The Wildcats’ home opener is right around the corner, and with that come the Duke Blue Devils, an opponent Northwestern fans have grown familiar with over the last handful of years. The pressure is on Pat Fitzgerald and his squad to prove their win against Nebraska was the product of a legitimate Big Ten team or simply the Huskers’ abundance of faults. Here is what our staff thinks will go down today at Ryan Field:
Sarah: Northwestern 35, Duke 24
If Ryan Hilinski and the O-line hold up as they did against Nebraska then I don't think 35 points is overreaching here. But, I do think this is a game where Jim O’Neil’s defense needs to prove itself, specifically the secondary, and I’m not ready to give Duke, or any opponent, a point total below 20 until that happens. Nevertheless, I think Fitz comes out with a win in today’s home opener.
Iggy Dowling: Northwestern 34, Duke 24
Before the Nebraska game, I had no idea who to pick in this one. The best way to beat Duke is through the air, and it was unclear if Northwestern could do that. But after watching Ryan Hilinski navigate the pocket with poise two weeks ago, I’m confident the ‘Cats can hold their own on offense even if the Blue Devils key in on limiting the run game. Riley Leonard could tear apart the secondary and keep this close, but not close enough to prevent Northwestern from covering the 9.5-point spread.
Bradley Locker: Northwestern 23, Duke 18
Northwestern looks like a legitimate Big Ten West contender after its late-August win over Nebraska, so nothing can go wrong here... Right? Mike Elko and the Blue Devils will be amped to head to Ryan Field, especially with offensive coordinator Kevin Johns and others having called Northwestern home. It’s hard to assess how good either of these teams is right now given their one-game sample size, but both quarterbacks could not have gotten off to more scorching starts. Expect a relatively close, potentially sloppy affair — yet I do think Northwestern has more riding on this game, needing to capitalize on its non-conference slate and feeding off a return to Evanston. As in Dublin, the ‘Cats make just enough crucial plays to cling to victory in flag-adorned helmets.
Gavin Dorsey: Northwestern 28, Duke 23
Despite definitively picking Northwestern originally, I’ve been back and forth on my pick all the way up until the last minute. Northwestern showed it can be competent again in Dublin, but the game was two weeks ago, and the season-opener magic may have worn off. Meanwhile, Duke’s 30-0 victory may have been against Temple, but quarterback Riley Leonard looked like a real dual threat and could cause trouble for the Wildcats. Northwestern has lost its last three versus Duke, but I’m predicting the ‘Cats to break the streak on the back of a tough, physical ground game that wears down the Blue Devil defense and runs for three of the team’s four scores.
Ben Chasen: Northwestern 31, Duke 24
Given prior context, this really feels like a trap game, making this prediction a somewhat hesitant one. But after NU‘s strong Week Zero showing, how am I supposed to pick against the ‘Cats? Simply put, if the Northwestern offense looks as strong as it did against Nebraska, then the Wildcats should be competitive against just about every opponent on their schedule and should be in good shape to beat teams like Duke. That said, this is an important game for actually holding onto that offensive momentum and carrying it throughout the rest of the season.
John Olsen: Duke 24, Northwestern 20
Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure has been riddled with losses in “easy” games, so with a rebuilding Duke team employing multiple former Northwestern assistants coming to Evanston, this seems like a perfect time to add another one to the ledger. The positive, but likely irrelevant, spin on this result is the fact the ‘Cats accrued zero non-conference wins in the two seasons where they ultimately reached the Big Ten Championship game.
Jake Mozarsky: Duke 24, Northwestern 21
I feel like after the Nebraska win, there is a lot of hype surrounding the Wildcats (especially from the Northwestern faithful) and whether this team has what it takes to be successful. Ryan Field should be energetic and things should play out for a Northwestern win. But, as ‘Cats fans know, this is when things can go wrong. I don’t think it’s right to say Northwestern is underestimating Duke, but it might be profiled as an easy game to some, and that’s when the ‘Cats lose. Expect Duke to start out faster due to Northwestern’s week off and Hilinski and Co. try to play catchup in the second half, only to fall short.
Sophia Vlahakis: Northwestern 27, Duke 24
To be completely honest, I just want to believe in this team, and my pragmatic thinking is still being overshadowed by the excitement from the Nebraska win. But, I do believe Duke is beatable. Even with the Blue Devils’ shut-out win over Temple, the ‘Cats have an incredible amount of momentum that makes the home opener at Ryan Field just a little more momentous. I think that Cam Porter and Evan Hull can effectively take on the defense to lead the offensive charge, and after Ryan Hilinski’s poised and confident performance in Ireland, I trust he can keep the ‘Cats in a competitive game. It should be relatively close but if Northwestern is going to find any success this season, a strong fight has to be put up against Duke.
Daniel Olinger: Northwestern 22, Duke 14
Do not let the Blue Devils’ 30-0 win in week one fool you, that had much more to do with the apocalyptic state of the Temple football program than with anything else. Duke took advantage of the final vestige of the Hunter Johnson experiment last year to jump out to a 27-0 lead over Northwestern before spending the final 30 minutes of the game trying to find ways to surrender it. If not for an untimely injury to Andrew Marty, the ‘Cats were likely on their way to a win that day, and get a proper shot at revenge this Saturday at Ryan Field. Mike Elko was a great hire by Duke, as his defenses at Texas A&M were consistently great and helped hide the drab that often was the Aggies’ offense, and his schematics will hold Hilinski in check better than Nebraska was able to, but Duke is still in need of major work after going 10-25 the past three seasons, so Northwestern pulls away late in this one to start 2022 with back-to-back wins.
Sam Richardson: Northwestern 31, Duke 24
Before Duke played Temple, this game seemed a bit easier for the Wildcats. But last week in Durham, the Blue Devils put up quite a strong performance against an admittedly weak Temple side. Duke’s athleticism on offense shined though, and against a Wildcats team that seemed slow in zone coverages up the middle, I can see Riley Leonard and co. take advantage of the ‘Cats. However, the Wildcats' secondary can hopefully remain strong and repeat their second-half performance from Dublin. On the other side of the ball, Northwestern’s offense boosted their value considerably against Nebraska, with their offensive line improving from last season. Hilinski proved he can be a strong system quarterback, and Malik Washington should build off his strong start (8 receptions for 97 yards). The backfield duo of Porter and Hull will complement the passing attack well, and the Wildcats’ offense should hum along against Duke. So long as there is no significant regression against a weaker second opponent, I expect the ‘Cats to win. But the Blue Devils' offense can play, and they certainly have the ability to break the 9.5-point spread set by Vegas.
Jason Boué: Northwestern 28, Duke 21
Many of my colleagues have noted Duke’s performance against Temple last week, and while putting up 30 points is an impressive feat (especially when it is a rare occurrence for the ‘Cats), Temple is a very bad team. One could argue that Northwestern’s win over Nebraska was also a win over a very bad team, an argument that I might even endorse, but I believe Nebraska is different, funnier kind of bad. Northwestern has shown that they are gritty, highlighted by two 11-point comebacks in Week 0, while Duke has yet to be tested. This resilience will allow Northwestern to prevent falling victim to another 21-point first-quarter deficit like last year. Quarterback troubles plagued last year’s loss to the Blue Devils, but Ryan Hilinski seems much more capable in this system. His quarterback performance coupled with the dynamic backfield of Hull and Porter should lead the ‘Cats to victory in their home opener. It’s an odd sight when Northwestern has a better offense than defense, but fans will have to adjust, and this offense should make that transition quite easy.
Andrew Katz: Northwestern 27, Duke 14
Like many, I was highly skeptical of the ‘Cats and predicted that they would lose to Nebraska in their season opener. It seems I forgot it is an even year. In the second half, Northwestern’s offense excelled against the Cornhuskers and Ryan Hilinski played his best game as a Wildcat. For me, Pat Fitzgerald, Hilinski, and the rest of the team have inspired an unusual optimism and I am confident that the ‘Cats will repeat their success in their home opener. With two weeks to prepare, Northwestern will move to 2-0 in convincing fashion.
Emma Manley: Northwestern 26, Duke 25
Though I predicted a Dublin win, I was thoroughly shocked when it happened, and I’m going into this game with some more optimism, but the same hesitation. Duke was able to hold Temple to less than 200 yards (the last time they did that was in 2017 against Northwestern), but it’s an even year and with over 314 yards for Hilinski alone against the Huskers, there’s a big difference between the ‘Cats and Temple. The challenge for Northwestern will be possession, with Riley Leonard not even having a single turnover-worthy play. Northwestern’s defense is going to have to focus on damage control against Duke’s offense. The Wildcat’s three turnovers two weeks ago shaped the game, but it looks like that may not be the case this week. It’ll be close and will likely come down to extra point kicks (see: three missed Blue Devil field goals). Northwestern may get ahead, but they’re going to need to work hard to stay there.
Mac Stone: Northwestern 35, Duke 21
I’m seeing a common trend among InsideNU writers when predicting this game. Almost everyone says it’s going to be close, so naturally, I’m fading that. The ‘Cats had a bye week after their antics in Dublin, which should give them time to wake back up and avoid any possible trap against the Blue Devils. People seem to think that Duke might be better than expected after beating Temple 30-0 last weekend, but I think the real story there is that Temple is just horrible. If Ryan Hilinski is given the opportunity to air the ball out, NU should be able to walk away with this one somewhat easily. Let’s not overthink it, ‘Cats win by two touchdowns (and cover)!
Brendan Preisman: Northwestern 30, Duke 23
This game would be a lot easier to predict were it not for Duke’s 30-0 shellacking of Temple last Saturday. However, as impressive as that 30-point victory is, one can make the argument that it should have been by a lot more, especially given that Temple’s offense was atrocious (179 total yards, 5 of 14 on 3rd downs, 2 turnovers). If Duke couldn't even crack 35 points with that level of defensive prowess and a highly efficient game from Riley Leonard, they certainly won't be able to against a much better team in the Wildcats. While it’s unlikely that Northwestern’s offense will be racking up as many yards as they did against Nebraska, the lines on both sides of the ball were fantastic in Dublin-and line play is something that can easily swing a game. If the defense is able to avoid giving up big passing plays and maybe force an interception or two from Leonard, the Hilinski-Hull backfield should garner enough quality drives to keep the ‘Cats unbeaten.
Myles Gilbert: Northwestern 27, Duke 17
The ‘Cats are going to have the Blue Devils' number this time around. On the heels of a statement victory in Ireland and an early bye week, NU will be refreshed and ready to battle Duke at Ryan Field. The men up front will propel them once more to another victory, with the O-line opening up running lanes and buying Hilinski time to drop some dimes. The defense will give the offense some good field position that they will be sure to capitalize on. ‘Cats roll (hopefully not in front of an empty student section).
Zain Bando: Northwestern 28, Duke 17
Northwestern shocked the nation with a convincing win against Nebraska in Ireland. To continue the season on the right foot, the Wildcats have to upend the Blue Devils’ Saturday at Ryan Field. A mistake-free day from Ryan Hilinski, along with a strong defensive presence, will certainly help that cause. Expect for NU not to trail at all and force a late turnover to put the game on ice.
Gavin Dorsey, Ben Chasen, Jason Boué, Emma Manley, Myles Gilbert: 1-0
Sarah Effress, Bradley Locker, Iggy Dowling, Didi Jin, John Olsen, John Ferrara, Sophia Vlahakis, Andrew Katz, Jake Mozarsky, Zain Bando, Dan Olinger, Mac Stone, Brendan Preisman, Sam Richardson: 0-1