Early Week 1 preview: Northwestern

The 2012 football season is rapidly approaching, and to get you ready, we're providing a very early preview of each Week 1 matchup in the Big Ten. Northwestern opens the 2012 season where it typically does -- on the road. This fall brings a changing of the guard for Pat Fitzgerald's crew, as standout quarterback Dan Persa and a large senior class departs.

Here's a look at what the Wildcats face in Week 1.

For more Week 1 matchups, click here.

Week 1 opponent: Syracuse (road)

Coach: Doug Marrone (fourth year, 17-20)

2011 record: 5-7 (1-6 Big East)

Returning starters: 14 (5 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists)

About the Orange: After an 8-5 season and a Pinstripe Bowl victory in 2010, Syracuse took a step back last season, dropping its final five games to miss out on a bowl trip. Marrone decided to close 13 of 15 practices this spring, in part so Syracuse could incorporate new schematic elements, but also to build better chemistry and focus among the players. Although the Orange haven't overhauled their offense or defense, they'll be a bit different when they take on the Wildcats. Syracuse returns quarterback Ryan Nassib, who passed for 2,685 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2011. Although Nassib will take most of the snaps, Syracuse also will feature versatile weapon Ashton Broyld, who can play quarterback and running back. The defense loses standout Chandler Jones, a first-round pick of the New England Patriots, but brings back linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Marquis Spruill, who combined for seven sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season.

Random factoid: Despite being named for an air conditioning manufacturer, the Carrier Dome has no air conditioning system. It could be very toasty inside the dome for players, coaches and fans on Sept. 1, as the Northwestern-Syracuse game kicks off at noon ET.

Series with Northwestern: Syracuse leads 5-4, including a 37-34 victory at the Carrier Dome in 2009 in the teams' last meeting.

Totally unscientific percentage chance Northwestern wins: 53 percent. Northwestern is 0-3 at the Carrier Dome, and will send a new-look starting lineup onto the field Sept. 1. But Fitzgerald is very good at getting his team ready for openers. In fact, the Wildcats are 6-0 in season openers under Fitzgerald, including road wins against Boston College (2011), Vanderbilt (2010) and Miami University (2006). Syracuse will throw some new wrinkles at Northwestern, and should be improved offensively after finishing 90th nationally last season, but Northwestern also should be able to move the ball with athletic quarterback Kain Colter and a dangerous core of receivers. This is a true toss-up and a pivotal game for two teams looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons.