Lowes Line
2004 Posted


The Complete 2004 Lowes Line Predictions

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 2004 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!

TCU Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Northwestern (0-0) at Texas Christian (0-0)
Thursday, September 2, 8:30 p.m. CDT
NU plus 7.5

Welcome back to the Lowes Line for another year of Northwestern football.  The optimism that accompanies a new season is upon us.  And there are several reasons to feel good:  Eighteen returning starters.  A quarterback with two years of experience under his belt.  An offensive line as big as a house.  Certain readers of the Lowes Line making hotel reservations for New Year’s Eve in Pasadena.

Northwestern ended last season reasonably well, capturing four of their final six games down the stretch to get into the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, a contest they ended up losing to Bowling Green, 28-24, to finish with a 6-7 record.  Although the ‘Cats have a large part of the team back, lost to graduation was the star of last year’s team, tailback Jason Wright, who was a large part of NU’s rushing offense being ranked an impressive 14th in the country.   Filling Wright’s shoes in the backfield will be senior Noah Herron, who saw a good deal of time as Wright’s backup last season and should get some decent running room behind an experienced offensive line that averages six-four and 310 pounds. 

The ground game should be solid, but the passing game still has a few question marks.  The loss of dependable wideouts Kunle Patrick and Roger Jordan will hurt.   Replacing them in the starting lineup are senior Ashton Aikens and junior Mark Philmore.  At the helm of the offense is junior quarterback Brett Basanez, who had what many would call a sophomore slump last year.  After a freshman season that had people in Evanston excited about what he could become, Basanez had a disappointing season in this writer’s opinion, throwing for 300 yards less than he did as a freshman.  More telling were his 12 INTs against only 4 TDs last year.  For the ‘Cats to be successful this season, Basanez needs to step up and show that he has confidence throwing the football.  NU finished 103rd in the nation last year in passing offense, and against a solid schedule of teams that can shut down the run, NU needs to get the air attack in gear.

As the saying goes, the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement -- words Coach Walker hopefully drilled into the defensive squad during the ‘Cats’ preseason camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  NU surrendered over 400 yards a game last year, and was only mildly better stopping the run than the pass.   The defensive line should be the heart of this unit, with a lot of experience returning, specifically in the form of seniors Colby Clark and Luis Castillo.  At linebacker, hard hitting Tim McGarigle returns, and sophomore Adam Kadela steps in the middle to take the place of Pat Durr, the emotional leader of the team from a year ago.  In the secondary, the cornerbacks need to be playmakers.  Senior Marvin Ward, who seems to have been around since Francis Peay strolled the Evanston sidelines, is at left corner, while junior Jeff Backes is on the right side.  Both of these two are fairly reliable, but they need to overcome their lack of height with athletic ability and keep the big names of the conference, like Braylon Edwards of Michigan and Taylor Stubblefield of Purdue, out of the end zone.

Hurting the cause will be that defensive tackle Loren Howard suffered an injured left ankle over the weekend, and is not expected to play against TCU. Contrary to what the company line coming out of Camp Walker may be, if Howard is to miss significant time it will be a big loss, as the first team All-Big Ten defensive end was the anchor of the NU line last year.

TCU comes off an impressive 11-2 season from a year ago. They could actually better that record in a weak Conference USA this year, and will be looking to get by NU as the first step on a much-desired journey to the BCS in January, a trip they felt they were wrongfully denied last year.  Junior Tye Gunn gets the nod at quarterback to start against the ‘Cats, but senior Brandon Hassell is likely to see time behind center throughout the game.  How ‘bout having a quarterback with a name like Gunn?  That just inspires confidence, not to mention a plethora of opportunities for the TCU play-by-play man:  “Gunn fires a bullet across the middle…”  “Gunn drops back seven steps and draws…” and of course, for the NRA-friendly, 2nd Amendment loving TCU fans gathering in New York this week, “Gunn doesn’t kill people, Horned Frogs do.”

The Frogs present a dual-horned attack at tailback, with both junior Lonta Hobbs and sophomore Robert Merrill handling the load.  TCU sports a very stingy defense, especially against the run, and as mentioned earlier, NU will need to throw the ball effectively to keep the Frogs honest and from putting eight in the box to stifle the Northwestern running game.

As for the remainder of the 2004 campaign, it’s no pushover.  The ‘Cats have five preseason Top 25 teams on the slate.  Northwestern hosts Arizona State and Kansas in September before the Big Ten schedule kicks off.  The ‘Cats travel this fall to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan, while Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois pay a visit to Evanston.  NU closes out the season in Oahu against the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii, following which they hope to be able to say aloha (that’s hello, by the way, not good-bye) to a bowl game.

Pick: Not the fairy tale we’d like:  ‘Cats kiss the frog, but get no prince – only warts.

TCU 31, Northwestern 17.  Take the Horned Frogs and lay the points.

ASU Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (0-1, 0-0) v. Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0, 0-0)
Saturday, September 11, 11:00 a.m. CDT
NU minus 1.5 (o/u 60)

I think it's safe to say that the Wildcats kept a few people awake past their bedtimes last week.  In an unexpected display of offensive fireworks, the purple defense eaters of NU and TCU combined for nearly 1,200 yards.  (Disclosure time--I missed the second quarter and the opening series of the third in order to watch the Leader of the Free World address the fans at MSG; and PurpleCatDog missed part of the fourth quarter because he was jumping around the back yard like Carly Patterson, trying to catch fireflies.)  NU's Brett Basanez (a no-brainer Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week) racked up 513 yards passing and matched his 2003 season total with 4 touchdowns.  Baz clearly benefited from a healthy receiving corps (Jonathan Fields, 202 yards/3 TDs; Mark Philmore, 131 yards; Ashton Aikens, 87 yards).  Even more importantly, the Wildcat offensive line looked dominant for most of the second half, and should be a key to keeping the 'Cats in games this season.  

The bad news, of course, is that the defense couldn't shut off the middle of the field.  Early in the first quarter, as he was introducing the starting defense for Northwestern, ESPN2 bobblehead Craig James noted that NU's secondary was clearly the strength of this year's defense.  Didn't sound right at the time, and it put the whammy on our DBs for the rest of the game.  Oh, by the way, NU's defensive line is going to really, really, really, really miss Loren Howard.  Really. 

After much debate, the Lowes Line staff is hesitant to lay the blame for last week's loss at the foot of kicker Brian Huffman (the Rick Ankiel of college placekickers), who went 1-for-6 on his field goal attempts.  To be fair, Huffman found himself thrust into the kicking role in mid-season last year, and despite several shaky performances he showed enough by the end of the year (and in the offseason) to win the confidence of the coaches.  If anything, you've got to question those coaches for uninspired playcalling in overtime.  Coach Walker still has faith in the kid; he said after the game: "It wasn't him kicking out there.  I don't know who it was, but it wasn't him."  Hey, maybe it was Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna, who missed three extra points in the Beavers' 1-point loss to co-national champ LSU on Saturday night, and who apparently took his long-lost twin's place in Wildcat purple last week in a zany scheme to reunite Randy Walker and OSU coach Mike Riley.  Then again, maybe not.

Enough about the TCU game.  On to the Sun Devils, whom NU haven't faced since the groovy 1970s, when Billy Beer was king and Arizona State was the "10" in the newly expanded PAC-10.  Last week, ASU beat the snot out of WAC cellar-dweller UTEP, 41-9.  QB Andrew Walter, who had a decent day himself last week, leading the Sun Devils to nearly 500 yards of offense, is ASU's primary weapon.  Like NU, Arizona State has a very good, experienced offensive line, as well as a quality back in sophomore Loren Wade, who like Noah Herron flashed his potential in a back-up role last season.  ASU has a star wide receiver, Derek Hagan, buts lacks a proven second or third option.  ASU will play a lot of single back, two tight end/H-back sets, giving Walter plenty of time to pick at NU's secondary.

Arizona State's defense looked good in dominating the Miners last week, but that's like saying the Maginot Line looked pretty impressive before being bypassed by panzer divisions tearing through the Ardennes in May 1940.  NU's offensive line should be able to push the Sun Devils up and down the field, and Baz should have plenty of time to choose among his weapons downfield.  Actually, ASU and NU will field very similar teams this weekend, making for a tough matchup to predict (hence the wobbly Vegas line, and the BIG over/under).  At the end of the day, Northwestern holds an edge in offensive weapons, and the Wildcats will enjoy all of the intangible advantages (home opener; already played a tough team, not a creampuff like UTEP).  The key for NU will be for the secondary, after being exposed last week, to improve its coverage in the middle of the field and to slow down Andrew Walter.  ASU's only intangible advantage is that they might have, by far, the best-looking cheer squad in college football.  Or so I hear…

Pick: Take the over, big time.  NU wins in a rock 'em, sock 'em shoot-out.

Northwestern 42, ASU 34.  Take the 'Cats and lay the points.

(Season to date:  1-0 straight-up, 0-1 ATS)

P.S.  At halftime of Saturday's game, NU will pay tribute to Wildcat gridiron great Otto Graham, who passed away shortly before the Motor City Bowl last December.  NU will also honor former ASU (and Arizona Cardinals) star Pat Tillman, and all uniformed military, veterans, firefighters and police.

Kansas Preview and Prediction
By Brian Ullery

Matchup: Kansas Jayhawks (2-0) vs.  Northwestern Wildcats (0-2)
Saturday, September 18, 1:00 p.m. CDT
none (mercifully)
NU minus 3

Once again the 'Cats have looked bad on national TV, as an uninspired team dug themselves such a big hole that they couldn't recover.  The game looked out of reach in the middle of the third quarter after the TD reception put the Devils up 24-7.  The comeback 'Cats again tried to make a game out of it scoring 2 TD's drawing to within 3, but as we all know, a big hit on NU's Terrell Jordan knocked the ball loose at the Sun Devils' 19 yard line.  ASU went on a time consuming 81 yard march that sealed the deal.  The Devils accumulated 431 yards of offense with 292 yards gained in the air (I have to think NU's safeties are making mental mistakes, as the middle of the field is just killing the 'Cats).
On to the Jayhawks.  Kansas, a basketball school that hasn't had a good football program in ages, seems to have started to put something together.  They are 2-0, beating Tulsa 21-3 in their opener and then pounding the consensus MAC favorite Toledo 63-14.  49 points were scored in the first half as the Jayhawks capitalized on Rocket mistakes, good field position and great special teams play.  They are led by sophomore QB Adam Barmann, who last week threw for 310 yards and 4 scores, while their young RB John Randle averaged over 5 yds/carry for 104 yards and two scores.  Their defense is opportunistic, forcing 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles which ultimately led to scoring drives.  It is hard to know what to make of this team.  Was Toledo overrated in what may be a down year for the MAC after their success last season?  Is the Big 12 down as a whole with K-State, Nebraska and Mizzou getting beat last week?  Hard to say, but let's talk about the home team.
Basanez lead the 'Cats with a solid day last week throwing for 228 yards without an interception.  The 'Cats' ground game became untracked last week as Noah Herron carried the ball 17 times for over 100 yards and a score.  The big question comes down to the defense and the coaching.  Walker called out his players in a post game interview stating, "I'm pretty astute at seeing into people's eyes and seeing what lies within them.  And that is why I'm concerned and upset. We have great kids and enough talent and ability to be a great team, but I'm not sure we are playing with enough passion to want to be a great team."  Whose fault is that?  Do you think Lou Holtz has ever said that about one of his teams or even Barnett for that matter?  I do think talent exists on this team, and maybe that was an attempt by the head coach at an eye-opener.   The 'Cats have to win this game if they even want to think about a bowl.  Even with a win, they will probably have to win in Hawaii over Thanksgiving to qualify given a rough Big 10 schedule.  You heard it here first, NO BOWL=WALKER WITH WALKING PAPERS. 
I think the plan works for one game...
Pick: NU wins one for the Gipper forcing the young Jayhawk QB into several key mistakes.
Northwestern 31, Kansas 24.  Take the 'Cats and lay the points.
(Season to date:  1-1 straight-up, 0-2 ATS)

Minnesota Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (1-2) vs. No. 19 Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-0)
Saturday, September 25, 8:00 p.m. CDT
NU plus 15.5

We here at the Lowes Line had big hopes for the 2004 Wildcats.  Following the bell-curve theory, this should be the good year (8-4) sandwiched in between the two sets of 3-9 and 6-6.  Unfortunately the 'Cats will be lucky to go 6-6 again this year.  How I long for the good ole days of '95 and '96 when the Wildcats could go and simply beat a team...
The 'Cats did pick-up their fist Victory last weekend beating Kansas 20-17.  The much maligned and injury riddled 'Cats defense stepped up and limited the Jayhawks to 17 points after they had averaged 42 in their first 2 games.  Basanez continues to look much better than he did last year and could be very good in the future.  NU's kicking, in the words of Ty Webb, is "not good."
This week the Wildcats must slow down the Gophers rushing tandem of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maloney who BOTH average over 125 yards per game.  This will be very difficult for the 'Cats who are banged-up on the D-line.  The lack of speed in the NU Defense will also be exposed on the carpet in the dome. 
Look for the Gophers to pop out of their hole and get out to an early lead.  The 'Cats will claw their way back into the game around halftime, but the Gophers will be too much for the 'Cats.

Pick: Gophers win going away.  Minn. 38, NU 21
Take the Gophers and the points.
(Season to date: 2 -1 straight-up, 1-1-1 ATS)

Ohio State Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (1-3, 0-1) vs. Sixth-Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0, 0-0)
Saturday, October 2, 2004, 8:00 pm CDT
NU plus 10.5

If the Lowes Line abided by the old adage, “If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all,” this column would be about 3 sentences long.  NU's defense is has more holes in it than Bushwood after Carl Spackler detonated all of that C-4.  And the Gophers thrived in every opening.

The 'Cats surrendered 454 yards of offense to those miserable rodents, 251 on the ground.  Minnesota boasted the Big Ten's top 2 running backs going into the game, and neither disappointed.  Maroney ran for 145 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run, on 24 carries, while Barber rolled up 86 yards on 22 carries.  Barber also threw a halfback pass for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter.  Granted, that smacks of poor sportsmanship on Minnesota's and Glen Mason's part.

The 'Cats' defense fared a little better defending the pass, though Bryan Caputo did toss two TD passes.  All-in-all, not a very impressive performance on the defensive side of the ball.  And it promises to get worse this week, as the defensive line might possibly be without David Thompson and David Ngene, who are listed as day-to-day with a hamstring and knee injury, respectively.

Overall, the Cats defense is giving up an average of 34.5 points per game and 440 yards per game.

NU’s offense was lackluster as well against the Minnesota defense.  Brett Basanez completed 50% of his passes for only 121 yards, no touchdowns, and one pick.  Backup Chris Malleo was 1 for 2 for six yards upon replacing Basanez after the latter left the game with an injury in the second half (Basanez suffered a sprained shoulder, but is probable for Saturday)  Noah Herron ran strong, gaining 78 yards on only 11 carries, and made 4 catches for 44 yards.  The real question is why a guy averaging 7 yards a carry (and 11 a catch) touched the ball a sum total of 15 times.

This season, however, Basanez has been playing better than the year previous, with 5 TD passes against only 2 interceptions.  A quarterback that makes few mistakes is always a key in the NU offense.  It seems that better play calling, to get the ball into the right hands, is in order.

Ohio State comes into this game a bit of a question mark.  In its last contest, September 18 against North Carolina State, OSU gained only 137 yards in total offense, and had to rely on kicker Mike Nugent, who outscored NC State himself, kicking a school-record-tying 5 field goals.  Three of those were from 46 yards or farther.  The OSU offense is led by first-year quarterback Justin Zwick, who has a 54% completion percentage and 4 TD passes.  He has shown his inexperience, though, in matching that with 4 interceptions.  On the ground, the Buckeyes feature Lydell Ross, who leads the team with 282 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Perhaps scarier for the Cats secondary is wideout Santonio Holmes, who is averaging over 20 yards per catch and has hit paydirt 3 times in three games.

The Buckeye defense has been stingy this year.  It is ranked 13th nationally and allows only 13.7 points per game.  It is led by linebacker A.J. Hawk, a first-team All Big Ten performer and the defensive MVP of last year’s Fiesta Bowl.  Against NC State, the OSU defense proved somewhat vulnerable to the run, surrendering 157 yards.  The Buckeyes did benefit from 5 turnovers.

The Buckeyes are ranked #6 in the country, but their results haven’t been impressive.  There is something to be said for winning ugly, but OSU needed a last-second, 55-yard field goal to beat Marshall, and 5 field goals against NC State to down the Wolfpack.  Perhaps this bodes well for the 'Cats, as they may be able to hang around until late and steal one.

This Lowes Line author doesn’t think so.  This will be a “get healthy” game for the Buckeyes, who need it before starting the meat of their Big Ten schedule.  The NU defensive line continues to suffer from the injury bug, most significantly standout Loren Howard, whose season-long absence has been fatal to the NU defense.  Look for OSU to pound the ball with Ross, who will have a 100-yard game.  And if NU creeps up to stop the run, Tressel will go over the top to Holmes to stretch the defense.

Defensively, look for OSU to bottle up the NU offense.  OSU has had an extra week to prepare for NU’s spread offense, and that will be time well spent.  The only hope that NU has is better play calling.  But, this week, it won't be enough.

Pick:   Poisonous Nuts 33, Mildcats 17.  Take the Buckeyes and lay the points.

Season to date:  Straight up, 3-1, against the spread 2-2

Indiana Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: Indiana Hoosiers (0-2, 2-3) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-1, 2-3)
Saturday, October 9, 2004, 11:00 a.m. CDT
NU (-10.5) (as of Monday afternoon)

Like some sort of Kennedy-esque conspiracy, NU's number 33 (Noah Herron) scored his third touchdown on his 33 rushing attempt to put the 'Cats up by 33 to 27 on the 33rd anniversary of the 'Cat's last defeat of OSU (Thanks to Matt Baron for pointing all of this out). This incredible event was followed closely in my household by my college roommate (and fellow Lowes Line author) calling me from a vacation in Florida with a voice hoarse from screaming (and I'm quite sure he was watching the game alone) and waking my 4 week old daughter...Hey, I was excited too, but I was hoping for 33 minutes of quiet at the time. What makes that win so incredible is that in addition to actually winning the game, the 'Cats NEVER trailed the Buckeyes. The defense forced five punts, one fumble and an interception in possibly their best effort over the past two seasons.

However, I wouldn't buy the Motor City Bowl tickets just yet. While the defense showed up big time, they still allowed 27 points to a suspect OSU offense that has been carried by its defense for the past several seasons. Reading the news reports in the local papers after the game revealed several quotes from NU coaches expounding the virtues of their game plan. Given that most of the NU coaches are Ohio natives, this author strongly suspects a "Chicago Bears strategy" (i.e. Reporter: "What are your goals for this year?" - Lovie Smith: "Beat the Packers"), which involves an exorbitant amount of off season time spent planning for one key game. In the end, I'm not sure I can blame them, but it doesn't bode well for the rest of the season. The 'Cats will continue to rely on outscoring opponents rather than stopping them, which leads to some exciting games, but likely losses to any team with a strong running game or strong passing game (God forbid they have both).

Next up are the Indiana Hoosiers, a team that still hasn't figured out why the ball isn't round or where the basket is located on the field. They've lost three in a row after beating Central Michigan (Go Chips!) and the vastly overrated Oregon. While they've scored approximately the same number of points per game as the 'Cats, their rushing yards per carry are 3.1 ypc (versus 4.6 for NU) and they only have 753 total passing yards (versus 1338 for NU). On defense, IU has given up 30 points per game, which includes limiting CMU to only 10 points in the first game of the season. Even more telling is the 6.2 ypc rushing they've allowed. NU, on the other hand, has given up 33 points per game, but against better non-conference teams. To summarize, statistically IU appears to compare well with NU until the quality of their opponents is compared to the opponents NU has faced.

All this suggests a probable win for the 'Cats. In their last five meetings, these two teams have combined for over 70 points per game. Look for another high scoring game as the NU defense capitalizes on an inept IU offense to keep the Hoosiers right around their season average (not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it will be enough). Basanez should exploit IU's focus on Herron to continue the development of the NU passing game. It could turn into a blowout if IU gets too far behind early and is forced to throw the ball (and thus more turnovers), but look for another nail biter going into the fourth quarter.

Pick: NU 34 - IU 27
Take the IU and the points (NU wins but not by 10.5) -- On a side note, I agree whole-heartedly with another Lowes Line author...the current line on this game is designed to fleece NU grads after last week's stunning victory. Don't be a sucker.

Lowes Line Record: Season 3-2 ATS: 2-3 (Hey, who would have picked the OSU game?)

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 2-1) at #7 Wisconsin Badgers (7-0, 4-0)
Saturday, October 23, 2004, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Wisconsin (-12.5)

(Aside:  my apologies for the tardiness of this prediction… unfortunately being a Lower Line staff member doesn't pay quite well enough to prevent my day job from getting in the way.)

Northwestern comes into this match-up with Big Ten power Wisconsin fresh off a bye week.  The NU coaches hopefully spent those two weeks preparing for a rushing attack and an even stronger defense.  While the Badgers have not impressed much of this season on the offensive side of the ball, their defense has stood tall, limiting opponents to 8 points per game and only 222 total yards per game.  It took 6 games before anyone scored into the double digits against the stout Badger defense (Ohio State – 13).

What's more, Wisconsin is coming off victories over other Big Ten powers in (the) Ohio State University and Purdue, then ranked #5.  In fact, the UW defense was strong enough that it may very well have derailed the Heisman hopes of Boilermaker signal caller Kyle Orton.  The Badger defense limited the vaunted Boiler offense to only 235 yards passing and picked off Orton once.  The Badgers also returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown late in the game after kicking a field goal to pull within 17-14.  The Badger victory was not secure until Purdue kicker Ben Jones inexplicably missed a 35-year field goal as time expired.  It wasn't even close to the uprights.

The Wisconsin offense under Barry Alvarez has styled itself a kind of Tailback U, turning out Heisman Trophy winner and all-time NCAA leading rusher Ron Dayne and NFL player Michael Bennett.  This title has come into jeopardy as of late, as the starting tailbacks at the UW have failed to thrill this season.  The Badgers even used fullback Kenny Bernstein as the tailback in pounding the Lions of Penn State, an impressive performance for which this Lowes Line author was in attendance.  However, ‘Cats faithful, the UW running attack is again scary.  Star tailback Anthony Davis is back from a sprained ankle and is tearing up defense, rolling up 130 yards per game in his appearances.  Although he played sparingly against Purdue, the Cats defense can expect to see a steady diet of Anthony Davis.

Wisconsin is led by quarterback John Stocco, who is trying to play Schnur-esque football.  Lead the team, make few mistakes, and let the stellar running back corps do the job.  Stocco does have excellent receivers, with Jonathon Orr making key third down conversion catches.

In its last outing, fresh from beating the Buckeyes in overtime, the ‘Cats needed OT to overcome a much less impressive Indiana Hoosier squad.  The Cat secondary was rather porous, surrendering 329 yards passing and 3 touchdowns through the air, including a 25-yard completion during the first overtime.  The Hoosiers mounted little rushing attack, with quarterback LoVecchio leading with 50 yards gained.  One note of interest regarding the defense, it is rumored that preseason standout defensive lineman Loren Howard will play against the Badgers.  That will give the ‘Cats d-line much needed support against the run.

The 'Cats offense played well, especially Noah Herron, who gained 197 yards on 29 carries, and scored 3 touchdowns.  Basanez was 28 of 48 for 254 yards, completing 1 touchdown (in overtime) and having 1 picked off.  However, the 'Cats did need a late field goal by Brian Huffman to tie the score and send the game into overtime.

So what does all this mean for this Saturday?  I really haven't any idea, as my pick against the Buckeyes (which was happily way off the mark) proves.  One Lowes Line staffer asks whether I have the cajones to actually pick an outright upset.  Well, 'Cats faithful, I do not.  Perhaps I'm being chicken.  Perhaps I view the 'Cats as living on borrowed time, demonstrated against the Hoosiers, a vastly inferior team.  And perhaps I realize just how good the UW defense is, having seen the game against Penn State in which the second string quarterback was knocked two weeks ahead during one play early in the game.  I also know that it happens to be Homecoming in Madison, and the newly redesigned (and MUCH louder) Camp Randall will be rocking and rolling.  The brats will be grilling and the beer flowing well before 9 a.m. tomorrow.  The 'Cats' defense has always been a bend but (hopefully) don't break unit, and a unit that has problems tackling, especially the first player to the play.  Against Anthony Davis, that's suicide.  The Badgers offense will run over the 'Cats' defense, and the Badger defense will keep the 'Cats out of the end zone for most of the game.

(As with the Buckeyes, I hope I'm drastically wrong.  But I don't think so.)

Pick: Wisconsin 24, 'Cats 10.  Take the Badgers and lay the points.

Season to Date:  Straight up 4-2, Against the Spread 3-3

Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Brian Ullery

Matchup: #17 Purdue Boilermakers (5-2, 2-2) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-4, 2-2)
Saturday, October 30, 2004 Kickoff 11:00 a.m. CDT
Purdue (-10)

The 'Cats played terribly in the first half last week against a stout Wisconsin team with many missed opportunities and dropped passes, but made a game of it in the second half scoring 12 unanswered points (why go for the two point conversion so early Randy).  Anyway, Noah Herron again put up a strong game rushing for 109 yards on 19 carries becoming the first back to break the 100 yard mark this season against the Wisconsin D.  This writer is not sure why Walker refuses to feed Herron the ball 30 times a game, as he is just ripping off yards every time he touches the ball and seems to be strong till the end, but I digress.

This week, the nationally ranked Boilermakers (what's a boilermaker?) come to Evanston for Homecoming.  The Boilermakers have come off two crushing defeats, the first to the aforementioned Badgers on a late Kyle Orton fumble returned for a touchdown, then a crushing defeat to the Meat-Chicken Wolverines last weekend, 16-14.  Purdue with Joe Tiller at the helm is known for the wide open offense and senior Kyle Orton looked like a potential Heisman Trophy candidate at the beginning of the season.  They are ranked 12th nationally in total offense and 22nd in scoring, but the surprise this year is that a defense that lost 8 starters is 10th nationally in rushing defense (2.9 yards per carry) and 14th in scoring defense.  Orton, obviously, is the key for the offense, leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency and has thrown for 2090 yards in seven games and 20 touchdowns mainly to his favorite target Taylor Stubblefield who has 11.  The backfield is anemic and is led by Jerod Void who averages 62 yards per game.  The defense has allowed 95.4 yards per game and is holding opponents to 2.9 yards per carry.  This will be the key to the game.   Let me repeat this, NU rushing vs. Purdue's rushing defense will be the key to the game.

The NU offensive line is mammoth and is considered one of the strongest in the Big Ten.  For NU to win this game, they must dominate, and NU MUST stick to pounding the ball and sustaining long time consuming drives keeping Orton and Co. off the field.   The defense for the 'Cats cannot give up too many big plays and the secondary must step up with 1 if not 2 key interceptions.

Maybe this is the game Walker has been saving Herron for all year.  Maybe the full return of Howard to the D-Line will put enough pressure on Orton to make a few mistakes.  Maybe the 'Cats can pull out the upset.  Hmmm, one too many big plays early force the 'Cats to play catch up in this humble writer's opinion.

Pick:  Purdue 31, Northwestern 28.  Take the 'Cats and the points but the Boilermakers spoil Homecoming with a victory.

Season to Date:  Straight up 5-2, Against the Spread 3-4

Penn State Preview and Prediction

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (4-4, 3-2) at Penn State Nittany Lions (2-6, 0-5)
Saturday, November 6, 2004.  Kickoff - 11:00 am CST
Penn State (-4)

Clearly this writer is not the only one that thinks Northwestern is ripe for a letdown after a big home win over Purdue last week.  So does the anti-social misfit in the back room at Harrah’s that sets the point spread.  NU comes in as a four-point underdog against a Penn State team that hasn't done much right this year, unless you count the big Ws against the likes of Akron and Central Florida.

Northwestern played a great game against the Boilermakers last week, edging Joe Tiller for the first time, 13-10.  The outcome was in doubt until the final play, as Purdue wideout Taylor Stubblefield dropped the Hail Mary pass at the final gun that would have been the game winner.   Most impressive was the Wildcat defense, which held Purdue to 210 yards passing, more than 100 less than the Boiler average, and only 122 yards rushing.  With the win, NU moved to 3-2 in conference play, and is tied with Michigan State for fourth place in the Big Ten standings.

The ‘Cats travel to Happy Valley this week in State College, PA, a place where they have never won in four tries.  Not only has NU not won at Penn State, they have never really been in the game.  Fellow Lowes Line contributor Galloping Grapes will join me Saturday morning for an early rise and trip out to the geographic center of Pennsylvania for the game.  No RV this year, as was the choice in years past, but we’ll be cheering on the ‘Cats nonetheless inside Beaver Stadium.

This game is a study in contrasts on both sides of the ball. Consider the Penn State offense, about as useless as a chocolate teapot so far this year.  They've averaged a mere 7.4 points per game so far this year, and are ranked 111th out of 117 teams in Division 1-A in total offense.  The Nittany Lion defense, which is ranked 14th overall, only surrenders 15.4 points a game, and will give Brett Basanez a good test.

Signs point to this game being low scoring, since Northwestern may have trouble throwing the ball following a right knee sprain to leading receiver Mark Philmore, who'll be sidelined for up to six weeks.  Should Philmore return this season, it wouldn't be until a possible bowl game.  The running game needs to get going early, and if Noah Herron can keep the ‘Cats moving behind that big Wildcat offensive line, NU could see their first win ever at Penn State.  Defensively for Northwestern, a repeat of last week's performance would likely do the trick.  Lion QB Zack Mills is questionable for the game following a concussion, and didn't play last week against Ohio State.  Should Mills be unable to go, Michael Robinson will lead the Penn State offense.  Look for a big special teams play to decide the outcome.

Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno was stopped by an exit poller on his way out of the voting booth Tuesday, and proudly noted that he had voted for the eventual White House winner in each presidential election since that of Rutherford B. Hayes.  Joe, pack it in.  Please.  Like the wife of Judge Smails, you must have been something before electricity, but it's time to move on and do the things guys your age do, namely have your head chopped off and put in a cryogenic facility like the Splendid Splinter. 

The 77-year-old Paterno doesn't seem to know enough to get out, and his four-year contract extension after a 3-9 season in 2003 is likely hurting recruiting efforts in State College rather than helping.  Although he still looks spry on the sidelines with the trademark high-water trousers, and running down referees after bad calls, something is definitely different.  Four losing seasons in the past five, after one in the first thirty-four at Penn State?  And what kind of football coach of a major program makes a comment like, “We were ahead 2-0 Saturday and couldn't take advantage of it,” referring to the Lions’ 6-4 loss to Iowa?  

Let’s hope that JoePa is wrong this weekend, that the Nittany Lions, whom Paterno says “are not far off,” continue to show that they are.  Penn State could come out fired up, as this game likely presents as good a chance as any for the Lions to get a conference win for the home crowd.  The question still on many NU fans’ minds is whether NU is really a good team or not.  Well, we find out this week.  Good teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat, and although a four-point underdog, Northwestern should beat this Penn State team.  They have more talent, and after a few firsts this season, such as the first win over the Buckeyes since 1971, and Walker's first win over Purdue, why not go for the trifecta and get the first NU win at Penn State?

Pick:  Northwestern 16, Penn State 10.  Take the Cats and the points, as NU breaks the hex in State College.

Season to Date:  Straight up 5-3, Against the Spread 4-4

Michigan Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (5-4, 4-2) at (#9) Michigan Wolverines (8-1, 6-0)
Saturday, November 13, 2004. Kickoff - 11:00 am CST
ABC (Big Time in the Big House)
Michigan (-14) - Ouch!

First, props to last week's Lowes Line author (Jersey Cat) for an outstanding prediction... it simply can't get much better than that.

With last week's win, NU has a chance to become bowl eligible with two more wins in their last three weeks. Very few people think this week will be one of those wins. However, don't despair, Illinois is downright horrible, and the Hawaii game is definitely winnable.

Regarding this week's game, NU will have its hands full on both sides of the ball going up against a team that had last week off. Michigan has had trouble in the recent past against NU when favored, but this year is likely to be different. Coach Carr has been burned by NU before and undoubtedly paid close attention to the second half of the Wisconsin game, when NU made it a game and might have upset the Badgers if a few things had broke their way. Suffice it to say that with an extra week to prepare, Michigan will not be overlooking the weaker, but still very dangerous, 'Cats.

Michigan has been steadily improving over the season in terms of consistency as they develop their freshman tandem of QB Chad Henne and RB Mike Hart. Much has been made of their "balanced attack". In reality, they are no more balanced than NU, except instead of depending on the run and using the pass to make the defense honest, Michigan depends on the pass and uses the run to control the clock when they're ahead or to keep the defense honest. This is reflected by Michigan's 17 passing TDs versus only 11 rushing TDs and is primarily due to Michigan's most talented player, WR Braylon Edwards. NU's defense has continued to show impressive improvement but it has no answer for Edwards, who, at least at the college level, looks like a Terrell Owens clone, with the size and speed to beat anyone for the ball.

Michigan's defense can be described as solid, but not spectacular like some of the defenses from recent years. Michigan State proved that they can be scored on two weeks ago, and hopefully Coach Walker has been able to spot their weaknesses during his daily naps from 11 - 2 (I swear, he has to take a nap because of his heart condition, a good policy for anyone in my opinion). NU may find the rush not working as well as they would like against Michigan, so Basanez will have to continue to deliver the ball through the air in order to make this a game.

While in an ideal world, Michigan would probably like to control the clock with the run and stop NU on defense, I think Carr will have learned his lesson from previous NU games that NU will not quit. Keeping the score close by trying to control the clock in the first half is asking for trouble against the 'Cats, who have been tested under fire in the fourth quarter and have proved up to the challenge. I predict Michigan will try to follow the Wisconsin game plan by getting ahead in the first half by utilizing the pass (with some running to keep NU off balance) and then, once they're ahead, running in the second half to burn the clock. NU may not cooperate with that plan, but the key will be turnovers. NU cannot have more than 1 or 2 fumbles/interceptions and still stay in the game. They'll have to make the most of their opportunities (oh, and get somebody from the women's soccer team to kick field goals). In the end it will be closer than the spread indicates.

Pick: Michigan 31, NU 21. Take the 'Cats and the points, as NU covers the spread with late scoring.

Season to Date: Straight up 6-3, Against the Spread 5-4

Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (5-5, 4-3) vs. University of Illinois Fighting Illini (3-7, 1-6)
Saturday, November 20, 2004.   Kickoff: 11:00 a.m. CST
ESPN Plus, for those of you not going to see Sesame Street Live!
NU -12

The 'Cats come into their last home game needing a victory on Senior Day and a win at Hawaii next week to secure a bowl bid.  Lose either game and Basanez might be calling and asking if you have any extra space at the Christmas dinner table. 
The 'Cats passed the "are they a good team?" test 2 weeks ago with a victory over a sub par Penn State.  For a little over 2 quarters of play in the Michigan game this past weekend they had us thinking that they might actually be a GREAT team.  They trailed UM 14-13 after each team had its initial drive of the second half.  Then Michigan woke and scored a touchdown the next five times they touched the ball.  It quickly started to look like the days of old.  But as a fellow Lowes Liner pointed out, it did mimic the the early 90's as NU's offense went 3 and out while their defense seemed to spend the entire second half on the field.  They became worn down and UM rolled.  UM also exploited another NU eternal weakness, that they can not cover three good wide receivers.  This doesn't bode well for next week's game versus Hawaii who likes to throw the ball more than Frank likes to watch norp (for the sensors).
The highlight of last weekend's game was Noah Herron busting through the line, breaking off a 68 yard touchdown run.  If he stays on average he could end up third on NU's single season rushing list, behind Anderson and Autry.
This week the 'Cats need to ride the horse that is Noah Herron.  Spread the offense out wide, and give it to him early and often.  I can accept a three and out if Herron gets at least two of those downs to carry the rock.  I can not accept the three and outs where it is three incompletions.  Pound the Illini with the running game and then when you throw it, throw it deep.  This strategy will open everything else up.  Also this week Randy Walker needs to re-think his fake kick attempts.  Last week they had a fourth and long, UM had their punt safe defense still on the field, then got a delay of game, then attempted a fake punt.  It was smoothed.  If you are going to go on fourth down give it to Herron.
The hope is that NU is not looking past Illinois to Hawaii, but this being the Seniors' last home game I think they will show up mentally and physically.  The -12 line is a sucker bet.  NU's largest margin of victory this year has been 7 points.  NU plays up (Purdue, OSU) or down (Indiana, PSU) to its competition.  This week will be no different.  Expect a lot of scoring from both squads but NU is the stronger team and will win it without covering the spread.
On their way to the Music City Bowl?!?!?!
Pick:  NU 34, Illini 27
Record: Straight up 7-3, Against the spread 5-5
PS:  On a recruiting note, the all-time leading rusher in the state of Ohio has just committed to Northwestern.  Tyrell Sutton of Akron Hoban has rushed for over 8,425 yards.  He has rushed for more than 100 yards in 34 consecutive games.

Hawaii Preview and Prediction
Bonus Hoops Preview!
By GallopingGrapes

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (6-5; 5-3) at Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (5-5; 4-4)
Saturday, November 27, 2004.   Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. Hawaii Time; 10:00 p.m. CST
A surprise late addition to ESPN Gameplan.  Hooray!
NU by 6.5.

I figured that since this is a late game, we could all stand for a late Lowes Line.  Truth be told, I'm still suffering from tryptophan poisoning, thanks to my in-laws and their cursedly delicious turkey.  (By the way, for the poindexters who will undoubtedly be e-mailing me, I know that the L-tryptophan amino acid in Thanksgiving turkey doesn't really make you sleepy, and that it was the overall impact of the sugar/insulin effect and the massive quantities of mashed potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green bean almondine, bread, pies, and whipped cream that pulled the blood away from my brain to help my Galactus-like digestive tract do its work.)  (I'm also well aware that at least a few of my fellow NU alums may also be wondering whether my Thanksgiving alcohol intake might also have contributed to my 42-hour nap.  Let's just say that in addition to corn dip and jalapenos stuffed with peanut butter, my other contribution to the family festivities was a Margarita Pie.  That's right, a wonderful, delicious pie that is made with a couple shots each of tequila and triple sec; it's key lime with a kick…and a punch and another kick for good measure.  I ate three pieces.)

Anyway, Northwestern plays at Hawaii tonight, needing a win to stay bowl-eligible.  Let's cut to the chase…NU wins, probably covers the 6.5 point spread, and goes to Nashville to play in the Music City Bowl on my 35th birthday.  Now can I go back to bed?

Northwestern has had one heck of an exciting season.  After blowing the TCU game in overtime (I’m tired of being nice; I have no confidence in NU’s kicking game.  At all.  Every punt is a shank waiting to happen.  Every extra point is an adventure.  Every field goal is a Lake Placid class miracle.), NU has managed to scrape together three OT wins.  Is anybody else out there ready for a nice, boring smackdown win?  Last week the ‘Cats were one missed chip shot field goal away from coughing up a bowl, only this time it was the Illinois kicker who, like a sorority girl who just saw her feature film debut in “Girls Gone Wild – Snoop's Spring Break”, had to slink back to the dorm in a burning shame. 

NU is taking nine All-Big Ten players to the islands this week.  LB Tim McGarigle is the only first-teamer, and he deserves it.  McGarigle leads the country in solo tackles, and is continuing the fine tradition of top linebackers at NU.  Noah Herron is one of three consensus All-Big Ten second teamers (with OT Zach Strief and DT Luis Castillo).  This being the Big Ten, it's not hard to believe that Herron couldn't crack the first team, although he posted a pretty good argument for it with his effort this season.  Herron leads the conference in rushing TDs, and is second in scoring, all-purpose yardage, and rushing yards per game (at 117.4 ypg, Herron is 12th nationally).  Herron also will make his mark in NU’s record book this weekend:  he is tied with Damien Anderson and Jason Wright for single season games scoring a TD (10), and he should hold that record after tonight.  One other NU record-holder that should be mentioned:  Randy Walker is the first NU football coach to beat all ten Big Ten opponents during his coaching tenure.  Way to go coach.  Now beat Hawaii.

I've only seen Hawaii play one time this season, the night they got bitch-slapped on the blue turf at Boise State.  It's hard to say which was harder to watch:  the Hawaii football team being treated like Susan Lucci at the Daytime Emmys, or the poisonous blue hue of the Boise State field.  Hawaii is a classic WAC team, perhaps the only true WAC team remaining.  The Rainbows can score at will against weaker teams, but will give up points in large chunks against better teams (losing 69-3 at Boise State and 70-14 at Fresno State).  Historically, Hawaii plays with a noticeable homefield advantage (they are 5-1 at home, and 0-4 on the road; interestingly, they'll end up playing only four road games this season, and eight home games.  Those mainland Athletic Directors like the sun and sand as much as anybody).  Hawaii currently boasts the all-time NCAA passing king in Timmy Chang.  Chang averages over 300 ypg passing, and has 33 300-yard passing games in his career (to go with his 15,846 career passing yards and 105 TDs).  Chang can throw the pigskin, no doubt about it.  Unfortunately, his name isn't Wang, meaning I have no excuse for a stream of Caddyshack quotes.  Chang’s top receivers are Chad Owens, Jason Rivers and Britton Komine—get used to their names, because you could be hearing them a lot tonight.  I’m not sure if Hawaii even has a running back.  I'm serious.  I just don't know.  If they do have one, he's clearly the Zeppo to the other Marx Brothers playing pitch and catch.  Ditto for the Rainbows’ defense.  Aside from Slim Shady’s second cousin, cornerback Abraham Elimimian (who is All-WAC, but playing hurt), there isn't much to talk about.  Hawaii's best defense, by far, is the 4,248 mile plane ride, the white sands, the warm breezes, and the wild, untamed bikinis that earn Hawaii its official nickname: PleasureLand.

Can NU keep its focus?  Hawaii needs this game for bowl-eligibility, too, and the Rainbow Warriors will be anxious to knock off an overconfident squad of sausage-eating Midwesterners.  Given NU’s problems defending the pass this season, not to mention their uncanny ability to play down to the competition (see, e.g., Kansas, Indiana, Penn State, Illinois), I’ll admit to being scared of this game.  But NU is simply a superior team.  The Wildcats should have no problems scoring on Hawaii (or in Hawaii, if they play their cards right...I’ve seen the movie “Blue Crush” 5 times, so I know how it REALLY is out there in paradise).  Hawaii is too one-dimensional to hang with a balanced team from a power conference, and NU should win going away.

Pick:  Déjà vu from 1998: NU 47, Hawaii 21.  See y’all in Nashville against ‘Bama.

(Season to date: 8-3 straight up, 6-5 against the spread) [editor's note: 6-5 ATS is the best record I've seen for picking NU, including all the mainstream media picks.  Congrats to the Lowes Line staff!]

Northwestern’s men's basketball team has already begun the season, appearing in the Top of the World Classic in Alaska.  NU finished a disappointing 5th, losing to the Aggies of New Mexico State in the second round, then losing in the semifinals to last year's highest profile NCAA-snub recipient, Utah State (more Aggies).  The games were not televised, so all we have to go on are the write-ups, but it sounds like NU suffered from slow starts and extended cold streaks in all three games.  Still, NU’s 1-2 start to the season should not be a cause for concern; the ‘Cats have plenty of winnable non-conference games, most of them at the cozy confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena.

For the second year in a row, NU must cope with the loss of a great player.  Guard Jitim Young’s graduation left a hole much bigger than his 6’2 frame.  Fortunately, coach Bill Carmody has built a program at NU that has proven capable of replenishing the ranks (a basic success story no other NU hoops coach has ever truly managed).  Junior forward Vedran Vukusic will take up the leadership mantle, and together with junior point guard TJ Parker, NU will play much the same type of game it has over the last two years.  NU will play some of the stingiest defense in the Big Ten, and will not hesitate to shoot the ball from outside.  NU lives (and dies) by the three-pointer, a function of NU’s chronic weakness inside. 

In addition to Vukusic and Parker, NU will rely on guard Mohamed Hachad to continue his offensive development.  Forward Davor Duvancic and center Ivan Tolic will need to hold down the middle until Duke transfer Mike Thompson is eligible after December 14.  Thompson is one of several high-profile transfers that has NU hoops fans excited.  Carmody also reeled in G/F Tim Doyle from St. John’s, who is already playing for the ‘Cats, as well as Bernard Cote from Kentucky (not eligible this season, but will look great in a Northwestern uniform next season).  Carmody's excellent recruiting class also included three good-looking freshmen: G/F Sterling Williams (NU's first Chicago Public League recruit in 25 years); G/F Gary Lee (a product of basketball-rich Flint, Mich., and another tall shooter); and G Brandon Lee, who spent the last two seasons playing high school ball with current LA Clippers rookie (and throw-back afro champion) Shaun Livingston.  Every year under Carmody, it seems that the future gets brighter.

Under Carmody, NU has gradually upgraded its schedule.  The tougher non-conference slate has made for disappointing season records (14-15 last season), but NU's RPI (the grail of NCAA Tournament selection) has risen steadily over the last two seasons.  This season, NU again has a nice mix of good mid-major and small conference teams (most at Welsh-Ryan) and winnable games against power conference teams such as Colorado, Virginia, Seton Hall and Arizona State.  NU's biggest week comes in mid-December, when the Wildcats host DePaul and Seton Hall, before heading west for a rematch with Arizona State's Ike Diogu.  NU will have a tough time defending their home court against a very good DePaul squad, but both Seton Hall and Arizona State are winnable games.  NU's post-season prospects will likely be foreshadowed by their showing in those three games.

Once the Big Ten season starts, expect to see some modest improvement.  NU is not a team anybody likes to play; I keep expecting them to make more noise in the conference tournament, but have yet to see it happen.  The Wildcats finished a respectable 8-8 in the conference last season, good enough for a tie for 5th place.  A January loss to Penn State likely kept NU out of any post-season play last year.  The Big Ten is once again expected to have a bit of a down year (don't tell anybody that in Champaign—the Illini are frickin' good this year).  NU might be able to sneak out nine wins, but will again struggle against the big inside games of most Big Ten opponents.  NU hasn't been competitive on the boards since Evan Eschmeyer graduated, and they won't be this year, either.  I expect Carmody to get the Wildcats back to a fifth place finish in the conference, but I'm not sure they'll get the two wins they'll need in the conference tournament.

So, can NU finally break through to the NCAA Tournament?  For cripes' sake, NU hosted the first NCAA Dance, but remains one of only 51 Division I teams (out of 326), and the ONLY major conference team, not to make the NCAA Tournament.  As much as I like Carmody, and as much as I admire what he has accomplished at NU so far, I'm tired of NU being in the same club as Lipscomb, Wofford and Quinnipiac.

NU's next game is tomorrow, against Colorado in Boulder.  The Buffs beat the Wildcats 67-56 last season, but they lost their top 4 scorers to graduation, and they will be forced to abandon the great inside game they had last season in favor of an outside game that plays to NU's strengths.  Let's go, ‘Cats!