As Ohio State is scheduled to travel to Northwestern Saturday night, the Buckeyes will face the game that could make or break their national title hopes.
Losses in games like this have spoiled the hopes and dreams of past Buckeye teams, as the Big Ten road night game can be seen as the gatekeeper to a national championship contending team.
Since the 2002 national championship season, the Buckeyes have been a modest 7-5 on the road in the Big Ten at night. Four of the five losses for those OSU teams were when the Buckeyes were ranked in the top-10, with one of them actually coming at the hands of Northwestern in 2004. The Wildcats knocked off then-No. 7 Ohio State 33-27 in overtime.
I believe three of those teams, 2003 2005, and 2010, even though the latter was vacated, were worthy of playing in the national championship game in their respective years, had they not been knocked out of the race. Each of those teams would finish with at least 10 wins and a BCS bowl appearance, but because of the loss on the road at night, they were unable to reach the promised land.
On the other hand, in seasons where the OSU passed the road night game test, it was able to achieve high goals by the end of the season. In 2002, the Buckeyes conquered a scrappy Northwestern team at night 27-16 en route to a national championship.
In 2006, the Buckeyes knocked off a ranked Iowa team under the lights, and the following year they beat Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State at night, with all four of those wins by at least two touchdowns. The 2006 and 2007 teams each made an appearance in the BCS National Championship game at the end of the season after completing the night game hurdle during the year.
With the rise of Northwestern’s football program and ESPN’s College GameDay scheduled to be in Evanston, Ill., for the game this weekend, some Wildcat fans and bloggers are calling this potentially “the biggest game in (Wildcat) history.” Sure, we might learn about Northwestern this weekend, but we will also learn about the Buckeyes and if they are ready to take the next step in their race to a title by conquering the daunting Big Ten road night game.