Campus Check In: Northwestern gets an early shot at the Big Ten West’s best

EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 16: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats on the sidelines in a game against the Bowling Green Falcons during the second half on September 16, 2017 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. The Wildcats won 49-7. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

EVANSTON – It’s OK for fans to look a little bit ahead on a given year’s schedule.

If you root for Northwestern, you can overlook the games against Nevada, Duke or Bowling Green and think about that showdown with Wisconsin to open the Big Ten season.

After all, if the Wildcats want a shot at a Big Ten championship, it probably starts this Saturday at 11 AM at Camp Randall Stadium. The tenth-ranked Badgers present quite a formidable test for the conference opener for Northwestern – but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s why you come to the Big Ten schools is to compete – you want to compete against the best. The best players, the best fan bases, the best venues, the best coaching. That’s why you choose to come to a place like Northwestern. So yeah, I think they’re ready. I think they were born ready. I think that’s why they chose to come here.

“Now you’ve got to go make it happen.”

Northwestern did so the last time they visited Madison. In 2015, the Wildcats ground out a 13-7 win over the Badgers for their ninth victory of the season. Beating Wisconsin at home will be a much tougher challenge this for quarterback Clayton Thorson, who led Northwestern to that win two years ago.

“There are few places you really look forward to playing. It will be fun to play in Camp Randall,” said Thorson. “It’s a great atmosphere.”

ILLINOIS: Friday Night Lights

CHAMPAIGN –¬† When it comes to a young team, every week is a major learning experience.

That’s especially the case for Lovie Smith, who is starting a nation-high ten true freshman on his team this season. Hence each of Illinois’ first three weeks have brought something new – sometimes good, sometimes bad.

It was more the latter in the Illini’s blowout loss to South Florida, but the first two games of the season had a few more positives in a pair of victories. The eduction of Smith’s young team goes up a bit as Big Ten season begins under the Friday Night Lights at Memorial Stadium against Nebraska.

Illinois comes in after the bye week, which gave them a chance to digest their rough night in Tampa two Fridays ago. Yet Smith was hoping his team would continue to look at the entire body of work during the week off in hopes of getting their minds right for the Big Ten season.

“I think that we have learned that we can be a really good football team. Of course, the goal was to win all three of our non-conference games, especially the first two home games,” said Smith. “First game, we had to come back to win it. We had to finish it the right way. The second game we were able to get off to a faster start and see a lot of players.

“Now, we have an idea of what they can do in a game situation. Now, we need to see how we come back from a big loss and a game where we didn’t play our best football. We can play a lot better than. Everything is set up and it is about Big Ten play for us. We have a big opportunity ahead of us.”

Notre Dame: It’s been a while for the teams, but not the coaches

SOUTH BEND – With the Cubs recent success, the end of the first decade of the 20th century has been on a lot of local sports fan’s minds recently.

At Notre Dame, it is again this weekend.

For the first time since 1909 – one year after the Cubs’ famous repeat World Series championship – Notre Dame will face Miami of Ohio at home. The Irish and the Redhawks met in South Bend for that one game 107 years ago, with Notre Dame winning it 43-0.

While the teams are not familiar with each other, the coaches certainly are. Miami head coach Chuck Martin served as an assistant under Kelly from 2010-2013 before taking the job with the Redhawks.

Martin also took over at Grand Valley State in 2004 after Kelly left for Central Michigan.

Still, don’t expect the Notre Dame coach to get sentimental about facing a former assistant.

“This isn’t — Chuck and I are not going to be playing the game. I know how he is going to prepare his football team. He knows how I’ll prepare my football team. I think that’s probably it,” said Kelly. “I think I’ve gone against other coaches that I know very well in terms of how they’ll prepare their football team, and I think that’s probably the similarity.

Northern Illinois: After Rest – Head West

DEKALB¬† – It could have been two of the sweetest weeks in the history of Huskies’ football.

Not only did they go on the road to Nebraska and spring the upset, but they got an extra week off to celebrate it. Nothing like getting the chance to celebrate one of the biggest wins in Northern Illinois football history for a little extra time.

Rod Carey had some thoughts on it during his weekly news conference after the week off as the team gets ready to face San Diego State out West Saturday at 9:30 PM. He actually appreciated the week off to let his players come down from the major high that came with the 21-17 win over the Huskers.

“Obviously, extremely happy with the win, and it’s probably good we had a bye week coming off of that because there was a lot of attention around that, rightfully so,” said Carey. “It’s hard to go back to all that emotion and everything that we’ve felt because it’s been a week and we’re 100 percent in on San Diego State and have been for quite a while now.”