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Inside NU’s Northwestern vs. Illinois St. predictions

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Time for Northwestern to even up its record.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

After nearly our entire staff missed out on last week’s game (h/t Tristan Jung), we return for Week 2 with hopes that we can properly predict Northwestern’s matchup with FCS opponent Illinois St. Here’s how we see it playing out.

Zach Pereles - Northwestern 28, Illinois State 14

Northwestern will be ultra-focused coming into this game and start off well on both sides of the ball. Justin Jackson continues his ascension in the Wildcat history books with a 100-plus-yard effort and a couple of scores, equaling his touchdown total from 2015. Clayton Thorson scores once as does the defense. Illinois State, much like last year against Iowa, gets a couple late scores to threaten covering the betting line (currently Northwestern -12), but doesn’t quite get there.

Henry Bushnell — Northwestern 24, Illinois State 17

This one’s going to be tight, with extra emphasis on both “t”s, in the third quarter. NU’s defense will be better, but the offense will have some hiccups. It’ll be an unconvincing win.

Josh Rosenblat – Northwestern 41, Illinois State 10

I saw a ton of encouraging signs from the offense against Western Michigan and one really discouraging one — the offensive line. Good thing Northwestern shouldn’t have a problem dealing with the Redbirds’ front. The Wildcats will roll.

Rob Schaefer — Northwestern 28, Illinois State 6

Last week was bad. This week will be better. It has to be. Expect Justin Jackson to continue to successfully carry a massive workload offensively (especially with Warren Long sidelined) to the tune of 20+ carries, 100+ yards and at least one score. All things considered, Clayton Thorson’s Week 1 performance (15/22, 196 yards) was pretty encouraging... Until, of course, it wasn’t. Still, there were stretches of last week’s game where Thorson looked a new level of poised and confident in the pocket. Flashes of potential can be frustrating when not strung together, especially from the quarterback position, which makes Saturday’s matchup all the more important for Thorson. If we learned one thing from last week it’s to never underestimate a seemingly inferior opponent, but the Redbirds ultimately shouldn’t cause the Wildcats as many fits as Western Michigan did last week. I’ll take Northwestern to win big, cover, and get their season on track.

Will Ragatz — Northwestern 23, Illinois State 10

Northwestern received a loud wake-up call in week one and will be motivated and ready to go against Illinois State on Saturday. Justin Jackson will run for over 150 yards and Clayton Thorson will once again play well in a game manager-type role. Most importantly, this will be a bounce-back performance from the NU defense against an underrated Redbird offense. Jack Mitchell will make his third field goal late in the game to help the Wildcats cover.

Ian McCafferty — Northwestern 35, Illinois State 14

This is a game against an FCS team and a game that Northwestern absolutely has to win. Probably by a decent margin. ISU is a good FCS team, but that also means its also an FCS team, Northwestern has to show that it can win up front in this game or it’s going to be a long season. The defense will be better, the offense should be good and Northwestern will pull away late leading to the easiest win of the year.

Tristan Jung — Northwestern 33, Illinois State 10

I could see Illinois State keeping the game within one possession early on, but not much longer than after halftime. Illinois State has a good coach and knows what it’s doing, but there’s really no chance that it can play with Northwestern on the road for a full game. For all the Wildcats’ struggles on defense, an FCS offensive line is significantly worse than a MAC offensive line. Northwestern’s receivers may not look good against most FBS secondaries, but they will look quite competent against an FCS squad. Also, Illinois State, like Northwestern, won an abnormally large number of close games last year, and may be a tad overrated. I don’t think Northwestern will have any trouble in this one.

Sam Brief — Northwestern 31, ISU 14

I (sort of) liked what I saw from the offense last week, and I loved what I saw from Justin Jackson. The defense struggled, but Illinois State is a step down from Western Michigan. Northwestern should win this one handily. On paper, it should be more than a 17-point game but I don't see the offense exploding for more than four touchdowns. Northwestern wins and goes to 1-1 on the year.

Martin Oppegaard — Northwestern 31, ISU 10

Northwestern turns things around this week with a relatively easy win over a very good FCS opponent. Illinois State will hang around in the first half, but Justin Jackson and the running game will prove to be too much for a defense that is dependent on stopping the run. Clayton Thorson should get a chance to air it out and stretch the field, the defense will pick up a score, and Chad Hanoaka gets a few touches in the 4th quarter. #FreeChad