Lowes Line
2006 Posted


The Complete 2006 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 2005 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!

Miami Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Northwestern Wildcats at Miami (OH) RedHawks
Date: Thursday, August 31, 6:30 p.m. CDT
Television: ESPNU - does this channel really exist?
Line: NU (- 3.5)


We're back at it again at the Lowes Line for the 2006 Northwestern Wildcat football season. The 'Cats start off the year with heavy hearts, following the sudden death of head coach Randy Walker in June. Linebackers coach and two-time national defensive player of the year Pat Fitzgerald was the choice to replace Walker, becoming the youngest coach in Division 1-A by five years. Age is indeed only a number and not indicative of the ability to coach a football team, but it is somewhat eyebrow-raising to consider Coach Fitz will be four decades younger than his counterpart JoePa when the 'Cats travel to State College for their Big Ten opener against Penn State on September 30th.

NU finished the 2005 regular season with an impressive 7-4 record, earning a trip to the Sun Bowl against UCLA, a contest they dropped 50-38, in the process extending the number of years since the last Northwestern bowl victory to 57. With a twelve-game schedule this year, NU has hopes of making a return to a bowl game for the third time in four years. It will take six wins to do so, and it won't be easy. Following the season opener at Miami, NU has non-conference games at home against 1-AA foe New Hampshire and Eastern Michigan, along with a trip to Nevada. The Big Ten slate has trips to Happy Valley, Camp Randall, Ann Arbor, and Iowa City, while the 'Cats host Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois in Evanston.

The 2006 Wildcats return a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is brimming with size and talent, returning four starters from last year, along with former letter winner Trevor Rees, who missed the 2005 season due to academic issues. They'll be opening holes for standout running back Tyrell Sutton, who as a true freshman last year exceeded everyone's expectations when thrust into the starting lineup for the second game of the season. Sutton ended the 2005 campaign with 1,474 rushing yards and 16 TDs to go along with 44 receptions, and will be the main spark of the Northwestern offensive attack this season. Behind center, the 'Cats have undergone a metamorphosis at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Mike Kafka will be taking the snaps. Kafka takes over for four-year starter Brett Basanez, who graduated, and was the straw that stirred the NU drink in the backfield since 2002. Baz set about every school passing record during his tenure, and it will be a challenge for Kafka to step into the role and run the spread offense.

On defense, the story remains maddeningly similar to what we've seen in years past. NU gives up a ton of yardage and points. Last year's squad surrendered just under 34 points a game. While the defense returns eight starters from last year as well as strong safety Bryan Heinz, who returned from an ACL injury to play in the Sun Bowl, the unit needs to get stingier in order to compete in the Big Ten on a consistent basis. Sophomores Kevin Mims and John Gill anchor the defensive line that lost Barry Cofield to the NFL. The linebacking corps of Nick Roach, Adam Kadela, and Demetrius Eaton complete the front seven that will be challenged to stop the run. In the secondary, the aforementioned Heinz is a welcome sight, and at corner, the storyline is, "of whom much is given, much is expected." Hello, Marquice Cole. Cole is an exceptional athlete, and needs to be a consistent cover man and playmaker in this NU defense. He'll likely be called upon to return kicks again in 2006 as well.

Northwestern's Week 1 opponent is the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (nee Redskins, before falling prey in 1997 to the insanities of political correctness). The starting RedHawk squad will likely be as unfamiliar to Miami fans as to followers of the Purple. Only seven starters return for Miami this season, and inexperience is rampant all up and down the RedHawk lineup. Mike Kokal will be taking the snaps for Miami, having received the nod for starting QB. Kokal has spent the past two seasons as Miami's backup, having only thrown twenty-seven passes in that time. While the passing game may be a question mark, Kokal is very agile and can make plays running the ball. Miami returns junior running back Brandon Murphy, who ran up 1,070 yards last year in his first season as the starter. The most important player for Miami in this game could be wideout Ryne Robinson, who is the RedHawk punt returner and a potential gamebreaker. Robinson is dangerous in punt formation, and is the NCAA active leader in both punt return yardage (1,502) and punt return TDs (6) -- more than Breaston from Michigan, more than Ginn from Ohio State.

The 'Cats will be making their first trip to Oxford for Thursday night's contest, and it's one that's sure to be filled with a great deal of emotion. Two months after losing coach Randy Walker, the Wildcats journey to the school where Walker starred as both a coach and player. Walker is the all-time winningest coach in Miami University history, a club that boasts the likes of Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, and Woody Hayes (before he threw haymakers at opposing players) among its ranks. Miami will honor the memory of Randy Walker before the game, with a ceremony planned in its Cradle of Coaches plaza and a dedication of a plaque to commemorate Walker's contributions to both Miami University and college football in general. During the game, players from both teams will honor Walker's memory with a sticker on their helmets, bearing a red number 41, Walker's uniform jersey as a Miami player, and the nickname "Walk" in purple.

This is a critical game for NU. The schedule is brutal, and in order to even have a shot at a bowl game, this contest already shapes up as a must-win, as much as you can say that in Week 1. The 'Cats will look to make Sutton the offensive focus, establishing the run game early. With the size and experience of the NU line, they should be successful in dominating the line of scrimmage and getting Sutton into open space where he can make things happen for NU. Kafka will likely be relied upon to simply avoid the mistakes that can change the game for the worse. When Kafka does throw the ball, look for him to seek out senior Shaun Herbert, a reliable, possession-type receiver who will be the main target all season. Defensively, the 'Cats must stop the run to be effective, as the secondary will probably not be given a true test this week, with Miami's inexperience at the quarterback position. This game could be close and hinge on a big play -- avoiding it could be the key to victory. Let's hope Coach Fitz has had the punting team working on the directional kick in practice, in order to keep it away from Miami's Robinson, who has the potential to go the distance any time he gets his hands on the ball in the open field. Football is a game of emotion and passion, and this contest should have plenty of both. The players should be up for this game, and get the victory in tribute to Coach Walker.

Pick: 'Cats don't Walk alone: Northwestern 28, Miami 24. Take NU and lay the points.

UNH Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

University of New Hampshire Wildcats (0-0) at Northwestern University Wildcats (1-0)
Date: Saturday September 9th , 1:00 pm CDT
Television: none
Line: No line, due to UNH's Div. I-AA status

Northwestern opened the season impressively as they won 21-3 on the road against the Miami of Ohio Redskins. New head coach Pat Fitzgerald had to be impressed by the effort his defense gave on the field. The offense struggled and that is saying it mildly. Kafka played like a redshirt freshman not the cool 4-year starter we had come to love and know from last season. The first half was sloppily played and several plays were not executed well. Let’s just hope nerves were a huge part of this as Walker’s tribute and first game jitters had to be on everyone’s mind. Erryn Cobb finally broke the stalemate with a huge special teams play (hence the Big 10 special teams player of the week award for young Mr. Cobb) scoring the first TD on blocked punt. Kafka settled down, going 13-17 for 126 yards on the night with another 89 on the ground. Hey Fitz, don’t forget the Freshman of the Year in the backfield as Mr. Sutton only had 16 touches total for the game, 13 carries on the ground for 63 yards and 3 receptions for 23 more.  Sutton needs at least 30 touches a game in this author’s humble opinion. Not much else can be said about the game, except a win is a win and a good way to start Fitzgerald’s career at his alma mater.

On to the home opener…

NU scrambled for a 12th opponent given the new NCAA rules allowing for such, settling on Div. 1-AA New Hampshire. I’m sure everyone looked at the schedule and thought “Good tune up game” just as the folks at
New Mexico, Duke, and Colorado all thought before getting spanked. I’m here to set the record straight. NEW HAMPSHIRE IS GOOD. They are currently ranked number 1 in all of Div 1-AA after last season’s quarterfinals run. They have 2 players returning who appeared on last year’s Walter Payton Award Watch (the Division 1-AA Heisman) and leading the way is quarterback Ricky Santos. Santos finished second last year on the ballot with incredulous numbers. He threw for 3,797 yards and had 39 touchdowns leading the team to the promised land. His favorite target is wide receiver David Ball. Ball is just six touchdown receptions away from tying Hall of Famer Jerry Rice’s all-time TD receptions mark for Div 1-AA. Alongside 5 other returning starters from an offense that averaged 42 points a game, New Hampshire will put up some points. In 2004, New Hampshire shocked Rutgers (who actually has not been that bad recently), so they know what it is like to step up in the talent pool. I have no idea if New Hampshire can play defense as everything in their press release talks about their offense. Looking at their roster, UNH’s defensive line runs between 230 and 260 with the linebacking corps averaging around 220. This should be a decided advantage for the ‘Cats as their O-Line has several 300+ players.

Hopefully, Fitz will not try to get into an offensive struggle with this team and instead relies upon the hulks up front and the little guy behind. The best defense against this offense may be a running ball-controlling offense who will eat up several minutes off of the clock grinding it out against a smaller opponent. NU’s front seven must also rotate in and pressure Santos into a few mistakes. The questions are will they do it and not fall victim to the 1-AA curse of 2006

Pick: 'Cats are not Buffaloed, Bedeviled or Loboed: Northwestern 31, New Hampshire 21. Take NU.

Season : 1-0 Straight Up, 1-0 Against the Spread

EMU Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Eastern Michigan Eagles at Northwestern Wildcats
Date: Saturday, September 16, 1 pm CDT
Television: None
Line: NU (- 17.5)

Last Week:

The warning signs of embarrassment were there when quotes like “best Division 1-AA” school were thrown around.  It was ugly and there’s no way of sugarcoating NU’s loss to Div 1-AA New Hampshire last week.   As always happens, although I had never met another UNH alumnus before, I met two this week while in Boston for business...

According to several recent local articles, the Wildcats weren’t taking UNH seriously in the days leading up to the game, particularly the younger players and several observers from the Lowes Line have opined that the coaching staff panicked when facing the prospect of a significant comeback in the second half and abandoned the play calling that had been effective in the first quarter.  That may be true, but in the end, Kafka’s inexperience seemed to be showing in the third quarter when the first drive ended with a failed 4th and 11 after three passing plays for no gain (1-3, 0 yards) and then a fumble by Kafka on his very next series.  In addition, the signs indicate that the defense still lacks an ability to consistently defend against the pass.  Last year the offense’s performance could make up for that, but this year the team doesn’t have that luxury, at least not yet.

Three interesting observations from the first two weeks:

1.  The defense is using the 3-4 set much more than expected before the season.  NU acknowledged that they were in the second year of a three year process of converting to a 3-4 set from the 4-3 set that had been used (due primarily to their ability to recruit “dime-a-dozen” linebacker-types and inability to recruit defensive line behemoths), but led the reporter to believe that only 20% of the plays would be in that set.  So far, about half have been in the 3-4.  It will be interesting to see if the team can maintain their defense against the run and how they will improve an already poor pass rush as both the players and coaches learn the new system.

2.  Something odd is going on with Sutton.  After Sutton was all but abandoned at the end of both games so far in favor of Jordan, conflicting stories are coming out of Evanston.  Early in the week, Fitzgerald claimed it was planned and based on the job being open to competition (read…I have a lot of confidence in Jordan) and forcing opponents to game plan for two different running styles.  However, a subsequent article claims that Sutton has lingering ankle/leg injuries from the first game and that explains the reliance on Jordan late in both games. 

3.  Both points lead us to our third observation, Coach Fitzgerald appears to be emulating NFL Coach Shanahan by using the media to release misinformation.  I guess at face value this might be a good idea, but personally I always wonder if all that energy couldn’t be better used worrying about getting the team better prepared for the game.

NU’s next opponent is a god-send for a team with a low morale and in need of a tuneup or two before the Big Ten schedule starts.  For those that don’t know, Eastern Michigan is located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, directly adjacent to Ann Arbor.  From personal experience, Ypsilanti is to Ann Arbor as Urbana is to Champaign, as Gary, IN is to Chicago, as Newark is to New York City…in short, it’s a s---hole.  Eastern has been a perennial loser in the MAC, a conference that regularly produces some tough second tier teams like NIU and Miami, OH of recent years (though not this year obviously).  Eastern is coached by several former NU coaches/players.  In fact, their head coach was the head recruiter at NU in the 90s, the same position Pat Fitzgerald held before Randy Walker’s untimely death.   The EMU football program’s most recent claim to fame is producing best current pass rushing tackle in the NFL, Shaun Rogers.

Eastern’s offense revolves around a tandem of quarterbacks and one wide receiver (hmmmm, I’m having déjà vu to last week…quarterback/wide receiver).  Tyler Jones and Andy Schmitt split the job behind center by periodically alternating series.  Jones is the starter and is a strong rusher and currently leads the team in rushing.  Schmitt is a stronger passer and appears to enter the game when the opponent has keyed on the run.  The wide receiver to be concerned about is Eric Deslauriers, who currently ranks one or two on EMU’s all-time receiving categories.  At 6’-4.5”, he will be difficult to cover with NU’s starting cornerback’s, who top out at 5’10”.  Although I haven’t seen it live, my guess is that EMU’s offense will remind viewers a lot of NU’s.  The only major difference is the complete lack of a threat at running back.

However, EMU is a team that is more like NU’s first opponent that their second.  They lack the consistency to break a game open or the defensive size to stop the relentless attack of a Big Ten offense.  Last week, EMU stayed with MSU through the first half only to fall behind quickly in the second.  Much like NU’s last two opponents, EMU is undersized on the defensive line, with an average listed weight of only 255 lbs.  In fact, I think most of the Lowes Line authors (except featherweights Simon and MO'Cats) outweigh their left DE who lists at a measly 235 (and that's probably inflated.  We all have 4 yrs of eligibility left, right?)

NU needs to get its offense on track.  Since Kafka won the starting job competition, we need to hope that there is potential there that can be developed.  Otherwise, it’s going to be a long season.  EMU is a great prescription to regain needed confidence and develop an offensive identity.  I look for a return to the NU offense of three years ago when Basanez was a sophomore…which was lots of running and very short passes, often being caught behind the line of scrimmage.  This offense should be productive against Eastern (although future opponents are a different story).  Eastern also gives the NU coaches another opportunity to find a defensive scheme that will work against the pass (Please?)

I look for an even game or slight Northwestern advantage through halftime with the Wildcats pulling away in the second.  I may be pessimistic after last week, but whether through NU’s offensive inefficiency or the defense giving up big plays late, I think EMU will cover the spread.

Pick: 'Cats can’t cover - Northwestern 27, EMU 17. Take EMU and the points.

(Record:  1-1 straight up, 1-1 against the spread)

NOTE:  Although no spread was available for the UNH game, suffice to say that they did not cover and we did not pick it right.

Nevada Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Northwestern University Wildcats at University of Nevada Wolf Pack
Date: FRIDAY, Sept. 22, 7pm CDT
Television: The Deuce, rebroadcasts on The Ocho
Line: Nevada -7

Last Week:

Led by a sterling defensive effort, Northwestern chalked up its first home victory of the season with a 14-6 win over Eastern Michigan last Saturday.

The Wildcats' defense was the story of the game, holding EMU's spread offense to just 134 yards of total offense and five first downs. Eastern Michigan's longest drive of the day -- 19 yards -- came after an NU turnover and resulted in one of the Eagles' two field goals.

Northwestern also limited Eastern Michigan to just five first downs. The defense dominated. Eagles quarterbacks completed only 9 of 25 passes, and NU had two interceptions. As positive a sign as that would seem to be, especially after that unit came apart at times during a 34-17 loss to Division I-AA New Hampshire, Eastern Michigan's offense was so unimpressive, its quarterbacks so inaccurate, that it was difficult to evaluate the defense's performance fairly.

NU offense managed only two scoring drives against an Eastern Michigan defense that surrendered 90 points in losses to Ball State and Michigan State.  Mike Kafka delivered a 6-yard touchdown run on the game's opening possession but was 10-of-18 for 76 yards with an interception. Andrew Brewer replaced him and led a 72-yard touchdown drive on the Wildcats' first possession of the second half, carrying it in from the 1 to boost Northwestern's lead to 14-6. He completed 6-of-8 passes for 34 yards.  As the stats show neither QB was overly effective.  Tyrell Sutton led Northwestern with 91 yards rushing, though he has yet to break 100 yards in a game this year.

This Week's Game:

With a quarter of its regular season in the books, Northwestern heads west this week to take on the University of Nevada in a nationally televised game on ESPN2. Kickoff is set for 7:06 p.m. CT (5:06 p.m. Nevada time) this Friday, Sept. 22. This is the Wildcats' final non-conference game before the brutal Big Ten Conference play begins next week.

The Wolf Pack scored a convincing 28-10 victory over Colorado State Saturday night to earn their season's first victory. Nevada had opened the year with defeats at WAC power Fresno State (28-19) and nationally ranked Arizona State (52-21).

Nevada, which won a share of the WAC title in 2005 and posted a 9-3 record, has veterans returning at every key position and are led by senior quarterback Jeff Rowe. An all-conference selection last year, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound QB is in his fifth year and has thrown for 6,511 career yards and 42 TD's. This season, Rowe has completed 54-of-85 passes for 556 yards, 5 TD's and 3 INT's. Wide receiver Caleb Spencer, who has caught 67 passes each of the last two years, is Rowe's favorite target. Spencer has 17 catches for 169 yards (9.9 ypc) in 2006. Mike McCoy is one of the Wolf Pack's big-play receiving threats, having caught five passes for 95 yards (19.0 ypr). Three of his five catches have gone for TD's. Robert Hubbard, who ran for 719 yards last year, has 262 yards (87.3 ypg) this season.

As most  Wildcats followers know, the 2-1 'Cats have a first-year coach, a first-year offensive coordinator and two redshirt freshman quarterbacks vying for playing time. No wonder the offense is struggling. In time they will be OK.  In time they will steal a game from a better opponent who is not prepared.  In time they might be better than most of their opponents.  Unfortunately that time has not arrived yet.

Take Nevada and the seven points.  The Wildcats might make a game of it, but will not be able to stay with even the mid-level team from Nevada.

Pick: Nevada 31, Northwestern 20

Lowes Line Record: 2-1 straight up, 2-1 against the spread

Penn State Preview and Prediction
By GallopingGrapes

Northwestern (2-2, 0-0) at Penn State (2-2, 0-1)
Date: Saturday, September 30, 2:30 p.m. CDT
Television: ABC Game of the Week, baby!
Line: Penn State by 18.


Look, 18 points is too much.  We're taking NU and the points this week.

That was easy.  As long as we're cutting right to the chase:

1.  Howie Mandel is Satan.  CURSE YOU, HOWIE MANDEL (and your 26 matching hotties)!!

2.  I can't decide if my favorite part of the Nike High School football commercial is when Brian Urlacher destroys the 5'1, 160 lb. opposing quarterback, or when Lee Corso takes off the head of his chicken suit.

3.  I think lonelygirl15 is going to be eaten by cannibalistic aliens on October 12.  Don't ask how I know anything about this.

4.  Just when I start wondering if I'm enjoying Project Runway a little too much, Heidi Klum shows up and sets my world back on its axis.

5.  Audrey Hepburn was classy.  Audrey Hepburn shakin' it to AC/DC makes me feel dirty.

OK, back to some football analysis:
As the Little Grape, the Lady Grape and I were heading over to Jersey Cat's last week to watch the Nevada game, I had to admit that I was worried.  I wondered if the slaughter I was expecting could actually make an HDTV bleed.  Then something unexpected happened; NU played tough and made a game of it on Nevada's home turf.  The loss to New Hampshire had been so discouraging (and the win over Eastern Michigan so uninspiring), that it was easy to forget how good NU looked against Miami (OH).  These Wildcats can play defense.  They have good, experienced offensive and defensive lines, and Tyrell Sutton just might be coming around. 

We fully expected Nevada's high-powered offense to be the story of last week's game, but the game ended up being a battle of defenses.  NU QB Mike Kafka is only going to get better (and he's got wheels, leading the 'Cats in rushing last week), but he's going to make mistakes like that interception that iced the game for the Wolfpack. 

In a lot of ways, NU and Penn State are very similar teams.  They both play hard-nosed defense (Penn State hung tight with Ohio State for 57 minutes).  And they share the same weakness: inexperience at quarterback.  Penn State QB Anthony Morelli isn't going to set the world on fire, and his performance last week against OSU (two interceptions returned for TDs in the last 2 minutes-well, 1 returned for a TD, the other for a spike on the 1-yard line) had eerie similarities to Kafka's end of game INT.  Kafka may be a bit ahead of Morelli at this point, but the game may well turn on which QB makes the fatal mistake at the end of the game.

The most glaring difference between these two teams is on the sidelines.  Four out of five Lowes Line staffers continue to harbor socially acceptable man-crushes for Coach Fitz (of course NU has a good defense-- it's Fitz for cripes sake!).  And Penn State continues to be coached by Mr. Magoo.  Sure, JoePa silenced a lot of his critics last season, but Jersey Cat and I remember our trip to State College 2 years ago (and not just for the "Girls of Penn State" calendar we, uh, just happened to find lying all alone, abandoned and signed by Miss June, after an afternoon of friendly tailgating.)  No, we remember the atmosphere of "JoePa Must Go!" and the student section waving thousands of pink slips at the old Lion.  This game is going to be decided in the trenches, with the legs of Sutton/Jordan/Kafka and PSU RB Tony Hunt.  This is going to be a good, close defensive battle.  Unfortunately, NU's history at Beaver Stadium ain't good.

One final programming note: once again, Jersey Cat and I are making the trip to Happy Valley (unfortunately, we'll be a day late for the "MTV Real World" open casting call at Tony's Big Easy).  This time, we'll be keeping the good company of 8 Penn State alums in a couple of rented RVs.  After we spend 16 hours tailgating prior to kickoff, you'll be able to spot us easily on ABCHD (especially if your HDTV has the new Smell-O-Vision feature).  We'll be the two obnoxious purple dots in a sea of blue and white.  We may not be celebrating a win, but we'll be dancing with joy for the cover.

Pick:  It's a not-so-Happy Valley for the 'Cats. 
Penn State 24, Northwestern 17.  Take the 'Cats and the points.  And the under.
(Season to date: 3-1 straight up, 3-1 against the spread)
(By the way, kudos to Charlie for a darn near perfect pick last week)

[Ed. note: unfortunately, I was unable to post the Wisconsin prediction.  The Lowes Line predicted a resounding Badger win...]

Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Purdue Boilermakers (4-2, 1-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-4, 0-2)
Date: Saturday, October 14, 2006, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Television: ESPN Plus
Line: NU (+7)


After an emotional season-opening win at Miami in Week 1, it's been pretty much downhill for the Wildcats in 2006, save for an unsatisfying and unimpressive win over Eastern Michigan.  This game against Purdue is gut-check time if there ever was such a thing.  The 'Cats are reeling after two conference losses.  They didn't show up in the second half of either game, haven't thrown a TD pass in five games, and the leading rusher the past two weeks has been QB Andrew Brewer (note to passive NU fans: The 'Cats are not an option team)  Coach Fitz needs to right the ship, and it has to happen this week or the season could get away from him.

The Wildcats have been having a tough go of it, and while victory at Happy Valley and Camp Randall was not exactly expected, to dust off a phrase, it was the way NU played in those contests that's cause for concern.   An offense that can't move the ball.  A defense that can't prevent the big play.  It's a recipe for disaster.  Please don't tell me the defense is improved from last year - the stats might say so, but stats also showed Wisconsin back PJ Hill galloping for 249 yards last week, and Nittany Lion wideout Deon Butler breaking a Penn State record with 216 receiving yards the week prior.

Ridiculous stat of the week:  Following the NCAA rule change regarding the clock, it's been noted that the number of NU offensive plays per game is down from an average of 81 last year to 60 so far in 2006.  Do we really think it's only because of the clock?  Could it have anything to do with the anemic offense going three and out all the time that's cut down the number plays?  Anything at all? 

The Wildcat offense continues to struggle and show their inexperience.  Brewer still doesn't look too comfortable leading this squad, and for some inexplicable reason, the running game just isn't clicking.  Tyrell Sutton suffered a concussion early in the Badger game and was limited in playing time.  If he's healthy, he needs to get the ball more, plain and simple.  If he's not, Terrell Jordan needs to get the reps.  This team will not win a conference game without a running attack.  On the plus side, Northwestern has made plays to keep them in games to at least ensure the fans return to their seats after halftime.  It's just that it hasn't taken long for the game to get out of hand in the third quarter.  Causing turnovers is nice - converting them into points would be nicer.

Purdue comes into Evanston on the heels of two consecutive road losses to ranked teams, Notre Dame and Iowa.  The Boilermakers have a potent offense, and can put up points in bunches.  They lead the Big Ten in most offensive categories.  Sophomore quarterback Curtis Painter leads the Boilermaker attack, averaging just under 300 ypg in the air, having thrown for 11 scores.  The running game isn't too bad either -- sophomores Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor have split the load, averaging a combined 125 ypg between them with 11 scores.  The weakness for Purdue is the defense.  They can be scored on.  It's not just the Irish and Hawkeyes that lit the scoreboard on these Boilers.  The likes of Indiana State, Miami (OH), and Ball State put up 35, 31, and 28 points, respectively on Purdue in their first three games.

Reasons fans are happy this game is in Evanston -- not having to deal with: (1)  The damn train; (2) That ridiculous Boilermaker mascot, Purdue Pete; (3) The absolutely moronic World's Largest Drum.  C'mon.  The World's Largest Drum?  This is a source of Boilermaker pride?  At least we Wildcats have things to be really proud of, such as counting among us as alumnus David Schwimmer.

After all that's been said, why any optimism?  Good question.  Call it a hunch.  This game represents a tipping point in Coach Fitz's first season.  With the tough part of the schedule still to come (Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State in successive weeks) Purdue is a game he has to have in order to avoid a really bad year.  He should have the team fired up.  After three consecutive road games, the 'Cats are playing in front of the home crowd.  The defense has been holding their own for thirty minutes, and hopefully they get to sixty this week.  And the offense has a shot to finally put some points on the board.

Pick:  Purdue Pete lucky he's wearing a hard hat --- Northwestern 23, Purdue 21.  Take the 'Cats and the points.
Season to date:  5-1 straight up, 4-2 against the spread.

[Ed. note: unfortunately, I was unable to post the MSU prediction.  The Lowes Line predicted a big Spartan win, getting the straight-up prediction, but failing against the spread...]

Michigan Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Northwestern Wildcats at University of Michigan Wolverines
Date: Saturday, October 28, 2006, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Television: ESPN
Line: Michigan (-33) - hey, it's not even the largest of the week.  Three others are at -36, including Florida International's opponent.

Last Week:

If I were the “glass half-full” type of person, I’d be left with the following observations after last week’s game:

1.      Hey, we beat the spread!
2.      Super, NU had one great defensive half against a good offense.
3.      Wow, no wonder Bacher was the heir apparent after last season and before his injury
4.      Great, they have Sutton back on track.
5.      Well, I’m glad Nick Roach will have more time to study for Finals.
6.      That Coach Fitzgerald is an interesting fellow with the “he was going to get his lips knocked off” comment….Freudian slip?
7.      I sure am glad I went dress shopping with my wife for 5 hours instead of watching the game.

If I were a “glass half-empty” type of person, I’d be burning my diploma on the rock.

Just so everyone is clear, that wasn’t the worst collapse in NU history…it was the worst loss in NCAA history.  The previous worsts were two 31 point collapses at halftime, so NU’s 35 point collapse part-way through the third quarter blew it away.

Personally, I think there’s really only one thing that caused the collapse and that was poor coaching.  Sure, there were individual player mistakes and lack of execution (interceptions and a blocked punt), but in the end, one coaching staff made adjustments on both sides of the ball during the game, and one did not.  My biggest irritation was the MSU suddenly became unstoppable on offense, when it hadn’t done much before then.  Furthermore, as panic set in, the NU sideline was unable to calm the troops and focus them at the job at hand.  I haven’t completely lost confidence in Fitzgerald and his staff…but I want to see some improvement in coaching for the rest of the year and into next year.

The loss of NU LB Nick Roach to a broken leg in the third quarter was and is significant, but as has been the problem for many years, pass defense is this team’s Achilles’ Heel.

On offense there was good news as the emergence of Bacher gives NU the threat of a passing attack and that allowed Sutton some running room.  NU's spread may be a running-based offense, but this year has proved again that a passing threat is needed to keep opposing defenses honest.

NU’s next opponent is not good for the team’s confidence.  Undefeated No. 2 Michigan rolls into town to continue its series of three easy tuneup games one its way to the only game that counts…OSU on Nov. 18.  Michigan has veteran players returning at nearly all positions and is known for a stellar defense and an offense that can scratch out points against any offense.

Michigan’s offense is lead by Junior QB Chad Henne and Junior RB Mike Hart, both strong players behind a solid offensive line.  Henne and Hart continue the Michigan tradition of protecting the rock, with only five interceptions and one fumble.  Their best WR (Manningham) is out with injury, but the backups include Steve Breaston who was the No. 1 guy before Morningham arrived last year.  The defense is lead by monster LaMar Woodley at DE, David Harris at LB, and two solid tacklers at CB in Leon Hall and Terrance Taylor.  All these guys and more will be playing on Sunday in the very near future.  Coach Lloyd Carr is in his 12th year as head coach and is third behind Yost and Schembechler on the list of most winning Michigan coaches.  The team comes off a tough win against Iowa that demonstrated the suffocating defense and gutsy offense the team is known for.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  NU is unlikely to lead in the game and there’s no way they will win.  The OL must contain the Michigan linemen or Bacher may not last the game.  But if they can do that, they have a decent chance of scoring some points.  So far, Michigan’s largest margin of victory was 26 points (against Notre Dame by the way) and they’ve had some stinkers on the schedule including Vanderbuilt and Central Michigan.  In addition, Coach Carr has never been known for running up the score (which probably contributes to the perception that the team has underachieved in the past).  I think 33 points is too many to give away.  Look for Michigan to get up by 17 points or so and start coasting the rest of the way as Hart pads his stats.  Should be a quick game.

Pick: 'Cats cover by fielder’s indifference – Michigan 35, NU 10. Take NU and the points.

(Record:  6-2 straight up, 4-4 against the spread – hey, we’re a bookie’s dream)

Iowa Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Northwestern Wildcats (2-7, 0-5) at University of Iowa Hawkeyes (6-3, 2-3)
Date: Saturday, November 4th, 11:00 am CST
Television: ESPN Plus Regional TV
Line: NU +20


Where to begin?  It’s been a tough year for the Wildcats, and to think that it’s actually going to get tougher is not exactly a cause for optimism.  You’ve heard all the comments – young coach, no experience at quarterback, defense that comes and goes, turnover prone offense.  It’s led to a wildly inconsistent and essentially a downer of a year for NU fans that had grown used to the Wildcats competing for and/or playing in a bowl game.  Not this year.  

One week, the 'Cats put some points on the board, but surrender the biggest lead in the history of Division 1-A in an utter collapse at home against MSU.  At Ann Arbor last week, the defense held reasonably tough against the Wolverines, but five turnovers and the absolute absence of a running game doomed the Wildcats.  In fact, after watching NU get held to minus 13 yards rushing I started to ask myself how much more bleak could this season get?  With apologies to Nigel Tufnel, the answer is none -- none more bleak. 

We’re obviously playing for next year right now.  Bacher is showing that he could be the quarterback to lead this team for the next few years.  The defense has made some strides, but just isn’t there yet.  The running game that looked so strong when we had a solid QB in 2005 has shown that there’s some work to do.  Growing pains for Coach Fitz’s inaugural campaign, to say the least.

Iowa comes in having dropped three Big Ten games, two reasonable ones to Ohio State and Michigan, and one to Indiana.  After sitting out last week’s game against Northern Illinois with a thumb injury, Hawkeye quarterback Drew Tate is expected back for this week against NU.  Tate was a preseason All Big Ten selection, and has been having a solid season backing up that nomination, averaging just under 240 yards a game.  Tight end Scott Chandler has been the primary target for Tate this season.

For the ‘Cats, this one looks brutal.  The offense will need to get itself going in a hurry.  If they fall behind early, this one’s over.  Take into account this Hawkeye team is out for revenge – recall NU’s improbable comeback last year in Evanston where they stole the game 28-27 after being down by 13 with under four minutes to play.  In addition, Iowa has lost only two games at Kinnick Stadium in the past four years, and one was to the # 1 Buckeyes in September.  

Pick: How long till spring practice?   Iowa 31, NU 10.  Take the Hawkeyes and lay the points.

Season to date:  7-2 straight up, 5-4 against the spread

OSU Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-7, 1-5)
Date: Saturday, November 11, 2006.  Kickoff at 2:30 pm CST
Television: Regional Coverage on ABC and ABCHD (and ESPN GamePlan PPV)
Line: NU (+23)


Is anyone else confused?

The team lost the largest lead in NCAA history three Saturdays ago against Michigan State, and then played better on the subsequent Saturday but still could not manage a touchdown against a struggling Michigan team, and THEN goes into Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City and defeats a Hawkeyes team that gave fits to other Big 10 powerhouses, 21-7.  Who was the team that lined up against the Hawkeyes?  And, more importantly, will that team show up at Ryan Field at Dyche Stadium this coming Saturday, or will it be the team from the previous two weeks?

With the win, the Wildcats snapped a six-game losing streak and won their first conference game in 2006.  For Iowa, the loss was just their third in their last thirty home games.  Winning at Kinnick Stadium is difficult, adding luster to the Wildcats' performance.

The Wildcats' anemic rushing attack finally returned.  Super soph Tyrell Sutton scorched the Iowa defense for 168 yards on 28 carries, scoring one touchdown.  For his efforts, Sutton earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, and a helmet sticker from Lou Holtz on ESPN's College Game Day.  Terrell Jordan scored another touchdown in the 4th quarter on a 34-yard run.  All told, Northwestern rolled up 225 yards on the ground.  Importantly, a significant portion of this yardage came AFTER the 'Cats had the lead, meaning they avoided the strategic mistake of throwing far too often with the lead and leaving time on the clock for a comeback, like they did against Michigan State.  Under center, C.J. Bacher was a steady 19 for 29 for 219 yards and a touchdown, but had two balls picked off, one of which occurring as the Wildcats were threatening at the end of the first half.  If NU is to have any chance against the Buckeyes, Bacher will have to take better care of the ball and channel his inner-Schnur.  It is interesting to note that Northwestern was last in the Big Ten in virtually all statistical categories entering the game in Iowa City.

The Northwestern defense proved unusually stout.  The Hawkeyes did gain 266 yards on offense (paling in comparison to NU's 445) but managed only one touchdown, that coming in the third quarter.  The NU defense forced three turnovers, including an interception of a Tate pass at the goal line to snuff out a threat.

This week's opponent comes into Ryan Field on a 17-game winning streak.  The Buckeyes are led by Heisman candidate Troy Smith, who has had a stellar year guiding the Buckeye offense.  He has thrown for 22 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions.  Smith has excellent athletes to throw to in Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzales, and to handoff to in Antonio Pittman.  Ginn has 49 catches and 7 touchdowns, while Gonzales has caught 43 balls, 6 of which were touchdowns.  Pittman averages 95.2 yards per game and has 11 TDs to his credit.  Truly, the Buckeyes' offensive is impressive.

Equally as impressive is the Buckeye defense.  Despite losing nine starters from the 2005 team (several of whom play on Sundays), the Ohio State defense continues to excel.  The Buckeyes lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 7.6 points per game.  They have shut out one team (Minnesota) and held six others to seven points or less).  In fact, NU's last opponent scored the most points against the Buckeye defense, managing 17 points (of course, the Buckeye offense more than matched that with 38).  It looks like Bacher will be running for his life much of Saturday, as OSU averages 3.0 sacks per game.

With Michigan #2 in the polls (including the BCS) and Ohio State #1, all anyone has been able to talk about for the past few weeks is their scheduled brawl on November 18.  It seems to be weighing heavily on both teams' minds, as well, as each struggled against inferior opponents.  Michigan was a missed 4th down try from being tied by Ball State, and Ohio State looked lethargic against an ovematched Illinois squad, winning only 17-10.

This may well work in NU's favor.  It is the classic trap game for Ohio State.  All the ingredients are present:  big (HUGE) game against a fierce rival a week later, intense media coverage, a much weaker opponent (at least on paper), a different offensive scheme to prepare for.  No one could really fault the Buckeyes for overlooking NU and mentally preparing for Michigan.  It's a 1 versus 2 game against their fiercest and most hated rival, the evil maize and blue.  Will that provide enough of an opening for NU to sneak in the side door and ruin the party?

Well, no.  It would be nice to send the Buckeyes limping into their clash with Michigan, but the Lowes Line just can't foresee that happening.  However, this game will be a lot closer than the oddsmakers predict, and NU will put a scare into the Buckeyes before they pull away.

Pick:  OSU 28, NU 17.  Take the 'Cats and the points.

Season to date:  Straight up 7-3, Against the Spread 5-5

Illinois Preview and Prediction
***Plus: Annual NU Hoops Bonus Preview***
By GallopingGrapes

Illinois Fighting Illini (2-9, 1-6) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-8, 1-6)
Date: Saturday, November 18, 2006.  Kickoff at noon CST
Television: No TV.  Internet only (ESPN360).
Line: Illinois -2


Plenty of good seats still available for this one.  This will be the 100th game between the long-time Big Ten rivals, and it will be a WAR for, uh, last place in the conference.  Yay.

Last week, NU got blown out by top-ranked Ohio State, 54-10.  Golly, I hope the Buckeyes weren't really looking past that game to their match-up with Michigan.  For what it's worth, the Illini stayed close to Ohio State a couple of weeks ago, losing a defensive battle, 17-10.  Thanks to the Buckeyes' lofty ranking, I was able to watch most of last week's game.  That is, until ABC left the massacre in the fourth quarter (shortly after my eyes started bleeding) to go to a more competitive PAC-10 game.  It's difficult to offer any insightful comments about last week's game, other than that Ohio State is really, really good, and NU is not.  Still, NU has played hard from the first game this season, and the 13 seniors who will be playing their last game on Saturday-in front of an appreciative home crowd-deserve to go out with their heads held high.  They've had a heckuva good 4 years.

Although their season record may not reflect it, the Illini team that NU will be facing tomorrow is much improved over the one that NU beat 38-21 last year in Champaign.  Illinois plays very solid defense, led by senior linebacker J Leman.  On the offensive side of the ball, the Illini are led by the unfortunately nicknamed Isiah "Juice" Williams.  Williams is a true freshman, but he has shown a penchant for the big play this season, and he is also a threat to run the ball.  Illinois might finally threaten for a bowl bid before he leaves Champaign in a few years.

Expect the game to be a hard-fought battle between two teams that will play better than their records.  The match-up between J Leman and Tyrell Sutton should be a good one, but the game may well turn on the ability of C.J. Bachér to help send senior WR Shaun Herbert out with a bang.

Pick:  Northwestern 24, Illinois 20.  Take the 'Cats for the straight-up win. 
(Season to date: Straight up:  8-3.  Against the spread:  5-6)


This is going to be a tough year for NU hoops.  The cupboard isn't exactly bare, but it doesn't have much beyond a few random items that may or may not be edible.  Then again, when I was a bachelor (many, many moons ago), I made some good meals out of those mystery items, and only got sick maybe once or twice.  Admittedly, this is not a very appetizing metaphor for the 2006-07 NU hoops season.

Coach Bill Carmody has one of his youngest teams since his first season at NU (when he had a bushel of freshmen and nary a senior on hand).  Gone are Vedran Vukusic (the second leading scorer in the Big Ten last season) and defensive whiz Mohamed Hachad.  Also gone are transfer-busts Mike Thompson and Bernard Coté.  If nothing else, Coach Carmody will be able to rely on his few seniors to provide some much-needed leadership to a group of intriguing young guns.  NU has only two scholarship seniors, G/F Tim Doyle and C Vince Scott, and the team will need them to shoulder the burden of leadership left behind by Vukusic and Hachad.  Hopefully, Scott will get some help in the post from Ivan Tolic, who redshirted last season and has played little over the last few years due to chronic knee problems.

If Northwestern is going to be competitive in the Big Ten this season, they will need the freshmen to step up right away.  Fortunately, NU looks like it has at least a few really good ones on hand.  Freshman forward Kevin Coble is already starting for the team, and he has the potential to be a consistent scoring threat.  Sterling Williams, who was starting as a freshman last season, will spend more time in the frontcourt than he did last season.

NU's backcourt should be able to create some space for Coble to score.  Guard Craig Moore started off like a star at the beginning of Big Ten play as a freshman, but he seemed to wear down by the end of the rough conference schedule.  Moore is a gunner, but he needs to expand his game beyond the pure three-point threat he was last season (nearly 90% of his shots were from three-point range last season).    He'll share the point guard duties with Jason Okrzesik, a walk-on transfer from Rice.  Again, NU will rely on two freshmen, Jeff Ryan and Jeremy Nash, to learn quickly and provide quality minutes.  Nash in particular has the potential to fill some of Hachad's former role as the defensive stopper.

For each of the last three years, I've predicted that NU was thisclose to its first NCAA Tournament bid, and in each of those seasons NU has fallen one game sort of .500.  On paper, at least, the 'Cats seem to have missed that particular window.  And if the first two games of the season are any indication, this will be a frustrating, inconsistent season.  (After dropping their opener to Cornell, Northwestern beat cross-town rival, and popular pre-season sleeper, DePaul by a score of 49-39.)  I can't predict that this is the year for that long-sought after NCAA bid, because no matter how surprising the freshmen might be, they won't be able to magically create the kind of inside game necessary to compete in the Big Ten.  But, as Coach Carmody's teams seem to do every season, this young team will win (and lose) some games they shouldn't.  Maybe, just maybe, this young team will mature into the type of good-shooting, defensive team that can sneak into the Tournament in a year or two.

(Final Lowes Line 2006 prediction record: Straight up:  9-3.  Against the spread:  6-6)