A quick glance at the schedule is enough to tell you Northwestern really needs to win one of their next couple games.
The Wildcats' trip to Iowa and home match-up against Michigan is followed up by the season's toughest test, Notre Dame. The schedule is rounded out by contests with Purdue and Illinois, which are both winnable games, but Northwestern likely needs six wins to make a bowl.
Northwestern isn't getting those six wins without a victory in one of the next two weeks. According to the statistical model of SB Nation's Bill Connelly, the 'Cats have a good chance of going to South Bend with four wins under their belt.
Connelly's most recent numbers give NU a 26.0 percent of chance of winning in Iowa City this weekend. Both the 'Cats and Hawkeyes are coming off bye weeks, but NU still has some nagging injuries. Ibraheim Campbell, Miles Shuler, Dan Vitale and Kyle Prater were all day-to-day as of yesterday, and Pat Fitzgerald said Trevor Siemian is "healthier than he's been."
Iowa isn't the formidable opponent many expected this season though. They've lost to Maryland and Iowa State, and struggled to get by Ball State and Purdue. Mark Weisman's yards per carry has dipped below four, and the Hawkeyes have had to go to the air more than Kirk Ferentz would like. ESPN puts Iowa as just a four-point home favorite, and I'd give NU more than a 26 percent chance of winning.
Connelly's method gives Northwestern much better odds, 59.5 percent to be exact, of winning at Ryan Field against Michigan. The Wolverines have been less than underwhelming this season. Their only wins came against Appalachian State, Miami (OH) and Penn State.
Michigan and Northwestern should be in a very similar situation next Saturday. They both stand at three wins right now and have a fair shot at winning this weekend (Michigan hosts Indiana). The Wolverines finish the season against Maryland and Ohio State, so regardless of the outcome against the Hoosiers, they will be just as desperate for a victory as NU.
The match-up between Michigan and Northwestern is a fairly equal one. They both have underperforming senior quarterbacks leading offenses ranked 109th and 113th in points for, respectively. Young running backs make up the strongest part of each offense. On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines and Wildcats have both been solid, allowing less than 24 points per game. The 'Cats really only hold the edge because of home field advantage.
The 'Cats cannot go to South Bend facing an inevitable loss and 3-7 record. While there's a slim chance that five wins would get NU a bowl bid, the season would seem like a loss at that point. Northwestern's season hinges on the next two games, both of which are winnable contests. They get at least one victory, and perhaps Pat Fitzgerald can turn this season into a successful one.