Kickoff is now officially less than a week away. That means it’s time for all of our staff here at Inside NU to make our season-long picks. Delve deep into our takes on each matchup in Northwestern’s 2019 schedule, and don’t forget to make your disagreements (or even agreements, if you feel so inclined) heard in the comments below!
Noah Coffman: 6-6 (4-5 B1G)
I’m the most pessimistic of the bunch here, so I figured I’d go first. Expectations for the Wildcats in 2019 are understandably high, but I find it hard to believe that Pat Fitzgerald’s squad won’t at least partially regress to the mean under the weight of a front-loaded schedule. Northwestern certainly could easily overcome the six win mark I have set, but based on the current parity in the Big Ten West, it doesn’t seem as likely to me that they do so as it apparently does to my colleagues.
First, I have a difficult time believing that Northwestern will head into Palo Alto and beat an experienced Stanford team. From there, a group that has often struggled in recent years during September (and even more so during October) will be hard-pressed to roll through the stretch of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Ohio State with more than one win, especially while having to travel for those middle two games. If you believe that Michigan State will roll over once more, that’s your prerogative, but it’s just plain difficult to beat a team four years in a row.
Then, I expect the Wildcats to drop two of four between Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa. The Hawkeyes and Boilermakers will almost certainly play Northwestern tough despite having to travel to Evanston, Minnesota is one of the more underrated teams in the Big Ten thanks to their influx of talent, and traveling to face a sneaky-solid Hoosiers team will be a challenge as well.
The bottom line is that if this team continues their close-game luck from years past, they will turn in another solid season. But the path I just laid out seems the most likely to me when I look at things while trying to leave out as much bias as possible, and that’s because this team has plenty of holes and the schedule won’t make things any easier on them. I hope I’m wrong.
Avery Zimmerman: 8-4 (5-4 B1G)
This is one of the most talented and well-rounded Northwestern teams that Fitz has had in years, but the schedule is an absolute minefield. The five game stretch from weeks four to eight (Michigan State, @Wisconsin, @Nebraska, Ohio State, Iowa) is one of the toughest in the country, and I can’t see NU getting more than three of those games, even in a best-case scenario.
NU opens the year at a very respectable 4-4 before winning its last eight and once again using a weak back-end of the schedule to cement a solid season and build on recent success. Unfortunately, with a 5-4 Big Ten record I can’t see the ‘Cats finding themselves in Indy again, but the West is such a wide open division that they’ll have a chance.
A lot of this hinges on my belief that the defense will be a top-25 unit in the country, but it’ll also be a matter of winning close games, which the ‘Cardiac ‘Cats’ have done so well in recent years.
Lia Assimakopoulos: 8-4 (5-4 B1G)
- Locks: UNLV, @Indiana, UMASS, Minnesota and @Illinois. Northwestern should take care of business if all goes as planned in these games. The Wildcats outmatch each of these five teams talent-wise. With that being said, I was hesitant to put any teams down as locks given NU’s history, especially with last year’s Akron loss sitting so fresh in our collective memory as fans. if the Wildcats cannot put these teams away, they will have a huge uphill battle this season.
- Toss-Ups: @Stanford, Michigan State, @Nebraska, Iowa and Purdue. For me, this season is defined by the toss-ups. Yes, each of these teams (with the exception of Purdue) is ranked higher than Northwestern—some more deserving than others—but the Wildcats are within reach of each. While all of these games are winnable, I anticipate the Wildcats taking Purdue in just about any scenario. I do see them dropping at least one game between Nebraska, Michigan State and Stanford, but not all of them. Iowa will be tougher, though it remains doable. Bottom line: the ‘Cats need three of these wins.
- Upset chances: Ohio State and @Wisconsin. These will both be tough. Ohio State is a very likely loss. Wisconsin on the road certainly won’t be easy, but I think there’s still a fair chance. Either win, coming in the middle of the toughest stretch of the season, would obviously be massive.
Colin Kruse: 9-3 (6-3 B1G)
- Locks: UNLV, @IU, UMass, Minnesota, @Illinois. Similarly to Lia’s choices for locks, I believe that, if all goes according to plan, the ‘Cats should win these games (emphasis on should). But, as seen with the aforementioned 2018 Akron loss, there are no guarantees in college football.
- Toss-Up Wins: @Stanford, @Wisconsin, @Nebraska, Iowa. Unlike previous seasons where the ‘Cats start off incredibly slow, I can see Northwestern sneaking out of Palo Alto with a win over K.J. Costello and Stanford as long as the NU quarterback situation does not jeopardize the offense’s ability to put drives together consistently.
Wisconsin and Nebraska are both somewhat unknown quantities right now. While both are ranked ahead of Northwestern, I will go ahead and predict that the ‘Cats will beat Wisconsin, a team with question marks at quarterback with Jack Coan and Graham Mertz battling for the starting role. Scott Frost’s UNL (not NU) might be the most overhyped team in college football, and I believe that sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez will struggle against an experienced Northwestern defense. Northwestern’s signature home win of the season will come against the Hawkeyes, probably in another low-scoring, defensive battle punctuated by a late turnover forced by Paddy Fisher or Joe Gaziano.
- Toss-Up Losses: Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue. Northwestern’s run of dominance against Michigan State will come to an end, and, as much as I want the ‘Cats to beat the Buckeyes, the depth and skill of Ohio State will be too much to handle for Northwestern. Purdue is the ultimate trap game for NU. The ‘Cats were lucky to escape West Lafayette with a win in last season’s opener, and the explosive Rondale Moore and Co. will take advantage of a Northwestern team just finishing a brutal five-game stretch in the B1G.
Joe Weinberg: 7-5 (5-4 B1G)
This may not be what fans want to read, but I just find it hard to believe Northwestern will pick up more than 7 wins with this tough schedule. A team that has consistently started the season slow coupled with a front-loaded slate is just simply not a recipe for success. I have the Wildcats starting the season 2-4 with wins over UNLV and Michigan State, and then I think they’ll drop a game to Indiana, Purdue, or Minnesota in November.
As much as I want it to happen, I just can’t see an inexperienced quarterback knocking off Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road in what will both be tough games. Of course I want it to happen, but we can’t forget how flat and poor this offense was in 2018. Call me pessimistic, but there will be some serious offensive struggles and adjustments to start the season that will set the Wildcats back big time before they get their feet under them in mid-October.
‘Cats win the Redbox Bowl by 14 points.
Eli Karp: 8-4 (6-3 B1G)
Can this team get to November still in tact? That’s my main question. In tact for me is .500 or better. Despite Purdue and Minnesota being dangerous opponents that could spoil any West team’s division title chances, Northwestern could reasonably sweep its last five games. We’ve seen slow starts turn into strong finishes before, and we’ve heard so much about the front-loaded schedule — for good reason — since this team has struggled before with getting its act together until midseason.
I’m going to be a little bullish, because why not? On top of this being the year that NU doesn’t succumb to the dreaded Ryan Field trap games, I’m going to say the Wildcats take at least two (probably three) of their five conference games against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa. For whatever reason, Fitz has figured out Michigan State, and NU’s recent success against the Hawkeyes shouldn’t be overlooked. It probably doesn’t hurt either that the Wildcats get both games at home.
Need I explain the Buckeye matchup? Nebraska and Wisconsin are two very different teams, and both will be tough to defeat on the road, especially in consecutive weeks. We don’t know how good the Huskers will be, but I think NU matches up better to grind out a win over Bucky than it does in a Memorial Stadium shootout. I see the Wildcats grabbing one of these road matchups — not that they’ll even be remotely close as underdogs in any of them — which would put them in a decent position, especially since I see the West cannibalizing itself and this would leave the Cats with just one loss to a divisional opponent. Will it be enough to return to Indy? Maybe not, but it should be interesting.
Claire Kuwana (8-4, 6-3 B1G)
I pretty much agree with Avery on this one. Northwestern has a really talented team this year, but the difficulty of the schedule from games two to six makes it hard to see them doing super well in the Big Ten. The back-to-back lineup of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa at the start of the season is where the ‘Cats will rack up three of their four losses. I’m hoping that Northwestern will continue its three-year tradition of beating Michigan State and then be able to come out on top of the Hawkeyes at home this year.
Stanford is definitely a toss-up, but for now, I am going to count on the fact that the ‘Cats will come out slow and tally it as a loss. The second half of the season will go much better than the first, and as long as we do not see the ‘Cats play down to the likes of UMass and Illinois, they should be able to finish out the season strong.
Matthew Albert: 9-3 (7-2 B1G)
I think that after a tough loss to Stanford to open the season, the Wildcats bounce back for another trip to Indy (falling only to Ohio State and Wisconsin). I would caution this pick with the hesitation that I am particularly bullish on everything Northwestern football (see my game predictions from last year). I still believe that the Wildcats are a very good football team and see many reasons for why the team will thrive.