Media 2017 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats:
Breaking from the Heinz Line

We're wrapping up summer, and the annual college football magazines have appeared at the newsstands, offering their picks and predictions.  The slate of previews typically begins with Athlon and Lindy's and concludes with the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its official front runner.

HailToPurple has tracked the media previews and predictions since the 2000 preseason, and regular readers might be familiar with the HTP "Heinz Line": most media attempts to rank NU nationally in the preseason used gravitate toward 57th place, until recently.

The lid might be on, permanently.

Here is how media picks for NU have played out since summer 2000:

(Based on average preseason national rankings by Lindy's, Athlon, Phil Steele, ESPN bloggers,
The Sporting News, and several other media sources)

Last year the media actually nailed a prediction during a season when NU finished well above the Heinz Line. Since 2010, media predictions have underpredicted, overpredicted, and come out accurate nearly the same amount.

The Recap of the 2016 Predictions

For 2016, the media licked its wounds from seriously underestimating NU in 2015, but they did not over-correct; instead, most prognosticators took an even-handed approach to assessing the 'Cats.

The media came very close to predicting NU's performance. Most sources actually had a nearly spot-on assessment. The closest, for the second year running, was, which called the 6-6 regular season record, and a loss to WMU.

There was no "dog" pick last year, although the Orlando Sentinel was perhaps too optimistic in its predictions.

The 2017 List

During every summer since 2000, has posted a recap page of what the larger 'Net and print publications predict for NU.  Here are the
2017 Wildcat predictions so far.
  • Since it holds the crown for most accurate prediction for the past two years, let's begin with In its power rankings of the B1G, CFN places NU in fifth overall, second only to Wisconsin in the West. "The combination of Clayton Thorson at quarterback and Justin Jackson at running back is one of the best in the league. BUT... it's frickin' Northwestern, so it could lay an egg a few times this season and get it all over my face." The power rankings are very different from CFN's predicted finish, which has NU in a lousy fifth spot in the West, behind Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. CFN predicts that the 'Cats will run its non-conference slate, and then lose their next three games (including their first road trip to Maryland), finishing with an embarrassing loss to Illinois. CFN then ranks NU 35th in the nation. A perplexing view.
  • Moving on to the print picks, Lindy's is one of the most overreactive when it comes to NU: after a bad season, the mag will expect similarly awful results from NU the next season, and it will be just as bullish after a good year. In the wake of NU's bowl win vs. Pitt, Lindy's now ranks NU 21st in the nation, and second in the B1G West, behind the Badgers. Lindy's has tabbed Jackson All-Big Ten and the seventh best running back in the nation (no Heisman mention, though). Lindy's is really high on the Thorson/Jackson combo: "on paper, this could be Pat Fitzgerald's best team."
  • The second major national preview magazine is Athlon, and it takes a dimmer view of the 'Cats, placing them 41st in the nation (but still second in the West, trailing Wisconsin). Athlon predicts NU will go 8-4, 5-4 in the B1G, and will play Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. It ranks NU's running backs 11th in the country and the D-backs 16th. Jackson is on the magazine's Heisman watch list.
  • In his preseason mag Phil Steele is aligned with rest of the print sources, spotting NU second in the B1G West behind the Badgers. Steele ranks NU 28th overall, ahead of UCLA and Tennessee, and just behind NC State and BYU.
  • Internet statistician and ranking mogul James Howell has been offering his rankings and game predictions for many years.  For the 2017 pre-season his power rankings slot NU at 47th, good for ninth in the B1G.
  • Internet source The Power Rank builds a predictive model for all Div. I teams. For 2017, The Power Rank ranks NU 32nd, a significant jump from last year's 58th spot. The Power Rank is high on Iowa, placing the Hawkeyes (and, of course, the Badgers) above NU, slotting NU third in the West and sixth in the B1G overall.
  • The Sports Formulator, another model-based Internet source, is also more optimistic about NU than it was last year. The site ranks NU 40th, and-- like nearly all sources-- puts NU second in the B1G West. The Sports Formulator's models predict that NU will wind up with a 9-3 record, with an impressive 6-3 conference mark. According to the site, that should land NU in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
  • Another Internet prognosticator is Mike DeSimone, who has NU in 32nd, just above North Carolina.
  • Among newspapers, the Orlando Sentinelis one that provides a detailed preseason rank of all teams. The Sentinel ranks NU 29th, second in the West, and fifth overall in the B1G. "The deep, experienced Wildcats should be in the mix for a Big Ten division title."
  • Bill Connelly posts on SB Nation, and his preseason B1G power rankings placed NU at 38th nationally, sixth in the B1G, and third in the West, behind the Badgers and Nebraska (Iowa lags at 52nd nationally). SB Nation's Jason Kirk posts preseason bowl projections, and he has picked NU to play in the Music City Bowl vs. Texas A&M.
  • The Sporting News has been absorbed in 2017 by an older football print publication, Street & Smith's. S&S has a somewhat mixed pick for NU in '17: the 'Cats are only 4th in the B1G West (behind Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska), but the magazine also ranks NU third on its list of the most underrated teams in the country. S&S only ranks the top 25 teams; with its place in the B1G West, NU didn't make the list. Justin Jackson is on S&S's (rather long) list of Heisman hopefuls, and the publication predicts that NU will play in the Holiday Bowl vs. Utah. 
  • CBS Sports released its national preseason ranking on August 26, and the Tiffany network placed NU at a relatively high 30th, good for fifth in the conference and second in the West. CBS's Jerry Palm projects that NU will face Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.
  • USA Today's Paul Myerberg made predictions for the win-loss records of all 130 FBS teams. Myerberg predicts that NU will finish behind Wisconsin and Nebraska in the West, with an overall record of 8-4, and a B1G record of 5-4.
  • The major polls have been released for the preseason, and NU is unranked. The 'Cats pulled in 25 points in both the AP and Coaches Polls.