With Northwestern getting set to take on Northern Illinois Saturday, here are our picks for Week 2. Can the Wildcats bounce back? The general feeling is that this game will be tight from wire to wire, but most of us think NU can and will pull out the win.
Note: some of these predictions were made before it was announced that Northwestern WR Tony Jones will miss the game due to injury.
I expect NIU's quick passing game to help the Huskies get off to a good early start on offense, since Cal showed that's how you can beat Northwestern. However, the NU defense will settle in and the offense will do just enough to get a victory. Fitz knows he needs a win here. The play calling will reflect that.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, NIU 21
Unlike last week, Northwestern will come out prepared to defend its opponent. NIU won't ring up two touchdowns and a field goal on the Wildcats before they know what hit them. I still think this game stays close deep into the second half, but NU will score a late touchdown to win it.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, Northern Illinois 21
Tony Jones' injury really, really hurts Northwestern to the point where the passing game has gone from bad to really bad. For the better part of last season, Tony Jones put up better numbers than Christian Jones, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Scoring will be at a premium for Northwestern and I think that's will be understood by the staff. Using running backs Justin Jackson, Treyvon Green and Solomon Vault effectively to keep NIU's offense off the field will be a point of emphasis for Mick McCall. Kyle Prater: 3 catches, 25 yards.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, NIU 23
I think we're getting too caught up in the "Cal surprised NU with the two-QB system" narrative. The most alarming thing from last weekend was not the defense, but rather that Northwestern scored just 24 points, and that 7 of them were on a trick play after Collin Ellis set the offense up with a short field. I don't see much reason to think the offense won't sputter again. I also think the kicking game could be a problem for NU. Furthermore, this is a very good NIU team, and the list of things telling me to pick the Huskies is not short. But the fact that Northwestern opened as a 2.5 point favorite and the line is now up to NU -7 is telling. I'll take the Wildcats by a whisker.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, Northern Illinois 27
Pat Fitzgerald will have his team more than ready this Saturday, but that doesn't mean the ‘Cats are going to roll over NIU. I expect a back-and-forth battle that will be determined by which team is able to finish off drives. Justin Jackson could be a game-changer by punching it in when NU gets around the goal line. A late score gives Northwestern a four-point victory.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, NIU 20
Cal laid out the blueprint for beating Northwestern fairly clearly (in addition to just letting them beat themselves): pass the ball. NIU's strength is it's run game, so this is not a gameplan they might usually go with, but I think they'll be able to adjust and then it will really depend on how redshirt junior QB Matt McIntosh plays. He played well enough against Presbyterian to earn the starting nod, and I think he'll be able to score against NU's shaky secondary. I don't think Northwestern's offense will be nearly as awful as it was last week, but they won't be able to completely turn it around that quickly either. This one will come down to the fourth quarter, and frankly, NU hasn't proven to me that it can win those games yet.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 34, Northwestern 31
I'm going to be unpopular here, but I saw too many glaring holes in this team -- and its ability to adjust, whoever you want to blame for that -- against Cal. Northern Illinois' offensive line is experienced and and the Huskies love to run the football. I think they'll be able to establish a ground game to condense NU's D, allowing them to take shots downfield as the game wears on. That doesn't bode well for Northwestern, whose secondary was putrid last week. Yes, the ‘Cats know they need a win, but this game means a lot to Northern Illinois, as well. They'll match NU's intensity.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 27, Northwestern 24
I am just going to keep calling for blow outs until I can say "I told you so". But it's gut check time for the Cats. As little as non conference games matter in the grand scheme of things now, this one means a lot. These guys know they need to be ready. NIU is coming off a cupcake team. They haven't played a down of real football against a formidable opponent. For that reason I think NU drops a 3 touchdown lead on them quick in the first half. NIU is ready for this game.... they start to put drives together to close in the margin, but can't get quite close enough. Trevor polishes up his mechanics and throws for 250 and 3 TDs. RBs collectively get 3 TDs and 200 in rushing. When its all said and done, we finally see a punt return.
Prediction: Northwestern 42 Northern Illinois 24
Losing this game would virtually guarantee Northwestern a disappointing season shy of winning the division. Against Cal, the defense was pretty decent and the offense was horrendous. On paper, the Wildcats will not be facing a good defense. NIU was 90th in the country in adjusted YPP last year, 76th in adjusted yards per carry, and 92nd in adjusted yards per pass attempt. And now they have to replace their entire defensive line. NU did an awful job staying on schedule against Cal. They should and must be able to do better on first downs and convert on short yardage situations. But then again, Cal was 95th in the country in adjusted YPP allowed last year, so I don't really know what to expect from the offense. I know they're not as bad as what they showed in the opener, but I don't know how much better they'll get. On the other side of the ball, NIU will have to rely heavily on an experienced offensive line and receivers. I don't think they'll get the QB or RB play they'll need, however. Then again, my spirit was crushed by the Cal game and part of me wouldn't be shocked if we lost. And we're all lonely, insignificant specks on a has-been planet orbited by a cold, indifferent sun. Go ‘Cats.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, NIU 20
Northern Illinois should be better than Cal. Cal beat Northwestern. Northwestern has to play Northern Illinois. Oh no! We're not going to pick against Northwestern, but we don't have a ton of faith in our pick.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, NIU 24
MACtion is one of the great joys of college football: high-scoring, mistake-filled affairs that fill weeknights with excitement. Sadly, I expect a more B1G game: lots of first down runs for 2 yards, incompletions on third down, and mistakes that keep points off the board rather than put them on it. At least Northwestern will grind out the win, though.
Prediction: Northwestern 21, NIU 20
Northwestern can ill afford to lose this game if it still wants to be in the national championship conversation. That makes this a statement game for the Wildcats. Win this one, and the Wildcats get back to .500. Which, according to math, rounds up to 1.
Prediction: Northwestern 56, NIU 3
Suddenly, after the loss to Cal, this in-state rivalry game means the world to Northwestern, and not just for this season. The Cats haven't won at home since Sept. 21 of last year, and with NU football seemingly on the decline and Northern Illinois still thriving in the MAC, you get the sense that these teams are also playing for the title of best college football team in Illinois. Even though NIU is better on paper than Cal, I expect the Cats to play a better overall game than they did last Saturday. The coaching staff will have the players more prepared, Siemian won't turn the ball over, the offense will establish the running game early and often and the defense will take more risks and disrupt NIU's attack.
Northwestern 35, Northern Illinois 31