The Big Ten’s media coverage will always be dominated by the big-market programs like Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin. But do not let the lack of attention surrounding Northwestern deceive you, because the Wildcats are very capable of hanging with the big boys in 2013.
The little buzz surrounding Northwestern’s football team is attributable to many things. They are not a traditional powerhouse. They do not play in a monumental stadium. They do not have a 40,000-student enrollment. And they are actually recognized first for their academics and second for their athletics (a novel idea for a university).
However, just because the Wildcats rarely enter the limelight does not mean that they cannot and will not challenge the Big Ten’s best this fall. Just look at 2012.
A season ago, the Wildcats completed perhaps the quietest 10-win season in the nation. Thanks to a few untimely and rather unfortunate losses, they never climbed higher than 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 and were seldom mentioned in the Big Ten Legends Division race.
But had it not been for a Hail Mary pass by Michigan and a 12-point comeback in eight minutes by Nebraska, the story would have been very different.
Lucky for them, they have the chance to rewrite the ending in 2013, because much of last season’s team is returning intact.
Trevor Siemian, Kain Colter, Venric Mark and the Wildcats’ three leading receivers from last year will all be returning this fall.
The offense that scored at least 21 points in every game in 2012 is coming back with the one item they lacked a year ago: experience.
This group has now played in "The Big House", at Happy Valley and in Lincoln. They have conceded late comebacks while producing a few of their own. Whatever nerves or uncertainties hurt them last year will not be nearly as potent this time around.
Yet if there is one thing standing in their way: their new conference schedule.
Their dates with Indiana and Penn State in the first two weeks of the Big Ten schedule last year have now been replaced with Ohio State and Wisconsin .
So it will take little time to size up this veteran Wildcat team, but do not be surprised if they make a statement in those first two weekends. Because 10 wins in 2012 shows that Northwestern is ready to compete for championships. And they now have a corps of players motivated by the unfinished business of last season.
In a league assumed to be Ohio State versus the Nebraska/Michigan winner, do not overlook the Wildcats, as many others have. They will be on a mission this fall to prove they belong in the Big Ten title discussion and that they are the most underrated team in the Big Ten.