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Nice job vs. OSU, Northwestern — but be ready for Wisconsin

Northwestern wide receiver CamerDickers(19) celebrates his touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian during second half an NCAA college football game

Northwestern wide receiver Cameron Dickerson (19) celebrates his touchdown on a pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Evanston, Ill. Ohio State won 40-30. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: October 8, 2013 9:50PM



Now comes the hard part.

All credit to Northwestern for delivering a top-notch effort Saturday against Ohio State. Even though the Wildcats didn’t finish the job, they took the Buckeyes, who haven’t lost a game since 2011, to the wire. And coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff did it with a roster of players who probably would have jumped at the chance to play for Ohio State had they had the opportunity.

That said, NU faces an even tougher assignment Saturday. The Wildcats will play smashmouth Wisconsin, which is rested after its bye Saturday and will be ornery coming off its own loss to Ohio State on Sept. 28 in Columbus.

On top of that, Fitz’s gang needs to park its disappointment and muster the kind of emotional effort college football demands a week after putting so much into the game against Ohio State. In addition, the NU staff — which did a fine job, especially on defense — will have to come up with another big-time game plan against the best one-two rushing combination in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation.

After seeing Buckeyes running back Carlos Hyde shred the Wildcats for 168 yards and three touchdowns, the Badgers will be making notes on how to spring Melvin Gordon (139.6 yards a game, first in the Big Ten) and James White (94.6, fifth).

A big key for NU will be following up the three turnovers it forced against Ohio State. The Wildcats’ 14 takeaways lead the Big Ten.

Follow the Leaders

The schedule-maker didn’t do NU any favors. Its three opponents from the Leaders Division this season are Ohio State and Wisconsin back-to-back and Illinois in its rivalry game.

The only other Legends Division team that plays Ohio State and Wisconsin is Iowa. Michigan plays Ohio State, of course, along with Indiana and Penn State. Michigan State (Illinois, Indiana, Purdue) and Nebraska (Illinois, Penn State, Purdue) won’t see the Buckeyes or the Badgers.

The schedule matters. Starting with their 1995 Rose Bowl trip, the Wildcats have gone to 10 bowl games. In seven of those seasons, they didn’t play Ohio State.

Standing pat

If there’s a silver lining, the loss to the Buckeyes might cool some potential pursuits of Fitzgerald. He’s the perfect fit at NU: a loyal alum and a Chicago-area native who loves it there. But if a school throws life-changing money at him, he’ll have to do what’s right for his family.

Fitzgerald’s financial package is reported to be worth at least
$2.2 million a year, which is probably more money than he dreamed of not so long ago. But in an era in which the Urban Meyers and Nick Sabans of the world earn at least twice that, the sky’s the limit if a football-obsessed school thinks Fitz is the answer. Saying no to an eight-figure package that can set up a family for generations isn’t merely difficult to do; it would border on being selfish.

Buckeyes and the prize

Some will say Ohio State’s narrow escape from Evanston casts doubt on its national-championship potential, especially because the Buckeyes don’t have many quality opponents left to impress voters. But that’s not necessarily so.

If Alabama and Oregon run the table, book them for the BCS championship game. But if they falter, it’s premature to start making assumptions about what voters will do with the Clemson-Ohio State debate. Or with leapfrog candidates such as Stanford and Florida State.

Here’s another way to look at it: The Buckeyes’ relatively unimposing schedule gives them a better shot of surviving unscathed. And don’t look for an unbeaten Ohio State to be snubbed by a one-loss team, no matter which one that might be.



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