We're more split on this game than we have been all year. Here's who we've got.
I've been beating this drum all season, but I think Northwestern's run defense is legit. And really, the front seven as a whole is legit. Not just "they're somehow pretty good," but that they're actually more talented than most of the teams they'll face. This won't be a great game for Melvin Gordon, though he'll get his yards. However, I don't think the NU offense will keep up, since the Wisconsin defense is better than I had expected. Tanner McEvoy will make a play at the end to win it.
Wisconsin 23, Northwestern 21
It was encouraging to see Northwestern's defense shut down Penn State last week, but that won't happen against Wisconsin. The Badgers' offensive line is too big and Melvin Gordon is, well, a lot better than Bill Belton. Also, not having Ibraheim Campbell is a bummer for a team that's going to need all the help it can get stopping the run. I think NU keeps this competitive into the fourth quarter but will eventually get worn down by UW's ground attack.
Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 17
For the past few days, I've been trying to think of reasons why Wisconsin should absolutely beat Northwestern. And they should. Except, none of the reasons I thought of were convincing enough. Just saying Wisconsin is a better team isn't going to cut it for me this week. Something crazy will happen in this game and I think it will go Northwestern's way.
Northwestern 24, Wisconsin 20
I woke up Thursday morning and couldn't help but feel that Big Ten football is in the air. It's October, the cold is gradually rolling in, and there seems to be a certain sense of importance about Saturday's game which I don't think is fallacious. Wisconsin presents a massive opportunity for Northwestern, and I think the team understands that. As for how that translates to performance, however, remains to be seen. I foresee a back-and-forth affair. There will be long stretches where the Wildcats play like they did last weekend at Penn State -- inspired and hungry -- but there will inevitably also be long stretches where Wisconsin, in typical Wisconsin fashion, begins to take over and dominate, especially on the ground. In the end, I think it's actually Tanner McEvoy who makes one too many plays with his legs, and NU lets one slip.
Wisconsin 23, Northwestern 20
Northwestern needs to play a complete game to hang with Wisconsin. Despite the uplifting upset over Penn State, I don't see that happening. Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin offensive line won't allow the Cats to produce another defensive masterpiece. Tanner McEvoy will struggle early in his first Big Ten road game, and Northwestern will lead 14-10 at the break. But Wisconsin's three headed rushing attack of Gordon, Corey Clement and McEvoy will literally run away with the Badgers' first win in Evanston since 1999.
Wisconsin 34, Northwestern 24
Western Illinois was only down 9-3 to Wisconsin at halftime when they faced off several weeks ago. They stacked the box and did everything possible to limit Melvin Gordon. It worked for 30 minutes, but Tanner McEvoy found his rhythm in the second half. Defending all of Wisconsin's offensive assets will be extremely difficult, and in the end Gordon is just too much for the ‘Cats, who won't muster much on offense.
Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 17
It's going to be cold and rainy on Saturday so this will be a Big Ten game through and through. Lots of running, a battle in the trenches, probably a play or two that lasts for thirty seconds and somehow gains negative yards...who knows. Either way, that type of game will probably give Northwestern a chance to keep it close until about halftime, but Melvin Gordon has a way of wearing down defensive lines. It's an obvious choice, but he's the game-changer here.
Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 14
Full disclosure: I'm dealing with a mild to moderate case of Northwestern fever, so take this prediction with more than a few grains of salt. I mean, what other school can host the POTUS on Thursday and then Wisconsin football on Saturday? Anyways, it's going to be a wet affair on Saturday, as the forecast calls for rain, rain, rain. While you might think that would benefit Wisconsin and their run-heavy offense, bad weather is a neutralizer- it gives teams a chance that normally wouldn't, simply because it's not normal conditions. Wisconsin will run the football effectively, but they'll also turn it over, and Northwestern will take advantage. The ‘Cats build on their last two games and start B1G play 2-0 with a victory over mighty Wisconsin.
Northwestern 17, Wisconsin 13
This is a tough one... How good was Penn State, and how good is Wisconsin? Wisconsin has not played anyone worth noting since LSU and first week games are a terrible barometer of a football team. Wisconsin is every bit better than Penn State at nearly every position on offense, except for WRs and 1 big one - Quarterback. Without at least a consistent QB, Wisconsin is not a complete B1G team, plain and simple. I think this works heavily in NU's defense favor to gameplan. I expect the game plan to be drastically different than last week on 1st and 2nd down to curb Melvin Gordon but extremely similar to the PSU game on 3rd down. If the Wildcats can get Wisco in 3rd and medium plus position I expect Tanner McEvoy to be destroyed by the pressure of the NU front 7 with erratic throws and hopefully lots of INTs. On offensive I think NU gets hot at the right time and moves the ball. As Jon Davis noted, Wisconsin has only had 6 red zone opportunities, none of which resulted in TDs. I think NU tests this and puts drives together and converts in the red zone or gets there by a slew of big plays. I think they can pull off the upset and we win by a thin margin and have a few bounces go our way along with a couple big special teams plays. Something similar to 2009.
Northwestern 26 Wisconsin 24
Let's talk offensive lines. Northwestern destroyed Penn State's line, which appears to be the worst in the conference. Wisconsin's is pretty good. They don't give up sacks and they open up holes for Gordon and company. But the real focus on Saturday will be Northwestern's offensive line. After several lackluster to terrible performances to start the season, the Northwestern line performed very well against a very talented Penn State front seven. Green and the other backs also did a good job with blitz pickup. This is normally a big deal for any offense, but it may be more important for Northwestern. Instead of using superbacks in pass protection like they did in the first three games, early success from the line allowed those superbacks to get downfield, collecting four of Northwestern's five receptions for 20 or more yards. And if Siemian's foot is healed and he can drive the ball more without leaving it high, that would be a recipe for Northwestern having a good shot of winning this game. They'll need to pass a lot and hit quite a few big plays. I'm putting NU's shot of winning this game around 40%, but it'll be at home in front of a near full house (my guess is 44-45k, depending on students). It should be a fun afternoon with Northwestern ready to go out of the gate.
Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 17
Western Illinois showed that Wisconsin's ground game can be slowed down, even by a FCS opponent; just don't look at how bad it got through the air. Still, Northwestern's defense should be able to get off the field if they force Tanner McEvoy to throw. Trouble is, Wisconsin's defense is also pretty good, and they should have no trouble limiting Northwestern. This will be close at the half, before Wisconsin pulls away for a comfortable win.
Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 14
When President Barack Obama came to NU this week, I'm pretty sure he was talking about the football team when he said: "You can't help but visit a campus like this and feel the promise of the future." Our Wildcats have a tall challenge not to let the president down, but we've got promise on our side.
Northwestern 20, Wisconsin 14