After earning a victory in Durham last week against Duke, Northwestern jumped to No. 17 in the AP Poll ahead of its matchup with Ball State this weekend (7 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network). With Northwestern's classes starting this week and Big Ten play just one week away, Pat Fitzgerald and his troops will look to avoid a letdown under the lights of Ryan Field. Our writers think they will be able to do so. What do you think?
Henry Bushnell: Northwestern 23, Ball State 10
I'm fairly convinced that this is going to be an extremely boring football game. I know, I know, great analysis, right? But seriously, I'd be very surprised if Ball State can move the ball with any consistency at all on offense. As for Northwestern, they'll be able to move it at times. There won't be explosive plays, and I expect a maddeningly conservative gameplan once again, but as long as NU limits turnovers and finishes a drive or two, this game shouldn't be a problem. I think the Wildcats will get the job done.
Josh Rosenblat: Northwestern 25, Ball State 0
This won't be close. Northwestern's defense is real and I don't think Ball State gets on the board Saturday night. It'll be shutout for the Wildcats, keeping an offense afloat that will rely far too much on Jack Mitchell field goals (three of them). Justin Jackson will look better this week, as he'll score both Northwestern's touchdowns.
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Zach Pereles: Northwestern 23, Ball State 7
This is a trap game, sure, but as Pat Fitzgerald mentioned in his Monday press conference and has repeated several times this year, this team has very solid upperclassman leadership. Hence, I don't think there will be a letdown that would result in a loss. Ball State has struggled defensively, will be playing a true freshman quarterback making his first career start and in general doesn't have the talent to hang with this Northwestern bunch. It might be somewhat close at halftime (13-7 or something of that nature), but Northwestern's advantage in the trenches will show in the second half. More importantly, this game represents an opportunity for Clayton Thorson to get back on track after a rough Week 3 outing. Even if he's just a game manager, he needs to prove that he can be just that: a solid game manager who doesn't make mistakes. The talent of the rest of his backfield and his defense should push the Wildcats to victory.
Ian McCafferty: Northwestern 27, Ball State 3
This is a game that Northwestern should win, and that's what makes it so frightening. A ranked team, playing a mediocre team and looking ahead to the opening of Big Ten play. But, with all that said, I think they easily win this Saturday. Northwestern has already played two quarterbacks (Kevin Hogan and Thomas Sirk) better and more experienced than Ball State's quarterback Riley Neal. The defense will pick up where they left off in Durham and dominate the Cardinals all day. It is simply a question if the offense can score in double digits, which against Ball State should be doable. I think we should see a steady diet of Warren Long and Solomon Vault to start the game, but as soon as the Wildcats get a lead they should start airing it out. Give Thorson some confidence going into the game against Minnesota. I think Northwestern wins this game either way, but playcalling can determine whether or not they're in a better spot next week against Minnesota.
Josh Burton: Northwestern 31, Ball State 6
With power-conference upsets of Arkansas, Maryland and Iowa State already this season, the MAC has established itself--as it seems to every season--as the premier mid-major conference in terms of taking down top schools. Ball State has yet to do that this year but is good enough for Northwestern to not able to coast through this game and still be able to win. If the Wildcats take the Cardinals for granted at all, then they'll start Big Ten play with a 3-1 record that looks worlds worse than a 4-0 one would. However, I doubt Pat Fitzgerald will let his team be complacent, even after its strong start, so I expect NU to not have much trouble with Ball State and its true freshman starting quarterback, Riley Neal. Also, I think Justin Jackson will get back on track after an unconvincing performance at Duke and run all over the Cardinals' defense.
Pick the final score the game below and it will compare your prediction with those from other Inside NU readers and readers of Hustle Belt and the Vegas line.