2013 Lowes Line


The Complete 2013 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 2013 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!

Cal Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup:  #22 Northwestern Wildcats (0-0) at California Golden Bears (0-0)
Date: Saturday, August 31, 9:30 pm CDT
Line:  Northwestern (-6)

Welcome back to the Lowes Line for 2013, where for the first time in the storied 17-year history of this irreverent preview and prediction of Northwestern football, we’re able to state that NU is coming off a victory in a bowl game!  The ‘Cats literally shredded the monkey from their back with an exciting Gator Bowl victory on New Year’s Day over SEC foe Mississippi State, the first postseason victory for Northwestern since, yes, the Rose Bowl against Cal in 1949.

Northwestern opens the 2013 season at Berkeley, and is then home for the balance of the non-conference schedule against Syracuse, Western Michigan, and FCS opponent, Maine.  The Big Ten schedule brings the likes of Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan, and Michigan State to Evanston, while the ‘Cats visit Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois.

Looking at the schedule as a whole, it’s definitely tougher than last year, as the Buckeyes and Badgers replace Penn State and Indiana on NU’s docket.  That said, the expectations are high for this team, coming into the season ranked # 22 in both major polls.  Anything less than 8-4 would certainly be a disappointment, and you would think most NU fans are expecting no worse than 9-3. 

This weekend, the ‘Cats begin their season before September (barely) for the 7th time in their history, with NU sporting a 5-1 record in games played in August.   For most of us, this game will begin in August and end in September, given the start time.  Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald is looking for his 51st career win as NU’s head coach, to extend his school record.  His first game was also played on August 31st, an emotional win over Miami (OH), following the death of former head coach Randy Walker two months prior in 2006.  This week, Fitz has had the team practicing at 9:00 pm in Evanston to get accustomed to the late start in Berkeley.  Along similar lines, this Lowes Liner has been staying up until 2:00 am drinking Old Style for the past week, also in preparation of the late start time. 

There’s a lot to be excited about as a ‘Cats fan.  The bulk of an offense that averaged 31+ points per game last year returns, including a dynamic pair of seniors in QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark.   This combo will continue to keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.  Colter, while seemingly much more comfortable running the ball, has progressed as a throwing quarterback.  While you wouldn’t have guessed it, he’s actually pretty accurate, having completed more than two-thirds of his attempts in 2012.  He threw 8 TDs and ran for another 12 last season.  Speedster Mark had a great 2012 as well, garnering All-America honors as a punt returner to go along with 1,366 rushing yards. He has a legitimate chance to leave Evanston as the all-time school leader in all-purpose yards, currently sitting just short of 1,200 behind Damien Anderson.   Complementing Mark will be senior Mike Trumpy and junior Treyvon Green, who as a unit will likely again have the Wildcat rushing attack among the top 20 in the country.    How much will we see of junior QB Trevor Siemian this year, who played a key role throwing ball in 2012?  The ground game is what’s getting the bulk of the talk, especially due to the dual running threats of Colter and Mark, but Siemian will surely get some reps to amp up the ‘Cats passing attack.

Again the receiving corps is thought to be stacked, and you could argue the unit was underutilized in 2012.  Everything you saw out of superback Dan Vitale last season as a true freshman was impressive, and look for him to play a bigger role in the offense in 2013.  There’s a lot of talent and experience at the wideout positions as well.  Junior Tony Jones, and senior Rashad Lawrence are the familiar names, but keep an eye out for senior Mike Jensen, who cracked the top of the two-deep after being labeled by Fitz as the offensive MVP of 2013 spring practice.    One of the squad’s biggest question marks is around the offensive line, where three starters graduated.   Returning is junior Brandon Vitabile, who is back for his third season at center, and Jack Konopka, a junior tackle.

The defensive unit really has the opportunity to be something special.  The rush defense was very solid last year, 19th in the country, surrendering just over 127 yards per game.  Returning is senior Tyler Scott, who led the Big Ten in sacks last season, along with junior Sean McEvilly.  Scott was recently asked how many defensive linemen could have made the play made famous by South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl, where a Michigan helmet lay on the turf following a big hit.  His answer:  “All of them?”  Gotta love it, downplaying the most ESPN-ed highlight of the last year, by simply saying that he’s more than capable of laying a good lick on a ball carrier.    Look for Dean Lowry, a 6-6 265 lb sophomore, to have a big impact at right defensive end, along with the extremely athletic Ifeadi Odenigbo, who redshirted last year following a shoulder injury.    Senior Damien Proby anchors the linebacking corps, along with Chi Chi Ariguzo, who seems to always be around the ball.

When was the last time you were excited talking about the NU secondary?  Been a while.  Three starters return, led by Nick VanHoose and Daniel Jones at the corners, and junior safety Ibraheim Campbell.  You’ll likely also see sophomore Traveon Henry in the mix as well.  This group is incredibly athletic, and the cause for a lot of optimism.  It’s also poised to be a position of strength in years to come as the quality of athletes recruited by Fitz continues to rise, and we get running backs from high school who will play defensive back at NU (not a misprint).   While there’s some excitement at the thought of a very athletic secondary, it’s tempered by a lack of depth.  Along with the offensive line, the secondary looks to be a place where you’d be most concerned if the injury bug bites.

On to the Cal Golden Bears of Berkeley, where you’re more likely to see a Rush Limbaugh fan club than a solid defense.   Cal is led by first year coach Sonny Dykes, who comes to Cal from Louisiana Tech, where his teams not only improved each year he was there, they led the NCAA in both total offense (578 yards per game) and scoring offense (51.5 points per game) last year.  The Dykes offense, coined the “Bear Raid,” relies on a ton of quick timing and accuracy. 

Leading the Bears’ offense will be true freshman Jared Goff.  Goff comes in as having been a very highly regarded recruit, and is no doubt talented.   He’s not someone you’ll want to face after a year or two in this offense.  The question is whether he’s capable and ready this week.  Aside from nailing all the timing, the Bear Raid also relies on a very up-tempo pace.  Cal has always had athletes, especially as wideouts, and they have five alums in the NFL as wide receivers.  This squad is no different.  Sophomores Byrce Treggs and Chris Harper, along with junior Richard Rodgers will be the key targets for Goff in the Bear Raid. 

Defensively, the Bears are questionable.  Cal was not very effective at stopping either the run or the pass last year, and surrendered an average of more than 33 points per game in 2012.  They’ve switched things up this year as well, moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, not an insignificant change.

Northwestern will be trotting out another new uniform look this weekend, going with a white helmet for the first time since 1980.  The helmet has a purple Northwestern N, and the rest of the uni will be white as well.  It’s a pretty cool look, and will come off well under the lights.

Cal has a brand new, timing-based and passing-focused offense, a true freshman starting at QB, is changing up its defensive scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3, has the second youngest squad in all of FBS, and their cleats are made out of hemp.  (Just kidding on that last one)   It would seem like this could be a laugher for NU.  But talent and athletes are the big equalizer, and Cal’s got a lot of ‘em. 

But I don’t think it’ll be enough.  Cal only wins this in an absolute shootout, and NU has the horses to make enough plays on defense. 

Pick:   Will the ‘Cats win & cover?  Does a Bear sh^t in the woods?   Take the ‘Cats and lay the points.  Northwestern 38, Cal 30.

Syracuse Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup:  Syracuse Orange (0-1, 0-0) at #19 Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, 7 September, 6:00 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Line:  Northwestern (-13) [Ed. Note: The line has been in constant flux due to injury uncertainties.  The Lowes Line is going with the most recent offshore line available at the time the staff made the pick.]


About the best thing that can be said about the Wildcats’ victory at California is that NU, as the ranked team and six-point favorite, won a game it was “supposed” to win.  Looking under the veneer of what seems to be a pretty convincing 44-30 victory reveals some significant issues that the ‘Cats will have to work on this week if they don’t want to lose a game they “shouldn’t” against this week’s opponent, Syracuse.

NU scored two defensive touchdowns on pick-sixes.  But those create an illusion of defensive prowess that really didn’t exist.  They were lucky bounces that resulted less from excellent secondary play and more from lucky bounces (a tipped pass on the first, and a fortuitous carom off the intended receiver’s hands on the second).  But anyone who watched the game no doubt noted the repeated failure of the first defensive player to tackle the Golden Bear ball carrier, resulting in significant yards after first contact.  Cal started a true freshman at quarterback, and all he managed was 38 of 63 passing for 445 yards and two touchdowns.  The three interceptions killed the chances of the Bears to upset the Wildcats.  All told, NU surrendered 548 yards to Cal, led by a true freshman quarterback.  Add to that the loss of starting cornerback Daniel Jones for the season due to a knee injury, and the Purple faithful have even more reasons to be concerned about the defensive side of the ball.
After watching Cal open the game with a long, fast drive (ending in an embarrassing fake FG for touchdown), NU did respond with a quick drive of its own for a touchdown.  The rest of the game featured quick drives and lead changes.  NU’s Trevor Siemian had a decent day, going 18 for 29 for 266 yards and a touchdown.  But he also threw two “completed” passes to guys in the dark blue uniforms.  In addition, NU coughed up the football once on a kickoff return, which led to Cal taking the lead in the 3rd quarter.

The running game did well to keep the ball moving and help NU respond to Cal’s drives and keep the Cats in the game or just ahead.  With Venric Mark limited due to a tender hamstring (you know, “ham,” like prosciutto), running back Treyvon Green had a stout game, scoring two touchdowns and averaging 8.1 yards per carry.  Mark touched the ball a paltry 11 times at 2.6 yards per touch, and it was obvious he was hurting (though it did take the announcers a good quarter and a half before they noted something was amiss, but I digress).

The big question mark heading into Week Two is the health of all around stud Kain Colter.  He was tackled awkwardly on the second play of the game, was taken to the locker room, and spent the rest of the game on the sideline scowling.  He would not see the field again.  He has been listed as “day-to-day,” having suffered a concussion.  He threw one pass before departing, a 23-yard strike, and then was hurt the next play.  Given that his passing has improved markedly during his NU career, and he is always a running threat, not having him in the lineup takes some of the “scare” factor out of the NU offense.  Siemian, while a more proficient passer, lacks the extra dimension and is therefore easier to gameplan for.  Not saying that’s a reason to panic (Siemian did dice up the Golden Bear secondary nicely and saved the Cats’ bacon (or prosciutto if you like) against Syracuse last season), but it always helps when you have your multi-dimensional threat in the lineup.
Into Ryan Field at Dyche Stadium comes the Syracuse Orange.  Fans will recall the shootout that occurred last year at the ironically un-air-conditioned Carrier Dome, in which NU almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before righting the ship to score the winning points in the last minute of the game.  Gone from that Orange team are head coach Doug Marrone and quarterback Ryan Nassib, both departed for the sunnier climes of the NFL, the latter holding a clipboard for one Lowes Line staffer’s beloved New York Giants.  Not this particular staffer, but there it is.  Syracuse locked horns with Penn State to open the season, finally succumbing in a 23-17 loss at Happy Valley.
Senior QB Drew Allen takes the reins from Nassib.  In the opener, he completed less than half of his passes, plus two to the other team, and was held off the scoreboard.  It will be hard to gauge the rest of the Syracuse offense, as the Penn State defense created havoc all day, holding the Orange to 260 total yards, and only 71 on the ground.  Jerome Smith ran for 73 yards on 16 carries (he had 34 yards on the ground and 39 receiving last year against NU).  Still, Syracuse showed flashes of the deep passing game that plagued NU last year in general, with a connection for 55 yards to Kobena.  The Syracuse defense held Penn State to only 23 points, but the Lions started a true freshman quarterback, so that might have helped the Orange defense.
The Cats have been installed as 13-point favorites (and the LL Staff has heard of spreads as high as 17), but that seems far too generous.  Look for a tougher slog for both offenses, as Allen is no Nassib, but Syracuse’s defense seems improved over last year’s.  This is another game that NU “should” win, and they have struggled with those games in the past; being ranked seems to be Kryptonite to the boys in purple and white.  If NU can win the game in the most important real estate on the field – the 6 inches between their collective ears – they win this game going away.  No shootout this year, but NU makes it two in a row over Syracuse.
Pick:  Cats juice the Orange (no pulp!) but Syracuse retains the peel.  Cats 28, Syracuse 20
Season to date:  Straight up, 1-0.  Against the spread, 1-0.

Western Michigan Preview and Prediction:
Q&A Edition

By Eric Cockerill

Matchup:  Western Michigan Broncos (0-2, 0-0) at #17 Northwestern Wildcats (2-0, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, 14 September, 8:00 p.m. CDT
TV: Big Ten Network
Line:  Northwestern (Opened at -35, currently -30.5) - May be the largest opening spread ever for a Northwestern team.

Q:  What's with the format?

LL:  I'm lazy and wanted to try something new.

Q:  How’d the game go last week?

LL:  So well, my typical half-time Valium went unused.   NU dismantled Syracuse, who looked slow and over-matched, by half-time.  The game was not as close as the score suggested, and the Cats covered the spread easily while coasting in the second half.

Q:  The Cats seem to be much more able to score through the first two games and haven’t been the typical Cardiac Cats, even when Colter was out the first game.  What’s different so far?

LL:  A picture is worth a thousand words:

Q:  Why is that happening?

LL:  Partially the competition…I wouldn’t expect that type of production in the passing game against the OSU’s and Michigan’s.  Also, the fact that Colter was injured early and didn’t play in the first game has contributed since his yards/catch will be lower than Siemian’s.  But, it’s still a real change.  The coaching staff feels more confident in receivers like Christian Jones, Dan Vitale, and the most impressive player so far, Tony Jones, so they’re calling more downfield passing plays.

Q:  What’s the biggest concern of the season?

LL:  To borrow from a children’s book, Where’s Venric?  Obviously, he was injured prior to the season’s first game and Fitz did not want to reveal it.  Based on the fact that he played sparingly and was constantly riding an exercise bike throughout the Cal game, I’d have to guess that it’s some sort of hamstring injury.  If true, they likely kept him out of the Syracuse game to try to let it heal, and I really wouldn’t expect him to play in the scrimmage this Saturday for the same reason. Ideally, that would give him the Maine game to get in the groove for the OSU game two weeks later.

Q:  What’s been the biggest surprise this year?

LL:  Look back at the chart above and the last question…Treyvon Green has been performing really well for the Cats in the absence of Venric Mark.  He's been showing the type of performances he hinted at his first couple of games at Northwestern before he seemed to wilt.  The only real issue is that he and Mike Trumpy are good north/south runners, but struggle to reach the edge when starting out running along the line of scrimmage.  Mark has the speed to beat the defenders and make yards on those types of plays.  Colter also has that speed and shiftiness, but its still a weakness compared to having Mark in the game.

Q:  How's the defense been playing?

LL:  Overall, I'd say great.  Most impressive is the passing defense.  They have 7 interceptions and 5 sacks so far in the two games, well above last year’s averages.  Some of the interceptions are surely because the opponents are pressing from behind, but it appears that the pass rush is continuing the improvement we saw at the end of 2012.  They will still give up passing yards, but are showing that they recovered reasonably well from the loss of Daniel Jones in the Cal game.  The run defense does seem to be susceptible to running plays on the edge due to suspect tackling, but as with previous years, when the Cats can get ahead in the game, that weakness becomes relatively unimportant.

Q:  Who’s up this week?

LL:  The Broncos of Western Michigan University.  WMU is located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, making it the second most expensive school in that town (behind Kalamazoo College, one of the most expensive in the country).  This will be the first time the two teams face each other.  The factoid for this game is that NU will now have played at least one game against every Division 1 football program in Michigan (WMU, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan , University of Michigan, and Michigan State University) in its history.

Q:  So, is this one of those trap games where a MAC school surprises a more prominent football program?

LL:  Um, no.  The Broncos are not...not…not good.  Last year they were 4-8, and they’re 0-2 so far this year.  They’ve only had one winning season over the last four (7-6 in 2011).  Here’s a photo I obtained from the WMU game last week.

Q: But they played a tough game against Michigan State University the first week of the season? 

LL:  Well, true, but I think that is more an indicator of MSU’s anemic offense this year than WMU's abilities.  The Broncos lost last week to Nicholls State University…which is located in Louisiana, for those who’ve never heard of it.   Meanwhile, MSU beat South Florida University last week with an offense that only scored 7 points, and that’s the South Florida that let McNeese State score 53 points in a loss the previous week.

Q:  Aren’t you getting a little cocky?

LL:  Nice…like I haven’t been hearing that since kindergarten.

Q:  No, No, I mean aren’t you getting a little over-confident?

LL:  Maybe a little, but I really think the NU team has the pieces to crush inferior teams including 1) ability to score quickly with long passing plays, 2) a pass rush that can disrupt teams trying to catch up, and 3) offensive and defensive linemen that will be significantly larger and more athletic than the Broncos.  Plus, I think Fitz really thinks this team as the potential to go a long way…I believe he will want to put a big score on the board so the Cats keep moving up the rankings and have a chance to crack the top ten going into the OSU game.  Think about that one for a minute.  A big win this week, a win next week, and then a bye week when a team or two above NU will fall and….


LL:  I know...mind blowing to think that's a possibility if Fitz can keep the team focused and hungry.

Q:  So what’s your pick?

LL:  My thinking is that WMU may score 17 points as the Cats aren’t really a shut down defense, they may be coasting in the 4th quarter similar to the Syracuse game, blind squirrels and all that, so that means the Cats have to score at least 48 points to cover….considering that they scored an average of 46 points against two vastly superior opponents compared to the Broncos in the previous two games, I say they cover and I’m guessing 55-17, Northwestern.  Take the Cats and lay the points.

Season to date:  Straight up, 2-0.  Against the spread, 1-1.

Maine Preview and Prediction:
"No, I'm Not Baked, Why Do You Ask?" Edition
  By Galloping Grapes

Matchup: #18/16 Northwestern Wildcats (3-0) vs. #25 (FCS) Maine Black Bears (3-0)
Date: Saturday, September 21, 2013, 2:30 p.m. CDT
Location: Ryan Field
Line: N/A.  Let’s call it NU (-21)
Outlook:  It’s Maine.  Last chance to use live ammo before the Poisonous Nuts come a-callin’ on Oct. 5.  So let’s eat some peyote buds, contemplate the Black Bears, and get ready for a crazy weird bye week.
To start, here’s my third favorite bear joke.  A 90-year-old man goes in for his annual physical.  Just prior to the digital exam, the doctor asks, “How are you feeling, Walter?”  The old man replies, "I've never felt better or more alive, Doc!  Since my last checkup, I met and married a beautiful 22-year-old exotic dancer, and now she’s pregnant and having my child.  What do you think about that?”  The doctor levels his gaze upon his withered patient, then says,  "You remind me of a buddy of mine who was a die-hard hunter.  One day he left the house in the dark and in a hurry, and he accidentally grabbed his umbrella instead of his gun.  So there’s my buddy alone in the woods, and suddenly a grizzly bear jumps out of the bushes in front of him!  Startled, my friend raised up his umbrella, pointed it at the bear, and squeezed the handle."  "Wow!" the old patient says, “What happened to your friend?”  The doctor replies, "Well, the bear just dropped dead, right there in front of him!"  "That's impossible!" exclaims the old man. "Someone else must have shot that bear."  The doctor looks the old man in the eye and says, "Yes, that's kind of what I'm driving at..."
This is the second time this season NU has squared off against an opponent with the dreaded bear mascot.  After hanging a golden pelt on the wall in Game 1, this time the ‘Cats are looking to take down the smaller, Northeastern ursine cousin from Orono.  The Black Bears are led by their Sr. QB Marcus Wasilewski, who I believe spent the summer leading his Scare Fraternity to an intramural Scare Olympics championship at Monsters University.  Despite his round, green body and single giant eye, Wasilewski is a capable, experienced QB with some decent beef on the OL protecting him, and several different weapons at WR.  NU’s cornerbacks will need to stay awake to help put this game out of reach.
By the way, have you heard about the atheist who was walking through the forest, admiring the beauty of evolution’s creation?  As he walked along the river, the atheist heard a rustling in the brush behind him.  When he turned toward the sound, an enormous grizzly bear leapt from the bushes and charged at him.  The terrified atheist began to run as fast as his poor atheist feet could propel him.  As he ran, he could feel the bear closing in on him.  The atheist ran even faster, sobbing and gasping in fear.  The bear drew closer.  The atheist’s heart was pounding and his legs were burning.  Suddenly, the atheist tripped and fell to the ground.  As he rolled over, he saw the savage bear towering above him, reaching for the atheist with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike his head clean off his shoulders.  At that moment, the atheist screamed "Oh my God!"  Suddenly, time seemed to stop.  The bear froze in mid-swipe.  The forest became silent, the river stopped gurgling, the birds stopped singing, the wind stopped blowing, and the leaves stopped rustling.  A bright light shone down, enfolding the frightened atheist.  An ineffable Voice spoke from above, saying,  "You deny My existence for all of these years; you teach others I do not exist; and even blame your fellow man’s faith for all the evil in the world.  And now, in your greatest moment of fear and need, do you expect Me to save you ? Am I to count you as a believer?"  The atheist looked directly into the light and said, "I suppose it would be hypocritical of me to suddenly tell you I am a Christian, but perhaps could you make the grizzly bear a Christian?"  "Very well," said the Voice.  The heavenly light faded, the river ran again and the sounds of the forest resumed.  The bear dropped his right paw, sat back on its haunches, brought both paws together, bowed his head and spoke: "Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful."
I don’t have much to offer when it comes to the Maine defense.  Yes, I am aware that I rarely have much to offer in any of my Lowes Line contributions when it comes to actual football analysis.  Give me a break, it’s frigging Maine.  The way I look at it, if Canada is America’s hat, that makes Maine our Bluetooth hands-free earpiece.  (Mexico is America’s sock, ‘natch.)  If the Colter/Siemian/Green/Vitabile/Jones/Mark sextumvirate can’t put the Bears’ defense down like a bruin falling from a tree in Boulder and becoming an internet meme, then what’s the point?  Nonsequitorizing, that freakin’ tarp looks huge on the teevee.  I hope my homecoming game seats aren’t under that thing.  Anyway, Maine’s best defensive player is an end named Michael Cole, who is not moonlighting from a regular gig announcing WWE RAW, but may not play tomorrow due to injury.  If he does play, I predict he will get exactly one sack and will perform an insane interpretive sack dance involving a feather boa and a Zippo lighter.  Take that, football analysis nerds!!
Favorite bear joke of all time (please escort the children out of the room):  An anonymous and purely fictional guy (let’s just call him “Frank”) goes up into the mountains on a hunting trip.  The first morning out, Frank comes to a clearing and sees a bear.  He raises his rifle, centers on the bear, and “BANG!”.  He lowers his rifle and looks all around, but he can't find the bear.  Suddenly, he feels a tap on his shoulder.  Frank spins around, and sees the bear glowering over him.  The bear knocks the gun away, and Frank stands unarmed and trembling in fear.  The bear yells at him (in this joke, bears can speak), “Did you just shoot at me?!?!”  Terrified, Frank admits to his actions.  The bear growls, “Well, you’ve got a choice.  I’m pretty hungry, so I could eat you.  Or, seeing as how it gets very lonely up here in the mountains, you could save yourself by [censored content—but have you read Brokeback Mountain?].”  Not wanting to be a meal, Frank immediately drops to the dirt and obliges the bear.  The bear walks away, contented, and Frank staggers back to his camp.  The next morning, Frank takes an even bigger gun with him, and goes to the same place he saw the bear before.  Sure enough, he sees the bear strolling across the clearing, raises his rifle, and shoots!  Frank looks all around, but no bear.  Then, he feels that tap on his shoulder, turns around, and there's the bear again.  The bear glares at him, knocks the gun out of his hand, and says, ''You know the routine.''  Frank once again obliges the bear.  When he's done, the bear saunters away smoking a cigarette and Frank stumbles back to camp.  The third day, Frank is really mad.  He grabs the biggest gun he has and heads to the same spot again.  He sees the bear strolling across the clearing, raises his rifle and mutters to himself,  ''Now this @*(&#^%’n bear's gonna *@&#^%n' get it!''  He pulls the trigger and, "KA-BOOM!"  He looks around again, but no bear.  Then, he feels the same tap at his shoulder.  He turns around and sees the bear standing over him with a big smirk on his face.  The bear looks down at Frank and says, ''You're not doing this for the hunting, are you?”

ICYMI, this is the year of the FCS upset, so FYI no FBS team is safe and NU must keep to its team motto of W.I.N.  Maine has already knocked off one allegedly FBS team at UMASS, so maybe they’ve gotten it out of their system.  Then again, NU has gagged against the former Div. 1-AA before, so let’s not get complacent.  These yogis will try to steal the Wildcats’ pic-a-nic baskets and pee in NU’s #GamedayToEvanston bouillabaisse.  As somebody holding ducats to the Homecoming game in two weeks, I don’t want to see Ranger Fitz shouting in impotent fury as the Bane Of Jellystone scampers off to enjoy his ill-gotten snacks.  I want DeNiro as Capone, or is it Belushi as Bluto?, spitting out a veritable bear hit list, starting with the oddly-named Maine mascot:  “Bananas, Dead!  Yogi, Dead!  Fozzie, Dead!  Gentle Ben, Dead!  Baloo, Dead!  Teddy Ruxpin, Dead!  Winnie the Pooh, Dead!”  Admittedly, this may not be Coach Fitz’s style….  The point is, in all three of my favorite bear jokes, the bear pops out of the bushes and scares/eats/inappropriately embraces the unsuspecting protagonist.  Let’s flip the script tomorrow and coast into the bye week.  Hey Wildcats, can Daddy and PurpleCatDog get their naptimes started by halftime? 
Prediction:  “Hey, Boo-Boo!  KA-BOOM!!”  NU covers the hypothetical 3-TD spread and drapes itself in a new mascot carcass, 45-13.  (But let’s hope we don’t feel that tap on our shoulder in the 4th quarter…)
Season to date: 3-0 SU, 1-2 ATS

Ohio State Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: #4 Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at #16 Northwestern Wildcats (4-0, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, 5 October, 7:00 p.m. CDT
Line: Northwestern (+7)

Outlook: Here it is. The moment we’ve all been waiting for since the schedule came out. Could the hype be any greater? ESPN College GameDay on campus and a nationally televised game in primetime on ABC. It's not an exaggeration to say that this game is the biggest one on campus since Penn State in 1995. Having swept through the non-conference, let's call it "preseason," schedule, NU enters the game at 4-0, essentially where we all expected them to be.

Please, let's not start splitting hairs about the specifics and quality of the wins NU has had in getting to 4-0. Are you kidding me? Given this is a Homecoming weekend, folks are reminiscing a fair amount. Let's reminisce about when we longed about getting 4 wins in a season. I'm the first to say that expectations getting raised are a good thing. However, I also subscribe to the theory that getting a win, no matter how ugly, is all that matters. So I'll sum it up quickly for those Debbie Downers who feel the need to delve into the quality of the wins we've had to date: (1) Cal: overcame high profile injuries and got a pick-12; (2) Syracuse: domination and a second half yawner; (3) Western Michigan: too close for such a bad opponent; (4) Maine: should've beaten an FCS team by more. Feel better?

Another way of saying it is we've won all our games to date, and while some of them may not have been pretty, we're a Top 20 team and undefeated. There's not likely a scenario where we would have been in any better position even if we had won all four games 50-0.

This game marks the return to action of Venric Mark, NU's starting back injured in the Cal game and sidelined with the nebulous "lower body" injury. If indeed Mark is back at full strength, it will be a huge boon to the Wildcat offensive attack. QB Kain Colter and Venric Mark running the read option can be a thing of beauty, and with their collective speed, should be able to keep the Buckeye defense off balance. For the 'Cats to pull the upset, however, they're going to have to pass the ball. Ohio State is chock full of athletes on both sides of the ball, but are at least somewhat vulnerable on defense, exacerbated by the loss of starting safety Christian Bryant, who broke his ankle last week in the Buckeye win over Wisconsin. I expect Trevor Siemian to not only see time in this game, but to be instrumental in the NU offensive attack. Quick, accurate, medium-length passes of 8-15 yards that keep the chains and clock moving will be critical.

Defensively, the 'Cats are in for their toughest test so far, and likely no test will be tougher for the rest of the year. Buckeye QB Braxton Miller is an absolute stud. He can throw the ball very well, but it's his ability to run the ball that's his most dangerous asset against the 'Cats. NU's linebackers will need to stay focused, not biting on the Buckeye play action and keeping containment on Miller. There's little argument that the Buckeyes have more talented athletes top to bottom than NU, so the 'Cats need to play smart and disciplined to have a shot. The aggressive nature displayed to date by the defense has been fun to watch, the 'Cats having intercepted their opponents 10 times in four games. Even though the 'Cats lost a starting corner in Daniel Jones in the opener against Cal, they should have had enough time by now to rectify any concerns. The biggest concern: don't let the Buckeye speedsters run past you and beat you over the top.

With a 70% percent chance of thunderstorms predicted throughout the game, the ball could get slippery. This could actually play to NU's favor if Ryan Field becomes a slopfest. Ohio State will most certainly find the end zone often against the 'Cats. How often can NU answer? It'll take an absolute shootout for NU to emerge victorious, and I'm not sure it happens if they don't score north of forty points.

Pick: The fella for whom this column is named always said bet with your head, not your heart.

Heart says ‘Cats, head says Bucks. OSU's athletes make one key play late.

Ohio State 41, Northwestern 38. Take NU and the points in a thriller.

Season to date: 4-0 Straight up, 1-3 ATS

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: #19 Northwestern Wildcats (4-1, 0-1) at Wisconsin Badgers (3-2, 1-1)
Date: Saturday, 12 October, 2:30 p.m. CDT
Line: Wisconsin (-10)


The spot.

No matter how you feel about the spot on 4th and 1 against Ohio State, that spot and how NU reacts to it will tell us everything we will need to know about the 2013 edition of Northwestern football. Great teams bounce back, forget the past they can’t control, put the work in for the next game, and lay a beating on the next opponent, whose only misfortune was being on the schedule the subsequent week. Mediocre teams and bad teams whine, wring their hands about the “what ifs” and host a massive pity party.

There was lots of controversy about the spot of the ball on 4th and 1. Colter fumbled the snap, managed to pick up the ball, and get into the line. While it appeared that he likely pushed passed the line to gain, the official on the sideline nearest Colter’s run disagreed (I noted at the time at the official on the other side of the field ran in past the line to gain, and then moved backwards to match the far official’s mark). The call stood upon further review, which is understandable, given the mass of humanity involved in the play. As an aside, we’re lucky to even have been that close, as Colter clearly had his knee on the ground as he was attempting to pick up the ball, and he may have been down before even making it into the line…but I digress.

But it never should have come to that. The Buckeyes were weak and they were beatable. We had the lead and, like what happened in 2012, we gave it up. In some ways, the game reminded me of the Rose Bowl in which NU lost to USC.

At the time, I was pretty happy with the outcome, because they looked like they belonged, even though NU lost. But, as the Lowes Line pointed out, expectations are higher now. Is it enough to just seem like we belong? I think the answer to that is a solid, “no.” NU, as a program, has to reject the idea that any sort of moral victory is acceptable. The only victories for which NU should strive are, to paraphrase Magic Johnson, when we score more points than the other team.

Most concerning out of the NU loss was the utter inability to stop the running game. NU tackled poorly and gave up far too many yards after contact. The Poisonous Nuts’ running game is good, but not nearly as good as we made it look. And that spells doom for Saturday’s tilt at Camp Randall against the Badgers.

The Badgers await at Camp Randall, fresh off a bye week, during which they no doubt prepared extensively for the Wildcats’ two-headed offensive monster, Colter and Mark. Given 2 weeks to prepare, no doubt the Badgers defense, led by a very strong linebacking corps, will be ready for the read option. The Badgers are 10th in the country in scoring defense. Chris Borland (#44) will figure early and often in tackles. He runs the field very well, so getting a hat on him is a prime directive. I don’t think, top to bottom, NU can muster the same kind of offensive speed as Arizona State, but Wisconsin showed some vulnerability to speed out west (that game ended on a very controversial sequence that resulted in a reprimand of Pac-12 officials working the game). The Badgers also struggled against those same Buckeyes the week before, losing 31-24, so they do give up points.

But what about the defensive side of the ball? Wisconsin, since the dawn of the Barry Alvarez area, has become tailback paradise. Wisconsin recruits the big eaters in-state and boasts a meaty line to bludgeon big holes in opponents’ defenses, allowing the fleet of foot to eat up yards. Wisconsin has a two-headed monster of its own, in the persons of James White and Melvin Gordon III. Wisconsin is 6th nationally with over 300 yards per game on the ground. White (6.9 ypc) and Gordon (10.3) advance the ball every time they touch it. White is the second-leading receiver on the team, as well, behind walk-on-turned-stud Jared Abbrederis. Tastefully named quarterback Joel Stave completes almost two-thirds of his passes, though he has been known to throw it to the guys in the wrong color jerseys. NU has to hope for that, or else they will have little chance to spoil Wisconsin’s homecoming celebration.

In the end, if I’m new Badger head coach Gary Andersen, I wonder whether I ever throw the ball until NU proves it can tackle better than a Pop Warner team. If NU can tackle, then they keep the game close and probably hold the lead for a good portion of it. If they can’t, they’ll be seeing an awful lot of the backs of the jerseys of White and Gordon. I think NU defense tires late, and the Badgers run to victory. I think NU beats the spread (unlike last week, which really screwed the LL statistics), but barely.

Pick: Wisconsin 30, Northwestern 21

Season to date: 5-0 Straight up, 1-4 ATS

Minny Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten)
Time: 11:00 am CDT
Television:  the Deuce
Spread:  ‘Cats by 12.5 O/U 54

Let’s review:  Wisconsin just took Northwestern to the woodshed last weekend, spanking the ‘Cats 35-6.  To compound matters, Colter and Mark again were injured and the ‘Cats were sacked seven times.  The Badgers obviously had a game plan as they had a week off to prepare and executed it to perfection.   Melvin Gordon ran for 172 yards and a touchdown while his partner in the backfield James White added 101 yards and a score of his own.  Joel Stave passed for 241 yards and three touchdowns while Jared Abbrederis scored as well.  The Badger D shut down the ‘Cats rushing game limiting them to 44 yards on 25 carries.  Fitzgerald was quoted “I hope this gives our guys a punch in the face and wakes them up”.  Enough of the past, it’s time to move on from this game. 

This week’s opponent, the Golden Gophers, beat up on inferior competition earlier in the year as they bested the Rebs from UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois and San Jose State.  However, as Big Ten play began, they were beat rather soundly by Iowa 23-7 and then the Wolverines took the Little Brown Jug, winning 42-13. The Gophers are without head coach Jery Kill as he is attempting to curtail his seizure disorder.  Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has taken over the coaching responsibilities on the sideline and plans to call the defense from there rather than from the booth.  Mitch Leidner has been promoted to starting QB as the Gophers offense has been rather one dimensional this season.  Their rushing game is led by Junior tailback David Cobb who is averaging 5.5 yards per carry with five touchdowns.  While their top receiver only has 14 receptions total through 6 games.  Their defense has been porous this season at best.   

Outlook:  The Gophers have had a bye week to prepare for the ‘Cats just as the Badgers had.  However, despite injuries, this writer expects the ‘Cats to be angry.  The opportunistic defense which has already recovered 17 turnovers will add at least 3 more this Saturday, and hopefully tackle better.  Treyvon Green is going to run wild and Siemian is going to pass for 2 touchdowns.  It will be close at halftime but the ‘Cats will pull away in the 4th quarter. 

Prediction:  ‘Cats 34 – Gophers 17 – Give the points and take the Under

Season to Date: 6-0 Straight Up, 1-5 ATS

Big Ten predictions for the week:
  1. Purdue gets 28 from the Spartans at the Mirage – Take the Boilers as the Spartans don’t have the offense to beat anyone that bad
  2. IU is receiving 9 from the Wolverines at the Big House – Wolves roar after a disheartening loss last week – give the points
  3. Iowa is a 17 point dog to the Buckeyes in Columbus – a late score covers the spread but the Buckeyes will cruise to a 35-21 victory
  4. The Badgers are giving 14 to the Illini at Memorial Stadium – the Badgers are likely the second best team in the Big Ten and should only have one loss if they had not been screwed by a Pac 12 officiating crew, however, the Illini are playing a night game at home.  They won’t win but will keep it close.  Take the points
  5. The Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers are on bye

Iowa Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 0-3 Big Ten) at Iowa Hawkeyes (4-3, 1-2)
Date: Saturday, 26 October, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (+4)

Outlook: Where the hell to start? A mere three weeks ago, these NU Wildcats were hanging in there with the top of the league, six minutes away from a Top 10 ranking, holding that infamous 4th quarter lead against Ohio State before thrilling those bettors who went against the ‘Cats on the last play of the game.  No big deal.  We belong.  We’ll show them next week in Madison…  

A double-digit underdog at Camp Randall who played a like a triple-digit underdog, NU didn’t impress, failing to both score a TD for the first time in seven years and get on the scoreboard at all after intermission.  Wasn’t pretty, but no problem, you say.  These last two were the toughest games on the docket for NU.  We’ll be well-tested for the Legends Division games.


NU got Ski-U-Mah-ed in Evanston on Saturday.  Maybe the Gophers were extra motivated to win one for Coach Jerry Kill, who has suffered a series of epileptic seizures such that he had to relinquish control of the day-to-day coaching responsibilities to an assistant.  That Kill made it to the game and reportedly addressed the team is nice, but irrelevant from an NU perspective. 

The fact is, Minnesota represented the most winnable game remaining on the schedule for NU and the ‘Cats laid a giant egg.   They’re one of the Big Ten teams NU is actually superior to in terms of athletic talent.  Northwestern has done a very good job of taking care of business over the past couple years.  Meaning, beating the teams you’re “supposed” to beat.  The Gophers fall squarely into that category, and NU’s typical lousy performances in “big” games don’t allow them the luxury to drop the so-called gimmes.

The defense was not really the problem last week, effectively surrendering only 10 points of the 20 the Gophers posted.  Another ill-timed pick-six thrown by Trevor Siemian was the dagger that took down the ‘Cats.    We could spend an entire column breaking down the mess that occurred at Ryan Field last Saturday, but as a certain international man of mystery once so eloquently put it, “…that train has sailed.”  Time to move on.

After three losses to open the conference slate, the Wildcats find themselves at a crossroads.  Two wins from bowl eligibility, NU has an uphill climb remaining in order to get back to what is for some reason called the college football postseason.  

Who will show up at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday?  Whoever it is, we better hope Kain Colter, along with a functioning offensive line, is among them.  It wasn’t obvious earlier in the season, but it sure seems like Colter’s elusiveness in the backfield masked some of the deficiencies on the offensive line, which have come to light over the past two and a half games.   Colter is clearly the straw that stirs the drink on this team, and his absence has indeed made most NU fans’ hearts grow fonder for him.  He needs to be on the field, whether throwing, running, or catching, for this offense to operate as it needs to in order to have success in the Big Ten  schedule.  Colter is only 21 passing yards and 46 rushing yards away from 2,000 in each category, likely joining a fraternity of Big Ten QBs that includes Denard Robinson, Antwaan Randle El, and Braxton Miller.   

Speculation has been running rampant about a Venric Mark redshirt season.  He’s out of the lineup again this weekend against the Hawkeyes, and has really only played a significant amount of time in the Ohio State game.  All American + extended lower body injury = NU pays for your Master’s degree.  If he’s not at full strength and confirmed to be redshirt eligible, the vote here is to shut him down and have a fully healthy post-baccalaureate Venric in the backfield in 2014.

Fitz’s teams have performed rather well against Iowa, going 5-2 since 2006 and 3-1 at Kinnick Stadium, having won four of the last five.  The last contest dropped against the Hawkeyes was a night game in Iowa City in 2011, where the Wildcat secondary looked like Monty Python’s 100 Yard Dash for People with No Sense of Direction.

The defense is markedly improved from that contest two years ago.  Defensive lineman Tyler Scott, who leads the Big Ten in sacks, has been doing a great job up front, and the secondary is worlds better, even considering the subpar play of redshirt freshman Dwight White.   The ‘Cats will again be without defensive lineman Sean McEvilly, out due to injury.

What to make of Iowa’s performance last week in Columbus, a 34-24 defeat?  It reminded me very much of NU’s game with the Bucks.  Ohio State’s defense is weak enough to keep less talented teams in the ballgame for longer than Undefeated Urban would like, but Carlos Hyde ran for 149 yards with a huge 4th quarter TD to give the Ohio State the lead it would not relinquish. 

Hawkeye QB Jake Rudock has been efficient to date, but not unstoppable.  NU’s defense should be able to make him uncomfortable.   But NU’s ability to stop Iowa’s offense won’t be the difference this week.  It will be the ability for NU’s offense to move the ball effectively.  Colter in the backfield certainly gives NU the best shot to do that, but I still expect to see Siemian get some reps.   The Wildcat rushing attack will be where this game is won.  Who of the trio of Treyvon Green, Mike Trumpy, or Stephen Buckley will make a play?  Buckley, a redshirt freshman, has had the most production over the past three conference games. 

You should be able to see what kind of day it will be for NU before the end of the first quarter.  If the ‘Cats don’t come out fired up for this one, it could be a long November.  Fitz won’t say it publicly, but he loves to beat the Hawkeyes, and this contest is as close to a do-or-die game for the ‘Cats as they’ve had since 2011 in Lincoln.  A win here turns the season around for NU.  I say they get it.

Pick:  Is this Heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.  ‘Cats get elusive first conference win.

Northwestern 31, Iowa 30.  Take the ‘Cats and the points. 

Season to date:  6-1 Straight up, 1-6 ATS

Nebraska Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (4-4, 0-4) v. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-2, 2-1)
When:  Saturday, November 2, 2013, 2:30 pm CDT
Where: The Red Room of Pain
Line: NU +6
Outlook:  Being a Northwestern football fan this season has required a certain dedication, a willingness to suffer in the hope of experiencing the same ecstasy we felt after the Gator Bowl.  But, damn, this is becoming a downright abusive and unpleasant relationship between fan and football team.  I just can’t do it anymore.  I can’t.  I gave up real analysis three years ago, and now I’m giving up any semblance of good or even merely competent writing about NU football.  I’ve finally gone off the rails and around the bend, irretrievably lost to the vagaries of football passion.  Therefore, with absolutely no apologies of any kind to the unspeakably awful stylings of E.L. James, I give you…
I sit, quivering with anticipation, sinking into the rich Corinthian leather of my recliner, eyes drinking in the crystal clear images on the 70-inch screen.  This television is so damn big, I think to myself.  The game is going to look great on that.
As I wait, I think back to how it all began.  I was so nervous and excited before my first time, sitting alone to watch the game against Cal.  In the third quarter, when the Wildcats looked like they were going to choke it away, he appeared.  His tall, feline form moved lithely under his deep purple suit as he stalked the sidelines.  This was no Air Willie.  The tufts of fur on his cheeks, his long bushy tail, everything about him demanded the casual fan’s submission to deeper, darker desires of victory.  This was a leaner, meaner mascot.  NU held on for the win that night, and I knew I would never watch NU football the same way again. 

That was the beginning of the slow burn.  With each game after that first time, my excitement grew.  NU dominated Syracuse and entered the rankings.  Next was one of the directional Michigans, I don’t remember which because it’s after midnight and this is a last-minute Lowes Line, besides it was just part of the thrill ride.  NU kept the more exotic toys in the drawer against Maine.  And through it all, he was there, the personification of Northwestern football.  He drew fans in.  He drew me in.  I wanted it all, the national respect, the BCS ranking, the shot at a B1G title.  I wanted it so… passionately. 
The anthropomorphic Wildcat haunted me, and he insisted on being called “Mr. Purple.”  I should have known better.
The first sign that Mr. Purple was not what he seemed came a month ago, at Homecoming.  By that time, my private passion for NU football had become a collective, organic thing shared by thousands of alumni.  Our football infatuation had been stoked into a raging bonfire.  NU fans were finished being voyeurs of the national football landscape we were ready to take our place in front of the cameras, ready to expose ourselves to the final BCS spotlight, ready to share all the things we thought Mr. Purple had taught us in those first four weeks.  Little did I know that just as a football fan can experience true bliss in a comeback win in September, a loss on national television in October brings a throbbing pain that will leave you walking like John Wayne for a week.
The next few weeks were a blur.  Every Saturday, I assumed the position in front of the flatscreen, waiting and wanting Mr. Purple to show me the same magic offense that had seduced me during nonconference play.  But playtime was over.  The games that thrilled me before became cruel.  The Wisconsin game was a whipping, a purely humiliating and joyless afternoon of pain.  Still, I craved the good times, the wins.  Mr. Purple denied me, and crushed the last shards of my innocence with bewildering losses to Minnesota and Iowa.  Holy crap, we lost to IOWA!!!  I knew then that Mr. Purple is not a football muse.  He is a monster.
And now I sit, sinking into the supple embrace of my chair, waiting for the late afternoon game to begin.  My purple “Gameday Is Here” t-shirt lays hidden in my dresser.  The kids are at soccer practice, and PurpleCatDog is snoring at my feet.  It’s Nebraska week.  And I am about to be unfaithful, about to watch TCU play West Virginia on ESPNU.

And then Mr. Purple enters.
“Trust me?” he breathes.
I shake my head desperately, wide-eyed, my heart bouncing off my ribs, my blood thundering around my body.  Not after that effing loss in Iowa, I don’t, you psycho! I think.  But I don’t say a word, hoping deep down that he might still show me a win in Lincoln.  He reaches down, and from his pocket, he takes out a purple silk tie.  He moves so quickly as he fastens my wrists together, but this time, he ties the other end of the tie to the headrest of my Laz-E-Boy.  The purple silk tie leaves small impressions, the tiny NCats of its weave pressed into my skin.  He pulls at my binding, checking it’s secure.  I’m not going anywhere.  I’m tied, literally, to my recliner.  All I need now is a beer (and a really long straw, because I'm tied to a chair) and, holy crap, I am excited for NU football again.
Mr. Purple slides around me and stands beside the Laz-E-Boy, staring down at me, his eyes dark, his fuzzy ears alert.  His look is triumphant.  He knows I’m a Wildcats fan, and that I won’t be able to look away from today’s game.  He turns up the volume on the television, and gently but firmly, oh so firmly, forces me to watch the last of the pregame on BTN.
“Now, you are going to watch this entire game,” he says emphasizing every word, “Do you remember the safe words?  Because if this game gets out of hand, you may want to use them.  I won’t change the channel, I just want to know you know the words.”
I gasp, and I’m Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he’s the serpent, and I cannot resist.  I am a Wildcats football fan.  I am, and I know it.

Prediction:  This season is a nonstop nightmare of poorly written pigskin BDSM.  NU 30, UNL 38.  Mr. Purple denies us our cover.
Season to Date: 6-2 SU, 1-7 ATS

Michigan Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup:  Michigan Wolverines (6-3, 2-3) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-5, 0-5)
When:  Saturday, November 16, 2013, 2:30 p.m. CST
Line: NU -2.5

Two weeks later, the bile taste from Northwestern's last second loss to Nebraska has finally receded enough to allow me to write this week's Lowes Line.  To review, Northwestern and Nebraska had a hard fought but only mediocrely executed game.  Both teams would look strong at one point then collapse, usually from their own mistakes.  In the first half NU seemed to be in control.  Their running game was working with Green and Buckley, but then Buckley got hurt and NU could not put together a sustained drive.  Nebraska also struggled as they finished the game with 4 interceptions.  The first turning point came early in the 4th quarter with NU up 21-14.  NU failed to knock down the Cornhusker DE who jumped up and grabbed a Trevor Siemian pass and took it back for a pick six, 21-21.  Then neither team could move the ball into scoring territory, as they traded punts.  With 3 minutes left NU intercepted Nebraska and returned the ball to the 7 yard line.  One play later and it is second and goal from the 1 as Colter was drug down by his jersey.  NU could not punch it in and settled for a field goal with a minute left, 24-21.  Nebraska struggled running the hurry up offense and only reached midfield with 4 seconds left.  They attempted a Hail Mary and their prayer was answered.  The ball was tipped from a group of players to a Nebraska wideout who had slipped behind the group.  He caught the ball in the end zone and the game was over.  It was a replay of the most famous play in NU football history (Victory Right) but this time it happened to us and it hurt.

Both NU and Michigan enter this game falling short of preseason expectations.  Since starting 4-0 and coming within one bobbled snap of defeating the Buckeyes, NU has lost 5 straight and is struggling to try and win 6 games to make it to a bowl game.  Michigan has lost 2 straight and in both of those games then ended up with negative rushing yards.  NU's offense just can not seem to figure out what it wants to do.  It has no rhythm and is extremely predictable on 3rd down.  NU's offensive line has proven to be its weak spot and it is affecting everything on that side of the ball.  NU's defense for the most part has done well, holding their last 3 opponents to under offensive 20 points scored, but it has not been enough.
On Saturday, expect another mistake filled and opportunity missed game for both NU and Michigan, as neither team is playing well.  NU was off last week to allow several injured players to heal but it is unknown how healthy NU will be.  Historically NU always loses after a bye week - Not a ringing endorsement of a coaching staff.  The coaching grumbling has come out again this year but Fitz and company are the best we can ever hope for at NU.  They are not great but they are good enough for us to be competitive most of the time.  As cliché as it sounds, this game will be decided by whichever team wants it more.  NU needs it
more, because if they do not win they most likely will not be going bowling.  If the 'Cats need any additional motivation, they should get it from the Wounded Warrior uniforms they will be wearing.  Michigan's QB will get back on track both running and throwing the ball but it won't be enough.

It is UGLY, but Northwestern wins, 23-17.
Take the 'Cats, who cares about the points, we need a WIN.
Season to Date: 6-3 SU, 2-7 ATS

Michigan State Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Match up:  #13 Michigan State Spartans (9-1, 6-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-6, 0-6)
When:  Saturday, November 23, 2013, 11:00 am CST
TV:  ESPN (really?)
Line: NU +7

In the build up to the football game between undefeated Northwestern and Ohio State there was a column in USA Today written by a NU alum from the 1990's.  He said how NU football fans have it better than any other fans in the world. 

 "The legacy of all those years of ineptitude - carving out a place as the epitome of futility in college football - is that no one appreciates their team winning more than Northwestern fans.  That the program is now perennially solid gives us the confidence to cheer, but  without the expectations that it is "Rose Bowl or Failure." Success remains an aspiration, not a demand."  

The hubris expressed in this article was widely held.  I thought that we might not be as good as Ohio State but we are now good enough to match up with them and then soundly beat Minne. Iowa, and Nebraska.  Michigan and Michigan State would be tough be we should also win those games.  We should end the regular season at 10-2 and prove that we are one of the top 15 teams in the country.  I can wear my NU sweatshirt proudly and rub it in the face of these smug local SEC fans.  Six games later I am starting to realize that nothing should ever be assumed.  Northwestern has gone 0 for the Big Ten and the style of losses has been especially difficult for the NU faithful. 
OSU - a fumbled snap on 4th down as NU was driving for the go-ahead touchdown

Wisco - injuries to Colter and Mark and a general let down

Minn - again no Colter or Mark, a pick six by Minn, and a failure to stop Minn on 4th down when the NU coaches even predicted what play Minn would run.

Iowa - NU driving for winning score when an unnecessary clipping penalty backs them up 25 yards.  NU loses in OT.
Nebraska - NU's offense can't score a TD with 2nd and goal from the 1.  Defense plays great forcing a Hail Mary from mid field on the final play of the game.  Unbelievably the ball is tipped by the NU defense into the arms of a Husker wide receiver for a game winning TD.

Michigan - NU offense struggles but the D plays great, keeping Mich out of the end zone and even stops the Wolverines on 4 straight plays inside the 10 yard line.  Then the nightmare continues, Michigan completes a pass to the 28 yard line with 11 seconds left.  They have no timeouts so the game is over, but amazingly they get their kicking team onto the field and snap the ball before the clock strikes zero.  The ball sails through the goal posts, sending the game into overtime, where UM wins in OT #3.

Getting beat is inevitable and there have been many times when NU's opponent was just simply better than NU.  This year though, in each game (except Wisco), NU could have, and probably should have won.  Then the manner of the defeats has just been cruel.  NU and its fans have had their hearts ripped out in 5 of the last 6 games.   This streak should bring back our humility and remind us that we are an academic institution that occasionally overachieves.  Because we were winning we thought we would keep winning.  Why?  What advantage do we have over other Big Ten schools?  We have a small fan base.  No natural local allegiances. No tradition.  Academic standards that limit who can attend NU and then once they get here there aren't any fake classes to put them in.  We have a coach who is a good recruiter, hyper-energetic and the face of the university's sports programs, but has extreme limited experience and suspect clock management skills. 
We will never be an elite football university and even elite programs ebb and flow.  Alabama was terrible in the late 90's and early 2000's and today people compare them to an NFL team.  Tennessee was great in the late 90's and early 2000's.  They thought they would continue winning forever but there is not a natural talent pool in Tennessee.  For about 5 years the balls ALL bounced UT's way, but it could not last forever and it did not.  There was a lack of new ideas and motivated coaches.  Balls started to bounce the other way.   A recruit here or there chose another school and the magic slipped away.   Tennessee hit the bottom last year and has a long climb just to get to respectable.  SEC championships are no longer expected.  The fan base has become humble.  Sort of...
So back to NU.  What is the point of all this you might ask?  I am beginning to wonder myself.  Oh yeah, be happy with what you have.  We all chose to go to NU for a variety of reasons, but the football team was not one of them.  Maybe that wasn't hubris in that article but just a good lesson that we should remember. Be glad when NU wins but don't Expect Victory and appreciate the wins.
Now onto this week's game against Michigan State.  MSU has been steadily improving this year.  They have the best defense in the country and a decent enough offense.  What does NU have?  NU has a good but not great defense.  NU has some playmakers on offense but has not found a way to get consistent performance from them.  I think we all just assumed the offensive line would be able to replace 3 starters and not miss a beat.  We all were wrong.  NU offensive line has been a sieve.  NU passing game is pathetic since the 2 QBs do not have time to look down field.  Colter is a shell of his former self.  He is completely one dimensional and afraid to throw the ball.  Siemian is afraid of being hit (and rightly so) and has lost that accurate touch.  He also has made some bad decisions that have led to interceptions. 
I don't expect to see a miracle turn around.  I do expect to see some more aggression from NU's coaches as the hyper-conservative play calling has led to these low scoring games that NU has repeatedly lost.


NU gives a good effort on Senior Day but it is not enough.

MSU wins pulling away, 31-19.

Season to Date: 6-4 SU, 2-8 ATS

Post Script:

This is not the Lowes Line I wanted to write but maybe I am writing this to myself so that I can put NU football back into the proper prospective.  No more wasted Saturdays watching instead of doing.  No more miserable Saturday evenings being mad at the result.  No more sleepless Saturday and Sunday nights rehashing what could have happened or should have been done.  It is just a game.  Enjoy it for what it is and don't expect too much.

Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Match up: Northwestern Wildcats (4-7, 0-7) at Illinois Illini (4-7, 1-6)
When: Saturday, November 30, 2013, 2:30 pm CST
Line: NU -3.5

If you haven’t read this article by Teddy Greenstein, then read it before the rest of this column. 
It’s behind a paywall, but you can register for free to receive five free articles per month.

Thankfully, the misery that has been the Wildcat season since after the OSU game is almost over. It goes without saying that the season has been a bitter disappointment. Collective wisdom suggests the complete failure to match early season expectations can be attributed to three main areas:

  1. Extraordinarily poor luck with injuries, including at key positions. In addition to losing Venric Mark for most of the season and injuries to Colter, Stephen Buckley, (and apparently Trevor Siemian), NU has lost a conference leading 11+% of starts to injury (a stat that measures how many starting players miss a game due to injury). For comparison, MSU led the BigTen last year with a value of 9.3%, the same year NU had a particularly lucky year in terms of few injuries.

  1. Poor offensive line play. As improved as the defense has been overall this year, the O-line regressed even farther. Early season success turned out to be against particularly poor pass rushing defenses. Once conference play began, it was apparent that the offensive line, with three new starters and another player changing position, was average in run blocking, poor in pass blocking, and extremely poor at picking up blitzes. Combine that with Colter’s injuries and Siemian’s periodic difficulty recognizing the blitz in order to avoid sacks and the result was exactly what we saw, truly horrid execution in obvious passing situations. This led to the final area…

  1. No confidence from an already conservative coaching staff. If you read the article above, it’s very clear that the coaches, HC Fitz and OC McCall specifically, strongly value ball protection. That is no surprise and is a beneficial approach when you have an offense that can score over 30 points a game, but that doesn’t work when you can’t score over 10 points in regulation. In effect, the coaches lost all confidence in their players ability to execute without turning the ball over and choose to lose by as few point possible rather than take risks to actually win games.

Honestly, that last area is the worst in my opinion. It’s as if the coaches lost sight of the goal (win) and decided that their “process” was more important than giving their team the best chance to win. Furthermore, it’s a little disconcerting that Fitz thinks that fans clamoring for less conservative play calling are focused on fourth down decisions…it’s possible to be too conservative on 1st-3rddown and in the red zone without being fool hardy…maybe there would be fewer of the 4th downs that come at critical points in the game.

Enough post-mortem. The last game of the season will be against the Illini, possibly the second worst team in the BigTen (Purdue has run away with the worst team title), though that’s being generous…even they have a win in conference play. But considering NU is favored by 4, I’ll use that as the tie-breaker.

Illinois is lead by senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase with an above average passing attack, but below average running game. They beat Purdue and took Penn State to OT, but have not really threatened against any other BigTen opponent. Head coach Tim Beckman is in his second year and is best known for riding the coattails of his talented OC at Toledo (now Toledo HC Matt Campbell) to land a coveted BigTen head coach position.

Fortunately for NU, Illinois’s defense is particularly bad, which is the big reason for their poor record. That bodes well for NU points scoring, although if the conservative playcalling continues, I doubt it will be a blow out. The “avoid turnovers and wait for the other team to screw up” strategy is not going to result in comfortable fourth quarters.

Let’s hope Colter is better than just limited (probably the best case scenario) and we can send the seniors out with a win to remind them of their great accomplishments while at NU.


NU overcomes injuries and conservative playcalling to win their final game of the season, though not by much. Take the Illini and the points.

NU 27 – IL 24

Season to Date: 7-4 SU, 3-8 ATS

Hope you've had a great Thanksgiving and let's give thanks that a 4-8 or 5-7 season is a bitter disappointment.

2013 Lowes Line Season Final: Straight up, 8-4; Against the Spread, 4-8