. Fitzgerald wouldn’t show his hand on what he has planned for his dynamic playmaker but did profess optimism about Mark’s chances of suiting up on Saturday.

“If Venric has a good week, we’ll have him in some capacity this weekend,” Fitzgerald said. “I feel very strongly that he’s progressing in the way that we want him to. But we also have Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of preparation time to see how everything responds. But I feel good about where he’s at.”

The Cats have struggled with the Buckeyes in the past. In Fitzgerald’s first season as NU’s head coach in 2006, the Cats lost 54-10 at home.  The following year NU didn’t do any better in Columbus, falling 58-7. The 2008 season was the last time the two teams met, and the result didn’t change, as the Cats were beat up at Ryan Field, 45-10. Fitzgerald kept his comments brief Monday and didn’t sugarcoat why the Cats have had their share of tough times against the Buckeyes.

“They’re really good,” he said.

Fitzgerald also admitted there’s a talent gap between teams in the top five and everyone else.

“I had a chance to watch a couple of the top five teams,” he said. “They’re incredibly talented. But I think we’re pretty darn talented too. … But obviously those top five teams are talented because they play up to their talent consistently.”

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