Look, I understand if you don't want to listen to me. After all, I told you reasons why Northwestern would probably beat Cal, and then Northwestern lost to Cal. And then I told you reasons why Northwestern would probably beat Northern Illinois, and then Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois.
But this time, I am certain. I believe beyond a preponderance of a doubt that Northwestern will beat Western Illinois. And I believe it for a variety of reasons that only somewhat have to do with football. Heed my words.
1. They are an FCS team
Northwestern is an FBS team with 85 scholarships. Western Illinois is an FCS team with 63 scholarships. This, plus relative prestige, means FBS schools are typically better than FCS schools.
Northwestern has won its last seven games against FCS teams, dating back to the 2006 loss to a Chip Kelly-coached New Hampshire team. Western Illinois has lost its last 14 games against FBS teams, dating back to a 29-26 win over Northern Illinois in 2003.
They also aren't a particularly good FCS team. Their last winning season was in 2010. Although they're turning it around -- already 2-0 this year in FCS play, with wins over Valpo and Drake -- they went 4-8 last year. They have produced their fair share of NFL-ers -- right now it's just Mike Scifres and not-White Chocolate-or-the-guy-who-killed-somebody-or-the-guy-from-Duke Cowboys LB Jason Williams, but Rodney Harrison, Bryan Cox, Rich Seubert, and Don Beebe were Leathernecks.
But yes, they are an FCS team. And Northwestern should beat them.
2. They are not actually Marines
Although it's not uncommon for sports teams to be named after war people and objects -- the Warriors, etc. the Fightin' Blanks, etc. -- WIU has the most specific military nickname. If you're not familiar, a "leatherneck" is a slang term for a Marine, dating back to when Marines used to have to wear these uncomfortable stiff leather collars. The high collar on their modern day dress uniform is linked back to that.
Western Illinois is the Leathernecks because of Ray Hanson, the school's longtime athletic director/football coach in the early half of the 20th century. Hanson had been a Marine, and sought permission from the Department of the Navy to call his team the Leathernecks and use various military insignia. It was granted.
So because the Marines' mascot is a bulldog, WIU's mascot is a bulldog. (Yes, there is a live one, Col. Rock III.) One of the schools' logos is very literally the US Marine Corps' logo with a bulldog on it where a globe should be.
I would be worried if Northwestern was playing a team of Marines. For over 200 years, the United States Marine Corps has distinguished itself as one of the greatest fighting forces in the history of man. Marines are fierce, brave, and very physically fit. If the Marines assembled their best 100 football players in their ranks and trained them for a few weeks, I'd be willing to pick that team over Northwestern.
But Northwestern isn't playing that team. They are playing the Western Illinois University football team. I think Northwestern can beat them.
(An aside, since I don't have anyplace else to put it: WIU used to have one of my favorite gendered set of team names in college sports: The men's teams were the Leathernecks, and the women's teams were the Westerwinds, a word that isn't used in any context I can find besides Western Illinois women's sports. In 2009, the school opted to make both teams the Leathernecks, which angered at least one prominent Westerwind who was proud of the name's unique strength. I understand the strong backlash against gendered team names, but think they can be neat when they are each unique, as opposed to when you just take the guy's team name and add a LADY in front. Since WIU no longer has the Leathernecks and Westerwinds, my current favorite set of gendered team names are the St. Peter's Peacocks and St. Peter's Peahens.)
3. We are jealous of their constant unstoppable basketball success
I learned something today on the Wikipedia.
Northwestern has never made the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Tournament. It is our greatest shame. Meanwhile, Western Illinois literally always plays in it. Every single year.
In non-Wikipedia world, literally zero parts of that opening paragraph are true. WIU has never made the NCAA Tournament -- they've been to the CBI twice! -- and their coach is no longer Jim Molinari, who left WIU to join Nebraska's staff as an assistant coach.
We shouldn't tell our players about this. We should lead them to believe the Leathernecks have a permanent NCAA Tournament bid, so that they can exact their jealousy on their football team.
4. We still run this state (holds back tears)
A few weeks ago I said Northwestern would beat NIU since we have a great record against in-state teams. Northwestern lost, and NIU took out an ad in the paper proclaiming their in-state dominance and calling out the Illini.
It's true. We lost to NIU. It was bad and horrible and awful.
But Northwestern has still won 14 of its last 20 against in-state teams. Northwestern is now 7-1-1 against NIU.
Is it embarrassing that I am a fan of a Big Ten football team and I am gloating over historical wins over a MAC team that just beat us? Yes! Of course it is. Northwestern football is a case study in embarrassing scenarios, and this certainly is one. I maintain that Northwestern is the best football team in the state of Illinois, even in the face of a result from two weeks ago that quite clearly shows the opposite. We will prove this by stomping Western Illinois, and crying while doing so.
5. Because it's time, dammit
Look! I just want Northwestern to win a football game! Okay? Okay?
In the last 365
games days, Northwestern has won two football games. One was against Maine, and that was 362 days ago. The other was against Illinois, and that really shouldn't count.
The first thing on this list was "they're an FCS team," but I don't think the coaches and players in the locker room are going to look at the game that way. They would like to beat anyone, be it Alabama or Poopstrom State. Western Illinois falls somewhere in between those two.
Northwestern will try with all its might to beat Western Illinois. If they do not, I will cry tears of blood. I really, really hope I don't have to cry tears of blood.