By Shawn Muller–
The final week of the 2010 Big Ten football season will be the Northwestern Wildcats toughest game to date. This Saturday, Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats will travel to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin to face the 7th ranked (BCS) Badgers at 2:30 PM. Coming off of a tough 48-27 loss to the in-state rival Illini in a game that saw Illinois star running back Mikel Leshoure rush for 330 yards and 2 touchdowns, Northwestern players know they can expect much of the same this weekend against Wisconsin and their rushing attack. Running Back John Clay, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, is still questionable in returning to the Badger lineup after missing the last two weeks due to injury. Fortunately for the Badgers, the Wisconsin running game has not missed a beat without him. Backup running backs, Montee Ball and James White, have combined to rush for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns in Clay’s absence. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats crew have relished in the role of spoiler…and they could just do it one more time this season.
Rewind to last November during the 2009 Big Ten season.
Northwestern traveled to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa, ranked 4th in the BCS and unbeaten at 9-0 on the season, were still in the hunt for a conference championship and a spot in the national championship game. Northwestern beat the Hawkeyes 17-10 thus ending the Hawkeyes quest for a spot in the title game and a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Fast forward two weeks later.
Northwestern hosted the 16th ranked Wisconsin Badgers (9-2 at the time) at Ryan Field in Evanston with the Badgers still looking at a possible spot in a BCS Bowl game. With the Badgers driving late in the 4th quarter, the Northwestern defense intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien in the waning moments, holding on for a 33-31 victory. The Wildcats held serve at home, also ending the Badgers BCS Bowl hopes.
Northwestern couldn’t possibly play the spoiler for Iowa and Wisconsin again this year….could they?
Why not? Northwestern already beat the 13th ranked (at the time) Iowa Hawkeyes two weeks ago, thus sending a once promising Iowa football season into a tailspin and derailing the Hawkeyes hopes for a second straight year of a possible share of the conference championship. Heading into Camp Randall to beat the Badgers may be a tall order, but the Wildcats are 4-4 in the last eight games against ranked opponents. They would like nothing more than to improve that mark to 5-4, and crush the Badgers dream of a piece of the conference championship, just as the Cats’ did to Iowa two weeks prior.
Other than ruining the Badgers title hopes, Northwestern still has plenty to play for themselves in this final weekend. Pat Fitzgerald has his Northwestern team bowl-eligible for the fourth straight season. A victory over the 7th ranked Badgers this Saturday would go a long way in improving the Wildcats chances of playing in an upper-echelon bowl. It is going to be a tall order for the Wildcats to play the spoiler this Saturday in Madison, WI without star quarterback Dan Persa. Persa has meant everything to the Wildcats this season, so there is no reason to believe NU can pull out another win this week….is there? It may be a tall order, but recent history for Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats, shows that it can be done….we will find out on Saturday.
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in Chicago for 7 years. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and just recently received his certificate in radio broadcasting in October of 2010. Sports have always been a passion of Shawn’s. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, “Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24.