clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Inside NU’s 2023 football season predictions

A little less than ideal...

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

It is officially game week, and Northwestern football is back after arguably the most turbulent offseason in the history of the program. With kickoff in Piscataway just six days away, our staff embarks on its yearly tradition of predicting NU’s record. Needless to say, the consensus is pretty gloomy. Comment below how you think the ‘Cats will do!

Iggy Dowling: 3-9 (1-8 B1G)

For anyone wondering, the conference win comes against Rutgers. What would be more Northwestern than coming into Piscataway and winning fresh off the most turbulent offseason in the history of the program? Ultimately, though, it really doesn’t need to be said how much of a struggle this season should be. A 1-11 team lost four of its stars to the NFL and a slew of players to the portal... and that’s not even touching the month of July. If David Braun can muster together an on-field product that’s more respectable than 2022’s, then I’d call this season a success, and that’s no shot at anyone. Northwestern just doesn’t have the talent nor the depth to compete in the Big Ten right now. Maybe Ben Bryant works a miracle, and maybe the team unity that some of the players have said stemmed from this summer manifests itself on the field, but it seems like a massive longshot.

Bradley Locker: 2-10 (0-9 B1G)

This record prediction is about what I would have forecast even before everything that happened from July onward. Northwestern, which won just one game a year ago (and hasn’t prevailed in America since Oct. 2021), loses four NFL Draft picks and more significant contributors through the transfer portal. This team should experience some slight positive regression — maybe because of more stability at quarterback or the jolt of an interim coach, a phenomenon that seems to come true a decent amount — but still lacks the talent necessary to be competitive in a good Big Ten. I’m particularly concerned about the offensive and defensive lines, which will be without Peter Skoronski, Adetomiwa Adebawore and a slew more veterans. Wins against UTEP and Howard feel like the most likely, despite NU’s woes against lower levels of competition last year. Maybe there’s a chance for upsets versus Rutgers, Purdue and Nebraska, but it will likely be another long season in Evanston, a location which is now mired in controversy.

David Gold: 4-8 (2-7 B1G)

I’m taking the ‘Cats to defeat Rutgers, UTEP, Howard and Purdue. I would not be surprised if I have the highest win total for 2023, but even still, I have low expectations to the Wildcats. After going 1-11 and losing six key players, regression was likely. Add in a massive hazing scandal that saw a 17-year head coach canned just weeks before training camp, and it is the perfect recipe for a disastrous season. Northwestern’s roster is weaker than it was a year ago, but the only reason I have an increase in wins is the quarterback. I have a lot more faith in Ben Bryant, who I assume will be the Week One starter, to be halfway decent. NU had the third-most interceptions in the Power Five last season, so the bar for No. 2 is on the floor. That is my motto for the Wildcats this season, after a horrible 365 days both on and off the field: It can’t possibly get any worse. Right?

John Ferrara: 3-9 (1-8 B1G)

Give me wins against Rutgers, UTEP and Howard, though believing the ‘Cats can start 2-0 might be a bit optimistic on my end. Last year, I fell victim to the post-Week Zero hype, when a well-rounded win against Nebraska in Ireland was enough to rile up myself and the Twitter faithful into thinking NU wouldn’t be half-bad in 2022. Boy, were we wrong in every way. I still am predicting a slight improvement on last season’s one-win outcome because I think Northwestern has added some difference makers at important positions (see: Ben Bryant, A.J. Henning). More than that, I’m a David Braun believer. The jump from the FCS to the FBS is no joke, sure, but Braun dominated at the subdivision level. His presser at Big Ten Media Days was enough to convince me he’ll be able to get his guys to buy in despite what adversity they’ve faced this off-season. Call me crazy, but a two-win improvement could be in the cards.

Ethan Segall: 3-9 (2-7 B1G)

This team is incredibly difficult to project. Not only are we likely to see a first-time head coach and a new quarterback at the helm, but the rest of the roster looks vastly different than last year. There are a few reasons to think the team is due to improve from last season’s one-win campaign (improved quarterback play and consistency, health luck likely to be more favorable, reasonable schedule). At the same time, it’s fair to expect some growing pains with a new coach and the departure of a handful of NFL players. Ultimately, I’m betting on the chaos of the Big Ten West, projecting not just a win against Rutgers, but also an upset against either Minnesota, Nebraska or Maryland. Yes, that does mean I’m projecting a loss to either UTEP or Howard, which should not come as that much of a surprise after losses to Miami (OH) and Southern Illinois a season ago.

Patrick Winograd 3-9 (1-8 B1G)

When taking an initial look at Northwestern’s 2023 schedule, I saw the potential for a four-win season if everything went right. And although four wins is nothing to write home about, that would have been a three-win improvement from 2021. After everything unfolded over the course of the summer, however, I think this team might have too many distractions floating around it to get that far, despite the potential impact from the newcomers (coaches and players alike). I, probably like many others, am still giving the ‘Cats two non-conference victories over UTEP and Howard.

In terms of the other game the ‘Cats take, I think it is highly unlikely that Northwestern can pull off an upset in another team’s stadium, but the ‘Cats also do not have a home game against one of the weaker Big Ten teams until their final home game against Purdue (unless you think Minnesota or Maryland are “weak” teams). Having said that, Purdue won the Big Ten West last year, so it is odd to think of it as a weak team. But both Wisconsin and Iowa are ranked in the AP preseason top 25, and with both Minnesota and Illinois in the others receiving votes category, the projected bottom three of the Big Ten West (with this very odd justification) is Nebraska, Purdue and Northwestern. Northwestern’s best chance to win a Big Ten game is against Purdue, and I think the ‘Cats will pull it off and end the season at 3-9, with that lone conference victory.

Adam Beck 3-9 (2-7 B1G)

Taking into account all the NFL talent Northwestern lost in the offseason mixed with its schedule, it’s no surprise to say the ‘Cats are going to struggle. Duke, Penn State and Minnesota are all challenging games at the beginning of the season and closing out the year with the stretch of Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois isn’t much better. But sprinkled through the tough times, there’s a path to three wins. It all starts with a Week One victory against Rutgers, another Big Ten foe with low expectations for 2023. Winning back-to-back games to start the season off seems unlikely, so let’s say the ‘Cats lose against UTEP at home, but a game like Howard in the middle of the year should be a second tally in the win column. At the end of the day, this is Big Ten football, and in the cold crazy months to end the year anything is possible. With David Braun handling the reins, Northwestern steals a win from somebody it probably shouldn’t like Nebraska, Maryland or Purdue and fans of the purple and white go home happy after tripling their win total from a season ago.

Brendan Preisman: 2-10 (0-9 B1G)

Forget everything that happened after the calendar flipped to July. Take yourself back to early May, about a week or so after the NFL Draft. In that draft, Northwestern lost its best overall player, its leading rusher (who also doubled as the team’s second-most prolific receiver), its best sack artist and fumble-causer and its best defensive back. It was the most picks Northwestern produced in a single draft since 1985. And if that wasn’t bad enough, all that production departed from a team that lost to Southern Illinois and Miami at home. Now add that to the fact that David Braun has never coordinated — much less coached — a game at the FBS level, and the fact that the team lost 11 players to the transfer portal, and you’re left with a recipe for a struggle of a season. UTEP and Howard are probably the most likely wins, but as we saw last year, even non-power schools can come away with wins at Ryan Field. At least on the bright side, 2-10 is (somehow) an improvement.

Jeremy Song: 3-9 (1-8 B1G)

With four players lost to the 2022 NFL Draft and many transfers that have left the program, one may think this new Northwestern team has been depleted of talent. However, it’s also important to consider the new additions, the most significant being Ben Bryant. With 2,731 passing yards and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3:1 last season with Cincinnati, the transfer is poised to take the reins of this offense and be the catalyst to improve the measly 13.75 points per game scored by the ‘Cats. I believe this will be enough to beat teams such as UTEP and Howard, and might even lead to a surprising victory over Rutgers. However, against the other nine Power Five teams, I can’t envision a team that experienced so much turmoil in the offseason (coaching changes, lost talent) outperforming these established teams. In my opinion, wins over the two non-power opponents this season is a win in my books, and a win over Rutgers or anybody else in the schedule would just be the cherry on top.

John Olsen: 0-12 (0-9 B1G)

And it would be no less than what this program deserves.

Natalie Wells 2-10 (0-9 B1G)

Two wins are better than one, right? The ‘Cats enter the 2023 season in a state of flux. After losing Peter Skoronski, Evan Hull and others to the NFL, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian will oversee a completely revamped squad. Ben Bryant steps in at quarterback, touting a 35-to-14 TD-INT ratio over his last two seasons at Eastern Michigan and Cincinnati. His presence will be a marked improvement over last year’s revolving door of signal-callers. Wide receiver A.J. Henning will be thrust into the spotlight after contributing primarily as a return man at Michigan. Interim head coach David Braun led North Dakota State’s defense to two FCS titles, but can he survive the leap to both a new subdivision and leadership position? I think the ‘Cats steal wins against UTEP and Howard, but the relative success stops there. Though it is their best chance to notch a B1G win, it feels overly optimistic to predict a Week One victory at Rutgers considering the amount of turnover and overall chaos that characterized the offseason.