The day-before mood is setting in. No. 19 Northwestern and No. 10 Wisconsin will battle for control of the Big Ten West in a game that has major implications for the conference and beyond. After going NU-heavy in the first four weeks of the season, the staffers are as divided as possible.
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Eli Karp: Northwestern 19, Wisconsin 17
My marketing professor likes to talk about touching both the head and the heart, and this prediction reaches only the latter. I wish I could give you the rational explanation for Northwestern winning this game, but even when NU is good, hardly is it rational. As pleasing to the eye as Wisconsin has been statistically, Fitz and Mike Hankwitz have a knack for slowing down the Badgers. I’m concerned about two things: Northwestern’s offense and the fact that some national writers are picking the ‘Cats. For whatever reason, though, I see them pulling it out. I can’t hop off the wagon just yet.
Lia Assimakopoulos: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 21
Don’t get me wrong, Northwestern is a top team in the Big Ten and deserves all the attention its received this past week, but Wisconsin is too sound of a program to drop this game. After missing two weeks due to COVID, the Badgers simply cannot afford to lose this weekend, and Graham Mertz will pose the biggest threat to Northwestern’s defense thus far. Since both teams have standout defenses, this game will be won at hands of the offense, and the redshirt freshman will outplay Peyton Ramsey, earning his first win against NU. Please, Wildcats, prove me wrong.
Daniel Olinger: Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 21
Predicting any opponent to break 30 points against Northwestern’s unrelenting defense (ranked 5th nationally in SP+) is a fool’s errand in my opinion. However, Wisconsin isn’t going to be stymied in the same way prior opponents were. Their running game shows up with the consistency of crappy weather in Evanston, and that institutional strength paired with deep shot slinger in Graham Mertz makes them as dangerous as ever. I have more confidence in their raw, superior talent than I do in the cohesive unit Northwestern has put together. It’ll be close, but a victory for the Badgers is my call.
Colin Kruse: Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 13
I expect another hearty performance from the Northwestern defense to keep the contest close, but Wisconsin is neither Purdue nor Nebraska. The ‘Cats’ secondary will test Graham Mertz, who has been phenomenal thus far against softball opponents, but the Badgers’ golden boy will do just enough on his end to move his offense down the field and score some points. On the other end of the field, the Northwestern offense will face its biggest challenge so far. If the ‘Cats can neither establish the run game nor enter a stage of the game where they can rely on Peyton Ramsey as a game manager, they might be in trouble, especially when down by a couple of possessions late. I really hope I’m wrong.
Jacob Brown: Wisconsin 31, Northwestern 10
I don’t see an aspect of the game in which Northwestern outmatches Wisconsin. NU is going to try to run the football, get stopped, and struggle to move the ball all game. Wisconsin’s offense is too good for the ‘Cats to get an early lead and lean on the defense. This is going to put NU in the uncomfortable position of playing from behind, which I don’t think this offense can do. Not to worry though, Wisconsin could still have another one of its games canceled and let NU into the Big Ten Championship fame.
Claire Kuwana: Northwestern 24, Wisconsin 21
Yes, Wisconsin is probably the more talented team. Nonetheless, if Northwestern can implement an effective run-by-committee and open up passing options for Ramsey, the ‘Cats may have a shot at coming out on top. As long as the secondary holds, and the pass rush shows up (like they did against Purdue) to put pressure on Mertz, this will be a close game in which Northwestern ultimately defeats a Wisconsin team with a lot of questions.
Mac Stone: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 19
The ‘Cats are a good football team, but we need to pump the brakes on the playoff talks (and maybe even the Rose Bowl talks). Wisconsin hasn’t played anyone good, but they’ve rolled over both Michigan and Illinois, and Graham Mertz has looked extremely impressive for the Badgers. At the end of the day, Northwestern’s offense will once again be its downfall. The ‘Cats will struggle to move the ball all game but their defense will keep them in it late. On the bright side, Charlie Kuhbander will go 4/4 on field goal attempts.
Ben Chasen: Northwestern 24, Wisconsin 23
I’ll preface this by saying that I have absolutely no clue how this game will go. What I can say is this: Northwestern is regularly up to the test of facing Wisconsin in the Fitz era. In their last six meetings at Ryan Field, the ‘Cats have beaten the Badgers five times. So while I don’t know how this one plays out, anyone suggesting that there’s too great of a discrepancy between these teams for the Wildcats to compete is kidding themselves. I’ll give the edge to Northwestern given their greater experience winning in close games this season.
Jack Izzo: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 17
I think these teams are pretty evenly matched, but Northwestern’s offense worries me. The one quarter slumps we saw against Iowa, Nebraska and Purdue are my main concern, but looking at Purdue’s effective run defense, something’s gonna need to change if the ‘Cats want to pull it off. There’s a good chance this game comes down to capitalizing off of turnovers, and while Fitz’s defense is top notch, the offense has to really show up. Graham Mertz isn’t that mobile, so the pass rush will also play a huge factor — if NU can’t generate effective pressure, they lose.
Didi Jin: Northwestern 20, Wisconsin 16
On paper, Wisconsin is the better and more talented team than NU both on offense and defense, but there’s a trait to this Northwestern squad that can’t be quantified: grit. The room for error is minimal, but if the run game can consistently deliver positive yardage, I have confidence in Peyton Ramsey to have his best game yet in a Northwestern jersey en route to a season for the record books. I predict that the ‘Cats trail early in this one before mounting a second half comeback capped by a last minute, game-winning drive.
Michael Barthelemy: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 20
As much as I want to play the card that Graham Mertz is going to be overwhelmed by his first test against a real defense, that hope appears unlikely. Sure he’s played Illinois and a disappointing Michigan team, but still his performance has been impressive. I have my doubts that Northwestern’s offense will be able to keep up with the Badgers, as they go against an equally strong defense. The lack of big-play ability from the ‘Cats I think is what will cause them to fall.
Sarah Effress: Northwestern 20, Wisconsin 17
Graham Mertz is turning out to be solid so far, but let’s be real—he hasn’t faced a defense up to NU’s caliber quite yet. The ‘Cats’ secondary has proven to be able to shut down the best receivers in the Big Ten (see David Bell’s 78 receiving yards last week) and Mertz has not had to navigate coverage of this speed. I don’t think Ramsey will perform outstandingly, but with the defense’s help and Fitz’s history of playing at the Badger’s level in Evanston, my hope is the ‘Cats pull this one out in a close one.
William Karmin: Northwestern 24, Wisconsin 20
I am so torn on this game, but I cannot bring myself to pick against the ‘Cats. Northwestern is a 7.5-point underdog due to Vegas believing a huge talent gap exists between the two teams. Fitz is 2-3 all-time against Paul Chryst and has split the only two matchups in Evanston. There is not as big of a talent gap between the two programs as many believe. I will take Fitz’s ability to win a tight game over nearly any coach in the country. To win the game, NU will need to win the turnover margin and time of possession. Fitz will find a way to do both.
Liam Warin: Northwestern 21, Wisconsin 20
Facing his first true test against a stalwart Northwestern defense, Graham Mertz will come back to earth and struggle, especially in the second half. The run game will do its thing and pound the ball against a Wisconsin defense that has yet to play a functioning offensive line (sorry, Michigan and Illinois). Peyton Ramsey will do Peyton Ramsey things such as converting every third and long placed in front of him and will somehow bring the ‘Cats a sweet Big Ten victory over the only other major contender in the Big Ten West.
Josh Miller: Northwestern 21, Wisconsin 17
Why not? Northwestern is coming off a 3-9 season and has turned the program back into a contender. It’s fair to call these first four weeks magical, with frequent showcases of effort and resilience from Northwestern. Wisconsin has been able to coast in its first two victories, and that won't happen Sunday against a stout Northwestern defense. So I pick the Wildcats to win in a low-scoring game against the big, bad Badgers. The keys for the ‘Cats will be to win the turnover battle, as they have done so often, and get a big play in the first quarter to gain momentum.
4-0: Eli Karp, Lia Assimakopoulos, Dan Olinger, Mac Stone, Ben Chasen, William Karmin, Didi Jin, Liam Warin, Sarah Effress
3-0: Sydney Supple
2-0: Andrew Katz
1-0: Noah Jones, Michael Barthelemy, Jack Izzo
3-1: Colin Kruse
2-1: Josh Miller
1-1: Noah Coffman
1-2: Jacob Brown