Rather than put together a countdown of Northwestern's best opponents this year, we decided to get together and rank the Wildcats' opponents by "winnability." Here's the best explanation I can give you:
I chose Wisconsin to win the Big Ten West because I think Wisconsin is a narrowly better team than Iowa. However, Northwestern plays a Wisconsin team replacing almost its entire front seven early in the season and at home, while the Wildcats face Iowa on the road. Plus, I like the matchup for NU, because I think they can outscore Wisconsin this year. Thus, I ranked the Wisconsin game as more winnable.
So here's our list, from toughest to easiest. Have any suggestions? Let us know in the comments.
1. at Notre Dame (71 votes)
T-2. at Iowa (60)
T-2. Wisconsin (60)
4. at Penn State (58)
Notre Dame was the runaway champion here, and everyone but Josh, who chose Wisconsin, picked the Notre Dame game to be the toughest. From the atmosphere to the fact that Notre Dame is simply more talented than Northwestern, that game seems to have everyone scared (also, by nature, people tend to be more worried about tough non-conference games than tough conference games).
However, the next three could have gone in any order. The Iowa game is tough because it's on the road and the Hawkeyes have an offense capable of physically dominating NU. The same goes for Wisconsin, except the Badgers don't have much of a passing game and that game will take place in Evanston. Then there's Penn State, which could struggle with some growing pains this year, but will be playing in front of a sold out and always tough Beaver Stadium. All four of the games in this top tier will be major tests for NU.
5. Michigan (49)
6. Nebraska (44)
7. at Minnesota (36)
If Northwestern wants to contend for the West Division this year, it has to take at lest two of these three games. As daunting as that may sound, it wouldn't be an incredible surprise. Northwestern *should* beat Minnesota this year, and it gets a Nebraska team that replaces its whole offensive line (and quarterback) at home. The Michigan game should theoretically be tougher, but despite all the talent, the Wolverines somehow haven't been able to put everything together.
T-8. Illinois (23)
T-8. Cal (23)
10. Northern Illinois (22)
11. at Purdue (16)
12. Western Illinois (6)
Frankly, these are all games NU should win. Everyone ranked Western Illinois as the most winnable, to no surprise. while the Illinois, Cal and Northern Illinois games were all close. The Wildcats theoretically shouldn't have any problems with those teams, but one of them could end up being a potential trap game.
Your turn! What's your winnability ranking?