Northwestern might not be very good, but Northwestern is better than Illinois. Justin Jackson has a big day, Time Beckman gets run over by a ref, and Pat Fitzgerald celebrates the incredible opportunity of playing in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Northwestern 31, Illinois 14
Northwestern's 24-point win at Purdue last week is encouraging. Whether that performance will carry over into this week is anyone's best guess. I don't think Northwestern needs great quarterback play to win this game, but still: How will Zack Oliver perform in this spot? In the end, I think the Wildcats win to get bowl eligible, but not without Illinois making things interesting in the fourth quarter.
Northwestern 30, Illinois 24
Six wins. Six magical wins. Northwestern quite possibly may have those six by Saturday afternoon. But without their starting quarterback, will the Wildcats be able to wear the state's crown? I don't think Zack Oliver will be enough to keep the ‘Cats afloat.
Illinois 31, Northwestern 27
These are uncharted waters for Zack Oliver. He's been forced into action twice this season, but against Northern Illinois, it was with NU down by two scores and with nothing to lose; against Purdue, he probably could've misfired on every one of his passes and the Wildcats still would've won comfortably. With more onus on him today, I think he struggles, but the defense makes a few plays and gets a few crucial stops to lead Northwestern to victory.
Northwestern 21, Illinois 14
With a bowl game on the line, neither of these teams is going down without a fight. I'm expecting a close game that may come down to the last possession. Illinois will get some big plays through the air and hold an early lead. However, Justin Jackson stays on a roll, taking the pressure off Zack Oliver, and the ‘Cats barely nab bowl eligibility.
Northwestern 27, Illinois 24
Northwestern has strung two nice performances together, which is sort of alarming when you consider this team's past history. But Zack Oliver will play like a bowl game is on the line (as it is) and Northwestern's defense will come out fired up and ready to go. Northwestern jumps out to an early lead, but Illinois will make a game of it in the second half. NU pulls out a squeaker.
Northwestern 24, Illinois 17
Injuries will be the focus for Northwestern on Saturday, but not at QB. The injury report is not out at the time I'm writing this, but the secondary injuries have me worried. There seems to be one thing that Illinois does consistently well on offense and that is hit the 30+ yard pass play. Not having VanHoose, and potentially McShepard, scares me. I'm also worried about the Illinois ground game, but that mostly has to do with NU's inexplicably poor effort against the run in Champaign last year. Regardless, the hat stays in Evanston.
Northwestern 27, Illinois 20
The combination of Justin Jackson and Northwestern's resurgent, turnover-forcing defense will compensate for Trevor Siemian's absence and the 'Cats win a close one to keep their season alive.
Northwestern 20, Illinois 17
Illinois has some nice receivers, in particular freshman Mike Dudek, and not much else; if Northwestern can keep up the last two weeks' offensive breakthrough, this should be a reasonably comfortable game.
Northwestern 31, Illinois 21
They say those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it, or something like that. I dunno, I wasn't a history major. And I really hope none of the Wildcats learned anything in any history classes, so that they are bound to repeat HAT.
Northwestern 27, Illinois 12