November is here and Northwestern is riding a 3-game winning streak as it heads into Lincoln, NE, to determine who the real NU is. Nebraska is coming off a one-point victory over Purdue but at 4-4, Mike Riley’s squad has more work to do to reach a bowl. Last week, five of our eight pickers took Michigan State to beat the Wildcats, and almost all of us thought it would be a low-scoring affair. Naturally, Northwestern won in 3OT, which meant it became a shootout. College football is hard to predict, but we’re gonna give it a shot as we always do.
Will Ragatz: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 20
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’ve picked Northwestern to lose each of the last two weeks and been pleasantly surprised when the Cats have won. I’m not the most superstitious person, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty if I picked Northwestern and the Cats lost. I’m fine with my record in the standings plummeting if it means NU keeps winning! In all seriousness, though, I’m worried about this game. Nebraska QB Tanner Lee got off to a very tough start to the season (9 interceptions in a three-game stretch), but he’s thrown for 734 yards with four touchdowns and zero picks in the last two weeks. Northwestern is 119th in passing yards allowed per game. The Huskers boast a bunch of talented wide receivers who should make things very tough for Montre Hartage, Alonzo Mayo and Trae Williams. That could lead to trouble.
Caleb Friedman: Northwestern 31, Nebraska 21
This is game could go either way because of Nebraska's explosive passing game, but Mike Riley's team has been a mess for large stretches this season. The Cornhuskers record is just one game worse than the Wildcats', but three of Nebraska's wins came against Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue — all bottom-feeders. There will be a significant home-field advantage for the Huskers in Lincoln, but Northwestern has found its groove defensively in recent weeks, which should help take some sting out of the crowd. I see the Northwestern D keeping the game close early, and Clayton Thorson will heat up as the game goes on against Nebraska's 90th-ranked pass defense (per S&P+). The 'Cats keep on rolling.
Tristan Jung: Northwestern 27, Nebraska 24
This team will find a way. Whether that involves a crazy turnover or complete domination of Nebraska’s shaky offensive line, I think Northwestern will pull out another close game.
Noah Coffman: Nebraska 31, Northwestern 30
If the last couple of years are any evidence, this one’s going to be tight, which means one unit could make all the difference. Justin Jackson, Clayton Thorson and the offense should have a good outing, but I’m not sold on Northwestern’s pass defense, especially when combined with a shaky, inconsistent pass rush. The Wildcats will score in bunches, but Tanner Lee, as mentioned by Will, has been hot recently, and he’ll lead Nebraska to a tight win down the stretch. So far, the Northwestern secondary has covered for their mistakes with some key breaks, help from a top-tier run defense and outstanding linebacker play, but the dam will finally break for the weakest unit of Northwestern’s defense against the Cornhuskers.
Zach Pereles: Northwestern 20, Nebraska 17
The road team has won three straight contests. One thing I’ll be looking for is how Northwestern gets Justin Jackson involved. Even if Northwestern’s ground game struggles against Nebraska’s extremely average run defense, Mick McCall has to find ways to get the ball in Jackson’s hands. He’s done that over the past two weeks: Jackson has 12 receptions over the past two weeks, the most he’s ever had in a two-game stretch. In Northwestern’s 2015 win at Nebraska, Jackson had two catches for 55 yards. We’ll see if he can continue to contribute in a variety of ways; it’s a hugely important part of keeping this offense on track. I’ll give Jackson 75 yards on the ground and another 50 through the air as Northwestern ekes one out late in Lincoln.
Talia Hendel: Northwestern 31, Nebraska 24
The way Northwestern’s defense has been playing has given me a lot of faith in this team. They’ve stepped up in big moments against tough teams, giving the offense a little bit of breathing room and allowing Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson to play calmly and confidently. I expect that to carry into this game as well; that said, NU’s strength has been its run defense, whereas Nebraska relies heavily on their passing game. The way the defense handles the passing attack will be a big determinant of the outcome of this game. As for the offense, I agree with Zach - get the ball to Justin Jackson. Thorson certainly stepped up against Michigan State, but Jackson has consistently been the heart of the offense and his ability to make plays is unmatched. Considering his ability to tear through run defenses much stronger than Nebraska’s, Jackson should be able to pick up substantial yards and a touchdown or two.
Davis Rich: Northwestern 31, Nebraska 20
Clayton Thorson and the Northwestern offense picked apart a strong Michigan State defense last week. A similar trend should continue against Nebraska on Saturday. The Cornhuskers have forced only nine turnovers this season and rank 129th in the country in havoc rate. Northwestern’s pass defense will be tested, but the Wildcats bend without breaking, and force a couple turnovers to pull away in the fourth quarter.
Martin Oppegaard: Northwestern 27, Nebraska 14
Nebraska is actually bad. Let’s not forget this is the team that gave up 36 points to Arkansas State and lost to Northern Illinois at home. Tanner Lee was better in October - but the defensive woes remain and the Cornhuskers needed a fourth quarter comeback to upend Purdue last week. This is not your father’s Nebraska team. Northwestern by double digits.
Caleb Friedman 7-1
Will Ragatz 5-3
Talia Hendel 5-3
Tristan Jung 5-3
Martin Oppegaard 5-3
Missed at least one week
Noah Coffman 4-3
Davis Rich 3-4
Ian McCafferty 2-1
Zach Pereles 2-1
Josh Burton 1-2