Northwestern football is finally back, and the Wildcats will have to get by the Maryland Terrapins first this season. While UMD is in the midst of a program rebuild and had a tough season last year, the Terps came out strong in 2019 with an 80-point victory and over Howard and major upset over No. 21 Syracuse, so NU must be prepared for a battle under the Ryan Field Lights.
Like we do every year, each of our staff members will give their score predictions ahead of every game. We’ll keep track throughout the season with the winner getting bragging rights. Here’s how they (and special guest, Rodger Sherman of The Ringer) see Saturday’s matchup playing out:
Rodger: Maryland 17, Northwestern 10
I actually am excited about this Northwestern football season! But am I more confident in Northwestern to cast off its Leftover McCall Energy, or in the Tagovailoa family to continue succeeding in every possible way? Tagovailoas, 100 percent of the time.
Lia Assimakopoulos: Northwestern 24, Maryland 17
If all goes as planned, the ‘Cats should start the season 1-0 with a win over the Terps. While both teams are facing uncertainty with new players stepping in due to some key departures or opt outs, Peyton Ramsey should be able to pick apart the depleted Maryland secondary while NU’s defense — which currently ranks sixth in S&P+ — should shut down whoever starts under center even without Travis Whillock and Samdup Miller. While 11 points seems like an overly generous margin of victory, NU should start its season on a high note nonetheless.
Eli Karp: Northwestern 27, Maryland 19
I doubt it will be easy, because this is Northwestern we’re talking about, and it’s 2020. But who knows, maybe the weirdness of this year plus a new offense will prove me wrong. Anyway, NU should be able to run the ball without much resistance against an inexperienced front seven of Maryland, and I think that opens things up for Peyton Ramsey to have a solid, but not spectacular day — say 220 passing yards and 1 TD. I’m a little concerned about the talent of the Terrapins’ air attack, especially with reports of a Greg Newsome injury. This now-youthful secondary will need to grow up quickly, but I think it’s up to the task and holds Maryland to enough field goals in the red zone.
Colin Kruse: Northwestern 14, Maryland 10
Most likely, both squads will come out of the gate sloppy, but the ‘Cats defense, despite the absences of Samdup Miller and Travis Whillock, will show up and stifle the Terps offense. I expect big days from the linebacking corps of Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher and Chris Bergin. On the other side of the ball, Peyton Ramsey will do just enough to get Northwestern over the finish line. Graduate-transfer punter Derek Adams will have a big day and tilt the field position battle in the favor of Pat Fitzgerald’s squad. It might be raw, ugly, and unattractive, but the ‘Cats should have enough to get this one in the bag (emphasis on should).
Also, I managed to lose to Noah in the prediction standings last season on the final day of the season when I picked Illinois to beat the ‘Cats. Andrew Marty ruined it for me. Game on.
Daniel Olinger: Northwestern 24, Maryland 20
Games early in the college football season get weird quite often if there isn’t a huge discrepancy in talent between the two squads facing off. Just take a look at how Maryland kicked off their 2019 season — smacking down Syracuse 63-20 only to fall to Temple 17-20 the next week. Heck, just look at the ‘Cats, whose 2018 Big Ten Championship (appearance) run included a 39-34 loss to Akron in week three. The zany nature of college football will only be exacerbated by getting into interconference play right off the bat, and thus, I’m predicting a tight, close win for the ‘Cats over a team that they should usually beat by two touchdowns.
Mac Stone: Northwestern 28, Maryland 21
What are the odds the ‘Cats put up 28 points in a new offensive system with a new QB in their season opener? Probably slim. However, I really like what both Mike Bajakian and Peyton Ramsey bring to the table. They’ve both said they work really well together. I’m excited to see it. Northwestern’s defense is, like always, extremely solid (sixth in S&P+ rankings, as Lia mentioned). However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come out a bit sloppy to begin the game, especially without the likes of Whillock and Miller. ‘Cats will take this one, but Maryland covers the spread.
Noah Coffman: Northwestern 31, Maryland 27
Everybody’s being nice, but I’ll just come out and say it: Maryland’s defense figures to be truly horrific this season. But even still, the Wildcats covering a ten-point spread against any team, let alone a conference opponent likely quarterbacked by a Tagovailoa (or another really good youngster) is a lot to ask. Bajakian brings the heat, the run game goes off, and Ramsey and the defense do enough to end Maryland’s weird run of stealing early-season games from better teams.
William Karmin: Northwestern 30, Maryland 27
This game is eerily similar to Northwestern’s season opener against Purdue in 2018 where true freshman Rondale Moore dominated Northwestern’s secondary. There are a couple of exceptional players without any collegiate tape on Maryland’s roster (Taulia Tagovailoa and Rakim Jarrett). Both have an abnormal amount of talent for a typically weak Terps team. Tagovailoa and Jarrett will have the Wildcats secondary on their heals all game long and may leave the door open for Maryland to win. Do not panic if this game is high-scoring; I do not necessarily believe it will be indicative of NU for the season to come. In the end, NU should pull out the W.
Ben Chasen: Northwestern 38, Maryland 24
I expect a very powerful showing from Mike Bajakian’s offense, with Malik Washington and Isaiah Bowser scoring at least once each. Given the lack of sufficient preseason padded practices across the Big Ten, I also think there will be a number of critical missed tackles from both teams as they adjust to full-contact play once again. Ultimately, the ‘Cats are a better team across the board, and they’ll show it on Saturday.
Jacob Brown: Northwestern 34, Maryland 28
Nothing would more perfectly encapsulate the strangeness or this season than Northwestern winning shootouts. I don’t think that will be the case all year, but with the defense’s first game without Gaz, Whillock and Miller, I expect Maryland to have early success moving the ball. Ramsey comes out firing as well, and after an even first few quarters the Northwestern defense hunkers down late. Charlie Kubhander doinks a kick early, but makes two in the fourth quarter as part of his farewell tour.
Liam Warin: Northwestern 38, Maryland 35
Northwestern will win this game either way, but Maryland’s offensive production is so strongly tied to their starting quarterback that I can see this game going two ways: (1) Taulia Tagovailoa starts and makes the game a shootout between himself and Peyton Ramsey, leading to a ‘Cats win via last second field goal, or (2) Lance LeGandre starts and Northwestern pounces on the inexperienced quarterback and wins in blowout fashion. To be safe, though, I’ll predict the first option and bank on new OC Mike Bajakian coordinating an offensive masterpiece en route to a Northwestern victory.
Andrew Katz: Northwestern 26, Maryland 17
In their first game together, I am not expecting Mike Bajakian and Peyton Ramsey to lead the Wildcats to a shootout victory. Rather, I see the ‘Cats going with a more methodical pace in the season opener. I think Northwestern will go up early and maintain a strong lead throughout the game with the help of their defense. The Northwestern offense should be able to hit its stride against Maryland’s questionable defense and start the season off with a victory.
Didi Jin: Northwestern 31, Maryland 25
Behind a revamped offense and the motivation to earn Fitz his 100th win, I think that Peyton Ramsey & Co. will take advantage of Maryland’s inexperienced defense early and often in this one. Although it might take some time for Northwestern’s new starters on defense to acclimate to a Maryland passing game that surprises everyone, Mike Hankwitz’ unit should get the necessary stops to win the game in the end. Give me two touchdowns from Isaiah Bowser as well.
Sarah Effress: Northwestern 24, Maryland 13
I am hesitant to give the ‘Cats the benefit of the doubt with a blowout offensive win yet — even with Maryland only returning half of its 2019 defense. I need to see Ramsey prove himself under center first. That being said, the Terps are welcoming a first-time starter at the helm in either LeGendre or Tagovailoa, neither of whom I can see doing much against the highly ranked NU defense.
Noah Jones: Northwestern 17, Maryland 10
Since both squads are without the usual out-of-conference games to get into the groove of things before jumping back into competitive Big Ten play, I predict Saturday afternoon’s game will be a slow-paced, largely defensive battle. With both teams settling into a new guy under center, the NU defense gives the ‘Cats an edge in this one, and I see the ‘Cats coming out on top.
Sydney Supple: Northwestern 31, Maryland 24
I predict that Northwestern’s offense is going to take a few drives to get comfortable with a new offensive coordinator calling, but with Ramsey’s experience and confidence from beating Maryland last season, NU will find their way in scoring touchdowns quickly. I also think NU will be able to show off their run game against a fairly inexperienced Maryland defense with now having all of their RBs healthy this season. As for defense, Northwestern will give up a limited amount of touchdowns due to new players in positions but ultimately be able to be strong enough to secure the win.