It’s been over a month since Northwestern trounced Illinois to guarantee itself a bowl game. And now that bowl game is nearly here. Here’s how our writers believe the game will play out.
Ian McCafferty: Northwestern 38, Pittsburgh 35
There are honestly so many different ways that I could see this game playing out. Pittsburgh could come out and just steamroll Northwestern in yet another brutal bowl game defeat, Northwestern could play well and easily win (like this would ever happen) or it could be an excruciatingly close game that hinges on one or two plays. For some reason I feel like that third option is what we’re going to get.
Northwestern has a history of playing close bowl games, with exactly zero of them going its way. It certainly doesn’t help then that Pitt’s offense is 4th in the nation according to S&P+ and the fewest points Pitt has scored in any game this year is 28. (Northwestern’s version of these stats are 67th and 7 points). By most accounts, Pitt is the better team. However, the better team doesn’t always win.
Northwestern has the better defense, and the offense should be able to put up enough points to keep pace. It may come down to whoever has the ball last and the outcome sort of feels like a coin flip. Well, I’m an optimist, so I’ll give the victory to the Wildcats.
Zach Pereles: Pittsburgh 45, Northwestern 24
Explanation 1: Rocky Top still haunts my dreams.
Explanation 2: Pittsburgh has such an incredibly impressive offense that can both run the ball and move it through the air. The defense has had major trouble, but it’s been very good up front and can get to the passer. That spells trouble for a very inconsistent offensive line. Pittsburgh is a better team. It will show.
Caleb Friedman: Pittsburgh 42, Northwestern 31
Disclaimer: I was born in Pittsburgh and I’m a Pittsburgh sports fan.
The key for Northwestern will be to stop James Conner and the Pitt rushing attack, and I don’t think the Wildcats are incapable of doing so. But it’s just the diversity and physicality of the Pitt offense that will give the Northwestern defense trouble, and I think the Panthers’ offensive line will wear the NU defense down as the game wears on.
And because of how good the Pitt offense is, the Panthers’ defense will take chances and play aggressively, which could lead to Northwestern turnovers — it’s not as if Clayton Thorson has been immune to turning the ball over at inopportune times throughout his career. Pitt isn’t so much better than Northwestern that it the game will be a blowout, but the Panthers will hold a comfortable lead throughout. Pitt’s offense will pace the Panthers to a bowl victory again.
Josh Burton: Pittsburgh 34, Northwestern 31
The Panthers, with Nathan Peterman and James Conner, had the fourth-best offense (in terms of S&P+) in the FBS this season and I just have a hard time seeing the Northwestern defense limiting Pitt to under 30 points. Justin Jackson should have his with the Pitt defense but a late Clayton Thorson interception will make a NU comeback attempt feeble at Yankee Stadium.
Sam Brief: Pittsburgh 41, Northwestern 27
Pitt can score and score in bunches — this is one of the hottest offenses in the nation, as it’s scored 58 points per game over the last three contests. James Conner is one of the best stories in college football and poses a huge threat to Northwestern's front seven. I trust Northwestern's offense to keep up a bit, but they won't score 40+ like I expect Pitt too. Wildcats keep it close, but Pitt wins by two scores.
Tristan Jung (Random Number Generator): Pittsburgh 42, Northwestern 16
The all-seeing random number generator has made its final prediction. Pittsburgh will win the game in a blowout and Northwestern offense will falter. Over the course of the season, you will find that the random number generator was often as accurate as the other writers of this site. Other times the random number was completely wrong. Predictions are great.
Martin Oppegaard: Northwestern 38, Pitt 35
We’ve been hearing a lot about its offense, but let’s not forget about Pitt’s defense. They allowed at least 30 points eight times this season, including a ridiculous 61 points to Syracuse in its last game. Northwestern slows down Pitt’s vaunted offense just enough, and the Wildcats pull some trick plays out, including a fake field goal, to get the win. I’m optimistic.
Will Ragatz: Northwestern 41, Pitt 37
By no means am I confident in this prediction, but it's the last game of the season so I may as well go out with some optimism. Pitt’s defense is very bad, meaning Justin Jackson and Austin Car should have field days on the Yankee Stadium grass. Add in a couple big plays by an inconsistent but talented Northwestern defense and I think Fitz’s squad will pull it out.
Make me look smart, Cats.
Josh Rosenblat: Northwestern 27, Pittsburgh 24
Zach Pereles says I’m crazy. Fine.