Compared to teams like Ohio State or Penn State, Northwestern doesn’t appear to have much of a home field advantage.
After all, Northwestern’s Ryan Field has the smallest capacity of any Big Ten stadium.
But one edge the Wildcats do have at home?
Grass. Long, thick, natural grass.
Most D1 football stadiums now feature artificial surfaces such as FieldTurf. For the programs that still use natural grass, they tend to trim it so tight it might as well be artificial. But not Northwestern.
Ryan Field has long had a reputation for its nearly wild natural grass. The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach recently took a deep dive into the topic and found that it’s no tall tale.
“(Ryan Field) might have been the longest grass I’ve ever played on between high school, college and the NFL,” former Ohio State linebacker Josh Perry told The Athletic.
“I think it’s smart. Coach (Pat) Fitzgerald knows what he has in his program year-in and year-out. He’ll tell you, in his locker room, they’re not the fastest guys, the best athletes. But they’re smart and they play hard. If they let the grass grow a little longer and if he feels that’s an advantage against faster teams, he should have the right to do it. It’s such a small thing … but I think I might do the same thing if I were him.”
Any knowledgeable college football fan will tell you that Northwestern tends to be at a speed disadvantage when it matches up against traditional powerhouses.
It’s a bit hard to quantify that fact, but consider that since the year 2000, Northwestern has had just two athletes run sub-4.5 40-Yard Dashes at the NFL Combine. Michigan, on the other hand, has had 15.
The Wildcats nearly knocked off Ohio State at Ryan Field in 2013 thanks in part to wet conditions and what the Chicago Tribune called “ankle-high” grass:
A Twitter search reveals that the grass at Ryan Field becomes a topic of conversation just about anytime the Wildcats play at home.
Programs like Nebraska have intentionally practiced on long natural grass ahead of away games at Northwestern to be better prepared for the unusual conditions, and many teams arrive in Evanston with multiple cleat options so they can adapt on the fly.
“Not a lot of people want to come to Evanston,” Northwestern offensive lineman Jared Thomas told The Athletic.
“It’s our advantage that we have a unique field and people don’t want to play on it. We embrace it.”
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