At long last, it's Friday of game week — the Friday before the Northwestern Wildcats will take the field to open the 2015 season — and that can only mean one thing. It's time for picks. Every Friday during the season, we'll put our staff on the spot, and ask them to predict the exact outcome of the coming Saturday's Northwestern game, and we'll encourage readers to do the same in the comments.
Here's how we see the Week 1 matchup with Stanford playing out:
Henry Bushnell: Stanford 30, Northwestern 13
As I've written and said, I do believe there's a distinct possibility that Northwestern wins this game. But I also think there's a distinct possibility that the Wildcats get blown out. And I think the second scenario is more probable than the first. Northwestern should keep it relatively close for at least the first half — it won't be as ugly as the 30-13 predicted scoreline suggests — but Stanford just has more talent across the board.
Josh Rosenblat: Stanford 24, Northwestern 20
I really think this game is going to be close. Clayton Thorson will look surprisingly comfortable and Justin Jackson will look strong and fully healthy, but the lack of a down-the-field receiving threat will give Northwestern trouble. It'll be tough for Thorson and Jackson to push Northwestern on 10-play, 60+-yard drives consistently against Stanford's stout defense.
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Kevin Trahan: Stanford 31, Northwestern 20
Northwestern has a pretty good defense, but it will get some terrible field position to deal with. Clayton Thorson will show why he won the quarterback race, but after an interception, the coaches will go ultra-conservative and Stanford will jump out to a big lead. NU will mount an early fourth quarter comeback attempt, but it won't work.
Zach Pereles: Stanford 24, Northwestern 13
Northwestern runs the ball a lot early as offensive coordinator Mick McCall tries to get Clayton Thorson comfortable. Not a lot of big plays by either team in the first half results in a relatively low-scoring half, especially considering Northwestern, in general, does a good job of being a bend-don't-break defense. It's 14-10, Stanford, at half time. Both teams tack on a field goal in the third, making it 17-13 through three quarters, but about halfway through the fourth Kevin Hogan finds Devon Cajuste on a deep ball and Stanford takes a 24-13 lead. It remains that score until the clock hits zero. 24-13, Stanford.
Kevin Dukovic: Stanford 23, Northwestern 13
The Cardinal will stack the box and force Thorson to beat them through the air. The redshirt freshman will make a few impressive throws and pick up a couple first downs with his legs, but more times than not Northwestern's offensive line won't give him enough time to go through his reads and Thorson will get flustered, leading to two interceptions and a handful of sacks. NU's defense will play well, but won't generate enough turnovers of their own. In a low scoring affair, Stanford will ultimately come out on top.
Northwestern-Stanford preview: Can Northwestern "Cal" Stanford?
Last year, an offensive wrinkle helped Cal catch Northwestern off guard and propelled the Golden Bears to an upset. Could Northwestern do something similar to Stanford?
Josh Burton: Stanford 34, Northwestern 17
Northwestern is probably an improved team from last season, but with so much inexperience at vital positions--namely quarterback--it's going to be really difficult for the Wildcats to keep up with Stanford and senior signal-caller Kevin Hogan. Justin Jackson--against a depleted Stanford defense--should wreak havoc on the ground but the rest of the offense won't be able to do too much. On the other side, Hogan--thanks in part to a bunch of talented skill-position players--will have his way, leading the Cardinal to an easy win.
Ian McCafferty: Stanford 24, Northwestern 20
This will be a much closer game than most people think. Northwestern should come into the game with some fresh playcalling for Clayton Thorson and surprise Stanford early. In fact they should be leading at halftime on the back of one or two big plays and solid defense. However, Stanford will be able to make halftime adjustments and control the rest of the game. It'll be a role reversal of the Cal game from last year, except Stanford will actually be able to complete the comeback. The Cardinal wind up winning on a rushing touchdown from Christian McCaffrey in the final minute.
Michael Odom: Stanford 31, Northwestern 17
Stanford is going to make Clayton Thorson beat them. Justin Jackson isn't catching any teams off guard this year, so I see Stanford stacking the box and sending the house at the young quarterback. Once the Cardinal or the Tree or whatever they are get out to an 10-0 lead, McCall will be forced to put the ball in the air which will result in an interception or two. Northwestern will not lay down so the second half will go back and forth, but, in the end, the better football team wins this one.
Sam Brief: Stanford 27, Northwestern 10
It's never easy for a first-year quarterback to make his debut against a monster of a defense. And while Stanford lost many key starters from last year's top-five ranked unit such as Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ed Reynolds, the Cardinal still project to boast a nationally-feared defense. Expect Mick McCall to ease Clayton Thorson into the game with short pass plays and a lot of Justin Jackson runs but Stanford to answer with a lot of early blitzing to force Thorson into some deeper pass plays. If the Northwestern offense stalls, I see experienced Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan responding well—all it might take is a few big plays to shut down the Northwestern attack. An experienced Stanford offense makes those plays while the Wildcats stumble.
Lyndsey Armacost: Stanford 24, Northwestern 17
In an attempt to ease Clayton Thorson into the Northwestern offense, offensive coordinator Mick McCall will rely on the running game early. Justin Jackson will have success against the Cardinal's inexperienced defense, but the Wildcats won't be able to keep up with Stanford's offensive production. With most of quarterback Kevin Hogan's targets either drafted or graduated, the Cardinal will use sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey to energize the offense late in the game. After going up early, the Wildcats will fall behind in the second half, losing by one touchdown.
Now it's your turn. Let's hear your predictions...