Northwestern's new scheduling goal is to find opponents that have similar profiles.
It's safe to say the Wildcats' latest addition fits the bill, but not for the reason everyone thinks.
Northwestern on Wednesday announced a four-game series against Stanford to be played between 2019-2022. The agreement had been in the works for some time but is now finalized.
The series kicks off Sept. 14, 2019, in Evanston. Northwestern will visit Stanford Stadium in both 2020 (Sept. 19) and 2022 (Sept. 17) and host the Cardinal in 2021 (Sept. 18). Northwestern last week announced a home-and-home series against Notre Dame (2014 and 2018) and has added several more opponents from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences to its slate.
"We're thrilled to add another tremendous institution like Stanford to our future nonconference schedules," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said in a statement. "Having Stanford on our future schedules, along with Notre Dame, Boston College, California, Syracuse and Vanderbilt, makes this an exciting time to be a fan of Chicago's Big Ten football team."
The Nerd Bowl jokes are already starting on Twitter, but this isn't simply a match of two strong academic institutions. Both Northwestern and Stanford have increased their profiles on the field in recent years. Northwestern has reached three consecutive bowl games for the first time, and Stanford comes off an Orange Bowl championship. The two schools frequently recruit the same players.
The Wildcats' change in scheduling philosophy is part of their marketing push to increase attendance at Ryan Field. People aren't go to show up to watch directional MAC teams or FCS squads, and the students normally aren't on campus until Week 2 or Week 3 of the season.
The danger, of course, is an ambitious approach could lead to fewer bowl appearances. Northwestern tried to schedule its way to bowl games for most of the past decade. But the potential upshot of beating better teams in front of larger crowds is too valuable to pass up.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald likes the move, and so should anyone who wants to see better non-league games in the Big Ten.