Will Northwestern Be a Neutral Site Game?
ESPN's Michael Wilbon was quoted this week as saying, "I expect Cornhuskers to occupy 50 percent of the seats this week". That wouldn't be an unprecedented feat by the Husker Nation. There have been a number of road games over the years where NU fans were at least equal in number to those of the hosting team. But what's curious in this case is that this is "Family Weekend" at Northwestern. So parents, grandparents, and siblings will be flooding the campus. Ryan field isn't exactly the Big House. Their stadium houses a modest 47,130 people. Yet Wilbon thinks the home team won't get even 24,000 to attend. Why not?
Lack of Tradition
It might be fair to say that a big reason that Wildcat fans might find themselves shoulder to shoulder with Husker fans is that lack of tradition in Evanston. It's not that they couldn't sell more tickets to their own fans, it's just that as smart as they might be, Northwestern fans don't yet understand how the game is played. Nebraska fans (the BRN staff included) had locked in tickets months ago. That happens when you think and talk about college football 52 weeks out of the year. By the time 'Cat fans woke up that the game was approaching, the tickets were gone baby gone.
Lack of Interest
Anyone can get behind a football team that's 6-1. Anyone would look forward to a rematch at home after scoring a huge win in Lincoln over ninth-ranked Nebraska. In order to do that, you'd have to actually know the team is 6-1 or about last season's upset. A good chunk of the 8,400 or so undergraduates and 10,700 postgraduates at NW might accurately be described as something less than "obsessive" about college football. Even within Ryan field, I expect to overhear the following from someone wearing purple, "What's their record? What's our record? Who's their quarterback? Who's our quarterback? What's the score? Which one's our team? Why won't those Nebraska fans sit down?". That's how you sell fewer than 24,000 tickets on family weekend.
The Big Red Represents
Let's give a little to the Husker Nation as well. Wildcat fans probably wouldn't find themselves flanked by Husker fans if we weren't so crazy for our Cornhuskers. Even when Nebraska is struggling, we post. NU's sellout streak has even survived Bill Callahan and Kevin Cosgrove, after all. It doesn't hurt that Evanston is so near Chicago, a major airport hub. It was a lot tougher to get as many people to Lubbock or Stillwater, back in the day. Still, there's a hardcore base that follows the Big Red like they're the Grateful Dead.
Wilbon may not be 100% accurate. The breakdown could be 70/30 either way. In any case, the environment won't resemble the Horseshoe in Columbus. NU players can expect to hear cheers when the Huskers make a play and maybe even some noise for the defense. If the Huskers don't find a way to take care of the ball and slow the Wildcat running game, it won't matter how many of us make the trip. In the end, it's still all about the players.