Northwestern more than trap.

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Last updated: 04/30/2013 4:55 AM

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Thinking Out Loud: Northwestern More Than ‘Trap Game’ for Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If you missed it Monday, the ABC, ESPN family networks released its primetime schedule for the 2013 college football season.

The Buckeyes were expected to get at least two games in prime time – they had three last year – but Urban Meyer’s squad ended up with three more games under the lights on national television.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Jim Davidson
Urban Meyer

Meyer has said a number of times he prefers the electric atmosphere of night games at Ohio Stadium to the subdued crowd of another dull noon game. He will be happy to know Ohio State got two premier home games in primetime this season, with the first being an 8 p.m. kickoff in week five against rival Wisconsin on Sept. 28.

The Buckeyes will also host Penn State, another team that has risen to near rival status over the last two decades, under the lights on Oct. 26. Ohio State lost to the Nittany Lions, 13-10, in a night game in Columbus back in 2008, but they pulled off a stunning 33-29 comeback victory over the Badgers two years ago.

Meyer’s team could land another night game for the 2013 season when the Big Ten Network releases its slate of primetime games next week, but it’s that third ESPN game under the lights that should have Ohio State feeling a little uneasy.

Along with the two primetime games in Columbus, the Buckeyes will also play under the lights at Northwestern’s Ryan Field on Oct. 5. It will be Ohio State’s first conference road trip of the season, as well as the first time the Buckeyes have faced off against Pat Fitzgerald’s purple Wildcats since the 2008 season.

Ohio State is 30-13 away from home in night games (games starting 5 p.m. or later local time) since 1959, but the Buckeyes have had some interesting outcomes over the last three years.

The Buckeyes were 6-0 under former coach Jim Tressel, ranked No. 1 in the country, when they traveled to Madison for a night game against Wisconsin back in 2010. They left Camp Randall Stadium with a 31-18 loss that ruined any shot they had of playing for a BCS National Championship.

In 2011, the Buckeyes were beating Nebraska by 21 points in Lincoln when Braxton Miller’s ankle injury fueled a furious second half comeback for the Cornhuskers. They won that game 34-27 under the lights on a 17-yard touchdown run by Rex Burkhead with just over five minutes to play in the game.

Even last year, when the Buckeyes were undefeated during Meyer’s first season in Columbus, Ohio State nearly fell victim to the road night game in a wild three-point win over Indiana in Bloomington.

The Buckeyes were ahead 24-14 at the half and 45-27 in the fourth quarter, but they had to survive a second onside kick to hold on for an ugly 52-49 win over the Hoosiers in Memorial Stadium.

They would go on to knock off Penn State, 35-23, under the lights in State College two weeks later. The game at Beaver Stadium tipped off at 5:30 p.m. and while the Buckeyes won by two scores, it was a 14-10 game midway through the third quarter before Braxton Miller put the game away with a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs.

Jake Stoneburner finished it off with a 72-yard touchdown catch to seal the victory, but the 2013 Northwestern Wildcats could prove to be a bit trickier for the Buckeyes. Fitzgerald’s group is coming off a 10-3 season a year ago with a win over Dan Mullen and Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

Their 34-20 victory snapped a nine-game bowl losing streak that dated all the way back to 1949, but Fitzgerald has turned his alma mater into a relevant program over the last seven seasons.

The Wildcats were 4-8 in year one under Fitzgerald back in 2006, but they have gone 46-31 since then with three winning seasons in the Big Ten. Last year’s 5-3 mark was good enough for third in the Legends Division, and Northwestern finished No. 16 in the Coaches’ Poll and No. 17 in the AP Poll.

It was Northwestern’s first 10-win football season since 1995, so the Wildcats enter 2013 with momentum squarely on their side. Senior quarterback Kain Colter is one of the Big Ten’s top all-around playmakers on offense and shifty tailback Venric Mark was the third-leading rusher in the Big Ten last season.

Colter could also have a dangerous weapon to throw the ball to if 6-5 transfer Kyle Prater can ever live up to even half the hype he had as a 5-star prospect when he signed with USC back in 2010.

The Wildcats lose three starters up front, including left tackle Patrick Ward, but Northwestern’s defense made the jump from 10th in the Big Ten two years ago to No. 5 in scoring defense last season.

All of that should make Ohio State’s trip to Evanston one of the tougher tasks of the 2013 season; then add in the fact it comes one week after the Buckeyes host Wisconsin under the lights at The Horseshoe in Columbus.

That could very well be the most hyped game of the season for folks in Columbus and around the Buckeye State, which should make for an emotionally charged atmosphere inside Ohio Stadium.

It will be Urban Meyer’s job to make sure there is still enough left in the tank for his team when it makes to the trip to Northwestern a week later. With the way their schedule is shaping up, that just might be the scariest game of all.

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