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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Illinois

The HAT, and the program, is up for grabs

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 Northwestern at Purdue Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With only one game left in a horrendous 2022 football season, Northwestern is going to need to pull out all the stops to take down a 7-4 Fighting Illini team. Here’s why the Wildcats will and won’t be victories on Saturday:

Why Northwestern WILL beat Illinois

This game is for the HAT

If any game this season was important for Northwestern, this is the one. Illinois is its biggest rival, and the team lost the HAT last year after winning six meetings in a row. Pat Fitzgerald can fire up his team for this rivalry week game, even if the team has lost ten games in a row.

This game is for the seniors

Ever since Northwestern football realized that this is a lost season, both Fitzgerald and players have constantly said the goal is to go 1-0 each week and send the seniors out right. So far, they have talked the talk, but have not walked the walk. If Northwestern actually wants to send their seniors out right, this is the game to do it. Beating your arch-rival when nobody believes in you? Seems like a good way to go out.

This game is for Northwestern football

This is a lot more than a 7-4 Illinois team coming into Evanston to face a 1-10 Northwestern team: a win here would go miles for Northwestern as a program. Over the past two years, the outlook on the program has become grim, and the team has only won four games in that time. This has led to decommitments from incoming first-years, coaching staff question marks and uncertainty around Northwestern, and many think it won’t be better for years to come. If Northwestern wants to change this narrative, it needs to win this game. Change the future by winning this game.

Why Northwestern WON’T beat Illinois

The Illinois defense

The Fighting Illini have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, and furthermore, one of the best in the country. This is probably the best defense Brett Bielema has ever had: with players like Isaac Darkangelo, Jer’Zhan Newton and Sydney Brown, the defense has vastly improved. This unit just held Michigan to 19 points, and while they could not put the game away, it was a valiant effort. Northwestern might not be able to move the ball against Bielema’s squad, regardless of who the quarterback is. That being said...

Northwestern is down to its third/fourth-string QB

This is not an indictment on Cole Freeman or saying he will be the reason Northwestern loses the game, but more of a statement that this is not a favorable matchup for him. Freeman is slated to start against Illinois, and this is not the defense you want to play in your second career start. The Northwestern offense put up nine points last week, and Freeman will need to do much more to beat Illinois. But, is he capable of that?

The Michigan State Spartans, Purdue Boilermakers, and Michigan Wolverines

Three weeks ago, Illinois was 7-1 and on a collision course with the Big Ten Championship Game, even if it lost a game (presumed to be against Michigan in the Big House). But, the Fighting Illini lost to inferior Michigan State and Purdue, both at home, ruining their chances to win the West. Moreover, Illinois had a shot to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor, but Michigan escaped on a game-winning field goal. Brett Bielema knows how to fire up a squad, and Illinois will show no mercy in a rivalry game. They’re coming off a three game losing streak and are playing a worse team with a trophy on the line.