Lowes Line


Nevada Preview and Prediction

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Nevada Wolf Pack at Northwestern Wildcats
Date: Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, 2:30 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (-24)


Hey, folks, welcome back. It's college football season again. For only the third time in school history, Northwestern starts its season on the heels of a bowl victory, following the win over Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl in December of last year.

It's hard to believe that this will be the 12th season at the helm of the Wildcats for Coach Fitz. Even harder to believe might be that as much as folks like to get on him for too much loyalty to assistants, not being aggressive enough in spots, etc., he has averaged 7 wins a year for 11 years. Think about that. How expectations have changed. For many of us, 7 wins was an undergraduate career, and for over a decade it's become an expectation and par for the course for one season.

What should we expect for 2017? I'll put it right out there: less than 8-4 would have to be considered a disappointment. Aside from this weekend's home opener against Nevada, the 'Cats go to Duke before hosting Bowling Green in the non-conference schedule. NU takes trips to Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, and an initial trip to Maryland since they joined the conference. The 'Cats get Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Purdue at home. Getting ahead of myself for a moment, should NU run the table in the non-conference schedule, their Big Ten conference opener at Camp Randall will give the winner the inside track to the B1G West title.

Defensively, I like the line up front and I like the secondary. Senior defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster is a name you'll be hearing a bit this season, and with good reason. He received the coveted #1 jersey, and is just a beast. Alongside Lancaster at defensive end is sophomore Joe Gaziano, who played in all 13 games last year and had 4.5 sacks. The secondary is also a point of strength, especially at safety, where seniors
Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro are as good as they come, full of athleticism and capable of making big plays. The linebackers are a little bit more of a question mark, and redshirt freshman Paddy Fisher gets thestarting nod in Week 1 in the middle. He's joined by senior Brett Walsh and junior Nate Hall.

On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest story is senior Justin Jackson, who comes into his final season with a load of accolades. He led the Big Ten in rushing last year, and is the first back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his first three seasons. Jackson is 356 yards away from being NU's all-time leading rusher, and it's possible he could end up in the Top 10 for career yards of all backs in FBS history.

When NU's offense isn't riding Justin Jackson, junior QB Clayton Thorson will be focus. Thorson had a significant improvement from his first season to his second last year, and if he continues to develop, NU could definitely put up some numbers. Thorson threw for 22 TDs against 9 INTs as a sophomore, but had the benefit of Austin Carr as a target, who has since graduated. Filling the shoes of the best WR in the conference won't be easy, but junior Flynn Nagel is the choice to emerge as the #1 target. Nagel had 40 receptions last year and has big play capability, but could become a solid third down possession receiver as well. NU fans will be interested in seeing how much of Oregon graduate transfer Jalen Brown we get
to see. Brown comes to Evanston with two years of eligibility, and while not listed with the first team in Week 1, has the potential to become a big play option for Thorson.

NU returns 16 starters and should be poised to have a really successful season if they can stay healthy. As previously mentioned, the linebacker corps is the group I worry about the most. The capability of the secondary leads one to believe the 'Cats will play well against the pass, but teams with strong running games like Wisconsin and Penn State could give NU problems. It will be interesting to see how the run defense develops. If safety Igwebuike again leads the team in tackles as he did last season, it could spell problems.

So what to say of the Week 1 opponent, Nevada? Not much, really. Let's face it, this is a game NU should win, although the 0-2 start last year gives us pause. No disrespect to Nevada, but we're just not giving them any respect. Nevada went 5-7 last year, but was one of Purdue's three wins on the season. The Wolf Pack hired former Arizona State wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to be their coach, the first head coaching position for Norvell. Fitz has had a solid record in season openers, although he's dropped two of the past three, last year against a good Western Michigan team and in 2014 against Cal. This one should be different, however, and the question is whether NU covers.

The biggest games on NU's schedule come in late September and early October, so hopefully the 'Cats get things moving early in the non-conference slate to iron out the kinks. If history is a guide, this won't be the case. NU comes out slow, gets the win with some big plays by Justin Jackson and the defense, but doesn't cover. They do, however, to quote Fitz, go 1-0 this week.

PICK: Northwestern 31, Nevada 10. Take the Wolf Pack and the points.

Go 'Cats!


The Lowes Line is an e-mailed description of NU's next football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome and how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict.  Our good friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.  The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat, GallopingGrapes, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.  For the 2017 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!