2014 Lowes Line


The Complete 2014 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 2014 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:  California Golden Bears at Northwestern Wildcats

Date: Saturday, Aug. 30, 2:30 pm  CDT

TV: ESPN2 / ABC Regional

Line: Northwestern (-11)


The Lowes Line is back for another season of Northwestern football.  When we last left our beloved 'Cats nine months ago, they were clawing past a woeful Illini squad in the last game of the 2013 season, avoiding a winless conference slate by a thin margin.  Even with the lone conference win in Champaign, the 'Cats finished up 5-7 and were not in a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 season.

This season, the non-conference slate opens with this week's home game against Cal, followed by matchups in Evanston against Northern Illinois and Western Illinois, two teams that could be confused given they both carry directional Land of Lincoln modifiers, but two very different squads in terms of talent.  The final non-conference game is a November trip to South Bend.  Notre Dame and Northwestern have not met since the 1995 season opener, where Gary Barnett led NU to arguably the biggest win in program history, a 17-15 victory as a 28-point underdog.

The conference schedule has the 'Cats taking trips to State College, Iowa City, Minnesota, and Purdue, while Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, and Illinois travel to Evanston.  With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers into the conference, the Big Ten Eleven Twelve Fourteen now consists of two divisions of seven teams each.  The short-lived days of the confusing Leaders and Legends divisions have been scrapped for the “East” and “West.”  What a concept!  The so-called balance of power is in the East division, as Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State are there.  The newbies in Rutgers and Maryland are in the East as well, along with Indiana.  Northwestern is in the West with Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, and Wisconsin.  In 2014, teams play each school in their division and two crossover games, which will be Penn State and Michigan.  The ‘Cats don’t get Maryland and Rutgers on the schedule until 2017 and 2018, respectively.

So what are we to make of the 2014 'Cats?  Certainly there were a number of would-be distractions coming into the season: the much discussed union vote from the spring, the suspension and subsequent sudden transfer of running back Venric Mark, the season ending injuries to WR Christian Jones and DE Sean McEvilly, both starters.

These are significant setbacks to be sure, especially in the case of Mark, arguably the most exciting playmaker Northwestern has had in years, and Jones, thought to be the best receiver on the team.  That said, the depth NU has at both positions should allow them to not only be competitive, but to win.

The biggest question mark entering the season is whether senior quarterback Trevor Siemian is capable of leading the offense as an every down signal caller.  After splitting time with Kain Colter and playing injured for a significant amount of 2013, Siemian will be the main man.  He'll be running the offense on more than simply obvious passing downs.  We know he has a solid arm, but  the concerns are whether he (a) has enough time to throw, and (b) is athletic enough to exploit the capabilities of the running backs in any option type of package.

Along the offensive line, there have been some changes.  Senior and four-year starter Brandon Vitabile remains at center, but senior Paul Jorgensen moved from left to right tackle as sophomore Eric Olson moved in on the right.  Juniors Geoff Mogus and Matt Frazier are the starting left and right guards, respectively.  How this unit comes together and provides Siemian with time to throw will be a key indicator of the success of the season.

As mentioned, the 'Cats appear to have some depth at running back, but the way the injury bug tends to bit, you can never have enough.  Senior Treyvon Green will be the primary option.  Green showed some brilliance in last year's opener at Cal with a 100 yard game and 2 TDs.  He'll be sharing time with sophomores Warren Long and Stephen Buckley, but look for true freshman Justin Jackson to see the field as well.

The options for NU throwing the ball are many, but again, some questions remain.  Is this finally the year we see Kyle Prater make a big impact?  Maybe humor us with one red zone fade pattern to take advantage of his  height and athleticism?  Miles Shuler, a speedy transfer from Rutgers, will be in the slot, and let's not forget Tony Jones, who led the team in catches last year.   Cameron Dickerson provides additional depth.  I'm looking for a big year from Dan Vitale, the superback/tight end who can be a real playmaker.  He'll be likely backed up at some point by true freshman  Garret Dickerson,  Cameron's brother.  Lots of options for Siemian, and it could make for an exciting season offensively.

On the other side of the ball, the 'Cats are strong in the back, but with some questions up front.  While McEvilly was lost for the year due to injury, and Tyler Scott graduated, Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson are back at the ends.  A question mark is what we'll see out of Ifeadi Odenigbo, who only recorded 9 tackles last year as a redshirt freshman, but had 5.5 sacks.  It will be interesting to see if he gets on the field in more than simply passing situations.

The back seven looks to be a strong point for NU.  Seniors Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis lead the way at linebacker.  Ariguzo is the type of guy who manages to be in the right place at the right time, and is always around the ball.  Most NU fans will recall the two interceptions Ellis had for TDs in last year's opener against Cal.  That was the headline on Ellis, but like Chi Chi, he's in on a lot of tackles.  Expect this unit to continue to be ball hawks.

In the secondary, it's as good as it's ever been.  Junior Nick VanHoose is back at corner, along with the athletic Matthew Harris.  The safeties are senior Ibraheim Campbell and sophomore Traveon Henry.  This unit has the ability to change games for the 'Cats.  They're very athletic, with plenty of experience even though two starting sophomores.  The ability to shut down opponents' passing game and make the big play resulting in a turnover will loom large.

So what do we expect from Cal?   Sonny Dykes had a rough first year in Berkeley, beating only Portland State on the way to a 1-11 record.  And the Bears were outscored by an average of 25 points in their 11 losses, only once being within one score.  That said, they played Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, so they get a bit of a break there.  This year, Cal will be looking to throw all day.  Sophomore QB Jared Goff has a year under this belt in the Dykes "Bear Raid" offense, and threw for 3500 yards as a true freshman.  He's got speedy, athletic targets in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper.  The question is whether they can stop anyone.  Cal's defense is beyond suspect, as is the quality of their offensive line.

Right out of the gate, Trevor Siemian will look to pick up where he left off in the last game of 2013 against Illinois where he threw for over 400 yards.  While the offense will have many opportunities to put up points, this game will be won by the defense.  NU beat Cal last year in Berkeley by two TDs, but that game was much closer than the score indicated.  As mentioned, the 'Cats got two second half INTs returned for TDs , as well as a late touchdown that sealed the game and made the result look more lopsided than it was.  Cal passed for over 450 yards on NU.  Shutting down the passing game of Goff will need to be done with pressure up front.

NU as a double-digit home favorite against a Pac-12 team?  Sounds like the minds in Vegas were out to lunch, right?   Maybe not.  I like Siemian to show that this team is his to lead, and to take it to Cal right away.  NU puts some points on the board in the first half, and the defense makes a couple big plays to shut down the Bears late.

Pick:  Enjoy a Bear Claw with your coffee on Saturday.   Take the 'Cats and lay the points.  Northwestern 38, Cal 24.


NIU Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup:  Northern Illinois Huskies at Northwestern Wildcats

Date: Saturday, September 6, 2:30 pm CDT


: Northwestern (-7.5, as of Thursday evening, opened at around -2.5)


As all the Lowes Line readers know, last week was a disaster in so many ways.  Many, many opinions have been written in the past week, but let’s just review a few of the good and bad points.  It’s late, so please excuse any typos/grammatical errors.

Season:  This is a painful loss from an overall season success point of view.   The team needed to win its initial non-conference games and “steal” at least one game from a conference opponent (or ND) in order to qualify for a bowl game if wins over Purdue and Illinois are assumed.  While it had no ramifications for the conference title, it certainly doesn’t suggest that this NU team is better than expected.  It makes a record of 1-8 in the last nine games.  Reading some online commentary, I am concerned that Fitz does not recognize that the fan base did not expect a conference title this year, but did expect a bowl game.  Taking a non-conference loss lightly because it doesn’t effect the conference record is not a good route to take by the program.

Coaches:  Fitzgerald’s comments publicly over the last 12 months have increasingly suggested that he is feeling the pressure, and not reacting well to it.  While I have no particular insight into his personality, it appears his gut reaction is to double down on effort and the existing plan when things don’t go well.  That’s a very athlete trait and can be outstanding when the problem is lack of practice/execution /strength, but not so great when dealing with tactics and strategy.  One of the fan base’s biggest complaints is an insistence to repeat playcalling that isn’t working and yet refusal to try tactics that have worked well in the past.  It’s time for the coaching staff to step back and reassess what works and what doesn’t.  There’s no room for what they WANT to work, only for what DOES work.  Most of all, I also see Fitz sliding down the slippery slope to becoming NU's version of Bo Pelini.

Specifically related to the Cal game, there was both good and bad.  The bad included the strategy to telegraph a power running play on short yardage, yet fail to execute (pointed out by many sources, including Nate Williams, Kevin Trahan, and @InsideNU).  It also apparently included advising the punt returner to never actually catch the ball (whether fair catch or return).  Finally, the Cats showed a slow start to the game on both sides of the ball.  It could be excused by it being the first game of the season against an opponent that changed its approach in the offseason, except that we saw slow starts of many games last year and the trend is not positive.  Finally, on offence, what happened to the up-tempo offense that caused so many problems for defenses before the 2 QB approach?  It’s as if the coaches think the no huddle causes the problems (it doesn’t, defenses have adjusted), instead of the up-tempo, quick hike that exhausts the defense and prevents substitutions.

There were good things.  Most importantly, both offense and defense did adjust over the course of the game and were much more effective in the second half.  One could criticize why it took so long for the defense to adjust to the two QB approach taken by Cal, considering NU ran a similar offense for the last two years, but overall it was good to see both sides of the ball improve as the game went on.  Along those same lines, the fact that NU stayed in the game after being down 31-7 at one point of the game.  That does show both strong leadership amongst the players and the coaches.   Finally, NU had zero penalties.  This is a good sign and reflective of good coaching.

Offense:  Again there was both good and bad on offense.  Seimian did not have a great game with several errant throws, but neither did the receivers help with multiple dropped passes.   The end result was a passing percentage of just over 50%.  That doesn’t cut it for a spread offense that uses short passes as a substitute for and create space for running plays.  Recall that percentages in the 80s were not unusual for the Kafka and Persa-led offenses.  We’ve already covered the dumbfounding playcalling on short yardage, but given the playcall, NU’s line couldn’t provide enough push to gain what was needed.   It also appears that the traits that help Seimian excel in the vertical passing game (i.e. patience to let the play develop) is also holding back the short passing game (too patient, slow to commit).

On the plus side, pundits much more knowledgeable than I considered the O-line’s pass blocking to be generally improved from last year.  Further, the running game showed signs that several players can be contributors including freshman Jackson and Vault.  Expect progressively increasing workload for the two.  Vitale was a bright spot and there seemed a concerted effort to make sure he was targeted, something that was occasionally missing last year.  Beyond the drops, the receivers as a whole were getting open.

Defense:  The defense started badly, which Fitz blamed on an unexpected game plan (the 2 QB spread) from Cal.  I’m sure there’s some of that, but we also saw some shaky secondary play as well.  Personally, I attribute that to over-confidence and then pressing when they got behind early.  I expect it to be better in the future.  The potential biggest area of weakness is the defensive line due to the injury to McEvilly, but they performed adequately during the game.  Their real test will be this week.  Linebacker and safety play continued to be a strength after the adjustment to defensive playcalling.

Special Teams: There’s no sugar coating it.  Punting, punt return, and field goals were horrid.  The punter was either extremely nervous, or truly bad. Let’s hope for the former.  Punt return was discussed before, but Cal punted four times, NU did not return one.  It’s also clear that the coaches do not trust the field goal unit beyond 40 yards.  Punting and Punt return has to improve, period.  The field goal length limit may be a weakness all year.

Takeaway:  Things need to turn around quickly.  It’s gut check time.  A loss to NIU would mean a lost season for two reasons:  a six win season would be next too impossible, and NU is a mediocre team at best.

Whew.  That was long.  On to the game.

Northern Illinois University is a perennial MAC leader located due west of Evanston in Dekalb, Illinois.  The Huskies have effectively become evidence #1 for why the bowl system is patently unfair to the lower tier Div 1 teams.  They have developed a reputation for consistently high level of play.

NIU crushed Presbyterian 55-3 last week.  The offense’s strength this year is a veteran offense line, so it comes as no real surprise that the team ran over 70 rushing plays during that game.  Just as notable, NIU had not named a starting QB and played three different players at the position.  After the game, Matt MacIntosh was named the starter vs. Northwestern.  With a conventional offense, new quarterback, and important game, we should expect a healthy dose of running plays to start the game, followed by safe, play action passing later.  Eventually, depending on game situation, longer passing plays will be used if NU’s defensive backs over commit to defending the shorter passes.

The NIU defense should be considered about average (comparable to NU’s).  Their winning strategy is as conventional as it is effective.  Control the game by the controlling the offensive line, protect the football, primarily by using safer passing routes, and slow the other team down enough that they have to take risks.

We’ve already talked about the issues NU faced in the Cal game.  Obviously all those weaknesses need to be improved, but the most important are: better execution in the passing game, major improvement in both punting and punt return, and anticipation of what the NIU pass play-calling is trying to do.  I do expect the first and last, but worry about the punting.  It would be an extra bonus if Fitz and the rest of the coaching staff fix some of the play calling that has been ineffective.

One thing to worry about…two more receivers been ruled out for the game…Tony Jones and Mike McHugh.  Jones led the Cats in receptions in the Cal game.

I see the most likely outcome as a close game through the 3rd quarter when the Cats pull ahead leaving the Huskies a touchdown short at the end of the game.  I also think there is a smaller, but significant chance that if NU can get ahead by half-time, it could turn into a runaway Cats win because of the new NIU QB and their reliance on the running game.  I think I’ll stick with likely and hope for better.

Pick:  The Cats win, but only by a touchdown.  Take NIU with the points.  Northwestern 35, NIU 28.

Lowes Line Season Record:  0-1 (0-1 ATS)


Western Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup:  Western Illinois Leathernecks at Northwestern Wildcats

Date: Saturday, September 20, 11:00 am CDT

TV: ESPNEWS?? Really?

Line: Northwestern (no official line but estimated to be NU minus 24)



From the last Lowes Line:

Takeaway:  Things need to turn around quickly.  It’s gut check time.  A loss to NIU would mean a lost season for two reasons:  a six win season would be next to impossible, and NU is a mediocre team at best.

Mediocre is looking real good right now as the 'Cats are not good.  In fact they are bad.  Bad in the Huey Lewis and the News "Bad is Bad" kind of way.  I mean really bad.

There is not much good to report from NU's 23-15 loss to Northern Illinois on Sept. 6.  The offensive line was terrible as they committed more holding penalties than I care to remember.  The play calling did not improve as we never found a rhythm, and when it appeared the O line was over matched nothing was done to help them.  Why the heck don't we use the standard screen pass?!?!?!?  Siemian continues to look like the game is moving too fast for him.  He is hesitant in his decision making and off target with his throws.  The receivers are not helping as they continue to drop or bobble as many balls as they catch.  And incredibly we continue to not try to advance or even field punts! 

The NU defense has been average.  Not much bad to report but not much good either.  Both Cal and NIU had one dimensional offenses, but they still were not stopped by the 'Cats.

It has been difficult to watch the 2014 version of the Northwestern Wildcats.  All the things Wildcat fans take pride in (working harder than the opponent, high energy, wise decision making, exciting offense, and a team that rallies when they are down) seem to be missing this year.  The 2014 Wildcats look eerily similar to the Wildcats from the Francis Peay era.  The difference is now there is an expectation to win. Yes, Gary Barnett, we Expect Victory.    In the early 90's any victory was a great thing and was relished.  As Barnett arrived, we found that we actually could win a few games a year and on occasion compete with the big boys.  During Randy Walker's tenure I thought I had NU figured out.  Over a 5 year period NU would go 3-8, 6-6, 8-3, 6-6, 3-8, repeat.  I was happy when NU was 6-6 and would squeak into a Pizza Bowl in the Motor City.  Then as Fitz came along NU's record started to improve.  6,7 win seasons were common, and the 'Cats started to look like contenders. 8, 9, and even a 10 win season ensued.  6 wins per year was no longer enough.  I expected us to pick up 3 non-conference wins, always beat Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue.  I expected us to split with Iowa and Nebraska, and compete with Wisc., OSU, and Michigan.  NU is supposedly recruiting so much better, that now 7-8 wins per season is expected.  This year those expectations are crashing down. 

I don't know what the 'Cats will look like on Saturday.  I would like to think that with a few obvious changes they could be a decent team but I don't trust myself anymore.  I have had the purple tinted glasses on for too long.  I don't see ANY difference makers on either side of the ball for the 'Cats.  I don't see anyone for the opposing team to fear, so I don't have much hope.  The thing that bugs me though is that previous NU teams succeeded, on some level, without any stars.  Why can't this team?  My hope for Saturday is that NU, win or lose, will be fun to watch and make me proud to be a NU alum.  I want to see high energy.  I want to see risks being taken.  I want to see emotion and not the kind that punches another player at the end of the game.  I want to see something that shows me the coaches can actually, you know, coach.  And dammit, I want to see them return a punt.

Pick:  The Cats win, but not by 24.  Take the Leathernecks with the points.  Northwestern 30, WIU 17.

Lowes Line Season Record:  0-2 (1-1 ATS)


Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup:  #17 Wisconsin Badgers (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 1-0)

Date: Saturday, October 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT


Line: Wisconsin (-10)


After the debacle against Cal in Week 1, and the humiliation of losing to a directional Illinois team in Week 2, I looked forward to my prediction for the Badger game with understandable trepidation.  I began having flashbacks of the Francis Peay era…0-11 seasons…tearing down the goalposts in celebration of beating ANYBODY…games in which it was a far better use of time going out in the parking lot before halftime to get schnockered rather than bear the abuse in the second half…and hearing Wildcat “fans” hoping to break Michigan’s heart just by scoring points.  Apparently I have a lot of scars left over from too many Saturday afternoons spent at Dyche Stadium.  Just ask my liver.

Week 3 brought what should have been a laugher in the form of another directional Illinois team.  NU won, finally, but didn’t cover the likely line against the Leathernecks.  So it still boded quite poorly as the ‘Cats traveled to Happy Valley to open the 2014 Big Ten campaign against the Penn State Nittany Lions.  A team which, in the recent past, had had its post-scandal bowl ban shortened to make them eligible for post-season play immediately.  That gave them so much more to play for.  The outlook looked grim.

But that’s why they play the games, as the saying goes.  NU’s traditional pocket passer, Trevor Siemian, RAN for 3 touchdowns and passed efficiently.  Okay, they were all just 1-yard runs, but still.  Dan Vitale lived up to his “superback” title with 7 catches for 113 yards.  And NU doubled Penn State’s rushing total, 103-50.

Yes, that’s right.  Perhaps the oddest thing about that game was the recap headline on ESPN.com: “Northwestern’s Defense Too Much for Penn State”.  After watching Cal go up and down the field, who would ever have thought that defense would lead the charge?  The ‘Cats defense forced two turnovers, including a 49-yard Pick Six, and harassed Lion quarterback Christian Hackenberg all game.  While we at the Line are unsure whether the performance in Pennsylvania was an aberration or a sign of (good) things to come, it seems pretty clear that Coach Fitz’s posturing about the Wildcats needing to get tougher finally got through to them.

Into town come the Wisconsin Badgers.  After dropping a heartbreaker in the opener to LSU, the Badgers have won 3 in a row, but performed unevenly in achieving the 3-game winning streak.  After the LSU game, the Badgers hosted an opponent common to NU, Western Illinois.  The Leathernecks played surprisingly stout defense and held the vaunted Badger rushing attack in check throughout the game, including holding Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon III to just 38 yards.  After a very slow first half that ended with the Badgers only up 9-3, the Badgers showed surprising flexibility in game plan, turning to the passing game and scoring 4 unanswered touchdowns to win 37-3.  The following game, against Bowling Green (who upset Indiana), the Badgers ran wild, rolling up a Big Ten-record 644 yards on the ground, a Big Ten record, and crushing the Falcons 68-17.  Gordon scored 5 touchdowns and amassed 253 yards on only 13 carries (that’s a 19.5 average).  And, while NU was upsetting the Lions, Wisconsin beat the South Florida Bulls in an ugly game, 27-10.  Gordon continued his Heisman campaign with 181 yards and two more scores.  The defense has played well, but has been more of a bend but don’t break unit, as opposed to the very stout front 7 that became traditional under Barry Alvarez.

One thing to keep in mind, my faithful Purple Patriots, is that the Badger offensive line is NOT the Penn State line.  The Badgers continue to pound the ball behind their big eaters, whose size has become such a given that they were recently memorialized by a “This is SportsCenter” commercial:  http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11570118  However, the Badgers haven’t demonstrated the same commitment to establishing the run under Gary Andersen as under Barry Alvarez, or even Bret Bielema, and will start throwing a little sooner, which is not a strength for the Badgers.  In addition to watching out for Melvin Gordon, the Wildcats will face Tanner McEvoy, a dual-threat quarterback who took over for the tastefully named Joel Stave.  While McEvoy struggles to complete passes at times, he is a real threat on the ground and twice in their first four games was one of the top two rushers for the Badgers, which is saying something.  And NU traditionally struggles against quarterbacks who run as well as they throw, so the prospects this week against the Badgers are probably dimmer than those against the Lions.

Look for NU’s defense to put up a good fight early, but I think Badgers’ powerful line wears them down.  NU will move the ball against the sometimes-porous Badger defense, but the Badgers will pull away in the second half.

Pick:  Cats play valiantly but just can’t keep up.  Pick the Badgers to win and to cover Badgers 38, Northwestern 20.

Lowes Line Season Record:  Straight up, 1-3 (2-2 ATS)

(Note: for the purposes of the LL record, this record assumes that the Line would have predicted a Penn State victory and cover of a 10.5 point spread.  That assumption hurts us two ways:  first, it makes our record that much worse; but second, and more importantly, we were deprived of an entertaining read from one of our other staffers who brought us the “Caddyshack”-themed Line against the Gophers and a Dr. Seuss Line.  Alas.)


Minnesota Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

  Northwestern Wildcats (3-2, 2-0) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-1, 1-0)
Date: Saturday, October 11th, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Gophers (-4) o/u 43


Alright true believers, welcome to another edition of Northwestern Wildcat Football and the Lowes Line.  What a roller coaster it has been this season to be a Northwestern fan.  It is very hard to believe how this season has played out so far, but I believe that most people had this team at 3-2 after five games.  An opening loss to Cal shook the collective faith of the fan base, but an even more disappointing loss to the Huskies from directional Illinois was completely disheartening.  Suddenly, a bowl season seemed in doubt and many were questioning more than 3 wins this season.  Fitz began to feel some heat and a lackluster effort against Western and it felt even warmer.  Then something happened.  Was it the up/downs in the rain?  Was it Fitz calling out his players?  Who knows, but something did happen.  A convincing win in Happy Valley (when does a NU alum EVER get to write that phrase) brought some hope, and then Wisky came to town.  Wisconsin had not won in Evanston since 1999 but this year’s team is led by Heisman hopeful, Melvin Gordon.  Gordon did not disappoint and rushed for 259 yards and a touchdown.  READ THAT AGAIN.  Gordon rushed for 259 and a touchdown.  THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY NU WINS GIVEN THAT STATISTIC!!!!

Well, something happened, and the rest of the Wisconsin’s team did not have their best game.  Critical red zone turnovers and a stout NU defense (most of Gordon’s damage came on 3 runs) and NU proved victorious.  Final score 20-14.  Siemian did enough to win, throwing for 182 without a turnover.  Freshman Justin Jackson went 33-162, and Kyle Prater was the leading receiver.  Godwin Igwebuike (redshirt freshman) had three interceptions, earning himself star of the game honors in this writer’s eyes.  The ‘Cats are 2-0 in conference and sit atop the West Division of the B1G.

This week, the ‘Cats travel to Minnesota to face the Golden Gophers who are pulling out fresh new “golden helmets” rather than their standard helmets.  The Gophers are coming off a bye week after an impressive win at Michigan where they completely dismantled the Wolverines 30-14.  TCU (who is ranked as high as 9th in the AP) is the Gophers’ only loss this season as they destroyed the rest of their competition.  Similar to Wisconsin, the Gophers rely heavily on a running game led by senior David Cobb.  He gashed the Wolverines for 183 yds on 32 carries.  He is averaging 5.8 yds/carry so far this season.   Their QB play has been up and down secondary to their starter Mitch Leidner who has been battling injuries this season. Their defense has been stout and is the mainstay of their team alongside excellent special teams play.   The Gophers D has only allowed one score this season if the opponent starts within their own 25.  On the other hand, if the opponent can start on the Gophers side of the film, they score 7 of 8 times.  Hence, field position will be key. 

PICK: I’ve gone back and forth several times.  Which Wildcat team shows up this weekend??  The ‘Cats have the potential to be a better team than the Gophers, but are very young in several positions. The starting lineup is littered with So and Fr with names such as Walker, Igwebuike, Odenigbo, Harris and Jackson.  Road games are tough in the B1G.  If in doubt, take the home team.  23-21, Gophers.  Cats lose on a late field goal but cover the spread.  

Lowes Line Season Record:  Straight up, 1-4 (2-3 ATS)

Nebraska Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

Matchup:  Nebraska Cornhuskers (University of Nebraska at Lincoln and their initials should be
UNL not NU) (5-1, 1-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 2-1)

Date: Saturday, October 18th, 6:30 p.m. CDT


Line: Huskers (-6.5) o/u 51

“They are who we thought they were”.  Denny Green infamously said this after a complete meltdown by his Arizona Cardinals against the Chicago Bears eight years ago this week.  This is how I feel about NU this season.   The ‘Cats are exactly who I thought they were.  Young and inexperienced with a decent QB but not someone who will win games by himself.  Road games in the B1G will bite you and that is exactly what happened last week.  The ‘Cats traveled to Minnesota and dubiously lived up to every expectation.  It was a close contest but a special teams score was the eventual game winner (funny how a 102 yard kickoff return after a tying score tends to deflate a team).  The ‘Cats got down early after some unimpressive play by the secondary.  Justin Jackson kept the game close as he was impressive averaging 4.6 ypc and scoring on a 11 yard pass from Siemian.  The front 7 kept Cobb from killing us as he only rushed for 97 yards on 30 carries, but the big plays kept falling the Gophers’ way.  After a long 97 yard touchdown drive in the 4th quarter tied the game, the aforementioned kickoff return was the difference maker.  This was a very winnable game as the ‘Cats could have locked themselves into pole position in the very weak B1G West Division, and that is the most disappointing aspect of the loss. 
The Huskers are 5-1 and are coming off a bye week just as the Gophers were last week.  When they last played, the Huskers were attempting to stage a furious comeback against Sparty as they entered the 4th quarter down 27-3.  Two fourth quarter scores by Abdullah and a punt return for a touchdown had the Huskers in striking distance.  With under a minute to play, the Huskers were driving for the winning score.  A late game interception sealed the victory for MSU and Nebraska fell to their potential opponent in the B1G title game.  Entering the game, the Huskers had the 2nd ranked rushing attack in the nation, but was shellacked by a swarming MSU defense.  Ameer Abdullah was held to 45 yards on 24 attempts as the Spartans vaulted out to the big lead. 
This will be a tough week for the Wildcats.   Nebraska is good and for the third straight week, the ‘Cats face a team that features a stud running back.  Ameer Abdullah is good and will be playing on Sundays next year.  He is a different back than Gordon and Cobb though as highlighted on a recent article on the Lake the Posts site.  At 5’9” and 195 lbs, he is not the bruiser that other running backs are.  He is quick and can catch the ball out of the backfield.  This is serious trouble for the ‘Cats in my opinion.  Tommy Armstrong leads the way under center and does enough to not allow teams to focus all of their efforts on Abdullah.  Northwestern’s secondary will have to win their individual battles playing man-man, so the ‘Cats can spy Abdullah and rush 5 guys to stop the run and pressure the QB in passing situations. 
The last three Northwestern-Nebraska games have been decided by a total of seven points.  3 years ago, Northwestern won 28-25 in Lincoln as the Colter dive was the highlight.  In 2012, UNL rallied from 12 points down in the 4th quarter to win 29-28 and then last year.  Last year was the Hail Mary game, not to be overshadowed by Abdullah converting a 4th and 15 just prior to the notorious pass as the ‘Cats lost 27-24.  These games are wild and NU will have something to prove.  It is homecoming this week and Under Armour has provided the Wildcats with a “Back in Black” gothic uniform.  The famous arch even makes an appearance on the back of the helmet this week.
PICK: Another tough game to pick.  We will dedicate this one to Bon Scott with Brian Johnson singing in the background.   Well, it’s  "time to hit the sack.  Let loose from the noose, that’s kept me hanging about, I keep looking at the sky, cause it’s getting me high.  Forget the hearse, cause I’ll never die.  I got nine lives, Cat’s eyes, using every one of them running’ wild.”  I’m going out on a limb.  Time to reverse the MOJO.  Northwestern does have nine lives.  ‘Cats start strong and hold off a furious rally this time.  22-20 #therealNU. 

Lowes Line Season Record:  Straight up, 2-4 (2-4 ATS)

Iowa Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup:   Northwestern Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) at Iowa Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-1)

Date: Saturday, November 1, 11:00 am CDT


Line: Huskers (-4) o/u 41.5



                Two weeks ago Northwestern hosted Nebraska at Ryan Field for Homecoming.  For a half it was the best of times; for the second half it was the worst of times.  The game started well as the Homecoming crowd filtered into the stadium.  NU stopped Nebraska on its first drive and then using a mixture of Justin Jackson runs and 3rd down passes to Dan Vitale, scored on its opening possession.  NU seemed poised to go up by 14 as they were driving early in the 1st quarter but Siemian threw into TRIPLE converge and had his pass intercepted in the end zone.  Nebraska tied it at 7 and then several punts were traded.  NU had another nice drive propelled by three 10 yard plus runs by Jackson.  With a nifty little spin move Jackson took it into the end zone from 5 yards out.  It only took Nebraska 38 seconds to score as they had a long pass play and very well executed throw back to the QB.  NU took over with 1:14 on the clock and marched the ball to the Nebraska 13 yard line.  The Cornhuskers called timeout as NU had 1st and 10 with 26 seconds left.  As we watched I remarked to my son, “if we scored a touchdown we will win, if we score a FG we might win, and if we don’t score at all we will lose.”  He looked at me puzzled and asked, “isn’t it only halftime?”  I knew that NU needed these seven points.  Too often NU settles for FGs when the game is close instead attacking and trying to win.  On first and second down Siemian’s passes were not perfect but they hit the receivers in the hands, in the end zone.  Neither receiver could make the play.  NU settled for the FG. 

                The game was exciting, the crowd was at least 50% NU, and I had a good feeling.  Was it too much to ask for “more, please?”  Except for the one quick drive, NU’s defense was playing well and that continued into the 3rd quarter.  Unfortunately NU’s offense was not.  Two NU 3 and outs (on a 3rd and one and a 3rd and two) and Nebraska was up 21-17.  NU’s defense was still holding but with the lack of offense and Nebraska continuing to get the ball around midfield it was only a matter of time.  The “bend but don’t break” broke in the fourth quarter as Nebraska scored two more touchdowns and a FG.  Now that was NU was down by more than one score they abandoned the run completely and the flood gates were opened.  In the first half, Siemian had time to complete his passes.  Now that the ‘Huskers were not worrying about Jackson running the ball they attacked Siemian like an orphan attacking an extra bowl of porridge (too much?).  The NU line could not stop them and they pummeled Siemian who was hobbling around like Tiny Tim without the crutch.  In the 4th quarter Siemian attempted 12 passes.  He completed one of them.  NU ran the ball one time.  I wanted to leave early but my classmates wanted to stay.  It was terrible watching Siemian get pounded. 

                The loss in front of a sold out crowd was a very disappointing end to an otherwise great Homecoming weekend.  I saw many faces I had not seen in 20 years and was pleasantly surprised to see most holding up well to the test of time.  The loss and the thought that I may never see most of these people again left me in a melancholy mood. As I drove home, I tried to think that “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again" but my kids were fighting in the back seat and I just kept thinking “we should have won that damn game.”


Some other notes from the game:

  • I can see why many keep expecting Kyle Prater to dominate.  He is significantly larger than anyone else on the playing field and especially the other receivers and defensive backs.  He looks like a man among boys as he lines up for the play.  Unfortunately as soon as the play starts he disappears.  He does not break tackles and extend plays.  He does get stupid holding penalties and drops routine passes.
  • To see where the ball is going to go all you have to do is watch Siemian’s head.  He does not look off the defense and solely focuses on the one receiver he is going to throw to. 
  • NU does not seem to have multiple options in their pass game.  In a 3, 4, or 5 receiver sets, all but one are used to clear out space for the primary receiver.  If that primary receiver is covered Siemian is lost and usually is sacked.
  • Justin Jackson had 100 yards at half time. He was 6 for 26 in the 3rd quarter.  He was 1 for 3 yards in the 4th.  Why was he not used more in the second half?  If Nebraska adjusted, where is our adjustment?
  • Fitz said afterward that Siemian was “nowhere near 100% healthy”.  That was evident from the way he could barely hobble to and from the sidelines in the 4th quarter.  The question is WHY was he in there for those last 3 series to abused by Miss Havisham Nebraska?  Why wouldn’t NU lean more on the run to take the pressure off him?  Is Fitz as enamored with Siemian as much as Pip is with Estella?
  • After the first drive, Vitale was not thrown to again and did not play the second half due to injury.
  • The quick slant and the throws over the middle are completely missing from NU’s game.  This might be good considering how Siemian is telegraphing where the ball is going but it basically limits us to 5 yard quick outs.  That is a hard way to drive 80 yards.

                This week the Wildcats head to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes.  As always the year started with Great Expectations for both clubs as dreams of a B1G West crown seemed realistic.  Reality has set in as both teams are “fair to midlin.”    Both teams have a good defense that has been Scrooge-like in victories and a Marley-like (dead) offense.  This game has been described as a slugfest or a grind it out kind of game.  These are polite ways of saying the game will be slow, ugly, and boring.  NU’s opponents have figured out that to stop NU it is as simple as putting man to man coverage on the outside and stacking the box against the run.  The numbers in the box will discourage running plays and our receivers cannot get the separation to make teams pay for playing man to man.  Since NU has a rotation of 8 or so wide receivers I do not know why they don’t send someone deep on every play.  If nothing else it should tire out the DB’s who are out there the entire game.

                With the two teams so evenly matched and lacking difference makers, turnovers and penalties will be even more important to either team’s success.  It might come down to the kicking game and field position; two more areas where NU does not shine like a "glittering multitude." 

                NU needs to be creative on offense to win.  They need to lean heavily on their two best players, Jackson and Vitale.  It would be great to have some others on offense step up and make plays.  Because I have not seen it yet I am hesitant to believe that an extra week of practice is going to make it happen.  Fitz has never beaten a FBS school after a bye week.  It wasn't until this year against Western Illinois that he had even beaten a FCS team.  And yes, NU is coming off a bye this week.  I would love to tell you the ‘Cats are going to win but the lack of creativity on Offense and general “try not to lose” approach by the coaches has me lacking confidence in these ‘Cats.

I will continue to hope for the best but,

Iowa 17, NU 16

"Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.” - Dickens

Lowes Line Season Record:  Straight up, 2-5 (2-5 ATS)


Michigan Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup:   Michigan Wolverines (4-5, 2-3) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-5, 2-3)
Date: Saturday, November 8, 2:30 pm CST
Line: Wolverines (-2) o/u 40.5
There’s so little that needs to be said about the Hawkeye game last week.  Bitter disappointment comes to mind.  It’s been a long time since NU fans have had to face the realization that the team has no chance to win the game as early as the beginning of the second quarter, and this game reminded us that losing at the last minute in a close game is infinitely preferable to complete and utter failure in every facet of the game.  In reality, Iowa was rightly favored in the game, but the Cats should have made it competitive.  They didn’t.
At this point in the season, it's becoming difficult to identify just a few issues that need improvement.  The biggest difference between the game last week and previous weeks is the fact that the defense failed to perform to the level that had been keeping the Cats in games up to that point.  For some reason, Iowa was able to completely dominate the NU defensive linemen on every play, leading to a complete breakdown.  When coupled with the offense's continued struggles that were again unable to keep the faltering defense off the field, we saw the results.
On offense, we saw the same issues: poor line play, poor receiver play, and a quarterback cannot find open receivers as he prepares to be sacked or hurried time after time, and when he does, either misses them or has the ball dropped.   Play calling is still baffling, unless we admit that McCall has absolutely no confidence that the squad can consistently achieve success when throwing the ball to an effective down field route unless forced to.  Honestly, it’s hard to argue with that attitude after watching the games this year.  Justin Jackson is the only positive, and at his current workload, I have concerns about injury.
The inconsistency of the team is the most striking.  This is the same team that beat Penn State and Wisconsin, then competed with Nebraska and Minnesota.   The team that showed up last Saturday, after a bye week, would not win a game all season.  Fitz blames immaturity, and perhaps that is true, but that of course raises the question about exactly what the coaches’ role is in managing the team’s attitude and approach. 
This week the Michigan Wolverines, a program in turmoil, roll into town hoping to save their season.  For those who don’t know, after a disastrous bout with Rich Rodriguez as coach, continued below expectations performance with current coach Brady Hoke, and what can only be described as Concussion-gate (Michigan QB was left in the game after clearly suffering a concussion, and even went back in the game later in the same game), Michigan took the unusual step of firing their athletic director mid-season.  The situation suggests that Hoke is likely not long for his current position, even with a successful remainder of the season.
On paper, this matchup is surprisingly even when you look at record and opponents.  Both need wins to make a bowl game a long shot;  the loser can likely say good bye to that lucrative opportunity for good.  Both have struggled, particularly on offense, while the defense has provided some measure of consistency.  Michigan and Northwestern are ranked 13th and 14th in both yards gained per game and points scored per game in the Big Ten.
On defense, Michigan’s biggest strength is the defensive line.  Unfortunately, their strength will highlight NU’s biggest weakness as a team: the offensive line.  Overall, their defensive ranking is #9 overall, much better than NU’s, particularly after last week’s game.
I’d like to say that NU has a chance of beating a mediocre Wolverine team, but the answer is that it depends.  If the NU team that took out Wisconsin and Penn State shows up, Michigan really has no chance of matching the Cats' intensity and tempo.  If the Iowa Cats show up, Michigan will look like a very strong team instead of the poor one they are. Let's just say I won't be putting the kids' college savings on the game this week either way.
Unfortunately, I see no reason to expect that NU’s offensive line will recover, or that if they do, that the receivers and Siemian will be able to tear the mental scars to take advantage of a weaker Michigan secondary.  The defense will have to return to their earlier form to give the Cats a chance.
Prediction:  Michigan, 27-17
Take Michigan, give the points
Lowes Line Season Record:  Straight up, 2-6 (2-6 ATS)

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (3-6, 2-4 B1G) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-2)
Date: Saturday, November 15, 2:30 pm CST
Line:  Northwestern (+17.5)

How’s that saying go again?  Uglier than the east end of a westbound horse?  That about sums up last week’s game against Michigan, and certainly the special teams and offensive line play of the ‘Cats. 
After a disaster in Iowa two weeks back, the ‘Cats returned to Evanston to take on Michigan in a game where NU had a chance to eradicate from their memories the previous 90 minutes of football they had played, which resulted in 7 points.    Deadspin even got in on the action, producing a story during the game that read, “Northwestern And Michigan Are Playing One Of The Worst Games Ever.”  And they were spot on, even specifically mentioning that, “Northwestern had a punt on 4th-and-24 that failed to make it to the first down marker.”   Lovely. 
It's ugly all right, and it goes to show how important the offensive line is.  NU's effort and maybe capability and/or talent up front is just not there, and it showed big time against the Wolverines.  NU could neither run nor pass, with Justin Jackson being held to 35 yards on 17 carries, and the Michigan defensive line being all over Trevor Siemian like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat. 
Fortunately, the Wildcat defense came to play, and did a decent job in holding Michigan at bay for most of the game, and off the scoreboard completely until midway through the third quarter.  Even then, it took a muffed punt by NU to give Michigan incredible field position to get on the scoreboard.  There have only been three games in all of FBS college football this season that were scoreless at halftime.  Two of them were played at Ryan Field, as NU and Northern Illinois were also deadlocked at zero at the break back in September.
NU managed to make a big play as Ibraheim Campbell picked off Devin Gardner and returned it to the Michigan 15 yard line.  The way things were going, he would have needed to take it to the house.  That drive resulted in no points, with the 'Cats moving 23 yards in the wrong direction and out of field goal range.  It finally clicked for NU late in the fourth, as they moved on scoring drives of 95 yards, resulting in a field goal, and 74 yards, resulting in a TD.
To quote former Jet coach Herm Edwards:  “You PLAY to WIN the Game!”  I had no problem with Fitz going for two following the TD with three seconds remaining.  I did have a problem with the play that caused us to have to go for two in the first place, as well as the blocking scheme.  Note:  If you want to roll right, it’s kind of important to block the left defensive end,  else your QB will crap himself and trip over the hash mark, ending the game.   Could they have kicked the extra point and try to win in OT?  Sure, but I like the thought of being aggressive, even though you can make the argument that going for two implies Fitz didn't have confidence in his squad to win it in extra time.
Off to South Bend this week, where the Fighting Irish await.  Notre Dame had been humming along, making their way up the rankings after their best game, a loss to Florida State, had them on the doorstep of the four-team playoff.  That came to a crashing halt in the desert against Arizona State.  The Irish fell behind early, due to their propensity for turning the ball over.  After being down 34-3 with a minute to go in the first half, ND went on a run, and cut the deficit to a field goal halfway through the 4th quarter.  The luck of the Irish and ND's playoff hopes ended there, as the Sun Devils put up 21 points in the final 5 minutes to pull away, a pick-six sealing it.
Not sure what to expect this weekend.  Will the Irish be out for blood after having their season all but ruined last week, or will apathy have set in?  We know the Irish tend to play to the level of their competition as times, especially at home, and tend to be careless with the ball from time to time too.  Don't look at the ND-North Carolina game as a barometer, 'Cat fans.  No, the Tar Heels are not a great team, but they have the ability to make plays and score points, something NU can't seem to do.  Everett Golson is too good of a quarterback, and the athleticism of the Irish defense is likely too much for the 'Cats to handle.
The weather may play into the ‘Cats favor in this one, as the speed of the Irish could be neutralized in the cold and wind.  And maybe a turnover or two will give the 'Cats a short field and allow them to take advantage and get on the board.  One thing's for sure:  forget the nostalgia.  This ain't 1995.  If the 'Cats win, they should carry Fitz off the field.

Pick:  In the land of Touchdown Jesus, I’m a Doubting Thomas.  Take the Irish and lay the points.  Notre Dame 28, Northwestern 10
P.S. Rudy was offside.
Season to Date:  3-6 Straight Up, 2-7 ATS

Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (4-6, 2-4 B1G) at Purdue Boilermakers (3-7, 1-5)
Date: Saturday, November 22, 11:00 am CST
Line:  Northwestern (- 1.5; o/u 49.5)
This Lowes Liner takes full credit for the stunning upset that took place last week in South Bend.  I had a good portion of my Lowes Line written, bemoaning how far our program has fallen in recent times, and leaving only a couple of blanks in which to insert the details of the stink bomb Northwestern detonated against the Irish.  After the mauling the Irish suffered at the hands of the Sun Devils, I was certain the Golden Domers would take out their anger on the Wildcats, hanging at least half a hundred on them.
And then Saturday happened.  And I realized I had to toss all I had written and start from scratch.  (And, honestly, never was I happier to do just that.)  So...the reverse jinx worked to perfection.  You're welcome, everyone!
Northwestern hung around.  Notre Dame scored quickly to open the game, which was completely unsurprising.  But NU marched right back and tied it up at 7.  NU fell behind by 11, then took the lead in the second quarter (which elicited a roar of approval at Camp Randall Stadium when the score was posted), before falling behind by 4 at half.  NU again fell behind by 11, but managed to score a touchdown and 2-pointer before booting a tying field goal with 19 seconds left in the game.
Northwestern’s defense had 4 takeaways (though, unfortunately, NU’s offense had as many giveaways) including a key fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter that led to the tying points.  NU’s defense also stood tall in overtime, not allowing ND to move the ball at all, which caused the Irish kicker to attempt a 42-yard field goal, an attempt he promptly missed.  NU likewise could not move the ball in overtime, but kicker Jack Mitchell reprised his tying field goal, sending NU to a stunning upset of the 18th ranked Irish.  That’s twice in a row (separated by 19 years) NU has gone into South Bend and emerged as the victors.
The N(otre Dame) B(ias) C(hannel) announcers gushed after the game, calling it the best victory in NU history.  That might be a bit of hyperbole.  The previous victory against Notre Dame set the stage for a run to Pasadena, a stunning development for a program that, until that point, was known best for owning the NCAA record for football futility.  Certainly, the 1949 Rose Bowl victory has to be considered, along with the 1995 victory in South Bend and the “get the monkey off our back” win at the 2013 Gator Bowl has to be part of that conversation, too.  But beating the Irish in full view of Touchdown Jesus has to rank highly in any discussion.
In the context of the season, however, that victory only serves to deepen the enigma that is the 2014 Wildcats.  Fail to show up in the opener and against an in-state MAC team.  Finally get things moving and then somehow defeat a Wisconsin team that completely manhandled Nebraska this past weekend.  The dreams of a Big Ten West title died hard soon after, and the ‘Cats descended into a deep abyss, failing miserably against an eminently beatable Michigan team.  And then beat Notre Dame AT Notre Dame?!
What to make of this team, as they travel to West Lafayette to take on the Boilermakers?  Are they the team that failed to show up against Cal and Northern Illinois?  Who put forth a pathetic effort against Michigan?  Or are they the team that stood up to a very physical Wisconsin team and then hung around and stunned the Irish?  It is difficult to get a read on the Men in Purple.
Purdue has struggled in 2014, posting victories against a couple of mid-major teams, and their only victory in the Big Ten coming against Illinois.  Their losses have been all over the board:  a one-point loss to Minnesota, but also getting clobbered by Central Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.  And, against the common opponent, Notre Dame, Purdue lost 30-14.  So that alone suggests that NU should have the upper hand in Saturday’s tilt.
Purdue comes in ranked 102nd in the country in passing yards (hard to believe given how they used to love to sling the ball around under Joe Tiller), 88th in points scored, and 98th in points allowed.  Purdue is led by quarterback Austin Appleby, who has struggled in his last two starts against Nebraska and Wisconsin.  Akeem Hunt gets the lion’s share of the carries, but has not posted much success recently against strong defenses.
My prediction this week is a little stronger than it would have been pre-Saturday.  If NU can take care of the ball, I think the Wildcats will emerge victorious at Ross-Ade Stadium.  Justin Jackson should have another good game against Purdue’s defense, and NU’s rushing defense should be able to contain the Boilermakers’ rushing attack.  Also, NU’s pass defense shouldn’t be too threatened by Appleby, whose completion percentage was well below 50% in each of his last two outings.  I think NU manages to move the ball and score points against the Boilermakers, while the defense keeps the Purdue offense well in check.  The greatest threat against Purdue is really a letdown, playing down to the level of the competition (Michigan, anyone?).  Fitz isn’t letting that happen, <rest of sentence removed due to possibility of jinx>.
Pick: NU stays inspired after  taking down the Irish.  Take the Cats; give the points.
Northwestern 30, Purdue 20
Season to Date:  3-7 Straight Up, 2-8 ATS

Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes

Matchup: Illinois Fighting Illini (5-6, 2-5) at Northwestern Wildcats (5-6, 3-4)

Date: Saturday, November 29, 2014, 11:00 am CST

Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois

Weather: Butt-Puckeringly Cold, But Not Technically Freezing

TV: ESPNU (Motto: "We Televise Pillow Fights So ABC Won't Have To.")

Line: Northwestern (-8; o/u 52) (o/u on the use of the word "awesome" in this preview is 6.5)


Outlook:  Am I really going to be on the edge of my seat for a game on the “U” between two sub-.500 teams trying to get even so they can go play a MAC team in a middling bowl on Boxing Day?  Answer: Yes, I will be the bad dad sitting in the bleachers, allowing the WatchESPN app to drain my phone battery during my son’s first hoops game of the season, yelling and cheering and groaning at completely inappropriate points while 5th/6th graders struggle to break the elusive 30-point barrier in a CYO game refereed by a retired Sunday school teacher with bad arches and high-water black polyester pants.

This is the sixth year of the Land of Lincoln Trophy Series, with NU leading 3-2.  Beat Illinois, and the Wildcats can at least boast about one winning record this season, limited as it may be to a made-up politically correct battle for a bronzed Hat.  I literally do not know one substantive thing about Illinois.  The Illini are so fundamentally irrelevant to my worldview that I have not bothered to Google anything about their pathetic team.  They are the White Lion of college football.  And it is an Absolute Truth of the Universe that White Lion Sucks.*

I feel bad about Trevor Siemian ending his college career with an injury.  I think he was a very significant reason NU won its last couple of games (and possibly also a reason NU lost a few games earlier this season).  On balance, he will be missed, and I think if NU loses to the Illini it will be due to Trevor’s absence.  Let the Zack Oliver/Matt Alviti era begin.  Like everybody else, I am unreasonably excited about Justin Jackson (or, Future Denver Broncos Running Back Justin Jackson).  He’s gonna bust up the Illini tomorrow.  That should be the entire preview.  FDBRBJJ will be awesome and NU will cover the spread.  The Wildcats finish a glorious 6-6 and head to Detroit, or Dallas, where they will play in a mid-week bowl game sponsored by homogenous food products that go down easy with cheap yellow pseudo-lager.  Win or lose in late December, NU alumni will enjoy the next few months of college basketball (is Coach Collins 1 or 2 years away from the Tournament? I say 2.), ladies’ lacrosse, and fevered anticipation of another football season.


Pick: When the Illini cry/Let them know we tried/’Cause when the Illini sing/Then the new world begins.  (Cripes, those lyrics suck, don’t they? #WhiteLionSucks)

NU 31, Illinois 20.  Take the ‘Cats, lay the points.   

(Season to Date – 4-7 SU, 3-8 ATS) 

* Not to get caught up in a tangent, but let’s talk about just how much White Lion Sucks.  First, some context.  I am an unabashed fan of that genre of music that falls within the broader confines of “Hair Metal.”  The stuff that we played in the KAVE on The Blaze FM and that evolved from bands like The Ramones (“If you can’t play it well, just play it fast”), The New York Dolls, KISS, and Aerosmith (when they weren’t sober); mated with Van Halen (perhaps the coolest band ever, but never a true hair band); then dipped in a little Black Sabbath, UFO, Deep Purple and Motorhead; with a sprinkle of Alice Cooper** on top.  When this mix came together right, you got the best of the Sunset Strip bands: Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Ratt and, later, Guns N’ Roses; or the best of the East Coast: Cinderella, Poison, Skid Row, Winger.***  Some of the best metal bands showed you their roots.  Quiet Riot, for example, released the first metal album to hit #1, but was basically a Slade cover band (with an all-time great lead guitarist who left before QR dropped their first U.S. album so he could launch Ozzy’s solo career before dying and inspiring the first and best metal tribute album).  Even when they play in arenas, bands like Bon Jovi and AC/DC are really just kick-ass bar bands.  I can’t envision White Lion playing in a bar (maybe a wine bar).  As far as I’m concerned, White Lion's greatest stage performance was in the background behind Tom Hanks in “The Money Pit.”


[** Speaking of Alice Cooper, why doesn’t Taylor Swift just embrace her musical destiny and record a cover of “Poison” already?  Man, that video would make Beavis & Butthead get up and dance.]


[***Yes, Winger, so eff you Lars.  Winger was awesome, and if you doubt it, all you need to do is ask C.F. Kip Winger himself. He’ll tell you exactly, to the micrometer, how awesome he still is.]


It is possible that my enmity towards White Lion is slightly irrational.  Let’s be honest, a lot of the stuff on Sirius/XM’s Hair Nation channel doesn’t really hold up almost 30 years later.  Still, I can’t help but enjoy the hell out of Y&T's “Summertime Girls” (mostly for the goofball video and 8-foot tall robot), and I freely embrace the ridiculous embarrassment of blasting that tune with the windows down.  There are plenty of horrible bands and songs from that era that almost make White Lion look subjectively not horrible (even if White Lion is, indeed, objectively horrible).  A good example is Europe’s “The Final Countdown” which deserves its fate in college a capella anthem hell.  Maybe that’s one good thing you could say about White Lion – they weren’t responsible for “The Final Countdown.”  They also weren’t responsible for the Black Death in the 14th Century, but that's not something to go around bragging about. 


My 10-year-old is learning the guitar, and, as a long-time air guitar virtuoso, I have tried to impart some wisdom to him.  Learn to play “Photograph” and I will pay for college.  Learn to play Scorpions’ “Still Loving You” and he will never lack for lady friends (euphemism alert).  But if I catch him playing any White Lion, I will break his axe into kindling and gouge out his guitar teacher's eye with a thumb pick.  At least I'm raising children with values--when they hear the first few notes of "Wait" on the radio, I get a chorus of shouted "Dad! White Lion! Change it! Change it!"  My intense hatred of that song is reflected back on Mike Tramp and the rest of the goobers in his travesty of a band.  It is the whiniest damn song in rock history.  It’s like Gilbert & Sullivan tried to write a power ballad, with a castrato Eeyore on lead vocals. 


I think we can acknowledge that most metal songs display an unhealthy obsession with carnality.  Or they’re about getting loaded.  Or both.  For the most part, however, the majority of power ballads are surprisingly sappy.  But the sad-sack cringing and begging in “Wait” makes one long for the blatant misogyny of Whitesnake’s “Slide It In.”  Say what you will about Gary Cherone’s attempt to murder Van Halen, but when he tried to talk a girl into sleeping with him at least he didn’t beg.****  And don’t get me started on “When The Children Cry.”  You make me cry, White Lion.  You want a rock anthem for world peace?  Try the Scorpions “Winds of Change.”  You know, a good song that might really have ended the Cold War, by Germans who lived in the shadow of the Berlin Wall and ICBMs, not another whiney song about and by a weeping Danish-New Yorker prettyboy.*****  Heck, even their cover of a good Golden Earring song sucked.


[**** Extreme’s “More Than Words” is not a love song ladies, it’s a dude tying to get into a girl’s pants using the classic “but if you REALLY love me…” technique.]


[***** I will acknowledge that Mike Tramp is pretty.  Not quite Lita Ford pretty, but not bad for a guy.  In a ranking of good-looking rock chicks, you start with the girl from the Billy Idol “Cradle of Love” video, then Tawny Kitaen rolling around on David Coverdale’s Jaguar, the chemistry teacher in Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” and, a few steps further down, Sebastian Bach.]


So, there you have it.  Kick back for the game with a beer and a playlist of hair metal hits.  Try some classic Slade ("Slam The Hammer Down", "My Oh My"), a heavy dose of Motley Crue, mix in some Tesla and the entire Blizzard of Ozz and Bark At The Moon albums, maybe The Quireboys’ “7 O’Clock” for some later British blues/metal rock, before mixing in some guitar heroes like Steve Vai (“The Audience Is Listening”) and Michael Schenker Group.  If you're an insufferable pedant, queue up your Yngwie Malmsteen CD (kidding, sorta).  Go easy on the headbanging to Judas Priest, don’t be afraid to enjoy Ace Frehley without his bandmates, and crank up the volume when Autograph starts.  You could even embarrass yourself shaken' it to Warrant's "Cherry Pie" when nobody is looking--especially if you have Vevo.  But steer clear of White Lion, please. They are the opposite of Great White, who are awesome.  They are the nasty rind on the Brie cheese of hair metal.  They are the Illinois of B1GTen rock.  White Lion Sucks.