This weekend college football returns and there's a lot to be excited about in Chicago. There is as much hope as there is pride this time of year, and 2012 brings a great deal of intrigue and optimism for Notre Dame, Northwestern and U of I fans.
Quarterback Kain Colter returns to lead a Northwestern squad that outscored opponents 143-82 during an early-season four-game winning streak last year. Added to the mix on offense this year is sophomore receiver Kyle Prater, who graduated from suburban Proviso West and began his college career at USC before transferring back to the Chicago area.
The Wildcats begin their season at Syracuse before playing their next four games - against Vanderbilt, Boston College, South Dakota and Indiana - in Evanston. If you want to see how NU is feeling, it's easy; just follow @coachfitz51 (Coach Pat Fitzgerald) on Twitter.
If you haven't seem them yet, take a look at the new uniforms Northwestern will wear this season from Under Armour.
University of Illinois Fighting Illini
Like rival Northwestern, the Illini return a dynamic quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase. He'll look to hook up with big-play receiver Darius Millines early and often this year under the guidance of new head coach Tim Beckman.
The superstar in Champaign this year is Jonathan Brown, who might be the best linebacker in the Big Ten. Despite the program's recent pitfalls, they're the only team in the conference to win back-to-back bowl games. So, it's not all bad Illini fans.
The Big Game: November 24
Illinois @ Northwestern
This year, the rivalry will be played out in Evanston when the Wildcats and Illini take the same field. The stands might be wild that day, but bars all over Chicago will be filled with purple, blue and orange. Whenever Illinois and Northwestern hook up, it's a great day to watch the game at your favorite watering hole.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The beginning of the Notre Dame season begins with the Fighting Irish in... Ireland. The Irish will play Navy in Dublin on Sept. 1 in what we can only assume will feel like a home-away-from-home game. Brian Kelly has handed the team over to uber-talented quarterback Everett Golson, who will get plenty of help from running back Cierre Wood (well, when his two game suspension is over at least) and enormous All-America tight end Tyler Eifert (he's listed at 6-6 and 251 pounds).
Senior linebacker Manti Te'o is among the best in the country, and he'll be asked to lead the Irish defense against some of the best quarterbacks in the country this season. Notre Dame will certainly be tested this year when they travel to both Oklahoma and USC.