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Why Northwestern will/won't beat Illinois


NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It's hat week, and Northwestern (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) comes in riding a six-game winning streak against an Illinois (2-9, 0-8) team has been brutally bad this season. Here are some scenarios in which Northwestern will or won't beat the Fighting Illini this Saturday in Champaign.

Why Northwestern will beat Illinois

1. Justin Jackson will go out in style in his final B1G game

Illinois' run defense is not good. In fact, it's one of the worst in the nation, ranking 109th in S&P+. The Fighting Illini's front seven does a decent job of limiting big runs, but, on the whole, doesn't do a great job at forcing negative or minimal gains.

After last week's 166-yard explosion against Minnesota, Justin Jackson could be in for a special performance in his last-ever regular season game. The Ball Carrier could still rise up in the record books with two big games to close the season, and Pat Fitzgerald should give him a healthy dose of carries in those games.

It's not all that complicated: Jackson is Northwestern's best offensive player, and Illinois isn't good enough to stop him.

2. The front seven will continue its recent stretch of dominance

Northwestern's front seven has been the strength of the team this season, and against an Illinois rushing attack that doesn't boast a single player with 400 yards rushing on the season, the trend should continue.

Nate Hall and Paddy Fisher have developed into two of the better linebackers in the conference, and the NU defensive line has done a good job of getting a push for that duo ever since the Wisconsin game. Northwestern's run defense is in top 20 in the nation this season, and Illinois struggles to run the ball. That's a recipe for success.

3. Northwestern is just better than Illinois

The Wildcats are better than the Illini at almost every position. Northwestern isn't ranked in the top 25 for no reason, and Illinois is winless in the Big Ten for a reason. The 'Cats should dominate an inferior opponent in a rivalry game.

Why Illinois will beat Northwestern

1. Everything goes wrong for the Wildcats

It would truly take a dud of epic proportions for Northwestern to lose. The offensive line would need to revert to Illinois-State-in-2016 form, and the defensive would have to give up a fluky play or two to an offense that has been anemic all season long. The weather shouldn't be a factor (or an equalizer).

Clayton Thorson would probably have to turn the ball over several times, which isn't wildly improbable, but Illinois would have to cash in, which is wildly improbable.

2. See reason No. 1

This really can't happen, can it?