One day. That’s all that separates us from the end of the offseason and Northwestern’s season-opener against the Western Michigan Broncos at Ryan Field. We’ve spent all week leading up to tomorrow, and we finalize our week’s worth of preparation, previews and analysis with our predictions. Make sure to add yours at the bottom!
Josh Rosenblat: Northwestern 23, Western Michigan 13
This game will be more even more comfortable than the score. Northwestern will rush for at least 250 yards and the defense will hold Western Michigan to under 100 on the ground, enabling the Wildcats to control the game from the kick. Clayton Thorson will make fans collectively nervous with his shaky play but a few scrambles here and there will be enough to keep scoring drives alive.
Sam Brief: Northwestern 34, Western Michigan 24
I expect this one to be high scoring for two reasons: 1) Corey Davis is a top-five, and maybe even top-three wide receiver nationwide, and Northwestern's secondary is scrambling after Keith Watkins II's injury. Matt Harris is a top-level corner, and he'll be covering Davis, but he's also four inches shorter than Davis. I expect WMU to put up a few touchdowns in spite of Northwestern's defensive prowess. But 2) I see Justin Jackson running all over over a very weak WMU rush defense which lost a few key components from last season. Watch for Thorson to use his legs as well. Both teams put up a few touchdowns, and this one is no blowout, but Northwestern's defense holds strong in the end and they start the season 1-0.
Zach Pereles: Northwestern 26, Western Michigan 20
Northwestern will dominate this game in the trenches, but Western Michigan will keep itself close throughout the game with a couple big plays to Corey Davis. While Clayton Thorson shows major progress, he’s still not a guy whose play alone is enough to lead Northwestern to victory. Instead, that falls on the shoulders of Justin Jackson, who runs for 150 yards or so and adds a score. The Wildcats survive a scare.
Henry Bushnell: Northwestern 23, Western Michigan 21
If you cornered me in a dark room, gave me truth serum, and asked me who I think is going to win this game, I’d quietly whisper “Western Michigan” out of the corner of my mouth. But I’ve been gone all summer, it’s opening weekend, everybody’s happy, the weather is nice, and most Inside NU readers already think I’m too pessimistic, so I’ll spare you all the negativity and go with NU.
Zach Wingrove: Northwestern 23, Western Michigan 17
I expect PJ Fleck’s Broncos to put up a much tougher fight than a lot of people expect them to. In my opinion, Western Michigan is Northwestern’s toughest non-conference opponent (sorry Duke), and the Northwestern secondary will have its hands full all day trying to contain Corey Davis, who had a big day the last time he was in Evanston as a true freshman in 2013. The combination of Davis and senior quarterback Zach Terrell makes the Western Michigan offense a threat to score from anywhere on the field, which means all it could take is one slip up in the Northwestern secondary and Davis will make them pay. I think if Western Michigan scores more than 28 points this game, Northwestern could be in serious trouble, but I have confidence that the Wildcats’ defense will hold tough for most of the game and Justin Jackson will have a good day running the ball, and that will be enough to put Northwestern on top.
Josh Burton: Northwestern 20, Western Michigan 10
Western Michigan may have lost a wide receiver — Daniel Braverman — to the NFL this past year, but the Broncos still have Corey Davis, who may be one of the best pass-catchers in the entire country. The biggest key for Northwestern in this game is to limit the damage Davis could inevitably inflict on a battered and thin secondary. He’s going to get his catches, but if Matthew Harris and Co. can prevent him from making that big play to put the Broncos over the top, then Northwestern should be able to take this game. Davis easily could do that, but I think the Wildcats’ front seven will get enough pressure on Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell to mitigate Davis’ effect. On the other side of the ball, Justin Jackson will have another ho-hum big performance to lead the Wildcats, offensively, to a win.
Rob Schaefer: Northwestern 23, Western Michigan 14
I expect a few things from this game. I expect Northwestern’s secondary to struggle to some degree to contain Corey Davis, who, as has been alluded to by everyone in front of me, is more than a handful to deal with, especially given Northwestern so recently losing Keith Watkins for the season. I expect Northwestern to experiment on the offensive side of the ball. Are Marcus McShepard and Solomon Vault dynamic enough weapons to take the top off of a Wildcat offense that stagnated for much of last season? Is Clayton Thorson capable of developing a downfield passing game? Will offensive coordinator Mick McCall make any effort to find out the answer to these questions? I think a game Northwestern should win more handily than this score indicates might be a good time to find out. The Broncos aren’t to be underestimated, but I think when it’s all said and done, Northwestern having so much up front defensively and the best player in the game (Anthony Walker) will pave the way to a Wildcat victory in their home opener. Oh, I also expect Jack Mitchell to miss an extra point. Gut feeling.
Caleb Friedman: Northwestern 27, Western Michigan 17
The winner of this game will be the team that can impose its style of play on its opponent; Western Michigan wants to spread you out and throw the ball all over the field, while NU will try to control the clock and wear down a young Bronco defense at the line of scrimmage. Corey Davis is a star and will get his. But with the way the Wildcats play defense, one player isn’t going to beat them. NU got torched last season by offenses that dominated the trenches and ran through them, but pass-first offenses didn’t give them the same trouble. I expect the Wildcats’ play calling to be fairly conservative early on, which could keep the game close in the first half. As the second half unfolds, NU will slowly but surely pull away through a heavy dose of Justin Jackson.
Ian McCafferty: Northwestern 24, Western Michigan 17
Northwestern is going to win this game, but it’s not going to be easy. Remember the Ball State game last year? It’ll be a bit like that, just against better competition. At this point, we all know how potent WMU’s offense is, and it’ll be on full display early on. The Broncos will score an early TD, and Northwestern will be trailing at the half. However, the Wildcats are simply too strong up front to let this game slip away. They’ll come roaring back in the second half, take the lead in the fourth quarter, and have the defense salt it away. It won’t be the most beautiful start to the season, but it’ll be a win.
Tristan Jung: Western Michigan 24, Northwestern 13
Wait, am I really the only writer picking against Northwestern thus far? Under no circumstances should a group of nine people who avidly watch college football be 100 percent against a five-point favorite. If you take away the field goal for home-field, Northwestern and Western Michigan are evenly matched. Has Northwestern made a habit of beating teams that are equal to it in talent? Yes, but that’s the gambler’s fallacy. It does not necessarily mean that it will happen again. This is definitely not last year’s team. With the latest injury reports, Northwestern’s returning production is down to 58 percent, which is 92nd in the country. There’s a very real scenario in which Western Michigan scores early, Northwestern struggles to play from behind and eventually just runs out of time to win, a situation which Northwestern either barely escaped (Duke) or fortunately avoided last season.
Martin Oppegaard: Northwestern 31, Western Michigan 14
If even Henry Bushnell picked Northwestern to win, you have to like their chances. After working my way past the PJ Fleck hype and the fact that there really aren’t many opportunities to “row the boat” in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I like Northwestern’s chances even more. The Wildcats go up early 14-0 and don’t look back. Clayton Thorson throws for two touchdowns, Justin Jackson runs for two more, and Western Michigan gets a garbage time touchdown to make the loss look almost respectable. The Broncos haven’t won a season opener since 2004 and are 0-13 against Big Ten teams since they beat Illinois (HAHAHA) in 2008. Yeah, sorry Vegas, I know you brought the line down to 5 points but I think I’ll take the team coming off the 10-win season perhaps even better than they were last year.