Early schedule snapshot: Northwestern

February, 10, 2009
2/10/09
5:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern rounds out today's schedule snapshots. I'll take a look at the final four Big Ten teams on Wednesday.

NONCONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Miami (Ohio)

Sept. 12 Towson

Sept. 19 at Syracuse

Oct. 10 Eastern Michigan

My take: The Wildcats are pushing Penn State for the Big Ten's easiest nonconference slate. All four teams had losing records in 2008, and all four welcome new coaches for this fall. Northwestern will be favored in every game and has a good chance of running the table for the second straight season after failing to do so from 1964-2007. The team will be breaking in a new offensive backfield, as quarterback Mike Kafka steps in alongside a mystery man at running back. This could present some problems, but Northwestern returns nine starters on defense and should be able to subdue the competition. Though Northwestern gets a much needed scheduling upgrade in the coming years, it should be in good shape for another bowl berth with this lineup.

BIG TEN SCHEDULE

Sept. 26 Minnesota

Oct. 3 at Purdue

Oct. 17 at Michigan State

Oct. 24 Indiana

Oct. 31 Penn State

Nov. 7 at Iowa

Nov. 14 at Illinois

Nov. 21 Wisconsin

Byes: Michigan, Ohio State

My take: The league slate also sets up favorably for the Wildcats, who skip an Ohio State team that has dominated them for decades and face Penn State at home. The road schedule isn't easy, but Northwestern has won consecutive games at both Michigan State and Iowa. A strong start to league play will be critical, and the opener against Minnesota likely will go a long way toward determining Northwestern's fate. The Wildcats need some positive momentum going into a tough three-game stretch beginning with Penn State on Oct. 31. For the first time since 1998, Northwestern won't end the Big Ten season against Illinois.

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