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Northwestern’s Venric Mark likely to get quite a load vs. Michigan

Already contentifor Doak Walker Award NU’s Venric Mark should get plenty work today against Michigan. | David Banks~Getty Images

Already in contention for the Doak Walker Award, NU’s Venric Mark should get plenty of work today against Michigan. | David Banks~Getty Images

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The facts: 11 a.m., ESPN, 720-AM.

Updated: December 11, 2012 6:15AM

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — On the eve of its pivotal game at Michigan, Northwestern announced that junior running back Venric Mark is a semifinalist for the prestigious Doak Walker Award.

Mark, who needed just nine games to top 1,000 rushing yards, is second in the Big Ten and 10th in the country with 119.7 rushing yards per game.

The Wildcats (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) will need plenty of big runs from him if they’re going to upset the Wolverines (6-3, 4-1) on Saturday.

Under coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines are 12-0 at Michigan Stadium, where many of the 106,000-plus fans will remember that Northwestern upset the home team 21-14 in its last appearance there in 2008.

The Wolverines’ defense is stingy, allowing just six touchdowns in the last seven games, and they’re best against the pass in the conference. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have the Big Ten’s worst passing offense.

That means more Mark.

Michigan has plenty of respect for Mark, who leads the Big Ten’s second-best run offense.

‘‘He’s a dynamic football player who can beat you a lot of ways,’’ Hoke said this week. ‘‘He’s a threat every time he touches the ball.’’

Mark, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell are the Big Ten’s candidates for the Doak Walker Award. The winner will be announced Dec. 6.

NU has prepared for two dynamic quarterbacks, Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner. Robinson holds a number of school records and needs just one more passing touchdown to become the first player in conference history with 50 passing touchdowns and 40 rushing touchdowns. He missed Michigan’s 35-13 defeat of Minnesota because of an elbow injury. Gardner, though, proved plenty capable with two passing touchdowns.

‘‘Devin has come on as a weapon,’’ NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ‘‘They have playmakers across the board.’’

The Wildcats’ defense has held opponents to 20 or fewer points in five of nine games this season. But Michigan has scored more than 30 points in five games, including a 45-0 pasting of Illinois. The Wildcats will need a big performance out of junior defensive end Tyler Scott, who leads the Big Ten with seven sacks.

After Saturday, NU’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. Next week, it faces Michigan State (5-5, 2-4) before returning to Evanston to close out the regular season against 2-7 Illinois.

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