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Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(John J. Kim)
MCT Northwestern's Michael Panico finds some room during a punt return against Maine. The undefeated Wildcats host the No. 4 ranked Ohio State on Saturday in Evanston.

EVANSTON – No. 4 Ohio State visits No. 16 Northwestern on Saturday night in a game that features one team looking to extend the nation's longest active win streak and another seeking that signature victory.

What better way to do it than with a prime-time audience watching?

"It's why we come to Ohio State," Ohio State defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. "Big games, night games are awesome. We play really well on the road. I don't [know] how many places can say they have back-to-back night games which are huge games."

The Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big) have won 17 straight since dropping four in a row to close out the 2011 season, and are eyeing a national championship after going undefeated in coach Urban Meyer's first year. However, they were banned from a bowl game in 2012 because of NCAA sanctions stemming from the tattoo scandal.

Now they're coming off a 31-24 win over Wisconsin, and they're staring at another big hurdle in a team that wants to show it can beat the best in the Big Ten.

A win over the Buckeyes would do just that for the Wildcats (4-0, 0-0).

They cleared one big hurdle last year when they went 10-3 and won a bowl game for the first time since the 1948 team captured the Rose Bowl, and beating Ohio State would be another big feather for Pat Fitzgerald's program.

The last time Northwestern knocked off a top-five team, Dwight Eishenhower was in the White House. The Wildcats opened the 1959 season with a win over No. 2 Oklahoma and took out No. 5 Iowa a week later, but they haven't beaten a team ranked that high since then.

"This is why you come to play Big Ten football and Division I football," Northwestern defensive lineman Tyler Scott said. "This is where we want our program to be at, to have this hype and this game."

Here are five things to watch in the game:

Safety valve: Buckeyes safety Christian Bryant broke his left ankle late in the Wisconsin game and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season. With the defensive leader out, Ohio State was looking at Corey Brown, Tyvis Powell or Vonn Bell as replacements this week, and a short-handed secondary could open up the passing game for Northwestern.

Braxton's back: Braxton Miller looked sharp in his return from a sprained left knee. He matched a career-high with four touchdown passes after missing the previous two games.

On the mark: Running back Venric Mark is expected back for the Wildcats after missing three games with a lower-body injury, a huge boost for them in the running game and on special teams. He ran for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns, and was a major contributor returning punts and kickoffs last season.

Milestone approaching: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter needs 72 yards rushing to hit the 2,000 mark for his career. He already owns the school season (891) and career (1,928) rushing records for a QB.

Urban renewal: Meyer has vivid memories of his most recent trip to Northwestern. It was late in 2001, when he was in his first season at Bowling Green, and his Falcons beat the Wildcats 43-42 in a matchup that wasn't supposed to happen.

Both teams had games cancelled in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and what happened when they got together was nothing short of wild. Bowling Green scored 29 points in the fourth quarter, including two touchdowns about 90 seconds apart in the closing minutes, and racked up 618 yards in the game. Northwestern finished with 624 yards.

"We had a 6-hour bus ride, and we refused to leave the locker room for about 2˝ hours," Meyer said. "Those kids wouldn't leave, and I wouldn't leave with them. We were just crying and enjoying it."

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