Northwestern football is back in action today, and so are Inside NU’s game-by-game predictions. The writer with the best overall record on the year will win $20 worth of Buffalo Joe’s, which adds a little flavor to this. The contending field could narrow right away, as our staff is fairly split on what will happen at SHI Stadium this afternoon. The one thing everyone can agree on? This should be close.
Iggy Dowling: Northwestern 16, Rutgers 13
This is a program that has built its brand off winning games it wasn’t supposed to, and one that has routinely lost games inexplicably. Well, considering the offseason this team went through, it cannot possibly get more Northwestern than this. Nothing like winning your first North American game in 687 days by beating the team you last faced... 687 days ago. But seriously, I think NU’s defense will be able to put together a good game because Gavin Wimsatt and the Rutgers passing attack won’t be able to exploit the Wildcat linebackers in coverage. They’ll get to do what they do best — stuff the run — and Ben Bryant will play a mistake-free game to come away with the win to open the Braun Era.
Bradley Locker: Rutgers 24, Northwestern 21
There’s a part of me that definitely thinks Northwestern can win this game. After all, the Wildcats seemed incredibly prepared and executed well against Nebraska in the opener last year; plus, this team is clearly motivated to go out, play and succeed after being invigorated by David Braun. However, this game might feel more like a mid-year contest rather than a unique beginning (as playing in Dublin provided), negating some of the aura of a fresh start. Despite a pretty close affair, Northwestern’s largely nascent coaching staff and new configuration of faces experiences growing pains and narrowly misses out on a win. I don’t really trust either of these teams, but Kirk Ciarrocca has experience beating Northwestern on the ground — that could very well continue against a below-average defensive line, and be just enough for RU to control the clock and prevail.
David Gold: Northwestern 24, Rutgers 13
There is only one lock in sports: when a team plays its first game under an interim head coach, it is going to win. The Wildcats, after an inexplicable offseason, will rally around David Braun to win his first game at the helm of the program. Ben Bryant will get the start and find both Cam Johnson and A.J. Henning for scores, quickly displaying the new additions to NU this offseason. The ‘Cats’ defense will do just enough to hold off Gavin Wimsatt and the Scarlet Knights offense, which already lacks talent, and give Northwestern the win. The Wildcats are not a good football team, but Rutgers is even worse.
Ethan Segall: Rutgers 15, Northwestern 10
You thought you missed Big Ten football, huh? Think again. For reasons unbeknownst to me, this game was deemed deserving of a Sunday afternoon primetime slot, perfectly situated for the entire nation to soak in a matchup of what many prognosticators forecast to be the bottom two teams in the conference. To celebrate the occasion, I predict America will be treated to a defensive slugfest where the winning team kicks five field goals. On a more tangible level, I genuinely expect the team to come out with a fire in their belly and play hard in the first game of the David Braun era. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ‘Cats won this one, but after getting my hopes up last season, I’ve learned my lesson and am choosing to emotionally hedge by projecting a loss.
Jake Mozarsky: Rutgers 23, Northwestern 20
On Pound the Talk, I had a higher score prediction, but after realizing these offenses were two of the worst in the Big Ten last year, I can’t expect a slugfest tomorrow. While I do think Northwestern will be better with Ben Bryant at the helm, the biggest X-factor tomorrow is Northwestern’s defensive line against Rutgers’ rush attack, led by new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca; Ciarrocca led Minnesota to over 300 yards on the ground last year when the Gophers thrashed the ‘Cats, and tomorrow, this will be key. While the Scarlet Knights do not have a top rushing threat, they get it done as a group, and Northwestern loses a close one to open the season.
John Olsen: Rutgers 12, Northwestern 10
I legitimately could not name a single player on the Scarlet Knights’ roster, but I still have more faith in those (as far as I’m concerned) NPCs than this Northwestern team.
Ascher Levin: Northwestern 21, Rutgers 17
Even though it has been a turbulent offseason for the Wildcats, I have them coming out on top against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights had one of the worst offenses in college football last year, and their starter for the last five games, Gavin Wimsatt, struggled with accuracy: only completing 44.8% of his passes. This matchup is favorable for Northwestern’s defense since they will be able to focus more heavily on run defense. On the offensive side of the ball, transfers Ben Bryant and A.J. Henning will play an important role. Northwestern struggled immensely with turnovers last year, and Bryant’s decision-making will greatly improve their numbers in the turnover battle. Henning’s ability to stretch the field and create explosive plays will open up other facets of the offense. While Rutgers’ defense is their strength, Bryant, Henning and the rest of the starters will do just enough for Northwestern to start the season 1-0.
Natalie Wells: Rutgers 23, Northwestern 20
All eyes are on the offseason transfers — A.J. Henning will look to become Ben Bryant’s favorite target on NU’s new-look offense. I think Henning will notch a rushing touchdown, flaunting the shiftiness that earned him an All-Big Ten selection as a return man at Michigan. Bryant should play a conservative, if not uninspiring, brand of football as he seeks to put together solid drives during his debut in the purple and white. But Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt has impressed his coaches this offseason, showing growth after a rough five games as a starter in 2022. I think the Scarlet Knights will have the last laugh, as sophomore kicker Jai Patel will boot the game-winning field goal. Interim head coach David Braun’s tenure with the ‘Cats will begin with a heart-wrenching loss.
Ashleigh Provoost: Northwestern 14, Rutgers 13
It’s hard to have solid expectations for either of these teams; both come into the 2023 season with coaching changes and a bit of uncertainty. I see this as a low-scoring game, relying mostly on defensive play. I don’t have faith in either of these offenses, to be honest–I see maybe an opening drive TD from Rutgers and then Wimsatt struggling to lead his team into NU territory from there. Hopefully, Ben Bryant can take Northwestern down the field for two scores, and satisfy all of my hopes and dreams by being able to connect with A.J. Henning in the end zone for both. I think this is one of the more winnable games of the Wildcats’ schedule. Although it may be a close one, I can see them eking out this win.
Brendan Preisman: Rutgers 17, Northwestern 10
If you liked Nebraska-Minnesota, you are going to love Northwestern-Rutgers. Both of these teams were extremely poor offensively last year, and growing pains are likely to continue for both squads. Rutgers’ guy under center is Gavin Wimsatt, a junior who played sparingly last year with six starts. And while he’s impressed the coaches, he’s got a long way to go to become a great quarterback, as last year’s 45% completion percentage can attest. This is going to be a slog of a game likely decided by turnovers, and considering Northwestern was a -18 in that department last season, that doesn’t bode well for the Wildcats. I think it’ll be a tight game, but ultimately, there are just too many questions about Northwestern for the team to start the David Braun era with a win.
Sammy Krimstein: Rutgers 20, Northwestern 17
The first game of the David Braun era carries plenty of importance for the Wildcats. As they look to move past the controversy that shook the college football world during the offseason, a Week One win would be crucial for setting the season’s tone. Their opening matchup against Rutgers is certainly winnable, but I have the Wildcats coming up just short. Although both teams struggled mightily on offense in 2022, a strength for Rutgers was their rushing attack, despite a midseason injury to lead back Samuel Brown V. With Brown back in the mix in 2023, complemented by Kyle Monangai, who performed well in Brown’s absence last season, Rutgers’ run game matches up great against a Northwestern run defense that finished dead last in the Big Ten a year ago. Still, Wildcat fans should expect to see improvement offensively – hopefully some big plays from the notable newcomers Ben Bryant, A.J. Henning and Cam Johnson.