2015 Lowes Line


The Complete 2015 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 2015 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!

Stanford Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: #21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats
Date: Saturday, 5 Sep, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (+12)
Welcome back, Wildcat fans.  Football season has thankfully finally returned, and with it the highly anticipated prognostications of the Lowes Line.
Northwestern comes into the 2015 season following a very underwhelming 5-7 record last year, the second consecutive year NU has failed to attain bowl eligibility, the worst two-year sequence of Pat Fitzgerald's nine years at the helm of the program.  Like last year against Cal, the non-conference schedule opens with a home game against a Pac-12 opponent, as Stanford comes to Evanston.  Eastern Illinois and Ball State also visit the North Shore, while the 'Cats lone road game out of conference is a trip to Duke.
The conference slate has Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State an Purdue paying visits to Evanston, while the 'Cats travel to Ann Arbor, Lincoln, and Madison.  The last game of the season is a "road" game against Illinois, to be played at Soldier Field.
The main story of the NU offseason was the speculation around who would be the starting quarterback for the 'Cats.  Coach Fitz answered that question last week, naming redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson as the starter.  Thorson has a big build, at 6-4 and 220 lbs, with good foot speed and a strong arm.  He's highly regarded as a dual threat, something the 'Cats will surely rely on if they're going to be successful. Senior Zack Oliver and sophomore Matt Alviti are the backups.
One of the few bright spots for NU in 2014 was the play of true freshman tailback Justin Jackson, who ran for over 1,110 yards and had 10 TDs, only the second NU freshman to amass 1,000+ yards on the ground.  Now a sophomore, Jackson will likely be called upon to be a significant component of the offensive attack for NU.  In front of Jackson, however, will be an offensive line with a few major changes.  Senior Geoff Mogus, who started every game last year, returns, but the bulk of the offensive line is new and questionable.  Sophomore Brad Smith is the new man at center, replacing Brandon Vitabile, who started 50 consecutive games for NU before moving on to the NFL. 
Back from an injury that claimed his entire 2014 season, Christian Jones leads what appears to be a very solid receiving corps.  I feel like I say this every year.  I'm curious to see how Jones gets back into the swing of things after a year on the sidelines, as well as whether Miles Shuler can finally become a playmaker and utilize is speed.  Finally, it will be a big disappointment if senior superback and team captain Dan Vitale is not more involved in the offense than he was in 2014.
Defensively, the ends appear in better shape than the middle along the line.  Seniors Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson anchor the ends.  Will this be the year Ifeadi Odegnibo truly breaks out?  He's had 8.5 sacks in two seasons, but he has the talent to truly disrupt opposing offenses.
The linebackers are where the most questions lie.  Sophomore Anthony Walker is young, but had a big impact last year, and will likely be the main man in this group.  Senior Drew Smith returns as well.  The collective play of this unit will need to be markedly better than it was at times last year, as the 'Cats were blown out in three of their five conference losses.
With questions about the two groups in front of them, the NU secondary appears to be  strong and capable, and arguably the most athletic unit the 'Cats have ever had.  Nick VanHoose, who seems to have been around forever, and Matthew Harris are the corners, and Godwin Igwebuike and Traveon Henry are the safeties.
Stanford comes into Evanston ranked # 21, and off an 8-5 season a year ago.  The Cardinal defense is very tough and stingy, and will present a big challenge to the 'Cats as far as moving the ball.  In twelve regular season games last year, only twice did Stanford surrender more than 20 points.   That's not to say the offense is anything to sneeze at.  The Cardinal can move the ball, and senior QB Kevin Hogan will be leading the way.  Hogan's 24 wins as a starter are more than anyone else in college football non named Braxton Miller.  Next to Hogan are Christian McCAffrey and Remound Wright, who combined for over 1,400 yards rushing last year.
Stanford is an exceptional team with a load of talent, and NU could feel like they've hot a brick wall in trying to move the ball against the Cardinal.  So a lot of respect to them, except in one area: the mascot.  Have you seen that thing they call a tree.  Really?   Even Joyce Kilmer would be turning over in his grave on that one, because any poem is lovelier than that arboresque abomination.
That said, Kilmer fittingly gets the final word in week 1:  I think that I should never see / the Wildcats beating the Stanford tree.
Pick: Stanford 28, Northwestern 17.  Take the 'Cats and the points. 

Eastern Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: Eastern Illinois University Panthers at Northwestern Wildcats
Date: Saturday, 12 Sep, 3:00 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (Not available…I heard 31 so we’ll go with it)


What a change a week makes.  After an inspired defensive effort combined with a solid running game and the right amount of NU turnovers (i.e. none), the Cats shocked the football world by defeating then #21 Stanford.  Fitz and his staff were very careful with playcalling to avoid making Thorson throw too much, but even with that approach the passing game was, in a word, atrocious.  Luckily, we have a few weeks to fix that problem and won’t need to rely on the passing game this week.

The opponent this Saturday is the Eastern Illinois University Panthers.  EIU is located in Charleston, just south of Champaign and just west of Terra Haute.  Not a hot bed of activity, but likely a quick trip up to U of I is common when a little nightlife is required.

EIU is part of the state university system in Illinois.  For those of you not from Illinois and thus not in the know, our elected officials have deemed it prudent to operate without a budget since July 1.  In this game of chicken with our future, the (currently paid) officials have decided to take the coward's path and  continue to pay state employees and construction contractors, but stop paying other third party bills including suppliers, state lottery winners, property tax shares to local government, social service agencies, and state educational institutions.  The Lowes Line has it on good authority that EIU’s athletic department has been severely hit.  In addition to sub-par talent, the team will be operating under several other disadvantages including, but not limited to:

  1. The team has changed its uniforms to the same as the Carolina Panthers to allow it to buy cheap seconds.
  2. Hiring the school tuba player to inflate game balls to exactly 1.5 psi below the allowed pressure
  3. Sharing the 11 mouthgards the team could afford by swapping between subs
  4. Attempting to spray pant Willie just before the game so that he appears more “panther-like”.
  5. Hiring the recently unemployed Tim Beckman as their physical trainer with his “Tis only a flesh wound” injury diagnosis guidelines.
  6. Tweeting plays between coach’s box and sidelines.
  7. Stenciling Jimmy John’s ads onto helmets for extra revenue
  8. Signal boards hand marked with crayons by the coach’s children
  9. Connecting the sideline exercise bikes to turbines to power their signal stealing video cameras
  10. The kicker will purposely underkick field goals to avoid losing the ball

One can only hope the additional revenue generated by sacrificing their players to the alter of Big10 football will allow them to reduce some of these draconian measures.

The Panthers are members of the Ohio Valley Conference and are looking for their first win against a Big 10 opponent in their eighth try (second against NU).  Last week they lost to Western Illinois University 33-5 (FWIW, the 2 points came off a return of an extra point attempt, not a safety as one might expect).  The EIU program is best known for producing current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (a fact we are no doubt going to hear about throughout the game).  A more little known fact to impress Cliff during commercials is that EIU also produced current New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.  No word on whether cell phone destruction is part of the program’s training program. 

Expect a fairly balanced, if ineffective, EIU offense in terms of running and passing.  In their first game, the Panthers turned the ball over 5 times.  Expect more of the same.

For Northwestern’s part, we can expect a similar game plan as last week:  A heavy dose of the running game behind a reinvigorated offensive line and a very limited passing game.  It would be fun to see Thorson turned loose on a few more designed running plays after demonstrating flashes of impressive speed last week, but don’t count on it.  The defense should stifle the Panther’s scoring plans, but may play vanilla enough to let some points slip through unless EIU’s turnover woes continue.


For once, it should be a yawner as the Cardiac Cats look ahead to their test against Duke next week, which may show whether the Cats deserve the elevated expectations after last week’s heroic win.  Fitz does not have a strong record of beating the spread in cupcake games like this, so don’t bet on it tomorrow.

Pick: NU 34, EIU 13 (and an infusion of cash for their program).  Take the Panthers with the points.

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

Duke Preview and Prediction
By Hans Steckly

Matchup: #23 Northwestern Wildcats (2-0) at Duke Blue Devils (2-0)

Date: Saturday, 19 Sep, 11:30 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (+3.5)

Matchup History: 
8-8, but the Cats lost the first 6 years in a row, ’85-’90.  I’m sure many of us were in the stands taking those losses in stride as we were engaged in drunken marshmallow fights.

The Blue Devils name apparently traces to some French military units from World War I.  Pardon moi if elite warfare is just not something I associate with France.  Maybe after the game we’ll head for some laughs at the German Joke Factory and then grab a fancy dinner at Chez Ball & Chain (meatloaf is a safe choice).  Perhaps branders at the time just got locked into a color and alliteration, and “Denim One Directions” wasn’t yet an option.  Maybe they were going for a moniker that would somehow appeal to the toughest kids in prep school.

Whatever the reason, their name is tres lame.  They do however have a good team this year mostly because they have a pretty good coach who has built a respectable program.  David Cutcliffe was Peyton’s OC at Tennessee and Eli’s head coach at Ole Miss, and he’s turned Duke from perennial whipping boys into competitors in the ACC.  He’s under .500 at Duke but 10-4 and 9-4 the last two years.  His second game at Duke was in 2008, the last time they matched up with Northwestern.  The Cats barely prevailed winning 24-20.

Besides a seven-year hiatus on traveling to Durham, the Wildcats might not recognize Wallace Wade Stadium as it was renovated this offseason.   They removed the track, lowered the field, and added seating closer to Brooks Field in an effort to make the crowd more of a factor.   Tracy and Gigi and I will make the 90 minute drive decked out in purple, sans face paint.

Know thy enemy:

The signal caller for Duke is built in much the same mold as Thorson and has about the same amount of experience, even though he is a redshirt junior.   Thomas Sirk (#1) switched from safety to qb after his junior year of high school.   At Duke, he redshirted his first year, ruptured his Achilles before the start of his second year, and got some part-time play as a backup last year.   Around 6’4” 220 lbs, he’s bigger, faster, stronger, and more accurate than last year’s graduated Anthony Boone.   Sirk’s a good runner (8 rushing tds last year), and an accurate short passer, but although he has a strong arm he struggles with deep passes.   Mostly, he struggles more with spatial relationships as it relates to defenders and tends to throw into double and triple coverage.

One of Duke’s anticipated strengths was a deep stable of running backs, but 3 of 4 went down in the preseason.   However, sophomore Shaun Wilson (#29) seems to have recovered from his leg injury to be the lead horse.   As a freshman, he rushed for 598 yds & 5 tds averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
The top 2 wrs graduated, with Jamison Crowder a Redskin round 4 pick.   Freshman T.J. Rahming (#3) has speed as does junior Johnell “Butterfingers” Barnes (#4).   The reliable possession guy is Max McCaffrey (#87) son of former Bronco, Ed McCaffrey.   They also have a reliable TE in senior Braxton Deaver (#89).
Duke has a good secondary with pro-bound, former Buckeye, Jeremy Cash (#16) as the anchor at safety.   He’s good in coverage but he’s better as a run stopper.   Good news, he’s one of the few.   The D-line is inexperienced and weak up the middle.

Did I mention Cutcliffe was a student assistant on Bear Bryant’s staff?   Nice to have that on the resume.   He’s brought pride to Duke’s special teams and they’ve been one of the best in the country the last 2 years.   Junior safety DeVon Edwards returned a kick 95 yds for a td in the season opener.   Ryan Smith is a good punt returner.   Senior kicker Ross Martin is 57 of 68 on field goals and 165 of 166 on extra points.

The confident Cats:

Redshirt sophomore Ifeadi Odenigbo (if-AH-dee o-DEN-uh-bo) made headlines with his quote “We expect to have a shutout next week.”   I like to see the confidence but Stanford did not play well, we’re coming off a bye against an FCS team, and Duke is not to be taken lightly.   But, I’m happy to take Ifeadi’s confidence in stride as youthful enthusiasm.   According to a Tribune story, when he got to NU at 6’3” 205 lbs, he told Fitz, “I see myself as a Clay Matthews kind of guy.”   Fitz classic reply?   “I don’t.   That’s an All-Pro player.   I see you as Ifeadi and I don’t know what that means yet.”

Ifeadi is part of a D-line that looks solid, the secondary loses only Campbell, LBs Ariguzo and Hall moved on (both with injuries didn’t make final NFL cuts recently) but sophomore Anthony Walker is stepping up as a good middle LB.   So, we shouldn’t have been surprised at their performance against Stanford.   This should continue to be one of the better NU defenses--with credit to solid recruiting.

The biggest difference on offense this year is a qb who fits the system.   It’s going to make everyone’s job easier to have a more mobile qb, and that had to be part of the offensive line’s strong performance against Stanford.   Thorson rushed for 68 yds on 8 carries vs Stanford.   Siemian’s 2014?   68 carries for -123 yds. 
Justin Jackson had a great rookie campaign at RB and looks to pick up where he left off. 

Christian Jones is a year removed from ACL surgery.   As our best deep threat, he is not 100% and it’s a mixed bag of receivers after that.   Any one or couple could step up, and Vitale will continue to play a big role. 

Most of what I wrote about Sirk’s skillset could be said of Thorson—runner, accurate passer, untested throwing deep.   He looks like he could lead NU to 4 solid years, but this being his rookie campaign, some bumps are to be expected, and Fitz & co. are likely to stick to ground and pound with a side of dink n dunk.

Sacre bleu! Duke is favored?  I feel that NU is a better team and would win 8 out of 10 times.  Duke special teams has the ability to change momentum.  If they put together plays at the right times and leveraged that to force Thorson to throw into mistakes, they could take a couple games.

The Cats game plan should look similar to the template established against Stanford.   Cats O-line should be able to dominate Duke D-line and control momentum and win the time of possession.
On the other side of the ball, Cats will ideally work to force Duke into long 3 rd downs and get their untested qb throwing it to Igwebuike or VanHoose.

Prediction:  Northwestern plays magnifique on both sides of the ball, wears Duke down, and hands them their first loss in their remodeled home.  In a repeat of the Vosges Campaign, Les Diables Bleus stir up local hopes, but ultimately have little effect on the outcome.

Pick:   NU 27, Duke 17.   Take the Cats and the points.    Or just roll with the under (48).

LL:  1-1  (ATS 1-1)

Ball State Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Ball State Cardinals (2-1, 1-0) at #17 Northwestern Wildcats (3-0, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, 26 Sep, 7:00 am CDT
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Northwestern (-18.5)
Northwestern and Ball State share more than just being geographically located in states that abut each other.  They are inexorably linked in the world of late night TV, with an NU alum taking over the chair that the likely most famous Ball State alumnus occupied so belovedly for so many years.  I speak of course, of Stephen Colbert’s debut hosting the late night program recently vacated by David Letterman.  Given that connection, this Lowes Line will weave a classic Top Ten list into the analysis.
10.  Subtraction:  Addition’s Tricky Pal

The chosen Top Ten provides humorous contrast to the fact that Northwestern has played in two games (out of three) dubbed “The SAT Bowl”.  That Stanford, NU, and Duke are fielding very competitive teams despite extremely high admissions standards is a testament to excellent recruiting and coaching.  Coaches identify a particular type of player who will fit into their schemes, and are able to recruit the highly performing student-athlete.  All of which makes last year’s tenure of Trevor Siemian as the full-time starter so unusual.  He definitely did not fit the mold of the run/pass dual threat that has led NU programs of the recent past.  But NU has reloaded with Clayton Thorson, a big dual threat quarterback.
One thing Thorson is going to have to improve is his efficiency as a quarterback.  Yes, he’s a freshman and mistakes are to be expected.  But putting up 9 for 23 for a measly 70 yards may get it done against a non-conference opponent, but once Big Ten play begins, that’s a recipe for trouble.  Thorson also completed two passes to the guys in the wrong jerseys, his first two of the season.  That needs to change, too.
9.  The First 30 Pages of “A Tale of Two Cities”:  Foundation of a Classic
But one of Thorson’s strengths is his ability to run, something that will be a strength of the entire NU team.  Thorson had an electrifying 42-yard run against Stanford.  Sharing the backfield with Thorson is sophomore sensation Justin Jackson.  Jackson showed flashes of his potential during the 2014 campaign.  Through three games he has accumulated 332 yards on the ground and one touchdown, and is proving himself to be a work horse, carrying the ball 35 times against Duke.  Backing up Jackson is Warren Long, who contributed a 55-yard scamper for a touchdown (and a fumble recovery on special teams) to lead the Cats to victory.
8.  Sandwich-making (final project required)

The surprise of the 2015 season thus far has been how stout the defense has been.  Wildcat fans are used to a “bend but not break” defensive philosophy, or at times a “they may score, but we can outscore them” theory.  Through three games, the NU defense has surrendered a mere 22 points against some pretty impressive offensive opponents (i.e., not Eastern Illinois).  Stanford, who just put up 41 on a highly ranked USC squad AT USC, managed just two field goals.  And Duke had scored 37 and 55 points in previous games, but could only score 10.  NU is also winning the turnover battle (barely).
7.  Alumni-owned Hotels, Restaurants, and Car Dealerships:  The Interlocking Economy
Into Ryan Field at Dyche Stadium come the Ball State Cardinals, NU’s last non-conference test before opening the Big Ten season at home against Minnesota.  Ball State enters the tilt with an expected 2-1 record.  They were able to outscore VMI, they got clubbed like the sacrificial lambs (sorry…birds) they were supposed to be by #16 Texas A&M, and they beat fellow MAC team Eastern Michigan in a game of spurts, scoring 28 unanswered points to come back from a 17-0 deficit.
6.  Pre-Law Seminar:  Age of Consent in the 50 States
Ball State’s offense is led by freshman quarterback Riley Neal.  In terms of passing proficiency, Neal is what Thorson is not:  efficient.  He sports a gaudy 74.5% completion percentage, and has yet to throw a pick. He also is a dual threat, piling up 143 yards through three games and a 41-yard touchdown run.  He shares the ball with running backs Darian Green (7.4 ypc, 4 TD) and James Gilbert (4.5 ypc, 5 TD).  On the wing, his main targets are Jordan Williams and KeVonn Mabon, who between them average more than 10 catches per game.  Given the ball, this squad will score points.  That they put up 23 on A&M in College Station is a testament to that.  The previous week, they put up 48 against VMI.
5.  The Denny’s Menu:  Recent Discoveries
One cannot really expect a defense from a mid-major conference to hold back a potent office like Texas A&M, so surrendering 56 against the Aggies shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.  There is reason for hope, Cats fans, in that VMI was able to put up 36 on the Cardinals’ defense.  VMI also put up 547 yards against the Cardinal defense, which is a shocking total for a Division I-AA team.  Even A&M didn’t put up that many yards against Ball State.  Ball State’s defense, in its victories, was able to win the turnover battle, and that’s something to keep an eye on in this game.  Taking care of the ball will be a key to victory.
4.  The Bunny and the Wolf:  Hand Shadow Workshop
So what does this week’s game bring?  NU’s defense will be tested by Ball State’s running attack.  NU has kept opponents to 235 yards per game so far this season (111 yards rushing).  Given Ball State’s potent running attack, expect that average to increase, significantly, when statistics are compiled Saturday night.  It will be vitally important for NU’s front 7 to control the line of scrimmage and keep gains small, and not allow big runs to flip field position.  NU’s secondary will also be tested, with two gifted pass-catchers drawing significant targets.  I think Ball State will score points on NU’s defense.
3.  Draw Winky
On the other side of the ball, NU’s offense should find success moving the ball.  Ball State surrenders over 400 yards of offense per game this year, and NU should be able to exploit that weakness.  Justin Jackson should have a good game on the ground, and hopefully he can turn his 3.4 ypc average v. Duke into 4-5 ypc, and get into the end zone a couple of times.  Ball State’s secondary yields yards in chunks, so look for Christian Jones to get into the swing of things with some big catches.  If Clayton Thorson can solve his efficiency woes and throw to the guys in purple, NU stands to enter conference play undefeated.
2.  From “First Love” to “Looker”:  The Films in Which Susan Dey Appears Naked

Perhaps the most effective way for NU’s defense to keep the Cardinal offense in check is to be sitting on the sidelines.  Given NU’s recent history with the spread offense, and the plethora of graphics during games about how quickly they snap the ball (categories like “fast” and “really fast”), it feels foreign to comment that one of NU’s strength this season has been keeping opposing offenses off the field.  In each of the three games so far this year, NU has won (sometimes significantly) the time of possession battle.  That can be a misleading stat, of course, if the team on the other side of the field is a quick-strike menace like Oregon, but in most games it is a signal that the other team isn’t scoring because their playmakers are firmly planted on the bench.  Just where we want them to be.
Pick:  NU uses its running game though a weak Ball State defense to score enough and keep Ball State’s offense in check, but Ball State keeps it close.
NU 38, Ball State 24.  Pick the Cardinals to cover.
…and the Number 1 Course for Athletes at SMU:
1.  The Poetry of Hank Stram
Season to date:  2-1 Straight Up; 2-1 ATS

Minnesota Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes

Matchup:  Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-1, 0-0) at #16 Northwestern Wildcats (4-0, 0-0)
Date:  Saturday, October 3, 2015, 11:00 a.m. (CDT)
TV:  Big Ten Network
Line:  Northwestern (-6.5)


We finally reached that point where there is simply too much content for the limited capacity of cable television networks.  Hard to believe, but blame the insane proliferation of HGTV home improvement shows.  The news networks have been hardest hit.  In an effort to salvage its flagging ratings, and avoid getting beat by a looped home video of a 4-year-old eating paste, CNBC has decided not only to expand its upcoming presidential debate to include both major political parties, but also to combine the debate with Pat Fitzgerald’s press conference leading up to today's game against Minnesota.  A partial transcript follows:

CNBC Moderator:  We would like to welcome everybody to tonight’s combination presidential primary debate and NU football press conference.  Hopefully this will garner more viewers than the reruns of 1970s Scooby Doo cartoons on Boom Network.

Fitz:  Appreciate it.  Thanks to everybody for being here.  First of all, let me talk about how great these Wildcats players are.  Really, really great.  Big playmakers this season.  Excited to talk about the upcoming Big Ten opener for us.  Not as excited about all these politicians, but it’s a great day to talk football.  Go ‘Cats!

Trump:  Thank you to everybody for coming to my debate.  It’s really wonderful to see how much you want to watch me today.  I love this love for me.

Dr. Ben:  I am bemused.

Carly:  I may be the only woman on the podium today…

Hillary:  Hey!

Carly:  …but even as the only woman here I know that football crosses both gender and political boundaries.

Trump:  I love football.  The great American sport!  Remember, I owned a team and beat the NFL at their own game!  I basically reinvented football!  Also, the Dolphins stink!  Take that, Jeb!

Jeb:  Don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Christie:  Look, I’m a football guy.  And a wings and beer guy.  And a pizza guy.  But I’m the only person on this stage who has actually eaten a terrorist.

Cruz (popping up from behind his podium):  YEEEEAAARRRRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Hey, Chris, how’s the heart?
Rubio:  Rand?  Rand?  Has anybody seen Rand?

Kasich:  Good afternoon gentlemen.  I’m from Ohio.  My dad was a mailman.

Bernie:  We will place our missiles in Cuba!  When is Disneyland open?

Fitz:  We’re looking forward to this weekend’s game.  We’ve got to take these one game at a time.  Minnesota is a tough team, very-well coached.  Go ‘Cats!

Trump:  I tell you what, I love the State of Minnesota.  Lots of beautiful native Indian-type people and Swedes up there.  All alcoholics, but they love me!  I’m huge in Minneapolis!  You should see my numbers!

Dr. Ben:  Are you out of your Vulcan mind?!

Carly:  I think Mr. Trump doesn’t even realize when he is insulting people.  Not all Swedes are alcoholics.

Trump:  Listen Curley, or Carly, whatever it is, I am a very smart guy.  I mean really smart.  That’s why I’ve been CEO of 87 different companies, and I’ve starred on 9 reality TV shows, and I once got a sensual foot massage from Ross Perot.  It was very nice for you to be CEO of a cute little company like HP, but to me that’s like TP.  I am freakin’ hilarious!

Carly:  I don’t understand what you’re even talking about.

Trump:  It’s my giant IQ!  Look at it!  Don’t stare at it, but drink in that beautiful IQ!  Best IQ money could buy!

Cruz:  You know, I too am very smart.  I went to Harvard.  Also, I eat brains.  Glllaaaabbaagggghh-googly-moogly-blecharaaghg!

Trump:  You’re sure a cute little guy.  But Harvard has put out a bunch of very dumb people.  Name one Harvard graduate that could pilot a riverboat casino while nailing a cocktail waitress!

Bill Clinton:  I did not have sexual relations with that waitress.

Hillary:  Bill!  Now is not the time!

Fitz:  We’ve got to keep improving our offensive game play.  Minnesota has a tough defense, so Clayton is going to have to step it up.  Go ‘Cats!

Christie:  Is anybody going to pay attention to me?  I might as well be standing here in my garter belt!

Trump:  The rose goes in the front, big guy!

Kasich:  I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

Jeb:  Is this a good time to appear presidential, and to discuss policy issues in a rational manner?

Marco:  Polo!

Cruz:  It’s time to take America back from the Minnesotans!

Trump:  You’re just like an Ewok.  Such a cute little snuggle-bear!  I just want to grab you up, in a very humane way, and throw you back down into Texas behind a big beautiful wall.

Fitz:  This is going to be a tough battle.  But we’re very excited about it, and our defense has shown they are up to the challenge.  Go ‘Cats!

Bernie:  Imperialist dogs!!  The workers shall overcome the oppressive NCAA and unite!  Unite against the capitalists and their replica jerseys!  Oooh, is that Jell-O?

Kasich:  Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this.  I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

Dr. Ben: D*mmit Jim, I’m a doctor not a computer repairman!

Hillary:  Just wipe him.

Jeb:  I’d like to discuss…

Trump:  My numbers are blowing up!  I’m bigger than Pac-Man!

Kasich:  I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.  I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission, and I want to help you.

Trump:  Bernie, I will give you two million dollars right now to drop outta this race and go buy me a corn dog!

Bernie:  Later, hosers!

Trump:  Bernie! Extra mustard on that cornie, pal!

Christie:  Finally, a little space to breathe up here.  Hey, is that the Vice President?

Hillary:  G*dd*mm*t, Joe, I can see you peeking around that corner over there!  Get back to your room before I “wipe” you from “the server” you sneaky s*nuvab*tch!

Kasich:  My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song.  If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.  It’s called “Daisy.”  Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.  I’m half crazy all for the love of you.  It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage…

Dr. Ben:  We’re losing him!

Fitz:  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  Sometimes, it rains.  Go ‘Cats!

Trump:  I’ll tell you, we are going to build a giant umbrella!  It’s gonna be beautiful!

Pick:  Beats the heck outta me.  The only polls I’m watching will have the Wildcats moving on up again on Sunday.  NU 20, Minnesota 17.  Take the Gophers to cover.

Season to Date:  3-1 ATS, 3-1 Straight up

Michigan Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup:  #13 Northwestern University Wildcats (5-0, 1-0) at #18 University of Michigan Wolverines (4-1, 1-0)
Date:  Saturday, October 10, 2015, 2:30 p.m. CDT
TV:  Big Ten Network
Line:  Northwestern (+7.5)


This week the Wildcats head east to the "Big House" to face the Michigan Wolverines.  The Wolverines are coached by Jim Harbaugh who left/was shown the door the SF 49ers last year.  Harbaugh was brought in to try to lead the Wolverines back to the top of the B1G after his predecessors could not.  After the first game of the year where UM was beaten by Utah, the conventional wisdom was that it would take a while to get UM back.  Four weeks later and people are starting to sing a different song.  Utah might be one of the better teams in the country (currently ranked #6) and Mich has only given up 14 points total in its last 4 games while averaging 30+ on offense.

In case you are just joining us, NU is also performing well this season.  Most of us here at the Lowes Line had NU at 2-2 heading into the B1G.  Victories against Stanford and Duke are the direct result of a surprisingly stellar defense and limited mistakes on offense.  NU's new QB is not impressive yet, but he has the potential to be (at least that is what EVERYBODY says...).  Justin Jackson has been carrying the load for the NU offense with four 100+ yard games already this year. 

The talk this week has been that this game will be ugly as these are the top two defenses in the country in points allowed and 3rd down conversion rate.  Each team could punt 10 times as neither offense is high powered.  UM's QB is the former Iowa QB.  My 10 year old nephew saw part of an earlier Michigan game and said "no wonder Michigan's QB stinks, he used to play for Iowa last year."  Wisdom out of the mouth of babes.  Actually Rudock is serviceable but his ceiling is not very high.  NU's Thorson can do much more but being just a red shirt Freshman, he could also try to do too much and sink any hopes of an NU victory.

To me the interesting part is that NU has lost its last three games to UM when they should have won all three.  Three years ago NU was up by 3 with less than 40 seconds to go when NU punted the ball to UM.  I was sitting in a coffee shop in Tokyo at 4am listening to the game on WGN on my computer.  Previously, I was politely to told leave my capsule motel, the one above the he/she bar, but that is another story.   NU got the punt off, tackled the returner and I thought, "that should do it, we've won".  But no, on a defensive breakdown, UM completes a pass to the NU 10 and kicks a FG to send the game into OT.  NU loses in OT.  Two years ago UM kicks a FG to tie the game as time expires to send the game into OT.  NU loses in OT.  Last year NU scored in the last minute of the game to pull within one.  Instead of kicking the extra point, NU went for the win and failed miserably.  All three years NU actually had the better team and should have won, but that is why you play the game. 

QB play, limiting mistakes, red zone proficiency, and turnovers will all play a vital role in who will win this game.  Don't let the 7.5 point spread fool you, this game with be decided by 3 points or less.  Normally with a young QB and a good defense, Fitz would be content to play not to lose and hope his defense wins the game.  The three previous years show that that strategy against a similarly talented team does not give you a good chance to win.  I think Fitz wants his Seniors to have a victory over UM and will actually play to win.  At least I hope he does.  If the 'Cats lose but go down swinging I will be happy.  If they play to not lose it will be a very frustrating game.

During the Iowa game last week, Gary Barnett was asked when he knew he had a good team in 1995.  He said "when we went up to UM and beat them at their place, I knew we had a good team."  We will also know this week, after the UM game, if 20 years later, NU has another good team.

I think the 'Cats are due, play to win, and pull off the upset. 

Tell that 'hore, Ann Arbor, she can keep the points.

Northwestern 20, Michigan 17

LL Record:  4-1 (3-2 against the spread)

Iowa Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup:  #17 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, 2-0) at #20 Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1)
Date:  Saturday, October 17, 2015, 11:00 am CDT
Line:  Northwestern (+2.5)
Well that was a shot of reality, eh, ‘Cats fans?  The question facing the ‘Cats last week as they marched into Ann Arbor was “how good is Northwestern really?”  We found out quickly in that 38-0 drubbing.  Take away the kickoff return and the pick six and it was still a beatdown  by the Wolverines, bringing the Wildcats back down to earth after their solid 5-0 start. 
What did we learn from this sh^tshow?  Well, a few things in my mind.  The offensive line is vulnerable.  It was a complete domination by Michigan’s defensive front.  Yes, the Wolverines are far and away the best defense we’ve seen to date, but the combo of Justin Jackson, Warren Long and Solomon Vault rushed for 43 yards on 16 carries.  You’re not only not winning games with those numbers, you’re not competing, plain and simple.  And if I never see another speed option play, it will be too soon.  I’m not usually one to go nuts over play calling, but this was crazy.  Pitching it too soon, the UM defense not having to respect Thorson as a runner, you name it.  Disaster.  It should also be noted that it’s not against the rules to throw a pass on first down.  Offensive coordinators don’t lose their job for putting their teams in 2nd & 5.
But it’s one game.  A horrifically bad one, yes, but just one game.  Learn from it and move on.
So this week it’s Iowa.  It’s Homecoming in Evanston, and Northwestern is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the 1995 Rose Bowl squad.  Darnell Autry is the grand marshal of the parade, and nostalgia will be all over the menu.   If the ‘Cats aren’t motivated for this game, there’s no hope for them.  After getting skunked in the Big House last week, they should be looking to prove that showing wasn’t indicative of their capabilities.  Add to it the embarrassment of the no-show NU performed in Iowa City last year as the ‘Cats were beaten, 48-7, in humiliating fashion.  Top it off with the fact that Fitz is celebrating the 20th anniversary of “those SOBs broke my leg and caused me to miss the Rose Bowl.”  Not sure if Fitz truly continues to harbor that resentment towards Iowa or not, but it makes a good story, and as a wise man once said, “Do it for the story.”
Coach Fitz always says, “We want to compete for championships.” Well, you have yourself your “put up or shut up” moment right here staring you in the face.  This is the de facto championship game of the B1G West Division.  Lose and you’re likely out, given the relatively easy road Iowa has remaining.   The Hawkeyes come into  Evanston undefeated, having marched through an admittedly mediocre non-conference schedule.  Most notable was Iowa’s win at Wisconsin two weeks ago.  Most of the time, a win at Camp Randall would be seen as a feather in the cap, but this season it might not be the case.  Wisconsin isn’t exactly impressing anyone, and while Iowa walked out with a 10-6 win, you’d hardly get too excited about it. 
Iowa is no slouch on defense, but they’ll be without one of their best defensive players, Drew Ott, a lineman out for the year with a torn ACL.  Even without Ott in the lineup, still it appears evident that Iowa will force the ‘Cats to beat them with the pass.  Until NU establishes their passing game, teams will stack the box and dare the ‘Cats to throw.  Here comes the education of Clayton Thorson.  The ability to find the right receiver at the right time is paramount.  Hitting receivers in stride when the opportunity is there and taking advantage of that slight window to make a big play when available is huge.  You can’t just make good choices; you have to make the best choice.  Like when I was 10, and given the option at the multiplex to see one of Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Cannonball Run, or Victory.  Being a soccer player, I chose Victory.  Shit, it had Pele and Rocky in it.  Good choice, for sure, but in hindsight, Raiders is a top 10 film of all time and, well, Farrah…
The Hawkeyes have been hit by the injury bug in other areas as well, as two starting offensive linemen are likely out.   Even so, the Wildcat defense will need to contain Iowa back Jordan Canzeri, who went ballistic on the Illini last week, rushing 43 times for 256 yards, both eye-popping numbers.  It doesn’t end there, either, as Hawkeye receiver Tevaun Smith is also unlikely to play with a knee injury.  For the ‘Cats, NU starting cornerback Matthew Harris is out, having suffered several fractures in his face in the game against Michigan. 
I still think NU is the better team here, although you wouldn’t have believed it last week.  The Wildcats can still claim more quality wins to date than can the Hawkeyes, who beat up on 0-5 North Texas and needed a long game-winning field goal to squeak past Pitt.   While getting some (any?) movement out of the offense would be nice, I’d like to see a return this week to dominating defensive line play.  That will win the game for NU.  Stopping the Hawkeye running game and simply being ordinary and efficient on offense will remove Iowa from the ranks of the unbeaten and give NU a leg up in the chase for the division title.
Pick:  Too many Hawkeyes in the M*A*S*H unit.  ‘Cats take advantage of Iowa’s injury-riddled squad.

Northwestern 17, Iowa 13.  Take the ‘Cats and the points.
Season to date:  4-2 straight up, 3-3 against the spread


Nebraska Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (5-2, 1-2) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-4, 1-2)
Date:  Saturday October 24th, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Line:  Northwestern (+7.5) o/u 51
Well %&^$.  I was all excited.  Took my computer to work so I could keep up with the game and set the DVR, hoping to watch a NU victory in “full detail” that night.  Let me preface this by saying, genetically, TTUN is my natural enemy, but I despise Iowa.  From dirty play (breaking Jay Burson’s neck when I was a senior in high school) to “psychological games” painting visiting locker rooms pink, I just cannot stand the Hawkeyes.  A victory in what was thought to be the de facto Divisional Title Game, would go a long way to appeasing my inner spirit.  To my uneducated eye, the ‘Cats looked flat.  Larry from Bull Durham would have called them Lollygaggers.   How did this team beat Duke and Stanford? It’s a miracle. Iowa came out and basically punched NU in the face and steam rolled them.  It felt like NU was holding the ball like an egg and the Hawkeyes sure scrambled it.  I mean come on, a 4th string RB rushes for over 200 yards.  That ballgame got out of here in a hurry.  It should have had a stewardess on it.  It was awful. 

What this team needs is a rain out, or Fitz needs to find a live rooster to take the curse off of Jose’s glove and make sure Nuke’s eyelids are not jammed.  Most importantly, figure out what to get Millie and Jimmy for their wedding present. Unfortunately, the bye week is not until Halloween, no one knows where to get the rooster or some candlesticks and the ‘Cats must travel to Lincoln to face the Cornhuskers this week.

The Cornhuskers are finally getting healthy as Michael Rose-Ivey returns to the LB corps, and, this team has lost 4 times this season on the opposing team’s last possession.  Their defense is improving (doubt they will get beat on any more Hail Mary’s this season) and their offense is gaining ground quickly.  They have begun to use star wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El in more sets attempting to find ways to get him the ball.  Tommy Armstrong again leads the team from the QB position with 15 TD’s to only 6 picks as well as the second leading rusher on the team.  Terrell Newby averages 5.7 ypc and broke off a 69 yard run last week for a touchdown. 

The Defense of the UNL (University of Nebraska at Lincoln) struggles in the passing game.  They are near the bottom in all of FBS in yards allowed as the likes of Minnesota, BYU and Miami all racked up the yards against them.  With the return of several key defensive starters, their run D is only going to be better.  This will be key to the game.  Can Thorson throw enough to open up holes for Jackson? 
Pick:  This game will be decided early.  If the ‘Cats can keep up and not fall behind early, they have a chance.  If they get behind, Newby and Armstrong will run all day and put up 350 yards between them.

UNL 34 - NU 20.  Lay the points and take the Over.  ‘Cats fall behind and the Cornhusker running game is like a regular Nuclear Meltdown as Armstrong rides off in his 911 with a quadrophonic Blaupunkt
Season to date:  4-3 straight up, 3-4 against the spread


Penn State Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes

Matchup:  Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2)
Date:  Saturday, November 7, 2015, 11:00 am CST
Line:  Northwestern (-1)


Hold everything.  I drew the Penn State preview?  Seriously?  One year ago, I wrote a full exegesis on 1980s hair metal that arose, like Venus on a half-shell, from my totally rational distaste for a certain band that shares a name with this week’s adversarial mascot.  Of course, everybody must be WAITing, with bated breath, for a song parody preview that will make the children cry.

But that would just be too, too easy.  There are so many cruddy lion songs, after all, and I can make any cruddy song even cruddier.  Hakuna matata, bitches.

If I Only Had Purple Fur
(with apologies to Harold Arlen and E.Y Harburg, not to mention Bert Lahr)

Oh, it’s sad, believe me, Fitzy
 That Penn State has played such sissies
 While NU’s defense whirs and whirs
But the ‘Cats have shown their prowess,
 And the Lions, much more mouse
 If I only had purple fur
We’re afraid there’s no denying
 That they’re just some dandy-Lions
 Against whom Jackson will be a blur
But the ‘Cats have shown their prowess,
 And the Lions, much more mouse
 If I only had purple fur
They’ll bury Hackenburg in a blizzard
 And smash Saquon Barkley like a lizard
 Then crush the defense in the gizzards
 If Fitz is the Wizard with purple fur.
Then we’re sure to get a win
 A ranking
 A New Year’s Bowl
 The furrrr…..
We’re off to beat the Lions, the Nittany Lions of Penn
 We hear that they’re an overrated squad
 If ever a squad there was
 If ever, oh ever a squad there was
 The ‘Cats will win because, because, because, because, because, because
 Of the wonderful things Fitz does
 We’re off to beat the Nittany Lions of Penn!
Pick:  Do I really need to say it?  White Lion Sucks.  NU 27, Penn State 24.

Season to Date:  4-4 ATS, 3-5 Straight up

Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup:  Purdue Boilermakers (2-7, 1-4) at Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 3-2)
Date:  Saturday, November 14, 2015, 11:00 am CST
TV:  Big Ten Network
Line:  Northwestern (-16)

So who are these 2015 Northwestern Wildcats?  After nine games and with only three to go, I really don’t know.  Are they the great defensive team that held #7 Stanford without a touchdown in an early season victory?  Are they a team that is guided by a freshman quarterback who is still learning the game at the collegiate level?  Are they a team who has gotten much better at special teams play?  Are they a team who is still searching for their offensive identity?  Are they a team who follows their coach’s plan of “don’t screw up on offense, and win on defense?”  The answer to all of these questions is “Yes.”
NU’s defense has been stellar in the seven games they have won this year, holding the opposing team to an average of 12 points per game.  But in the two losing efforts the defense has not been able to overcome a completely inept offense.  The offense is still a work in progress and it shows how important the quarterback position is.  I truly believe NU’s success over the past decade has been because they have always had a good quarterback. Kustok, Basanez, Bacher, Kafka, Persa, Colter, and Siemian have all been at least good, and a few were great college QBs.  Thorson might someday be a great quarterback but he is still learning and making a lot of mistakes.  During the first half of the year NU ran more to take some of the pressure off of Thorson but as the season progressed the opposing defenses have crowded the box daring NU to throw.  NU has not been able to convert enough down the field to make the opposing defense respect the pass.  Until they do it makes it hard for Future Denver Broncos Running Back Justin Jackson. 

Special Teams play has definitely improved over last year where NU was afraid to even catch a punt.  Two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Solomon Vault have been huge.  Kicker Jack Mitchell is consistent within 42 yards, though Fitz tries to push him to 45+.  Fitz still has the philosophy of get a lead and then rely on the defense to prevent the other team from scoring, even if the game is not even half over.  On one side I can see his point for the one time on Saturday they got aggressive and went after a punt it led to a roughing the kicker call which led to a touchdown.  But I think he is wrong more than he is right.  There have been several close games where Fitz has given away the last possession before half time.  Up by 13 at home, down by 28 on the road, if there is less than two minutes to go, Fitz wants to get in the locker room.  I don’t understand it.  As prolific as offenses have become, a team needs to take advantage of every opportunity to score.  Think of it this way, if there were 10 minutes left in the second quarter would you kneel down and then punt?  No you would try to score.  What is different with two minutes left?  Many scoring drives take less than two minutes.  Also NU is the worst team at making second half adjustments.  There aren’t any.  Ever.
Ok, on to this week’s game.  NU is a 16 point favorite over Purdue.  Purdue is, well, Purdue.  They are not good, as they lost to Illinois last week 48-14.  They did give MSU a scare and beat the Cornhuskers, but NU should win this game.  Purdue has one of the worst run defenses in college football and the ‘Cats should exploit that.   Thorson will be back at QB but he should be handing the ball off to Jackson, Long, and Vault. NU’s defense should be fine against Purdue.  I expect NU to go up by two scores in the first half.  NU never keeps their foot on the pedal so it will remain close and a late score by Purdue will put a scare into NU.  But this will be another game where NU controls the game yet only eeks out a victory. 
Pick:  Cats Win.  NU 27, Purdue 21.
Season to Date:  5-4 ATS, 4-5 Straight up

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup:  #20 Northwestern Wildcats (8-2, 4-2) at #25 Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 5-1)
Date:  Saturday, November 21, 2015, 2:30 p.m. CST
TV:  Big Ten Network
Line:  Northwestern (+10) O/U 40


The 2015 Northwestern formula of get a lead and hold on for dear life resulted in yet another victory in Week 11, this time against lowly Purdue.  Northwestern took the lead 3 times during the game, with Purdue only able to tie the game twice.  Future Denver Broncos Running Back Justin Jackson put the Cats up for good with just over 4 minutes in the 4th quarter, and the defense made the lead stand.  Still, eking out a victory against a 2-7 Boilermaker team is nothing to be proud of nor happy about.  The Cats continue to play sloppy football, once again losing the turnover battle 3-1.  That speaks more about how well the defense is playing than anything.

Another game in the books, and yet we are no closer to the  answer asked in this space last week:  who are these Wildcats?  They clearly are a contrast to the Cardiac Cat teams of old (with “old” being less than a decade ago, as opposed to the Ara Parseghian era) who scored on drives of less than two minutes in duration, and for whom defense was windowdressing…and afterthought.  Northwestern is winning games with defense this season, not in spite of it.

As this staffer wrote before the Ball State tilt, Clayton Thorson has a lot of work to do to improve his passing efficiency.  It doesn’t seem like that will happen this year.  NU is an 8-2 team in spite of lackluster quarterback play.  Thorson completes only slightly higher than 50% of his passes, which won’t be good enough against better competition.  He has thrown for 6 touchdowns, but also completed 6 passes to guys in the wrong jerseys.  It got so bad that Thorson was benched against Purdue for a few series, with Zach Oliver entering the game for a much-needed spark.  Thorson finished the game, but the interception that lead to the benching was a mistake even a true freshman should not make.  So he definitely needed the timeout in the corner.

This week brings the renewed challenge of facing a brawny member of the weasel family.  Wisconsin enters Week 12 with an identical overall record, but sits one place ahead of the Cats in the Big Ten West standings, having only dropped one game league game to undefeated and #5 Iowa.  (As a side note, Iowa seems to be almost comically overrated, but that’s a discussion for another day.)  The only other Badger loss was an opening day loss to #2 Alabama, 35-17, though the game was not as close as the score would suggest.  Wisconsin struggled mightily on offense that game, which ended up giving the Tide many more opportunities to possess the ball against an increasingly tired defense.  Despite their 8-2 record, the Badgers do not have a weighty win, as their non-conference schedule other than Alabama was not full of power teams.  In fact, Wisconsin does not have a win over a team that currently has a winning record.  Yes, you read that right:  each of the 8 teams Wisconsin has defeated has a losing record.  And strong Big Ten teams like Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State are luckily absent from the Badger schedule.  The only highly ranked team (other than NU, of course) Wisconsin has played resulted in a 10-6 defeat at the hands of the Hawkeyes.  And it was less exciting than even the score might suggest, your humble narrator having seen it first-hand.

Unfortunately, the Badger offense in 2015 has made it impossible for this Lowes Line staffer to cut and paste from last year’s preview about the powerful running attack, and anemic passing offense.  The 2015 version of the Badgers is, surprisingly, more of a passing team.  First-year Badger head coach Paul Chryst is a Barry Alvarez disciple, but Wisconsin has not shown the ability to dominate games by running the ball down opponents’ throats.  The Badgers are averaging almost 100 more yards through the air than on the ground, which is very un-Badger-like.  The tastefully named Joel Stave has found better accuracy through the air, favoring senior receiver Alex Erickson, who has a knack for getting open.  A few other receivers get open, with only Wheelwright having problems hanging onto the football.  And while Stave has been more accurate with the ball, he still can be sloppy at times, with 8 interceptions against only 10 touchdowns.  To be sure, Wisconsin still attempts lots of running plays, but what used to be routine gains of 4-8 yards are this year only 2-4 yards.

Part of that lack of production can be attributed to injury.  Cory Clement, who split time last year with Melvin Gordon III, has been out the entire season except for the Halloween game against Rutgers.  He has suffered from a variety of maladies, most notably a sports hernia.  When he was inserted into the lineup against the Scarlet Knights, his running ability was noticeably above those of Dare Ogunbowale (say that 3 times fast) and Taiwan Deal.  Ogunbowale leads the Badgers with 612 yards on the ground.  For the season.  That, alone, is very un-Badger-like.

One strength of the Badgers all season has been the defense.  While NU’s defense has been surprisingly stout, surrendering only 17 points per game, Wisconsin has been far stronger, allowing only 12.3, which is #1 in the country.  Wisconsin is also #3 in total defense, surrendering only 272 yards per game.  Comparing opponents both NU and the Badgers have played, Wisconsin consistently held the opposition to fewer points, especially compared to the sphincter-tightening 40 NU surrendered to Iowa.  Wisconsin allowed them 10 points, which is all that much more remarkable when you factor in the fact that Stave committed 4 turnovers that day.

Leading the Badger defense is the linebacking tandem of Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel.  Both are tackling machines and rush the passer extremely well.  Expect them to introduce themselves to Clayton Thorson at every opportunity.  The Badgers are a little weak at corner, but make up for with strong safety play, and Michael Caputo excels at run support, too.

This game comes down to one thing:  can the NU offense protect the football.  If they can, then NU has a good shot of an upset at Camp Randall.  NU must protect the football so as not to give Wisconsin short fields, but more importantly so NU’s defense can stay rested.  Despite their down year running the football, Wisconsin still fields their jumbo-size line.  If NU’s defense has to play too much because the offense can’t hold onto the ball, then Wisconsin will start gashing the tired NU defense for long gains in the second half.

At the end of the day, I think the Wisconsin defense harasses Thorson and forces him into mistakes.  An accurate passer can complete passes against the Wisconsin secondary, but a 50% passer can’t do it enough.  Especially one who pitches one to the other team as often as he throws touchdowns.  FDBRB Justin Jackson is held under 100 yards, forcing the Cats to pass, and that spells disaster for the Cats in Madison.

Pick: Wisconsin 30, Wildcats 13  The Badgers score enough points off turnovers to cover.

Season to Date:  6-4 ATS, 5-5 Straight up

Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup:  #16 Northwestern Wildcats (9-2, 5-2) vs. Illinois Illini (5-6, 2-5) at Soldier Field

Date:  Saturday, November 27, 2015, 2:30 p.m. CST


Line:  Northwestern (-3.5) O/U 42


It may be very apropos that this Satuday’s contest against the Illini is at Soldier Field along the lake, because make no mistake, we are in a figurative war with the Illini. 

At war for the Land of Lincoln Trophy:

At war for Chicago-land recruits:

2016 Chicago-land Recruiting (via 247sports)


Commits (Offer by other)

Offers (both)


2 (1)

7 (7)



24 (7)

At war for the very hearts and minds of the Chicago market

For the Illini, the on field performance over the last 5 years has been less then stellar with an 39% winning record over that period (versus NU with a winning percentage of 57%) and two pathetic bowl appearances.  To make matters worse, the administration made a truly horrible decision to hire Tim Beckman two years ago, an act that was widely derided in the sports media and within football circles as everyone (except for the Illini apparently) understood that Beckman had ridden on the back of a potential superstar coaching prospect Matt Campbell, who served as offensive coordinator and now head coach at Toledo.  Campbell, whose roots are in Ohio football mecca Massillon, has continued Toledo’s success after Beckman’s departure.  Meanwhile, Beckman was summarily dismissed by Illinois due to an outright revolt by his players and generally being despised by the staff and administrators.  AD Mike Thomas, primarily responsible for the Beckman hiring, was fired not long after.  It’s safe to say that the Illini have made a botch of the program lately.

That said, interim Head Coach Bill Cubit quickly righted the ship and led the team to 4 wins in the first five games before hitting better quality teams and going 1-5 since then.  While able to generally score points, they have relied on defense to keep the opponent in control and hope for a few breaks.  Illinois has announced it will reveal Cubit’s long-term future at the program on Sunday…one wonders what kind of idiots are making these decisions.  No scenario seems like a winner for the program after announcing the announcement ahead of time:  If they win, and he is not retained, it looks like they were leading him on.  If they win, and he stays, it looks like his future was tied to a win against a 9-2 team.  If they lose and he stays, it looks like they already knew and were manipulating the players and fans.  If they win and he goes, it looks like a loss to a 9-2 team got him fired.  My crystal ball says that he is retained (both to reward his overall season performance and prevent a complete abandonment of any progress made in the last few years).

Meanwhile, the Wildcats have achieved a 9-2 season thus far with a good chance to go 10-2 and, being bowl bound, keep hopes alive for it’s first 11 win season with a win in the bowl game.  Unfortunately, the strategic approach has left observers feeling like they have been fortunate, not necessarily good.  Close games against Ball State, Penn State, and Nebraska, a stolen win against Wisconsin, and blow out losses to Michigan and Iowa leave many fans with a bad taste in their mouth.  The defense is as good as advertised, but the offensive philosophy (including special teams) has become so conservative and ball-protection oriented, NU will never have a comfortable lead unless the defense pitches a shutout…difficult to do week in and week out. 

Personally, I feel this philosophy led to both the horrid performance last year and the great performance this year, based primarily on a few bounces in critical games at critical times.  Keeping even lower quality teams close in score will lead to the very results we’ve seen and a general dissatisfaction when watching NU appear to be in control yet unable to safely pull away during each game (plus look completely inept against truly good teams).  Worse, the coaching staff leading the team to an 18.8 pt/game clip this year is the same one that was game planning 31.7 pt/game in 2012.  It leaves fans scratching their heads and asking “shouldn’t I feel better about this team than I do?”  If anything, this year’s team has proven that it actually does matter how a team wins…record is not quite enough.

As for this game, the reality of school enrollment and demagraphics are clear:

NU – 9100 undergrads, 29% of students from Illinois

Illinois -  31,000 undergrads, 76% of students from Illinois

There’s going to be a lot of orange and blue in Soldier Field.  Plus, clearly Illinois has a lot to play for as a sixth win would make them bowl eligible (in a weak eligibility year) and potentially could protect their interim coach (assuming they want that).  However, NU is also looking for the highest profile bowl game (currently projected as the Outback Bowl with a win) since the 1995 Rose Bowl, plus they are well aware that potential future recruits from the area will be watching.  Fitz continues to demonstrate a talent for motivation so I doubt the team will be flat (or any flatter than normal).  My prediction is another game closer than it should be, but NU continues to keep the advantage in the marketing struggle.

Pick: Northwestern 24, Illinois 21.  That means take Illinois with the points, Cats don’t cover.

Season to Date:  6-5 ATS, 5-6 Straight up


BTW, turns out neither is Chicago’s team

Lowes Line 2015 - Outback Bowl Edition

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: OUTBACK BOWL -- #12 Northwestern Wildcats (10-2, 6-2) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (8-4, 5-3)
Date: Friday, January 1, 2016, 11:00 am CST
Line: Northwestern (+8.5)


Here we are, Wildcat fans, preparing to watch the ‘Cats in a New Year’s Day bowl game, after a 10-win regular season for only the third time in school history.   This autumn has been a wild ride, with the Wildcats exceeding just about every expectation that was out there.  Even the most optimistic among us in August felt 7-5 was the ceiling for this team.  Great, right?   Incredible, even.   So answer this:  why are most Wildcat fans not as excited as you would think?  Be honest.  Search your feelings, if you will, to paraphrase from the blockbuster at the local multiplex. 
Here’s one take:  After an incredibly shocking home win to start the season against Stanford, NU kept rolling, getting to 5-0 after a thorough dismantling of Minnesota, 27-0.  Visions of the college football playoff danced in NU fan’s heads.  Excitement and delusions of grandeur were running rampant.  Then it happened.  Northwestern got exposed, and greatly, at Michigan.  That was followed up by a craptastic showing on Homecoming against Iowa where again the ‘Cats were unable to either stop the Hawkeyes or put up many points.  What happened next?  NU fans have been basically waiting for the other shoe to drop since late October, but it was tied on too tight to take off:  A close road win against an under.500 Nebraska team.  A last second field goal to beat a lousy Penn State team at home.  An unimpressive home win against a 2-10 Purdue squad.  A gift at Camp Randall.  And finally an ugly win against a bad Illinois team to close things out.  No apologies needed, and ugly wins surely top losing, but let’s be honest…this might be the worst 10-win team you’ve ever seen.  Admit it.  You agree with this take or a slight variation.  As a result, the excitement is a bit muted, because you feel you might have to wince and turn away if this NU team were to get down 10-0 or 14-0 in the first quarter.
I get it: you can only play the teams on your schedule, and play them NU did, winning 6 conference games for the first time in the Fitz era.  Give the Wildcats credit.  They made their own luck, and got wins where losses could have easily happened.  And the defense is not just good, it’s very good. 
So what happened?  Why the blowouts in the two losses?  Are Michigan and Iowa that much better than NU.  In a word, yes, but there’s more to it than that.   In fact, it’s pretty simple.  If NU doesn’t both establish the run on offense and stop it on defense, you may as well find something else to do, because you won’t want to watch.   In NU’s ten wins, they averaged 223 yards on the ground, with a low of 149 at Wisconsin.  Against Michigan, the Wildcat rushing attack was held to 38 yards, and against Iowa, 51 yards.  NU held its opponents to under 100 yards rushing in 7 of 10 wins.  Both Michigan (201 yards) and Iowa (294) torched the ‘Cats on the ground. 
The Tennessee Volunteers of the SEC are the opponent this New Year’s Day, and like NU, they come in riding a five game winning streak.  Of their four losses on the season, two of them have come to teams in the College Football Playoff, Alabama and Oklahoma.  They also dropped contests to SEC conference foes Arkansas and Florida by a combined five points.  Tennessee is led by junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, a tall and strong playmaker who is able to make plays with both his legs and arm.  Dobbs led all SEC QBs with over 600 yards rushing, running for 9 TDs while throwing for another ten.  NU will do themselves a favor defensively by making Dobbs throw from within the pocket. 
Speaking of defense, the ‘Cats are the country’s 11th best team in terms of total defense, and rank 13th nationally in rushing defense, surrendering just under 118 yards per game.  The Wildcat defense will be without the services of cornerback Nick VanHoose, who injured his hand in practice last week.   It will be very important for NU to get on the board early or at least keep the game within one score for multiple reasons.  First, this Wildcat team, as mentioned before, is simply not built to be able to come from behind.  Second, nobody needs to hear Rocky Top all damn day.  The song is admittedly a bit catchy, but seriously, we’re talking about a song where folks climb a hill looking for moonshine and never come back, a place where the soil is too rocky to farm, so folks “get their corn from a jar.”  No thanks.
This game will undoubtedly come down to Justin Jackson.  Can he get the ‘Cats in second and third and short with positive runs on first down? (We all know the ‘Cats don’t throw on first down).  If so, NU stands a chance with their strong defense if they get the Volunteers forced into passing situations. 
Pick:  Shoe finally comes off, drops with a thud.  Tennessee 24, Northwestern 16.  Take the ‘Cats and the points. 
Season to date: 6-6 Straight up, 6-6 against the spread.