Lowes Line
2010 Posted


The Complete 2010 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 2010 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!

Vanderbilt Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup: The Northwestern Wildcats (0-0,0-0) at the Vanderbilt Commodores (0-0,0-0)
Date: Saturday, September 4, 6:30PM CDT
Television: ESPN3 (the Tres, really?) [also Comcast Sports Net and CLTV]
Line: NU minus 3.5


Welcome to the 2010 edition of the Lowes Line.  The Northwestern Wildcats open the season visiting the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, Tennessee.  Many in the Nashville Media have dubbed this the “brain bowl” as NU and Vandy are very similar in academic standing and as the only private universities in their respective conferences (Big 10ish and SEC).  The similarities end when you look at what NU has accomplished on the field in the past 15 years (7 bowls appearances to 1 for Vandy) and especially the last two years where NU has gone 9-4 and 8-5 while Vandy has gone 7-6 and 2-10.  I dare say I think NU has turned the corner and become a respectable football program.  Experts are predicting 8-4 for the ‘Cats this year, and some are even calling them the sleeper pick of the Big Ten.  If NU can go 7-5 or better it will be a successful year and the first time in NU history where the ‘Cats have gone to a bowl game 3 years in a row

The question becomes can NU win the games they are supposed to win.  They should be favored in 7 games this year (4 non-conf and Minn, Indiana, and Illinois).  They always pull off an upset so 8-4 is reasonable, but only if they win the games they should win.  This is one of those games they SHOULD win.   Last year NU stumbled at Syracuse and almost lost to Eastern Michigan.  Hopefully they can avoid these lapses this year. 

Vanderbilt comes into this season in a little bit of turmoil as their head coach Bobby Johnson (a Steve Martin look-a-like) abruptly resigned in the middle of the Summer.  The timing was such that there was not time to find a new head coach so the Asst. Head Coach was promoted.  He seems like a very nice guy but he personality reminds you more of Hee-Haw than football.  Vandy will use a spread offense similar to NU’s but Vandy has not been able to consistently move the ball.  Many designed passes turn into the quarterback scrambling for his life.  Very reminiscent of NU in the early ‘90s.  Vandy does return the SEC Freshman of the Year in Warren Norman.  Norman ran for over 700 yards last year but just had arthroscopic surgery on his knee 10 days ago so his durability for this game is a question mark.   Vandy usually has a decent defense with good linebackers but their typical performance is to hang tough for the first half and then wear out in the second half.

All the focus on NU has been on new QB Dan Persa.  Persa, a Junior, played in several games last year and should be ready to lead the ‘Cats this year.  Persa is described as more of a running threat than Kafka which I’m hoping is not a polite way of saying “he hasn’t gotten this throwing thing figured out yet…”  Be prepared for a slow start but eventually NU should get the passing game going.  NU will use running back by committee with Fields, Concannon, and Schmidt.  Their improvement  will be directly proportional to the improvement of the NU O line.  With most of the line returning and a renewed commitment to aggressively running the ball, NU should not have to, and in general should not revert to the Outback Bowl model of throwing 78 passes in one game.

NU’s defense should be stout enough up front with 2 returning starting linemen and all 3 returning linebackers.  The concern will be in the secondary where only one starter, CB Jordin Mabin returns.  NU will miss shutdown CB McMannis, and safeties Smith and Phillips.  Luckily, Vandy is not the kind of team that can exploit NU’s new secondary (that time will come later in the season).

The Lowes Line is looking very forward to see how the NU kicking game performs this year.  NU finally has a dedicated punter (even if he is a walk-on).  Demos will concentrate exclusively on kickoffs and field goals.  He should show the small improvement needed to make him a very reliable kicker.


The game should start slow as both teams try to get their spread offenses working.  Expect numerous trading of punts.  The defense will probably score for both teams and look for Vandy to run a kickoff back for a TD, as they did 3 times last year.  Eventually NU should wear Vandy down and put the game away by the middle of the 4th quarter.

Northwestern 27, Vanderbilt 19

Take the ‘Cats minus the points, they will cover.

Illinois State Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: The Illinois State Redbirds (1-0, 0-0) at the Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, September 11, 11:00 am CDT
Television:  Big Ten Network (NU is also offering Gametracker on www.nusports.com)
Line: NU minus 27 (unofficial)


Recap from Last Week: 

The home opener was another in a long line of close games with a lot of excitement.  Things started out well with NU getting out to a 10-0 lead relatively quickly, but Vanderbuilt quickly righted the ship and made it close before half time.  The Cats picked up right where they left off last year, namely with good quarterback play, bad running back play, and a defense that seems completely lost on third downs.  Dan Persa showed that he can be an accurate passer who protected the ball and an impressive runner, though he took a few too many hard hits for so early in the young season.  Arby Fields looked tentative…he needs to get his feet under him by running assertively and save the dancing for later in the game if at all.  On defense, the Cats put Vandy in a lot of third and longs, but repeatedly let them off the hook.  Hopefully, some needed improvement has occurred this week and a more polished team will show up  for the home opener this week.

Next Up:

The Illinois State Redbirds roll into Evanston coming off a close win over a Division II team (Central Missouri) after a 6-5 record last year.  ISU has lost its last ten games against Big Ten or Mid-America Conference teams.  Coach Fitzgerald is saying all the right things about this opponent including bringing up the New Hampshire loss four years ago, but there’s really not much risk of a real upset here.  New Hampshire was a very good second teir team (Football Championship Subdivision to be exact), while the Redbirds are a mediocre second tier team.    I have to admit that I had to look up where the school was and it turns out I live only two hours away.

ISU has one really quality player, the sophomore QB Matt Brown, in addition to two serviceable running backs (Erik Smith and Ashton Leggit, both transfers from Big Ten schools).  Their defense was scorched for six TDs through the air last week and 605 total yards.   There’s really not much to say to suggest that they can keep up with NU. 

After one game, NU needs to see some improvement on defense, and this week might be just the confidence boost they need. Honestly they looked very good overall on first and second down, but they seemed unable to get any pressure on the QB on third and long.   The running attack needs some major improvement as well.  Perhaps Vandy’s above average defense has improved over last year and they will look better going forward, but I’m definitely worried.  On the positive side, Persa looked good and Junior Jeremy Ebert looked like he will develop into Persa’s go-to target when things are on the line. 

Speaking of improvement, Charlie mentioned last week that NU had finally found a dedicated punter, but don’t expect too much.  His leg strength looked suspect as he twice resorted to low screaming punts when faced with over 60 yards of open field.  Perhaps it was just jitters, but I don’t think so.  The end result was respectable, but that’s only because the punt receiver didn’t try to catch it and run.  Demos looked a little rusty as well, but he should be fine going forward.


I expect NU to look good this week (not too risky there).  I suspect we’ll see less of Persa running to avoid an injury and more passing to take advantage of ISU’s weak pass defense.  Look for the running game to take over the second half of the game as Fitz tries to convince this team it can run better than they did last week (not counting Persa) after the passing game has loosened up the Redbirds defense.  

Northwestern 42, Illinois State 17

If you can find someone to take the bet, I like the Redbirds to cover, mostly because NU spends the second half running.

(Record:  1-0, 0-1 against the spread)

Rice Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (2-0, 0-0) at Rice Owls (1-1, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, September 18, 6:00 pm CDT
Television:  Need to get creative...log onto www.riceowls.com, purchase a subscription, and hook up your computer to the TV with an HDMI cable.
Line: NU (- 6.5)


After a relatively easy go against an inferior and Div 1-AA opponent in Illinois State last week to get NU to a 2-0 start at Ryan Field, the Wildcats travel to Houston in Week 3 to take on Rice.

What do we know about Rice?  Well, a few things.  First, it's the grain with the second highest worldwide production, after corn.  It also provides more than 20% of the caloric intake for the world's population.  Finally, it's damn good under sesame chicken.

Rice University, on the other hand, is a pretty highly-regarded institution, ranked in a tie with prior conquest Vanderbilt at 17th nationally (well behind NU's ranking of 12).  It's a small school, less than half the size of
Northwestern from an undergrad perspective, and its teams play in Conference USA.  The university was named for its founder, William Marsh "Uncle Ben" Rice, who after amassing a fortune in real estate, railroad development, and cotton trading, decided to charter a free-tuition school in Houston after his death.  It happened sooner than planned.  He was subsequently poisoned by his butler, who succeeded in pork-frying Rice, but not stealing his fortune, having been found guilty of murder.

Against the Grain(s) - Northwestern all-time records against:
Rice: (1-4)
Wheat(on):  (0-0)
Maize (& Blue): (15-52)

NU comes into this game after a confidence-building effort last week against Illinois State, and plenty of backups got into the game during the 37-3 laugher.  Junior Wildcat quarterback Dan Persa has been very impressive thus far, hitting on an eye-popping 86% of his passes through the first two games.  He'll continue to target his main receivers in Jeremy Ebert and Sidney Stewart as well as tight end Drake Dunsmore, who represent a solid receiving corps with great hands.  The running game is still not exactly in high gear for the 'Cats, and Arby Fields, who is emerging as the feature back, looks to get it going this weekend in Houston after showing what he's capable of last week in going for 96 yards on 22 carries.

This game will be a little different, as Rice has the ability to make plays and get some points on the board.  Owl quarterback Nick Fanuzzi arroz to the occasion against North Texas, stepping in after starter Taylor McHargue was injured, and going long-grain with several passes in Rice's 32-31 victory.  Fanuzzi gets the start this weekend against NU.  Look for Wildcat defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and linebacker Quentin Davie to get in Fanuzzi's paella and provide the pressure to create a couple turnovers.

In preparation for the expected 80-plus degree heat in Houston, Coach Fitz turned up the temperature and humidity in the practice facility this week, and has stated he may even slow down the no-huddle spread if temps get oppressive during the game.  This one represents another one in the "games the 'Cats should win" category on the way to bowl qualification.  Should be a much closer game than last week, but Rice should be still be risotto at the end of it.

Pick:  'Cats pilaf the victory...  Northwestern 27, Rice 14.
Take NU and lay the points.

Season to Date:  2-0, straight up; 1-1 against the spread.

Central Michigan Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

Matchup: Central Michigan Chippewas (2-1) vs Northwestern Wildcats (3-0)
Date: September 25th, 11:00 am CDT
Television: Big Ten Network
Line: NU (-7)
Outlook: This is the game I've been dreading since the season opener. Everyone pointed to the Rice game as the trap game. NOPE, this is the trap. The Chippewas (are we allowed to call them the Chippewas, I thought everyone had to change their name except the Illini and the Seminoles) are coming off a season where they finished ranked in the top 25 and won the Mid-American Conference as well as their bowl game over Troy. They have a new head coach and have started off strong once again. They are led by junior quarterback Ryan Radcliff who over three games has already accumulated almost 800 yards in passing and three touchdowns. Last week Paris Cotton who is also a junior ran for 209 yards and has a whopping 6.2 yards per carry average this season with 6 touchdowns. They have walloped Hamptom 33-0, lost to a good Temple team in overtime and then walloped Eastern Michigan 52-14. Mind you, Temple beat the living heck out of UConn last week 30-16. This game will be a barn burner.
The 'Cats played well last week and were never challenged by the Owls winning 30-13. Persa again looked solid completing 24 of his 32 passes (he actually went down on his yearly completion pct) for 307 yards. He rushed for one and threw for another touchdown. The defense was stout as Quentin Davie led the team with a pick six and 10 tackles. The Owls didn't get into the endzone until 13 seconds were left in the game. The running game outside of Persa again seems to be an area of concern as Fields led the team with 17 carries and just 55 yards for 3.2 yards per carry. What the heck is this team going to do against Iowa or Wisconsin? I sure hope Fitz has something up his sleeve.
I am really worried about this game. The Chippewas are good, but I have to stay a believer.
Pick: The Cardiac 'Cats send some alumni to the hospital for stress but Demos wins it at the end
NU (listen up ESPN, it is not NW) 24, Chippewas 21
The 'Cats win but the Chippewas cover

Minnesota Preview and Prediction
By GallopingGrapes

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (4-0, 0-0) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-3, 0-0)
Date: Oct. 2, 2010, 11:00 am CDT
Where: TCF Bank Stadium
Line: NU (-5)
Outlook: It is literally impossible to write a Gophers preview without reference to Caddyshack.  Do I really want to live in a world in which Hollywood is so creatively bankrupt that not one Left Coast goofball is capable of dreaming up another gopher movie?  I tried to google "gopher movies" in an effort to keep the allusions and pop references herein fresh, but I ended up on some weird Taiwanese rodent porn website that I'm sure will disqualify everybody in my family for three generations (including any future adoptive sister-wives when polygamy becomes inevitably mandatory) from ever holding elected office.  It also reduced my cut-rate anti-virus software to the digital equivalent of cottage cheese on a hot day.  Consequently, I have spent most of this evening drinking Makers and diet Coke, uninstalling crap antivirus #1, purchasing and installing shiny new antivirus #2, and cleaning/repairing the cobwebbed pile of monkey spunk that used to be my hard drive.  By the way, drinking and computing seems like a good idea, but it probably isn't, because once I found the "defrag" tool in my system tools, I got the giggles, and I've now defragged myself nine times.  I am getting sore.
Everybody stay with me through that meandering intro?  On to the Minnesota game.  Did you know that NU (or NWU if you went to Syracuse and your uncle got you a job at ESPN) is on a 4-game road winning streak dating back to last year and excluding any games played on the road in Florida that don't count as road games because the Wildcats were the designated home team?  The 'Cats also have won their last 7 regular season games, typically by scoring more points than their opponents.  That there is some good analyzing that you won't get in most of your so-called mainstream media previews.
Truthfully, there is not much mystery about this game.  Dan Persa should be eyeing that Gopher secondary like a rabid mongoose in a yard full of 3-legged kittens.  Maybe another 80%+ completion percentage day and a QB rating higher than Lindsay Lohan will finally draw some national attention to the Wildcats signal-caller.  As much fun as it should be to watch Persa go wild, most 'Cats fans will be hoping that Minnesota's conference-worst run defense finally gives the NU rushing attack the jumpstart it's been craving.  The 2-deep now has Mike Trumpy on top at RB.  Y'know, Trumpy is almost as fun to say as defrag.  If I had a Facebook page, I would update my status to "Trumpy from all the defraggin'."  Oh, this just in from the NU sports information department:  the 'Cats have not trailed for even a single minute in their first four games.  That is in part due to an efficient offense, but even more thanks to defense, turnovers and special teams.  I want more of that in this game.  The excitement of another thrilla in MN-illa will not go over well with my anticipated hangover.
On the Gophers side of the ball, there is really only one name to know: MarQueis Gray (which, of course, is written as if it were three names).  He's Waterboy-good on offense.  Fortunately, he doesn't play defense.  Oh, and if that MN QB seems familiar, it's probably because you've see him before; Adam Weber is starting something like his 406th straight game for the Golden Varmints. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster has a good history against the Wildcats.  But a horrid start heading into the Gopher homecoming this weekend has him saddled with Sister Helen Prejean riding him piggyback on the sidelines.  It says here that this one, unlike most of the last few between these two teams, will not be close.
Pick: NU 34, MN 20.  'Cats eat Varmints.  Lay the points with confidence.
YTD:  4-0 straight, 3-1 ATS

Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup:  Purdue Boilermakers (2-2, 0-0) v. Northwestern Wildcats (5-0, 1-0)

Date:  Saturday, October 9, 2010, 6:30pm CDT (fun fact:  this is just the 12th night game in NU’s history, and it is almost 75 years to the day of the first-ever night game in Big Ten history, also between NU and Purdue in Evanston.)

Location:  Ryan Field, Evanston, IL

TV:  Big Ten Network

Line:  NU (-9)

Outlook:  The Wildcats host the Boilers under the lights in Evanston, coming into this game on the heels of a relatively poor effort at Minnesota.  The Gophers had dropped previous games to Division I-AA South Dakota and MAC also-ran Northern Illinois, both at home.  Northwestern escaped with a win, but it wasn’t pretty.  Its defense looked somewhat vulnerable against a wheezing Gopher offense, and the Wildcat offense, hot early, couldn’t stay on track and eventually squeaked it out.  Special teams continues to be an issue, with yet another PAT missed.  One of these times it’s going to come back to haunt the ‘Cats.

NU quarterback Dan Persa continues to be a model of efficiency, though his completion percentage finally dropped below 80% for the season (he still leads all Division I quarterbacks in terms of completion percentage).  Still, he’s averaging 9.99 yards per attempt and has 10 TD passes against only 2 picks.  His rating is a gaudy 184.6.  He’s also tearing it up on the ground.  He’s NU’s leading rusher by over 100 yards and has the highest per carry average among backs that had double-digit carries.  NU seems content to run by committee, with Arby Fields, Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy all getting 30+ carries.  Schmidt leads the committee with 3 scores.  Through the air, Jeremy Ebert continues to be NU’s go-to guy, with more receptions (24), yards (436), and touchdowns (5) than any other receiver.  He also shines on 3rd down, as was evident on TCF Field.  NU was 8/11 in 3rd down conversions.

NU’s defense, however, struggled to stop Minnesota’s offense.  For the first time all season, NU trailed an opponent.  As is typically the Achilles heel, NU struggles in pass defense.  That may prove problematic when facing the Boilermakers, who tend to run a pass-first offense.

Purdue was idle last week, enjoying their open date.  Well, perhaps that’s a bit strong.  It will allow them the extra reps to try to get their team ready, which has suffered injuries at some important positions.  Rob Henry, the redshirt freshman quarterback, will make his first career start, and he is backed up by a true freshman who has yet to take a snap in a game.  Their senior running back, Dan Dierking, is expected to play Saturday night, but they are down their #1 receiver, Keith Smith, who will be out the entire season with a knee injury, and now their #2 wideout is also out for 3-6 weeks with a sprained foot.  Dierking might get a lot of work.  He’s averaging 5.4 yards a carry, but has managed only 2 TDs this season.  Rob Henry has also shown some running ability, with 31 carries and an identical 5.4 ypc average.

Purdue’s latest effort underwhelmed, dropping a game at home to MAC member Toledo.  Against the Rockets, Purdue allowed 4.4 yards per carry on the ground, and their pass defense allowed a high completion percentage.

So, what happens Saturday night?  Will there be joy on Central Street?  Or will the Boilers celebrate all the way back to West Lafayette?  It says here that NU scores early and often on offense, and contains the depleted Purdue offense.  Look for Persa to run through the Boilermaker defense, especially late, and to pick them apart with his arm, running up Ebert’s numbers.  With aerial weapons sidelined, NU’s defense can concentrate on bottling up Dierking and keeping him under 100 yards for the game.

Pick:  NU 28, Purdue 10.  No AEDs needed this week.

Season to date:  5-0 Straight up, 2-3 against the spread

MSU Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

Matchup:  #7 Michigan State Spartans (7-0, 3-0) v. Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1)
Date:  Saturday, October 23, 2010, 11:00 am CDT (Location:  Ryan Field, Evanston, IL)
Line:  MSU (-7 was the open)


Outlook:  What can be said.  The ‘Cats blew a game they should have won.  Haven’t we said this yearly for over a decade?  Not sure what can be said about this game that hasn’t been said already.  Northwestern simply was beaten by Purdue and shouldn’t have been.  The naysayers have all come out.  Are the ‘Cats going to win another game?  They have Sparty, a Hoosier team who can pass at will, the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, the Hawkeyes, the Wrigley game vs an improved Illini team and then the Badgers.  OUCH!!  Are the ‘Cats staring at 1-7?  Fitz has had 2 weeks to pick his players up off the mat and prepare them for this game. 

The Spartans are 7-0 and have played every game this season in the state of Michigan (very weird statistic) with 6 games at home and one road game in Ann Arbor, where they humiliated the Wolverines.  They returned home last week and were behind at halftime against the Illini before rallying in the second half for 23 unanswered points, winning 26-6.  On offense, they are led by junior Kirk Cousins who has completed 66% of his passes for over 1600 yards.   Cousins mainly hands the ball to his two handed monster Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell.  Both players average almost 7 yards per carry and the NU defense is going to have their hands full containing these two monsters.  The defense is led by Big 10 Defensive player of the year Greg Jones and National Player of the Week last week after he recorded 14 tackles.  This guy just ate up Denard Robinson during the Michigan game and he will be starting in the NFL next season. 

What does Fitz have up his sleeve for Homecoming?  Fitz is 1-3 vs the Spartans including his first homecoming game in 2006 where NU jumped out to a 38-3 lead before losing 41-38.  Running the ball has been an absolute disaster this year and thoughts of just outright abandonment has to have entered the minds of every ‘Cats fan.  Persa must lead this team and be almost perfect for a shot at victory.  

Prediction:  Sparty starts out slow as they look ahead to the Iowa game (their only roadblock on the way to a potential undefeated season) and the ‘Cats jump out to an early lead.  It’s not enough

Pick:  Cats cover but MSU wins.  MSU 24, NU 21

Season to date:  5-1 Straight up, 2-4 against the spread

Indiana Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (5-2, 1-2) at Indiana Hoosiers (4-3, 0-3)
Date:  Saturday, October 30, 2010 12:00 p.m. EDT
TV:  Big Ten Network
Line:  Indiana (+3)
"Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it."
- George Santayana
This often misquoted aphorism explains why Northwestern is 5-2 and now concerned about becoming bowl eligible for the third consecutive season, rather than celebrating a win over previously (and, sadly, still) undefeated Michigan State.  Perhaps the signature play of the 2010 college football season was the gutsy fake field goal play called by Coach Mark Dantonio to defeat Notre Dame in overtime in week 3.  This play has been extolled and replayed numerous times by color analysts and ESPN commercials since its successful execution.  How, then could Northwestern fall prey to a fake punt while leading Sparty by 10? 
Is it time for NU to cede the mantel as the academic standard bearer of the Big Ten?  Falling for a fake punt in your own territory is inexcusable.  But so is taking a personal foul penalty on the drive after losing the lead.  And fumbling at the opponent's 1-yard-line.  NU's running game by committee was oddly effective, running for 170 yards and Persa accounted for 89 for those, and 3 touchdowns.  Persa was not his usual accurate self, going "only" 18 for 29.  Despite that, Persa continues to lead Division I-A in completion percentage.
Michigan State gashed NU's defense for 457 yards, including 352 through the air.  Pass defense continues to be NU's Achilles heel.
That will be especially problematic against the Hoosiers.  While 0-3 in the Big Ten, IU gave visiting Michigan a scare, going toe-to-toe with the Wolverines before yielding 42-35.  That offensive explosion included 480 yards through the air.  Since that crazy Saturday, though, the Hoosiers have underwhelmed, getting blown out by Ohio State and Illinois, and barely eked out a victory over lowly Arkansas State.  Not the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Arkansas STATE.
The Hoosiers are led by senior quarterback Ben Chappell, who completes two-thirds of his passes and has a 17-6 TD to interception ratio.  IU's leading rusher, Darius Willis, is out for the rest of the season with a groin injury.  Indiana's defense is porous, surrendering 34 or more points the last 4 games.
This game could be a very interesting contrast in styles.  IU struggled against athletic quarterbacks like Michigan's Robinson and OSU's Pryor, which should bode well for Dan Persa to have a big game on the ground.  And NU's defense struggles against the pass, so IU's Chappell will throw early and often.  The winner may be the last one with the ball, but will definitely be the team whose defense steps up and stops the other team one more time.
There's an old adage in football.  When you throw the ball, 3 things can happen, and 2 of them are bad.  Look for Persa to run wild.  NU becomes bowl eligible in Bloomington.
Pick:  Wildcats 42, Indiana 35. 
Season to date:  6-1 straight up, 2-5 against the spread

Penn State Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2) at Penn State Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2)

Date:  Saturday, November 6, 2010, 3:30 p.m. edt

TV:  ABC regional / ESPN 2

Line:  Northwestern (+6.5)


Two-thirds of the way through the 2010 campaign for the Wildcats, and a lot of us are still scratching our heads, asking, “Who is this team?”  Seemingly and legitimately only a few plays from being undefeated and a Top 20 team, but when you watch, you can’t help but think that a similar level SEC or Pac 10 team could inflict some serious damage.  It’s not ridiculous to think that this contest represents the best chance the rest of the way for NU to get win number seven and go from bowl eligible to bowl certainty.

Northwestern travels to State College this week, which has been historically more of an Un-Happy Valley for NU, as the 1-5 all-time record suggests when the ‘Cats visit the geographical center of Pennsylvania. 

There’s been plenty of talk lately about the possible renaming of Beaver Stadium to honor Joe Paterno, who is gunning for his 400th career win this weekend.   Paterno Stadium?  Expect a lawsuit from the family of former Pennsylvania governor James Addams Beaver, for whom the stadium is currently named.  Paterno-Beaver Stadium, akin to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa?  Wouldn’t want to be a granddaughter of JoePa at a fraternity party when that name gets brought up.  Let’s just say it needs some additional thought.

How long has JoePa been the head coach at Penn State?  Well when he started, the team wore leather helmets and his staff had just heard about this thing called the forward pass.  Just kidding on those two, but these two are true…When JoePa picked up the head coaching reins, the NHL had six teams and the Beatles were supposedly more popular than Jesus.

Last week at Indiana, the ‘Cats came away with a three point victory in a game they sorely needed.  Wideout Jeremy Ebert was again a star, with two TD grabs, and quarterback Dan Persa continued his strong play against the Hoosiers before being lifted in the 4th quarter due to a concussion.  Persa is expected back this week against the Nittany Lions.

You’ve likely read in multiple places that the running game woes are over for NU after the victory in Bloomington last week.  After spending half the season trying to find the right fit at running back, Mike Trumpy finally cracked the century mark for NU, going for 110 yards, the first Wildcat back to do so since Tyrell Sutton in the 2008 Alamo Bowl.  Sorry, I’m not yet a buyer.  You can over-analyze stats to present the story you want, but the fact of the matter is that the running game is really not that consistent…yet.  Of Trumpy’s 21 rushes against Indy, twelve of them were for 3 yards or less, for a total of 14 yards.   He broke a few good ones, which is great, but the more telling stat is that when the game was on the line, the running game didn’t deliver.  Fourth quarter, two minutes to go, 3rd and 4 at the Indy 35 yard line.  A first down ends the game.  The result?  Two Trumpy rushes, each for one yard, a turnover on downs, and the Hoosiers come back with a TD and make us sweat an onside kick.  I think Trumpy can be the man, but the jury is still out.

Defensively, the ‘Cats did a decent job against Indiana, essentially shutting the Hoosiers’ running game down, and playing just well enough in the secondary to get the win.  They put enough pressure on the QB to cause some trouble even though they didn’t officially record a sack.

This week in Happy Valley, the order is a bit taller.  Penn State comes off a 41-31 home win over Michigan that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.  Lion tailback Evan Royster ran for 150 yards and two scores against the Wolverines, and the Wildcat defense will need to be on top of its game.  Although not a full-on QB controversy, former walk-on Matt McGloin displayed some skills in continuing to sub for freshman Rob Bolden who was sidelined, recovering from his own concussion a week earlier.  McGloin did nothing too fancy, but avoided costly mistakes in getting Penn State the win.  JoePa has yet to name a starter for Saturday’s game, but from a Wildcat perspective, it doesn't t make too much difference.  The gameplan of the Penn State QB is to not lose the game, so NU should be adequately prepared regardless.

This is a game the ‘Cats not only can win, but should win.  Fitz has been a master towards the end of the season, (9-4 in November, 5-1 on the road), getting his team to play better as the season progresses.  And the ‘Cat offense should be able to move the ball effectively, both on the ground and in the air against this Lion defense.    Add to that the fact that whether he admits it or not, Persa will be looking to prove that Penn State was wrong for overlooking him when he came out of high school as the best quarterback in Pennsylvania but wasn’t actively recruited by JoePa.

This Penn State team is good, but by no means great. They’ve beaten the teams they should beat, but have been embarrassing in their losses.  They’re very beatable.  Stopping big plays on defense and special teams will be the difference for NU.  This game is a sign of maturity as a program for the Wildcats.  A win gets guarantees a 3rd straight bowl game for the first time in school history.  Any NU fan looks at this game differently than they would have a trip to State College years ago.  There is a (maybe not so) quiet confidence about this one, and NU fans won’t look at a victory here as an upset. 

Pick: Fitz draws to within 365 wins of JoePa.  Northwestern 24, Penn State 20.  Take the ‘Cats and the points.


Season to date:  7-1 straight up, 2-6 against the spread.

Iowa Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (6-3, 2-3) vs #13 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2, 4-1) in Evanston
Date:  Saturday, November 13, 2010, 11:00 am CST
TV:  ESPN (to showcase the new NU or to show that not much has really changed since the early '90s)
Line:  Northwestern (+10)


Where to start?  Last week’s game versus Penn State was like a low budget teen movie where the head cheerleader flirts with the geek (played by NU), only to have the popular guy come and kick the geek in the nuts after class.   In most of these type of movies there is a second act where the geek gets his revenge and saves the day.  That second act never came as NU gave away a very winnable game at Happy Valley.

I flipped on the game mid way through the 1st quarter, NU up 7-0.  Persa looks great. NU up 14-0.  Showing pictures of Persa’s parents in the stands.  PSU can’t get on track on offense.  NU forcing punts.  NU drives the length of the field before half with Dunsmore making an amazing one handed catch in the back of the end zone to put the ‘Cats up 21-0 with 1 minute remaining in the first half.  I tell my wife the gods are smiling on us so far.  It is the beginning of the end.  PSU drives 90 yards in that minute and scores, 21-7.  No problem I think as this will just give Fitz and the boys motivation at half.  PSU gets the ball to start the second half.  They convert at least 5 third downs to march down the field, 21-14.  NU, 3 and out.  PSU marches again.  No more drop back passing, everything is play action.  NU cannot get any pressure on the QB what so ever.  21-21.  NU 3 and out.  21-28.  21-35.  It is like being punched in the face but I cannot turn away.  I still have hope.  NU mounts a drive in the late 4th quarter.  They make it to the 10 before failing on 4 plays to find the end zone.  Game over.

I really wanted them to beat PSU.  They never seem to be able to beat PSU.  It just frustrates me to no end.  This year has really gotten to me.  I lie in bed at night and replay in my head key plays that could have gone the other way.  This is not healthy.

What is going on with this team?  They just get completely smothered in the second half.  My take is the opposing teams are  just sleep walking  through the first half and NU gets a lead.  They realize they could lose and then start playing hard and smart in the second half.  That is when NU collapses.  For all the early promise shown with the 5-0 start, NU really is not good enough on defense to compete with the big boys.  NU has not beaten a team this year with a winning record.  The bright side is the entire Offense is returning next year.  If we can just get a shutdown CB or two…

This week’s game is versus Iowa. who beat PSU 24-3, at PSU.  NU has had its way with Iowa recently winning 4 of the last 5 contests.  That includes last year’s signature win in Iowa City, when Iowa was ranked in the top 4 in the nation.  Now it is possible that NU’s good luck against Iowa continues, but I doubt it.  Yes Iowa is down to its 4th string running back but it is the pass that NU cannot defend.  This year has really shown how much we miss McMannis at CB and Wooten at DE, two 2009 ‘Cats who are playing on Sundays.  After watching tape of the NU-MSU and NU-PSU games Iowa should know how to exploit our secondary to open up all options on the field.  NU will score but iowa has a stout Defense, ranked 6th in the nation in scoring defense,  so the 13-20 points we score will not be enough to overcome the points Iowa is going to put up.   Iowa QB Stanzi  broke his ankle last year versus NU.  He should be ready to get his revenge.  Offensively Persa has done well all season.  He has guides the team beyond anyone expectations and been the complete offense.  He has not had a bad game.  He is due.  NU has not had a game yet were all the wheels fall off and the turnovers come in bunches.  I think this weekend will be that game.

NU stays hung over from the collapse in Happy Valley, fumbles this one away, and gets whacked.

NU 16 - Iowa 38

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

Of course I hope I am wrong and I’ll probably get up at 2am local (Tokyo) time to listen to the game but if it is anything other than another kick in the nuts I’ll be surprised.

Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup:  Illinois Illini (5-5, 3-4) vs Northwestern Wildcats (7-3, 3-3) vs #13 in Chicago (Wrigley Field)

Date:  Saturday, November 20, 2010, 2:35 pm CST


Line:  Northwestern (+8) – That’s right, Bowl eligible, #25 in the Coach’s Poll, and the underdog


Holy smokes, what a game!  In case you’ve been under a rock (not that Rock), Northwestern pulled out the unlikely victory last week and continued their recent domination of Iowa.  It started well with NU pulling ahead early, but then is started to look like a replay of the previous week’s game against PSU as Iowa pulled ahead in convincing fashion while stymying NU’s offense repeatedly.  Then, Northwestern’s Brian Peters intercepted an Iowa pass and the momentum swung back to the Wildcats.  Dan Persa lead the Cats to two touchdowns to pull ahead 20-17.  Oh the highs…followed quickly by a sinking feeling as Persa crumpled untouched to the ground running to celebrate with his teammates.  It looked bad when the cameras showed him sobbing on the sidelines surrounded by teammates.  After the game ended and NU’s upset of the #13 ranked team was complete, it was learned that Persa ruptured his Achilles tendon and is out for the rest of the season.  Considering his reliance on running, his effectiveness next season (his senior year) is also in question. 

Path Forward:

So, Northwestern’s fortune will now rest with redshirt freshman Evan Watkins.  Let’s hope he follows in the footsteps of Persa and Mike Kafka before him and steps in and performs adequately almost immediately.  Evan grew up in Chicago’s western suburbs and attended a local high school powerhouse (Glenbard North for those that are interested, which is a lame hybrid name for Glen Ellyn – Lombard…I’m full of useless facts).  He is listed as 6’-6”, reportedly has a very strong arm, and may be able to see open receivers better than recent NU quarterbacks as a result.  But before making the assumption that QB running may not be in the game plan with him, I should tell you that he ran for 15 TDs his two years of starting in high school (in addition to 36 passing TDs).  So that’s the good.  The bad is that he’s young, with only 7 pass attempts this year and will be under a lot of pressure to keep up with the Illini offense in front of what is expected to be a large crowd in a stadium/field that cannot be considered a home game.

The Wildcat’s opponent this week will be the Illinois Illini, who continue to desperately seek a new mascot after the last one was abandoned by the school due to perceptions of insensitivity surrounding a halftime “dance” performed by the mascot (considering that we still have a professional team called the Redskins, I always thought Chief Illiniwick was relatively tame, but then again, I don't know how I'd feel about a team called the Western Europeans with a short pudgy mascot who danced a jig while wearing a kilt either...oh wait, isnt that Notre Dame?  I take it back, get rid of the mascot).  Illinois has had a disappointing season this year primarily due to their pathetic excuse for a defense.  They’re coming of a bad loss to Minnesota 38-34 after leading by 10 points midway through the 4th quarter and lost a barn burner earlier in the year to Michigan in triple overtime, 67-65.  Basically, the Illini make the Wildcat’s defense look like the second coming of the Purple People Eaters.  Their offense is another story however, as they have averaged 34 points per game in their conference games. 

Illinois is lead by freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and junior running back Mikel LeShoure along with a solid group of wide receivers.  They’ve proven this year that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years if they can improve their defense.  The game at Wrigley Field is likely to seem like a home game for Illinois rather than NU due to the high number of Illinois grads that stay in the state compared to Northwestern.  

Speaking of the game field, it should fun to watch, and the word is that it is likely to become an annual event if the Cubs new owners (the Rickett’s) have anything to say about it.  They’ve painted the Wrigley Field main gate purple and installed giant photos of Northwestern players around the outside.  The facility has had a lot of upgrades lately, but the men’s room continue to house the longest urinal  troughs I’ve ever seen…think of it as a tradition, and stinky, disgusting, slightly homoerotic tradition.  One minor problem though…if you thought the ivy covered walls were a problem for outfielders during the summer, check out this link: End Zones
Fitz has said that it “will affect game planning”…you think? [Editor's note: this Lowes Line was written and submitted before Friday's bombshell decision to change the rules for the Wrigley game.]  I doubt Dunsmore’s going to be making a whole lot tiptoe catches in that endzone.  Look for whoever wins the toss to elect to start towards that endzone so they can end the game going the away from it.  BTW, was the faux ivy on the padding really necessary?

I’d like to say that I have a good feeling about this, but I am expecting Northwestern to stay relatively conservative in the first half with lots of short passes and RB runs to get Watkins comfortable.  The good thing is that Trumpy has been showing flashes of a solid future running the ball and RB Jacob Schmidt may be back as a change of pace after missing  last week with an ankle injury.  I hope to see a different look for Northwestern's offense to take advantage of Watkins' different skill set. 

However, look for Northwestern to be down at halftime and open the playbook in the second half.  Illinois will score its points, but, all things considered, the Illini defense is a soft landing for the Cat’s new QB.   Watkins should find some open receivers down the field, when the coaches are ready to take risks.  Will he be able to avoid mistakes while under pressure to score as often as Illinois?  My magic bald head (no, not that one) says not this time.  But look for flashes of great play from a young quarterback who is probably NU’s best chance in a long time of having a QB go on to success in the NFL.


NU falls behind early and mounts a furious comeback only to fall a little short.

Illinois 28 – NU 24  - Take the Cats and the points.

Season to date:  7-3 straight up, 2-8 against the spread (clearly, bookies like us)

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By GallopingGrapes

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (7-4, 3-4) at #5 Wisconsin Badgers (10-1, 6-1)
Date: Saturday, November 27, 2010, 2:30pm CST
Television: ABC/ESPN
Line: NU +23.5
Outlook: [Lowes Line Ed. Note: The shock of the Wrigley debacle, combined with the terrors of what could happen tomorrow, have reduced the author to a child-like state.  And I don't just mean that it gave me poopy pants.  Please check back with us next season, when hopefully we will be fully recovered.]
The 'Cats In The (Purple) Hats
(With apologies to Ted Geisel)
The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat there at Wrigley
All that cold, cold, bad day.
I sat there with JerseyCat.
We sat there, we two.
And I said, "How I wish
We had defense there too!"
Too shell shocked to go out
And too cold to play ball.
So we sat there at Wrigley.
We did nothing at all.
So all we could do was watch and say
And we did not like it.
Not one little bit.
They just kept on running
And running us down.
Then they ran even more.
And then ran ran ran on.
And on and on and on and on.
And on and on and on and on and on.
And then on some more.
And then more and more and more and more.
And they kept on running, darn them.
It became quite a bore.
Just when we thought it could not get worse,
Well, it did.
We needed to get drunk
And make the pain go away.
'Cuz up in Wisconsin
There's a big piper to pay.
We looked!
Then we saw them step in on the mat!
We looked!
And we saw them!
The 'Cats in the Purple Hats!
And they said to us,
"Why do you sit there like that?"
"Don't you know that our coach,
The fearsome young Fitz,
Has spent a week kicking our asses
With his balled-up man fists?"
We paused as we thought,
Well, sure, that makes sense.
If Zook's boys could run them into the ground,
Our coach must have been gnashing his teeth
And itching for Badgers to pound.
The 'Cats in Purple Hats were given no turkey,
No stuffing, no gravy, no biscuits or taters.
Their guts couldn't take it, not after last week.
They've been running and running themselves
Up stadium stairs,
And pressing weight benches.
They've been puking their guts out
Erasing their nightmares.
Coach Fitz must be angry,
Watching the 'Cats just get dissed.
So he's chewed off some ears,
And now has them pissed.
Don't be like the fish, saying "Look! Look!
Here comes Mom!"
We're on to Wisconsin, not Camp Crystal Lake!
Do not cry "Oh what will they do to us?
Those fierce Badger boys?"
Our Fitz does not want us to cower and quake.
So do something dumb!
Take the points on the road!
(But keep the remote handy,
Just in case the 'Cats' asses get mowed.)
Prediction: Badgers 42, Cats in Purple Hats 21.
Season to Date: Ah, forget it.  Let's just say this was not a good season for the Line.
[Neither Thing One nor Thing Two were injured in the production of this parody.  Unlike both Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy, who are probably going to watch this one from the sidelines for the 'Cats.  Note actual football item.  Is it too late to change this prediction?  Anybody know Hop On Pop?]

For the record, a week after Kevin Coble broke his foot last year, and a day or so after the 'Cats lost a tough one to Butler (who turned out to be pretty good) I said screw it and picked NU to make the NCAA Tournament anyway.  As they built momentum over the course of the season, I welcomed a few of the less timid media types onto the bandwagon.  Then NU lost to Penn State--twice--and it was over.  I hate, hate, hate Penn State.  Even worse than green eggs and ham, which I also hate due to the high level of poisonous green fungus.
A handful of games into the 2010-2011 season, and I find myself once again a contrarian.  As gratifying as it is to see ESPN, CBS and various print outlets picking NU to make the expanded tournament field, I am obligated to toss a turd into the punch bowl.  I see no NCAA bid in the cards this season.
This is not a function of Coble's exit with one year of eligibility remaining.  After all, NU won without him last season.  Sure, it would have been fun to see a healthy Coble on the floor with John Shurna, Juice Thompson, and Drew Crawford.  We could have seen a Big T(welv)en version of the Loyola-Marymount offense, assuming Coach Carmody could channel his inner Paul Westhead.  But who the heck was going to play defense on that team?  A much greater loss is the graduated Jeremy Nash, who stepped up big time last season and made the 2009-2010 Big Ten All-Defensive Team.  And say what you want about Kyle Rowley, but even as a community college player trapped in an NBA body, he at least got in the way of the other big men in the conference.  I mean, he did once or twice.  Or once, at least.  Anyway, I guess Rowley's transfer hurts our height-weight averages.
Do not get me wrong.  I like this team  Shurna already rendered Coble an afterthought last season.  Thompson is one of the best 2 or 3 point guards in the conference (and probably the single most valuable floor leader in the country, in my humble opinion).  Crawford can score with anybody on any given night.  Even Mirkovic has made me forget some of the gawd-awful shots and matador defense from his freshman season.  I like having 9th year senior Jeff Ryan back on the bench as a sixth man, swingman, assistant coach and surrogate grandfather for the younger guys.  Those four starters can stand with just about any other team in the conference.
And I love the freshman, JerShon Cobb.  He should get the nod as the fifth starter most of the time this season, much like Crawford, Shurna, Thompson, and Coble before him.  And when he gets in over his head, which will happen from time to time, Carmody has some experienced players to take up the slack in Alex Marcotullio, Mike Capocci, Davide Curletti, Ivan Peljusic and Nick Fruendt.  That collective experience is likely the Wildcats' best asset this season, as they return a conference-high 12 lettermen.
So, what's the problem, you ask?  If we have the talent and depth to not really miss Kevin Coble, and with 4 extra NCAA bids available, shouldn't this finally be the year?  Um, 'fraid not.  Sure, Jeremy Nash earned all-conference defensive honors last year, but as a whole that was one of the worst defensive teams since Carmody arrived in Evanston.  With Nash gone, it's hard to see that situation getting better.  This team still might lead the conference in scoring in 2010-2011, but will still finish in the bottom in rebounding margin.  As a whole the Big Ten is really, really, really good this year.  The teams at the top (Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State) are all as good or better than last year. The teams at the bottom (Indiana, Iowa) are better.  Michigan is probably not very good. Minnesota could be real good, or disappointing.  Penn State can burn in hell.
No, the real problem is the schedule.  NU plays perhaps its softest non-conference schedule in years.  In football, that only hurts you if you're Boise State or TCU. [ed. note: I spent Thanksgiving praying that Ohio State ends up playing Boise State in January.]  In basketball, a weak non-conference schedule is death to a bubble team, which is what NU will be as the 6th or 7th place team in a good Big Ten.  NU has its toughest stretch starting this week, when it takes on Creighton on Monday, followed by Georgia Tech on Wednesday (both at Welsh-Ryan).  Then NU will play either St. John's or Davidson at Madison Square Garden in a late December mini-tournament.  None of those teams are going to boost NU's profile, and even one loss in those three games will be a killer.  By contrast, last season Butler was a good loss, and Notre Dame/Iowa State/NC State were good wins. 
Even with an undefeated non-conference schedule, NU might need to win 22 games (including at least a 10-8 conference record and a win in the Big Ten tournament) to be sure of a NCAA bid.  I hate to say it, but I do not see where those 10 conference wins are going to come from.  NU figures to get roughed up in early conference play, when the 'Cats will face Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State (twice) in their first 6 games in January. NU will surprise one of the top teams at some point, but will also likely lose somewhere they should not (if it's Penn State again, I'm going to smash a television). 
NU is a good team, terrific offensively, but it will be very hard to break into the top half of the conference this season.  Northwestern will very likely finish ahead of one (or two) teams in the Big Ten that will have better RPI profiles than the 'Cats, and who might jump ahead of NU into the NCAA field. 
As long as it ain't Penn Freakin' State.

Tejas Tech Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Ticket City Bowl, Dallas TX – Northwestern Wildcats (7-5, 3-5) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5, 3-5)

Date: Saturday, January 1, 2011, 11:00 am CST

Television: ESPNU

Line: NU +9.5

Outlook:  Amazing what a little success can do.  Virtually every member of Wildcat Nation awaits this year’s bowl game asking what could have been.  Admit it…a 7-5 record for this squad is seen as not meeting expectations, and a bit of a letdown.  Crazy, right?  A letdown at NU games used to be when the tailgate’s keg ran dry before you could get a few cold ones in at halftime ahead of returning to suffer watching the second half.  But it’s true, things have turned a corner in Evanston.  Coach Fitz has gotten this program to a place where consistency is now a hallmark, and there is an expectation of a bowl game each year.  Consider this…NU has not had a player suffer a losing season who was recruited while Fitz has been head coach.  In fact, 2010 is the fourth consecutive season in which NU has had a non-losing season.  The last time NU had four consecutive years without a losing season?  1928-1931.  Yeah, it’s been a while.  Add to this that the program is setting a first this year by playing in its third consecutive bowl game, and the NU faithful have to take some solace in the fact that while the season on its own is admittedly a bit of a letdown, taken in context, the Wildcat football program appears to be in good hands for continued success.

There is, though, that one little piece of unfinished business, that of not having won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl.  For those having been under a rock since Francis Peay had his pre-game meals at Mustard’s Last Stand, NU has played in seven bowl games in the past fifteen years, coming up short in each:  Rose Bowl (’95 season), Citrus (’96), Alamo (’00), Motor City (’03), Sun (’05), Alamo (’08), Outback (’09).  Will the hex be broken this year?

So NU meets Texas Tech in the inaugural Ticket City Bowl.  Seriously?  They can’t do better than that?  Maybe the “Kinda Like StubHub with a Less Catchy Name” Bowl?  And the game is at 11:00 am locally in Dallas on New Year’s Day.  How ‘bout the “Hair of the Dog” Bowl or the “Bloody Mary Bowl, sponsored by Tabasco”?  Personally I’m partial to the “Greasy Sausage ‘n Cheese Biscuit with Egg & Three Advil” Bowl.

NU comes into this postseason matchup with a lot of question marks.  Aside from the obvious of missing their All Big Ten QB, Dan Persa, whose season ended with a ruptured Achilles in the comeback win against Iowa, NU ended the season with two disastrous efforts against Illinois at Wrigley Field and at Camp Randall against Wisconsin.   In addition, NU’s leading rusher Mike Trumpy will not be available for the game, having injured his wrist against Illinois.  So what’s to like? 

Good news is that the ‘Cats have been able to get some valuable practice time in for Evan Watkins, the redshirt freshman QB thrust into action at Wrigley following Persa’s injury.  Watkins showed signs of promise with some big time throws against the Illini, and the future at the QB position for NU seems bright.  Texas Tech should also help Watkins look good, as their defense is not exactly the Steel Curtain.  The Red Raiders have allowed an average of 30 points per game this year.  Watkins is believed to be sharing the QB duties with freshman Kain Colter, who got a few snaps against Illinois and Wisconsin, but is more of a running threat than Watkins.  Look for Jeremy Ebert to continue to be a prime target for either Wildcat signal caller, as the passing game looks to be the main weapon.  Keep an eye on Venric Mark, the freshman return man for NU as well.  His 4.4 speed could come into play in breaking a big one as he did against the Badgers, taking a kickoff return for a touchdown. 

On defense, the ‘Cats have their work cut out for them.  After watching NU’s two performances to close out the regular season, Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator must have been looking like a kid on Christmas.  The Red Raiders are led on offense by QB Taylor Potts, and he’s solid.  Potts has thrown for over 3,300 yards and has 31 TDs against only 9 INTs.  He has a cadre of receivers, but the main targets are Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis who combined have 23 TDs.  Stopping a true spread offense is a chore the ‘Cats haven’t really had since they played Indiana in October, where they came away with a 20-17 victory.   The play of the NU secondary is likely going to be the determining factor in this contest.

Pick:  Toast with a Shiner Bock…NU ends 62-year bowl drought.  ‘Cats 30, Texas Tech 27.

Go 'Cats!