It’s about that time, everyone. Our staff members put their reputations (kind of) on the line with weekly predictions. We’ll keep track throughout the season and the winner gets bragging rights. NU opens versus Purdue today. Here’s how we see it shaking out:
Davis Rich: Northwestern 24, Purdue 17
Northwestern’s front seven dominates, and Purdue can only score on a couple long touchdown passes from Elijah Sindelar. Running back Jeremy Larkin picks up where he left off in the Music City Bowl and runs for 125 yards and two TDs. Oh, and Thorson plays, and he looks good as new.
Lia Assimakopoulos: Northwestern 20, Purdue 17
While it the Wildcats’ first game may not be an easy win, they will get it done at Purdue if a few things fall into place. First and foremost, Thorson must play, which he will because I find it highly unlikely that Pat Fitzgerald would sit him in a game that already has bowl implications. Second, if they play at the level they did last season, NU’s experienced O-Line will be no match for an inexperienced Purdue defense, which lost most of their core. Finally, Northwestern needs to (and will) start this season differently from last in terms of turnovers. Last year, the Wildcats had a minus-four turnover margin for their first give games and finished plus-11 in their last seven games. If they can pick up where they left off, they will secure the important Big Ten road win.
Caleb Friedman: Northwestern 31, Purdue 20
Northwestern is the superior team, with superior experience, so I’ll take NU here. Jeff Brohm worries me a lot, as does Elijah Sindelar (I’m guessing he’ll take most of the snaps), but the Wildcats’ run defense and pass-rush makes the difference in this one. Both teams start slow, but Northwestern and Jeremy Larkin finish faster than the Boilermakers.
Avery Zimmerman: Northwestern 27, Purdue 17
I don’t anticipate this being the most exciting contest of all time. I could easily see a rusty Clayton Thorson struggle out of the gate, meaning the Northwestern defense will have to compensate for the initial portion of the game. However, Northwestern will be able to ride Jeremy Larkin in the early stages, allowing Thorson to get his feet under him. The game plays out like a classic B1G battle, but Northwestern pulls away in the end for a big early win.
Noah Coffman: Purdue 28, Northwestern 27
I know, we’re all feeling great about the ‘Cats. But despite a decent offensive output, including two long Charlie Kuhbander field goals, Purdue marches down the field often enough to put it into the end zone four times. The bend-but-don’t-break defense of last year is broken just often enough by wheel routes and trick plays. With a key Thorson turnover deep in NU territory helping things along, and Purdue having more success running the ball and controlling the clock than expected, the Boilermakers edge Northwestern at home in a thriller.
Matthew Albert: Northwestern 31, Purdue 10
I fully expect Thorson to play against Purdue and torch the inexperienced Boilermaker secondary early. Purdue will adjust and Jeremy Larkin pick up right where Justin Jackson left off, becoming a offensive backbone for this 2018 team. Purdue will score late, but the Wildcat defense will hold strong. Purdue will also use at least one trick play at some point, but their offense is relatively muted all game.
Talia Hendel: Northwestern 21, Purdue 17
Graham Brennan: Northwestern 21, Purdue 17
Fitz and his staff have presumably been reminding the players all summer of Northwestern’s slow, goal derailing September performances in 2016 and 2017. The players be charged up as a result. I don’t expect Clayton Thorson to play like Clayton Thorson the predicted first rounder - but like a second-rate “I haven’t played a game since my torn ACL, and I’m working with a new center and new backfield mate” Clayton. The defense will be good all year. Tonight will be no different. It’ll be a relatively low scoring affair but Northwestern will win it on a last second pick-6. Just kidding. The ‘Cats just win a close one.
Martin Oppegaard: Northwestern 24, Purdue 13