Venric Mark (leg) will play for Northwestern against Ohio State

Venric Mark practiced this week and is expected to play against Ohio State on Saturday. (USATSI)
Venric Mark practiced this week and is expected to play against Ohio State on Saturday. (USATSI)

Northwestern got a huge boost heading into their primetime matchup with Ohio State, getting All-American return man and running back Venric Mark back at practice this week.

"It's a heck of a free-agent pickup," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "You get an All-American back four games into the season."

Mark missed the past three games with a leg injury, but participated fully in Tuesday's practice. While the Wildcats' most dangerous offensive threat played in the season opener against Cal, the injury was sustained early in preseason camp. 

"I feel good now," Mark told "I'm just ready to help the team. I've been itching to get back on the field. I feel like a spectator a little bit. I'm not really used to that at all." 

Mark ran for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, giving opposing defenses a nightmare scenario having to face the running back and dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter in the same backfield. The senior holds school records for single-game, single-season, and career kickoff return yards, but last season marked his emergence as a central piece of the Wildcats' offensive attack. 

With Northwestern ranked No. 16 in the nation, Saturday night's game against the No. 4 Buckeyes could be considered the biggest stage for the program under Pat Fitzgerald. With both teams getting their stars healthy in time for the game -- Braxton Miller made his debut from injury last week against Wisconsin, everything is set this Big Ten heavyweight battle in Evanston.

CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

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