Northwestern football is back — well, almost. The 2015 season is six days away, and with the quarterback competition done and dusted, and big picture preparations for the season complete, the offseason is no more. The weekly grind is about to begin.
But before we get in that weekly rhythm, it's time for one last look at the season as a whole. It's time for our staff's predictions for Northwestern in 2015. For more specific predictions, we went out on limbs earlier this week. Now, we've put each of our writers on the spot, and asked them to project NU's overall win-loss record and Big Ten record for the coming season, along with short explanations to supplement the numbers.
Here are those projections:
Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell): 7-5 (4-4)
Early in the offseason, I was way down on this team. I'm far more optimistic now for two reasons. One is the defense, which I think could be legitimately good, not just good by Northwestern standards. The other is the rest of the Big Ten — specifically the teams on NU's schedule. I see four likely wins, two likely losses, and six "either-or" games. I'll give the Wildcats three of those six, which is how I get to 7-5.
Josh Rosenblat (@JMRosenblat): 6-6 (3-5)
This team is so young on offense. So, so young. And regardless of how good the defense might look on paper, the offensive growing pains will overwhelm Northwestern at many points this season. Six wins isn't a failed season this year, especially if Clayton Thorson looks good. But six wins is also a reasonable expectation for this version of Northwestern.
Zach Pereles (@zach_pereles): 7-5 (5-3)
Six Reasons to be Optimistic about Northwestern Football
Now that Northwestern has a new quarterback, it's time to get excited for not just the upcoming season, but the future as well.
Northwestern has legit Big Ten talent at quarterback, running back, super back and pretty much all over the defense. But at quarterback, that talent is raw and inexperienced, and there are questions as to who he's going to throw to on the outside and who is going to protect him. Still, however, I feel that the talent on this team alone is good enough for the Wildcats to win seven games. Thorson is an upgrade over Trevor Siemian (or at least, an upgrade over the Trevor Siemian that was hampered by an ankle injury last year) and Jackson should build off an impressive freshman campaign. The defense should be solid. Like, very solid. I see Northwestern getting to seven wins (EIU, Ball State, Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and one out of Duke/Wisconsin/Nebraska).
Kevin Dukovic (@kdukovic): 5-7 (3-5)
Northwestern is coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons, and it's unwise to expect the Wildcats to do any better in 2015-2016. While they return a promising group on defense, they have been and will be plagued by uncertainty on offense. Pat Fitzgerald's decision to go with Clayton Thorson was a good one, but Thorson — surrounded by a shaky line and a subpar receiving corps — won't be in a position to succeed this season. Moreover, a new quarterback doesn't change the fact that Mick McCall's once-innovative spread offense was immensely ineffective last season. To make a bowl, NU will have to win two games in the following five-game stretch: vs. Minnesota, @ Michigan, vs. Iowa, @ Nebraska, vs. Penn State. The Wildcats will only win one of those games and narrowly miss bowl season for the third consecutive season.
Josh Burton (@Josh_Burton1): 6-6 (4-4)
Whenever a team starts a season with a freshman under center — even if that freshman is a better quarterback option than anybody else — said team is more or less an unknown. We know a lot about this team, like that the running back position is talented and very deep, but we don't know how Clayton Thorson will handle the offense against top-notch, power-conference defenses. That's why the Wildcats will win exactly half of their games, and will qualify for a bowl. Games like Eastern Illinois and Ball State should be relatively easy, but meetings with teams like Stanford and Wisconsin will be very tough. Northwestern will win the games it should and lose the games it should, which would result in a split record. Sure, the Wildcats could swing a game in either direction, but cutting it down the middle is about as accurate a prediction as one could make. Northwestern will make the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and spend the day after Christmas in the new Yankee Stadium.
Ian McCafferty (@Itmccaf52): 7-5 (4-4)
There are signs here that point towards this season being one of improvement. A new quarterback, another year of Justin Jackson, a solid defense. But there are also many signs that may point towards another disappointing year. Inexperience, a shaky offensive line, and whatever effect the last two seasons have had on the team's psyche. For the moment, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives, and Northwestern should be able to finish at or above .500 on the season. Going 3-1 in non-conference play will go a long way towards making Big Ten play more manageable, so the Duke game is one of the most important early season tests for the Wildcats. They should be able to win two out of three from Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, which means they would only need one win in the last five to make a bowl. Games against Purdue and Illinois should handle that. In fact, if things break right this team could win as many as 8 or 9 games. But 6 or 7 wins and a trip to the Heart of Dallas or Foster Farms bowl is more realistic.
Michael Odom (@RealMichaelOdom): 7-5 (4-4)
Clayton Thorson could struggle early, but so long as the defense stays healthy it should keep Northwestern in games. I'd love to see him come out of the gate torching defenses, but I expect that -- in the first game or two -- people (Zach Pereles) will realize Trevor Siemian was not a bad quarterback. Nevertheless, Justin "Bread and Butter" Jackson will literally carry the ‘Cats to a couple of wins against Eastern Illinois and Duke. By then, Thorson should be able to get the ball rolling against Ball State and ride that momentum through a .500 Big Ten campaign.
Dan Waldman (@dan_waldman): 6-6 (4-4)
Feel free to rejoice Northwestern fans, because the Wildcats could actually make a bowl game this year. That being said, they will probably make one of the lower-tier bowl games — the type of bowl games that college football fans flip to when the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl just isn't cutting it. But Northwestern's competent defense paired with new starting quarterback Clayton Thorson will lead the Wildcats to the promised land — the Foster Farms Bowl. Even if games against Stanford and Duke leave NU at 1-2 to start the season, the Big Ten slate is manageable enough to get to six wins. And while six wins doesn't exactly merit wild celebrations... hey, it could be worse for the Wildcats — at least they're not Illinois.
Now it's your turn. How many games do you see Northwestern winning in 2015?