Cal Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat
#22 Northwestern Wildcats (0-0) at California Golden Bears (0-0)
Saturday, August 31, 9:30 pm CDT
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
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
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
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
Will the ‘Cats win & cover? Does a Bear sh^t in the
woods? Take the ‘Cats and lay the points.
Northwestern 38, Cal 30.
By Joel Kanvik
Syracuse Preview and Prediction
Syracuse Orange (0-1, 0-0) at #19 Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0)
Saturday, 7 September, 6:00 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
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
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
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.
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:
By Eric Cockerill
Western Michigan Broncos (0-2, 0-0) at #17 Northwestern Wildcats (2-0, 0-0)
Saturday, 14 September, 8:00 p.m. CDT
Big Ten Network
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
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
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
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
#18/16 Northwestern Wildcats (3-0) vs. #25 (FCS) Maine Black Bears (3-0)
Saturday, September 21, 2013, 2:30 p.m. CDT
N/A. Let’s call it NU (-21)
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
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
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)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
By Joel Kanvik
Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten)
11:00 am CDT
‘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
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.
‘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:
- 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
- IU is receiving 9 from the Wolverines at the Big House – Wolves roar after a disheartening loss last week – give the points
- 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
- 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
- The Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers are on bye
By Jersey Cat
Iowa Preview and Prediction
Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 0-3 Big Ten) at Iowa Hawkeyes (4-3, 1-2)
Saturday, 26 October, 11:00 am CDT
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
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
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.
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
Northwestern Wildcats (4-4, 0-4) v. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-2, 2-1)
Saturday, November 2, 2013, 2:30 pm CDT
The Red Room of Pain
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…
FIFTY SHADES OF PURPLE
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
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
By Charlie Simon
Michigan Preview and Prediction
Michigan Wolverines (6-3, 2-3) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-5, 0-5)
Saturday, November 16, 2013, 2:30 p.m. CST
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
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
By Charlie Simon
Michigan State Preview and Prediction
#13 Michigan State Spartans (9-1, 6-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-6, 0-6)
Saturday, November 23, 2013, 11:00 am CST
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
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
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
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
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.
By Eric Cockerill
Illinois Preview and Prediction
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.