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 and record predictions for Northwestern’s 2020 season. Give each of our writers’ explanations a read, and feel free to share your own predictions in the comments below!
Lia Assimakopoulos: 5-3
There are so many unknowns this season that I find it hard to be too optimistic about Northwestern winning most of the challenging games on its schedule, but I feel that 5-3 is a fair prediction given their lineup. Northwestern should walk away with wins against Maryland, Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois no problem while Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota will be much tougher matchups. While I am not certain NU will drop all three against the tougher opponents, I would anticipate they will lose at least two and potentially fall into a trap against a team like Michigan State or Purdue. Either way, I am hopeful the ‘Cats will improve upon their three-win season in 2019 and win the games they should in 2020.
Eli Karp: 5-3
The opt outs of Samdup Miller and Travis Whillock originally gave me concerns about my original 5-3 projection, but I am excited to see the talented young guys like Adetomiwa Adebawore. If last year’s defense ranked 26th in total defense and had trouble forcing turnovers, this unit can be better. Offensively, things may be a work in progress early on, but we’ve seen what NU can achieve with a mediocre scoring unit, and the Wildcats face only one good defense on paper — Iowa — in the first four weeks. It’s tough for me to project confidence in a truly unpredictable, crowded West, but I believe a winning record is very much in the cards.
Colin Kruse: 4-4
My prediction for last season ended up going not so well, to say the least.
I’m going to be a little less optimistic for this campaign. With the unknowns of this season, amid an unprecedented global pandemic, opt-outs and a new OC and starting quarterback, there certainly are not any locks or toss-ups. I’m fairly confident that the ‘Cats will beat Maryland, Michigan State, and Illinois while losing to Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. I’d rather see Northwestern beat Nebraska rather than Purdue, but my best guess is that the ‘Cats split those two contests. Nonetheless, there should be some improvement from Fitz’s squad this season.
Daniel Olinger: 4-4
Here’s my basic thought process: Northwestern has three home games against three teams that are just flat out bad in Maryland, Nebraska and annual HAT relinquisher Illinois. That’s three dubs. They also have three matchups I’m confident they’ll lose in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota (many think the Gophers will regress, but I’m a firm believer in QB Tanner Morgan). That makes road games vs Purdue and Michigan State the tipping points between a winning and losing season. Leave it to INU’s stats/film nerd guy to say they probably split those matchups and finish a very on-brand .500 for the year.
Mac Stone: 5-3
This season is going to be unpredictable, and may take a lot of crazy turns. That being said, I’m optimistic about what new OC Mike Bajakian brings to the table, as well as grad transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey (who I presume will be the week one starter). The defense has always been solid and I expect that trend to continue this year despite guys like Travis Whillock and Samdup Miller opting out. They will leave holes to fill, but if all goes to plan, I expect five wins this year with losses coming to Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
William Karmin: 6-2
Last year’s boldest prediction came from former EIC Noah Coffman who predicted the Wildcats to regress to 6-6. Some called him pessimistic, others called him a realist, and in retrospect he was the most accurate. I think Northwestern will be pretty good this year. NU has a weak schedule. The defense will be rock solid outside of a shaky secondary. The offensive should be dramatically better than it was last season with new OC Mike Bajakian and graduate transfer QB Peyton Ramsey. I am not sure that six wins will win the West; but it will qualify as a successful season.
Jacob Brown: 2-6
I think NU’s offense has the potential to be really good this season. However, without Slater and with new system, it might take the ‘Cats a while to find their footing. The defense could be a different story. The secondary without Whillock could be rough, especially if Cam Ruiz doesn’t improve. NU’s LB are elite, but will it be enough with two of the best players on the roster opting out? I doubt it. Look for some pretty good Big Ten quarterbacks to pick NU apart.
Sydney Supple: 5-3
There are a lot of unknowns with this season moving forward. However, the one thing I feel for certain is NU will score more points on offense this season with new OC Mike Bajakian along with transfer QB Peyton Ramsey and former QB starter T.J. Green. These offensive scoring options are the missing pieces from last season and will lead the Cats to winning a majority of their games. The loss in key defensive players will hurt the team down the road in facing the tougher teams such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Didi Jin: 6-2
10-3. That was the record of the 2015 and 2017 Northwestern football teams, and both squads had lost six games or more in the previous season. Although the ‘Cats will have to replace a few key starters on both sides of the ball this year, most other Big Ten teams are in the same boat. I have a lot of faith in Mike Bajakian, Peyton Ramsey and the new offense, and I think that a return to the top of the West is more than feasible. And per Ifeadi Odenigbo, the absence of fans should help Northwestern, especially on the road.
Louis Yang: 5-3
Despite the opt-outs of Samdup Miller and Travis Whillock, I still see a very strong Northwestern defense that can be anchored by Earnest Brown and Paddy Fisher. On offense, everyone has been talking about Peyton Ramsey, which is completely understandable, but I am excited to see the leap that Riley Lees will take. At the end of the day, if this team is going to win games, it must generate explosive plays and Lees has the ability to do just that. With Bajakian at the helm, I can see the offense really opening up allowing the ‘Cats to beat the teams that should be beaten.
Liam Warin: 5-3
Mike Bajakian will revolutionize the ‘Cats’ offense with graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey at the helm. With these new points, the always stellar defense should hold the weaker Big Ten home opponents (Maryland, Nebraska, and Illinois) to low scoring games, resulting in three easy wins for Northwestern. I think Northwestern also has a great chance to beat Purdue in their home stadium, and I anticipate a reborn Northwestern squad to steal a game against either Iowa or Michigan State, where the lack of fans should work in the ‘Cats advantage.
Andrew Katz: 4-4
There’s promise for the Wildcats this season. 2020 has been wacky and it’s not out of the question Northwestern could win the West, but I think the ‘Cats are more likely to win some and lose some games they shouldn’t. So much is unknown for this season; How will Peyton Ramsey and Mike Bajakian fare in their first year at Northwestern and how much are the COVID-19 opt-outs going to hurt the ‘Cats? I would bank on the Wildcats pulling off an exciting upset while having some disappointing losses and finishing the season at 4-4.
Ben Chasen: 5-3
I’ll admit that the recent defensive opt-outs give me some pause, but, while the defense might be weaker than had been expected, I think the ‘Cats will improve enough offensively to make up for it. If you couldn’t tell, I like Mike Bajakian and am incredibly optimistic about what a change in scheme could do to this offense. Given the tape I’ve seen and the praise from within the program I’ve heard, I’ve also become sold on Peyton Ramsey. Add in an incredibly favorable schedule, and I think it could be a pretty enjoyable year, albeit one with plenty of pandemic-produced question marks.
Michael Barthelemy: 5-3
I am tempted to bump this record to 6-2, but 5-3 may be a bit of wishful thinking regardless. This year’s offense will be greatly improved. Peyton Ramsey brings the leadership under center this team needs. His experience combined with the return of Isaiah Bowser should give the ‘Cats a solid foundation on offense. Defensively there are certainly question marks, but we all know Paddy Fisher is still that dude and despite the opt-outs I believe in Fitz’s ability to coach this team to overachievement.
Sarah Effress: 5-3
The extended offseason should work in the ‘Cats favor. This is especially important in the case of Peyton Ramsey—Mike Bajakian has had ample time to help his prospective QB1 get accustomed to a new offense. The highly ranked defense has a chance to shine as well, despite notable opt-outs. With this in mind, I believe we can lock in wins versus Maryland, Nebraska and Illinois for sure. My prediction gives the Cats’ room for at least one win against Michigan State or Purdue, and given their track record versus Wisconsin at home, a possible upset against the Badgers.
Josh Miller: 4-4
If I’d been asked a week ago, I would have given this team a really solid chance of going above .500. But the recent opt-outs of projected senior defensive starters Samdup Miller and Travis Whillock will make it even more difficult to make those big defensive stops when they matter. The bulk of the pressure to produce will be on Mike Bajakian’s offense, which won't be easy given Rashawn Slater’s opt-out and unproven Peyton Ramsey. 4-4 is still an impressive improvement from 3-9, however, and the ‘Cats should hold their head high if they can rebound back to mediocrity after last year’s disaster.
Ben Finkelstein: 6-2
This record comes down to one thing — scheduling. The B1G West will not be nearly as menacing of a division as last year. Northwestern also has the easiest crossover schedule in the Big Ten, drawing a weak Maryland squad and a rebuilding Michigan State team behind first-year head coach Mel Tucker. Although the recent defensive opt-outs hurt a little bit, the additions of Mike Bajakian and Peyton Ramsey should be enough to ‘win the winnables’ and beat at least one of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.