By Paul M. Banks
The 7-2 Northwestern Wildcats are nationally ranked 25th in the USA Today Coaches’ poll and just moved back into the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings at No. 24. The BCS standings first appear in mid-season and NU checked in at #22 with a record of 6-1 at the time. Of course, Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald and his players constantly remind us how they are actually â€œ0-0 again, at the start of each game week.â€ The day after the initial 2008 BCS rankings were released, senior wide receiver Eric Peterman gave us the quote of the week, playing on the familiarity of this mega-clichÃ© by stating, â€œWe are the first 0-0 team in the history of the BCS. Iâ€™m very proud of that.â€
Itâ€™s a good thing the Cats arenâ€™t getting complacent because coming to town is the 12th ranked team in all the polls: the Ohio State Buckeyes, winners of 13 straight Big Ten road games. This is by far, the biggest game of the season for the Wildcats, who last week solidified a postseason birth for the first time since 2005. They will probably have their starting quarterback C.J. Bacher returning, but will also have to start one of their third choices at tailback with both the first and second-string out with injuries.
A sold out Ryan Field will showcase Buckeye playmakers on both sides of the ball. Leading the way will be middle linebacker and Butkus Award favorite James Laurinaitis. â€œHeâ€™s as good as advertised,â€ said Fitzgerald, who was named one of 15 finalists for the Munger Coach of the Year award this week. Fitz won the 1995 and 96 National Defensive Player of the Year awards himself as a linebacker. â€œIn their secondary, they fly, theyâ€™re fast. Malcom [Jenkins, senior OSU cornerback] is a first day guy, they have first-day guys all over the place,â€ Fitzgerald said in describing all the potential NFL first round draft picks within the Buckeye defense. Laurinitis currently has top ten overall draft stock and outside linebacker Marcus Freeman is projected as a second round commodity. This complements Chris â€œBeanieâ€ Wells on offense, the nationâ€™s blue chip prospect at tailback.Â
The last two meetings with Ohio St. have yielded a â€œDead Cat Bounceâ€ with Northwestern taking a beating worse than the Dow Jones average has lately. Last year OSU whacked NU 58-7 after beating them 54-10 the season before. This game, kicking off at 11AM and televised on ESPN2, figures to be much closer on paper.
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