Today marks Pat Fitzgerald’s 200th game as head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats, and it won’t be an easy win. Rest assured, we’ll know a lot more about this team after the first quarter, maybe even the first drive. Uncertainty heading into kickoff, including lingering questions about the ever important QB1, has our staff predictions all over the place.
As per usual, we’ll keep track of everyone’s thoughts each week, and the writer(s) with the highest number of correct predictions at the end of the season wins ultimate bragging rights...and also an order of Buffalo Joe’s sponsored by our very own Ben Chasen. With that, here are our Week Zero predictions:
Sarah Effress: Nebraska 42, Northwestern 35
I want some excitement to open this season so I’m going with an offensive shootout. I cannot safely predict the ‘Cats to win without knowing who the starting QB is, but I expect their running game to keep them in it offensively. Defensively, I literally have no idea how Northwestern will look, but Nebraska’s got a QB with a decent arm so I’m going to not jinx it and have the Huskers coming out with the win.
Gavin Dorsey: Northwestern 24, Nebraska 13
I made my pick as soon as I saw the story about Scott Frost’s linemen throwing up 15-20 times per practice. Call me an irrational optimist, but I think the Wildcats are going to come out with something to prove and run all over the Cornhusker defense. Talking to members of the team, they feel there’s just something different about this squad, and are more motivated than ever not to have a repeat of last season. Cam Porter and Evan Hull each score, Malik Washington catches a red zone touchdown via the arm of Ryan Hilinski, and Jack Olsen goes 1-of-1 on field goal attempts as Fitz is seen on the sideline doing an Irish jig.
Bradley Locker: Nebraska 35, Northwestern 14
All offseason, Northwestern has discussed having a distinct edge in practice and setting the tone early for a rebound 2022 season. At the same time, there are still countless questions that remain at focal positions, many of which may not be sorted out until midseason. Nebraska is totally revamped with Casey Thompson, Trey Palmer and Mark Whipple, flashy additions that complement a solid core in Rahmir Johnson, Garrett Nelson, Luke Reimer and Quinton Newsome. Pat Fitzgerald has expressed that NU will look to adjust in the second half, but such alterations could be too late if the Huskers jump out to a fast start in a do-or-die year for Scott Frost. UNL was much better than its 3-9 record indicated last year and is poised for a promising campaign.
Iggy Dowling: Nebraska 31, Northwestern 13
Nebraska just has too much offensive talent for Northwestern’s front seven to keep up. For a team that’s going to rely on running the football and bleeding the clock to death for a winning formula, the ‘Cats don’t have an especially trustworthy defense. That’s typically something you need to impose that brand of football on another team. As the Irish proverb goes, “However long the day, the evening will come — bad times don’t last forever.”
Didi Jin: Nebraska 20, Northwestern 13
With both teams hungry to avenge their shortcomings in 2021, this game will be a close contest dominated by stifling defense. Malik Washington goes for 100 yards and a touchdown, but in Ryan Hilinski I do not trust, as his struggles from last year continue and the offense fails to muster enough for the ‘Cats to come away with a victory.
Ben Chasen: Northwestern 19, Nebarkas 17
*taps mic* Is this thing on? Have you people seen what happens to Scott Frost-coached Nebraska teams at the beginning of the season? Were any of you watching the beautiful mess that was the Illinois vs. UNL Week 0 Extravaganza last year?
Look, you don’t have to be optimistic about NU’s season-long prospects to be optimistic about this game. Scott Frost can’t win a season-opener against a legitimate (read: non-two-win mid-major) opponent to save his life. This game will be weird. It will be ugly. Ultimately, I believe that the hero will be Northwestern’s new kicker, Jack Olsen, who will endear himself to Wildcat fans from Dublin to Dempster Avenue with four field goals and give the ‘Cats juuuuust enough to take home a souvenir win from Ireland.
John Olsen: Nebraska 52, Northwestern 0
Good football team plays bad football team. Good football team scores a lot of points, bad football team doesn’t. Good football team wins.
John Ferrara: Nebraska 31, Northwestern 21
I’m not quite as pessimistic as the previous John, but I agree with his sentiment - good football beats bad football, almost always. We saw the Cornhuskers (at least you can’t knock us for our mascot...) drop the ‘Cats 56-7 less than a year ago, so a loss by just ten points is a win in it’s own right. If NU hops on the flight back to O’Hare with at least one interception against Nebraska’s Casey Thompson and a couple scores against a revamped Husker defense, I’ll call it a good use of my Saturday afternoon. I’m a glass half full kind of guy, alright?
Sophia Vlahakis: Nebraska 31, Northwestern 24
Do I think there is a chance Northwestern’s offense puts up numbers and the luck of the Irish leads Pat Fitzgerald to a victory? Possibly, but Nebraska has a formidable QB in Casey Thompson and found a bundle of offensive talent through the transfer portal. That being said, I don’t think history repeats itself with another blowout. Led by Peter Skoronski, the offensive line should see improvement from last season, and Evan Hull and Cam Porter are very nice running back options. The offense will determine the winner, but if the ‘Cats can keep the game close, Northwestern will start the season off on a high note.
Jason Boué: Northwestern 27, Nebraska 17
Brúcht. Sceith. Urlacan. I highly doubt any of y’all know what those words mean (unless the team’s trip across the pond brought an influx of Irish readers to the site). Nebraska, on the other hand, is very familiar with the terms after noted great coach Scott Frost admitted last week that their o-linemen were puking multiple times per practice. As far as I know, there has been little urlacan-ing at Northwestern’s practices, which automatically gives the ‘Cats an advantage in my book. Adetomiwa Adebawore will make light work of the exhausted Nebraska O-line, and Northwestern’s strong 4-man running back room will lead the offense, allowing the Wildcats to start their season off on the right foot.
Andrew Katz: Nebraska 38, Northwestern 20
A season ago, the ‘Cats were humiliated – getting slapped around to the tune of a 49-point drumming. This could serve as motivation to avenge last year’s loss but it is hard to see how last season’s wide margin of defeat will be completely diminished. In an unfamiliar environment with a crowd disadvantage, I see Northwestern coming up short in Dublin.
Jake Mozarsky: Nebraska 38, Northwestern 13
On paper, the Huskers were 3-9 last year, but they were a much better team than their record shows. They lost eight games by one score last year and nine by less than double digits. Nebraska’s season could have been much different last year. Now, they are a flashier team, with the additions of Casey Thompson and Trey Palmer being key acquisitions on offense, and expect their passing game to carry in this one. Northwestern still has uncertainties in their secondary, and this lines up to be a perfect debut for Thompson and co.
Emma Manley: Northwestern 24, Nebraska 21
Perhaps it’s my freshman naivety, but perhaps there will be an upset. If Northwestern can make it to the second half without too much damage being done by Casey Thompson, some smart adjustments could help them pull through. With last year’s performance the whole season, there’s room for improvement. Between the return of Cam Porter, the aforementioned Cornhusker puking, and the memory of last year’s 56-7 score, perhaps the ‘Cats will bring home a victory.
Zain Bando: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 13
For those of you who are thinking about betting Northwestern to cover the spread (+13.5) Saturday in Dublin, I don’t blame you. Both of these teams have a lot to play for early in the season. For Northwestern, it’s getting back to the basics of what made them great two seasons ago — running the ball and a stingy defense. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, they’ll have to rely on Ryan Hillinski to have a great game against a Nebraska team that basically overwhelmed Northwestern on both sides of the ball a year ago. It’s hard not to see the sequel happen again.
With Scott Frost’s job potentially on the line this season in Lincoln, expect new quarterback Casey Thompson to play with a chip on his shoulder from the first snap. Too many big plays in the red zone will ultimately decide the game, as the Wildcats will fall to 0-1 before their first bye week and a home date with Duke Sept. 10.
Daniel Olinger: Nebraska 19, Northwestern 9 (you, the viewer, -10 for watching)
I am well-established as the rain cloud in the midst of a sunny day when it comes to prognosticating Northwestern football, and thus I feel no qualms in predicting the ‘Cats to lose a disgusting, slop-filled opener against college football’s most accursed team. Then again, Pat Fitzgerald might get special powers upon reaching Ireland, and find a way to win this game via one-point safeties.
Mac Stone: Nebraska 26, Northwestern 17
As much as I want it to happen, it’s not happening. There are too many question marks surrounding Northwestern for me to have much hope. Are there questions surrounding the Huskers as well? Sure, but they also beat the ‘Cats by 49 last year. I believe the -11 line for Nebraska is too generous and Northwestern should cover, but the Cornhuskers will still win this one comfortably.
Brendan Preisman: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 17
This is perhaps the most conflicted I’ve ever been picking a game, given that I grew up just an hour’s drive from the Cornhuskers’ home base in Lincoln. While I was tempted to pick the Wildcats in an upset (if only to get some interesting conversation at Thanksgiving), I can’t because Casey Thompson might be the best passer the Nebraska program has seen in a decade. And while Thompson won’t set the world on fire immediately, his talent combined with Scott Frost’s sheer desperation (he will ABSOLUTELY be fired if Nebraska doesn’t make a bowl) should be enough to give Nebraska the win.
Sam Richardson: Nebraska 31, Northwestern 14
The trip to Dublin is more than just a business trip for Scott Frost. He needs to win. If he doesn’t beat Northwestern (their 2nd weakest conference opponent), Frost’s job will start to feel a lot more insecure, and both he and his team are certainly laser-focused for this coming week. On the field, former Pitt OC Mark Whipple should be able to defend his boss’s job by tapping into Texas transfer Casey Thompson’s skillset so that Thompson can find the same success as he did last season against Kansas and Baylor. As long as the Huskers’ line holds up, Whipple will be able to use his depth at receiver to create the same space to throw for Thompson as he did last year for first-round pick Kenny Pickett. The only chance Northwestern has is if they can gash holes into the relatively weak Nebraska D-line. While we know Peter Skoronski can beat his man, I’m not sure if the rest of this line can. If Northwestern does not get the ground game going through Evan Hull, I don’t have faith in Ryan Hilinski to put up many points against a strong Nebraska secondary.
Myles Gilbert: Northwestern 20, Nebraska 17
Coach Fitz and the Wildcats are well-coached and more experienced than a season ago. Nebraska is loaded with transfers, including QB Casey Thompson and new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Whipple, the former OC at Pitt, had Kenny Pickett drop back and hoped he’d make a play most of last season. I think this works well in Northwestern’s favor. In last year’s rout in Lincoln, the Cornhuskers rushed for 427 yards, yet it doesn’t seem like they’ll be running a whole lot this season. On the other side of the ball, one of the Cats’ position groups I’m least worried about is the secondary. While both these teams look to find their groove in Week Zero, I think Northwestern contains a Nebraska offense trying to figure itself out, takes care of the football, and hangs on in a close one.