Northwestern is looking to end its season with 10 wins, seeking to become the first Wildcat team to reach 11 wins in a year. NU's rival to the South, Illinois, is in a tough spot. At five wins, the Illini need another victory to reach a bowl under interim head coach Bill Cubit.
Here's how we see the game playing out:
Josh Rosenblat: Northwestern 20, Illinois 13
Let's do a Northwestern football Mad Lib, shall we? Northwestern's (insert positive adjective) defense will (insert negative verb) Illinois' (negative adjective) offense. Wes Lunt will turn the ball over (insert number) times which will set up short fields for Clayton Thorson and co., making it easier to score. Justin Jackson will have himself a (insert positive adjective) day while head coach Pat Fitzgerald will, yet again, secure the (insert article of clothing -- only one answered accepted here).
Henry Bushnell: Illinois 21, Northwestern 17
Okay, okay, I know this is going to be unpopular. But Illinois isn't the total dumpster fire that many people perceive it to be. The university is; but the football team, not necessarily. That's not to say Northwestern isn't better than Illinois, but the gap between the two teams isn't really that wide. The Illini have a good defense. They're almost a light version of Northwestern, with a slightly worse defense but slightly better offense. I think this game will come down to a key turnover or two; and while there's no reason to think that Northwestern won't be on the right end of that turnover, I know everybody else here is going to be picking NU, so I feel the need to balance things out. I'm worried.
Zach Pereles: Northwestern 17, Illinois, 10
Northwestern gets an outstanding game from its defense, a rough outing from its incredibly boring, predictable offense and wins ugly, making Wildcat fans hold their breath until late in the fourth, when the team salts away the game with Justin Jackson. Surprise! This team's been winning close games all year despite its offense, which sometimes wants it to lose, it seems. One offensive touchdown drive, another one scored on a short field set up by either a turnover or a big special teams play, and a Jack Mitchell kick does the trick. Northwestern reaches double-digit wins and takes back the LOLhat.
Tristan Jung: Northwestern 23, Illinois 13
Northwestern's lack of offense keeps the game close for three quarters, but like the Duke game, the offensive line will break through in the fourth and Northwestern wins. Clayton Thorson runs for one touchdown and throws for one more. Illinois can't accomplish much offensively against the Wildcats' defense.
Martin Oppegaard: Northwestern 24, Illinois 7
After winning their last four games by a total of 17 points, Northwestern takes care of Illinois by 17 and reaffirms any doubters that it is indeed ‘Chicago's Big Ten Team'. The offense plays inspired by a slim chance at a New Year's Six Bowl, and Clayton Thorson puts together his best game of the year, accounting for two touchdowns and playing turnover-free football. The Illini can't get anything going offensively, and shortly after the game Illinois decides to part ways with interim head coach Bill Cubit.
Sam Brief: Northwestern 24, Illinois 14
Illinois has lost 5 of its last 6 Big Ten games, but as Henry noted, Illinois is a very competent team. In spite of that, I see Justin Jackson continuing his momentum on the ground and the defense holding down an Illinois offense that's been shaky of late. Northwestern wins its 10th game and the HAT.
Lyndsey Armacost: Northwestern 23, Illinois 17
Illinois allowed 255 rushing yards against Minnesota last week compared to just 88 passing yards. Northwestern will rely on Justin Jackson this week for yardage and at least two scores. While NU will rely on the running game, Illinois will focus on getting the ball downfield to their receivers. Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris will need to keep gains short and force turnovers. Ultimately Northwestern's defense will outlast quarterback Wes Lunt and the Illini.