2017 Lowes Line


The Complete 2017 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 2017 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line! 

Nevada Preview and Prediction


By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Nevada Wolf Pack at Northwestern Wildcats
Date: Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, 2:30 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (-24)


Hey, folks, welcome back. It's college football season again. For only the third time in school history, Northwestern starts its season on the heels of a bowl victory, following the win over Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl in December of last year.

It's hard to believe that this will be the 12th season at the helm of the Wildcats for Coach Fitz. Even harder to believe might be that as much as folks like to get on him for too much loyalty to assistants, not being aggressive enough in spots, etc., he has averaged 7 wins a year for 11 years. Think about that. How expectations have changed. For many of us, 7 wins was an undergraduate career, and for over a decade it's become an expectation and par for the course for one season.

What should we expect for 2017? I'll put it right out there: less than 8-4 would have to be considered a disappointment. Aside from this weekend's home opener against Nevada, the 'Cats go to Duke before hosting Bowling Green in the non-conference schedule. NU takes trips to Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, and an initial trip to Maryland since they joined the conference. The 'Cats get Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Purdue at home. Getting ahead of myself for a moment, should NU run the table in the non-conference schedule, their Big Ten conference opener at Camp Randall will give the winner the inside track to the B1G West title.

Defensively, I like the line up front and I like the secondary. Senior defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster is a name you'll be hearing a bit this season, and with good reason. He received the coveted #1 jersey, and is just a beast. Alongside Lancaster at defensive end is sophomore Joe Gaziano, who played in all 13 games last year and had 4.5 sacks. The secondary is also a point of strength, especially at safety, where seniors
Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro are as good as they come, full of athleticism and capable of making big plays. The linebackers are a little bit more of a question mark, and redshirt freshman Paddy Fisher gets thestarting nod in Week 1 in the middle. He's joined by senior Brett Walsh and junior Nate Hall.

On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest story is senior Justin Jackson, who comes into his final season with a load of accolades. He led the Big Ten in rushing last year, and is the first back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his first three seasons. Jackson is 356 yards away from being NU's all-time leading rusher, and it's possible he could end up in the Top 10 for career yards of all backs in FBS history.

When NU's offense isn't riding Justin Jackson, junior QB Clayton Thorson will be focus. Thorson had a significant improvement from his first season to his second last year, and if he continues to develop, NU could definitely put up some numbers. Thorson threw for 22 TDs against 9 INTs as a sophomore, but had the benefit of Austin Carr as a target, who has since graduated. Filling the shoes of the best WR in the conference won't be easy, but junior Flynn Nagel is the choice to emerge as the #1 target. Nagel had 40 receptions last year and has big play capability, but could become a solid third down possession receiver as well. NU fans will be interested in seeing how much of Oregon graduate transfer Jalen Brown we get
to see. Brown comes to Evanston with two years of eligibility, and while not listed with the first team in Week 1, has the potential to become a big play option for Thorson.

NU returns 16 starters and should be poised to have a really successful season if they can stay healthy. As previously mentioned, the linebacker corps is the group I worry about the most. The capability of the secondary leads one to believe the 'Cats will play well against the pass, but teams with strong running games like Wisconsin and Penn State could give NU problems. It will be interesting to see how the run defense develops. If safety Igwebuike again leads the team in tackles as he did last season, it could spell problems.

So what to say of the Week 1 opponent, Nevada? Not much, really. Let's face it, this is a game NU should win, although the 0-2 start last year gives us pause. No disrespect to Nevada, but we're just not giving them any respect. Nevada went 5-7 last year, but was one of Purdue's three wins on the season. The Wolf Pack hired former Arizona State wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to be their coach, the first head coaching position for Norvell. Fitz has had a solid record in season openers, although he's dropped two of the past three, last year against a good Western Michigan team and in 2014 against Cal. This one should be different, however, and the question is whether NU covers.

The biggest games on NU's schedule come in late September and early October, so hopefully the 'Cats get things moving early in the non-conference slate to iron out the kinks. If history is a guide, this won't be the case. NU comes out slow, gets the win with some big plays by Justin Jackson and the defense, but doesn't cover. They do, however, to quote Fitz, go 1-0 this week.

PICK: Northwestern 31, Nevada 10. Take the Wolf Pack and the points.

Go 'Cats!


Duke Preview and Prediction

By Hans Steckly

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats at Duke Blue Devils
Date: Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (-3)

Dukie said it.
In May, Duke extended head coach David Cutcliffe's contract to 2021.  Athletic Director Kevin White said "Simply put, Duke University is terribly honored and very proud to have one of the truly pinnacle football coaches in the country leading the Blue Devil program into the next decade."  This statement was far from simply put and my 6-year-old has dropped fifty-cent words into more coherent sentences.  Is terribly honored a good thing?  Is pinnacle supposed to be an adjective?

So, I think they are happy to have him as their coach and they should be.  He's an excellent offensive mind and has vastly improved their program in his nine years there.  But, recruiting wise, I'm not sure how he let their current roster get so light on upperclassmen.

Duck of Death

Duke has a talented freshman class and their offense is led by a former walk-on, sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones (6'5" 215).  He got the job when their starter Sirk got hurt before last season, so he has a year of experience.  The Cats got to face him last year before he'd settled in, but he's a good and accurate quarterback.  He's riding a streak of 198 passes without an interception; it helps that his passes last year only averaged about 5 yards.  And, he was the team's 2nd leading rusher last year.

Duke put up 60 last week, which they haven't done since Truman was president.  They already had 47 at half.  But, their opponent, North Carolina Central, is in Raleigh and has to recruit from the locals that UNC, NCST, and Duke don't take.

On defense, they are raving about the performance they got last week out of freshman defensive ends Victor Dimukeje and Drew Jordan.

Those who'll play with cats must expect to be scratched

Apparently those playing secondary for The Cats can expect to be scratched....from the lineup.  The Cats secondary was dinged up before the season even started with senior corner Keith Watkins II sustaining an injury that it turns out will have him out for the second straight year.  CB Brian Bullock will also be out this week and CB Marcus McShepard is questionable.  Duke doesn't normally throw many deep passes but they might see an opportunity in the combination of our weakened secondary and absence of pass rush.

Clayton Thorson seemed to be the biggest positive to come out of the Nevada game.  One might even call him the truly pinnacle player of the game.  He was 28/38 for 352 yds, 2 td passes to go with a rushing td and 1 INT.  And, part of those results is the confidence in him and aggressive play calling with which Fitz, or the O.C. McCall, shocked the NU world.

The o-line and JJ need to do better.  He had 109 yds on 30 carries.  Other than Duke's frosh DEs, NU should be able to take advantage of the d-line and run the ball.

Northwestern uses Nevada game as a wake-up call while Duke youth comes in over-confident from their win over the local high school team.  Simply put, Cats find themselves terribly honored to leave the Devils feeling blue.

Pick:  Northwestern 34, Duke 24
Season to date: SU 1-0, ATS 1-0

Bowling Green Preview and Prediction

By Galloping Grapes

Matchup: Bowling Green State University Falcons (0-2) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-1)
Date: Saturday, September 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m. CDT
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Northwestern (-21.5)

Outlook: After a horrific debacle at the hands of the demonically cerulean Dookies last weekend, you might be wondering how in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks could NU be a 3-touchdown favorite against anybody. Did the Vegas oddsmakers confuse us (again) with the powerhouse Northeastern University Huskies? Did the copy editor in charge of the sports page accidentally use a (-) rather than a (+), or maybe misplace a decimal, when proofing the betting lines? Perhaps our athletic department paid a hefty appearance fee to schedule the co-ed intermural team from the Icelandic International Dwarf College?

Nope. The ‘Cats are simply playing the anagrammatically tempting BGSU Bugs. And despite being a historically frisky MAC team (and 2-0 all-time vs. Northwestern!!), the Bugs this year stink like a dirty, dirty rat riding a poop log through a Czechoslovakian sewer tunnel. This clash of pigskin titans requires very little football acumen to preview, which is perfect for me. All I had to do was spend today’s train commute jotting down as many insect-related notes, comments and pop culture references as I could think of in an admittedly childish (and, I suspect, warmly anticipated) attempt to entertain the literal dozen of you fine readers of this email/blog/extended tweet. It was a very exciting commute, in my mind at least. I psyched myself up by watching YouTube clips from Starship Troopers. “Aim for the nerve stem.” “The only good bug is a dead bug!” “Would you like to know more?” I considered previewing the game using only references to rock bands with bug names. The Beatles meet the Crickets; or the Scorpions battle Iron Butterfly—ooh, an In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita parody! Or do I somehow work in Adam & the Ants? Did the Bee Gees name themselves after actual bees? Is Papa Roach an insect, or a pot reference? It seemed too obvious, too easy, to spend 750 words laying into the accordion-riffed “Bugs” as unquestionably the worst Pearl Jam song ever. I could re-write the opening chapter of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” but with Bugs Bunny recast in the Gregor Samsa role, and fill in as supporting characters dead mobsters named Bugsy (not including Bugsy Malone, who was not a real mobster, but rather a pre-Happy Days Scott Baio frolicking with Jodie Foster in a musical montage of happy memories and whipped cream splurge guns). No idea how I would work in a Northwestern football angle but, honestly, I’m not sure it would matter.

And then I realized that Bowling Green’s football men are not officially (or even unofficially as far as I can tell) referred to as the Bugs. Dammit.

So, it’s the Bowling Green Falcons. Falcons are much cooler than bugs. And that’s if they are named after the birds, and not something even cooler, like the Millennium Falcon. Honestly, that would be kick-ass, to have the Millennium Falcon on your team helmets, and maybe instead of running out of a tunnel before the game, come storming off the ramp of the fastest starship in the galaxy. Pretty tough to parody that. That team might go undefeated.

Right, Bowling Green. The last time NU played the “Falcons” was in 2003, in Detroit at the Motor City Bowl. Eddie Vedder’s fake cousin & I made the trip, somehow miraculously convincing our wives it was totally reasonable to leave at 4:30 a.m. the day after Christmas to go see a minor league bowl game featuring a 6-6 Northwestern team. In Detroit. Which NU lost. Fun trip, bad game, and we ended up driving south to get to Canada for poutine.

Considering the quality of play exhibited last weekend, NU might be fortunate to play someplace as awesome as Detroit this year. But as bad as the ‘Cats looked last weekend, they are still miles better than
the Bugs, er, the Falcons. And the talent that we were excited about 3 weeks ago is still there, somewhere, I think. Hey, it’s even possible that Duke is actually, you know, good this year. Our super-secret inside sources report that Fitz has been spending the week getting the team jacked up on Jolt cola and video clips of Neil Patrick Harris wrecking a space insect via machine gun. (And hopefully the secondary stays healthy and Justin Jackson gets more carries on Saturday than Adrian Peterson gets on Sunday). Still, even facing a crappy team that is just barely tougher than a bye week, I must admit that I can’t remember the last time NU covered against a MAC team. Heck, NU struggles to cover any non-conference games lately, much less sucker spreads like this one.

Pick: Not quite the Bowling Green Massacre, but then again, literally nothing is. NU 34, BGSU 16. Wildcats win but fail to cover.

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

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction

By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (2-1, 0-0) at #9 Wisconsin Badgers (3-0, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, 30 Sep 2017, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Line: Wisconsin (-14.5) (O/U 51.5)


Wow!  49-7!  Thorson was a monster, 23-30 for 370 and 3 TDs!  Justin Jackson ran wild, averaging almost 7 a carry!  And the defense held the opponent to 352 total yards and only 1 TD!  The 'Cats are back!

Bzzzzzz.  Thank you for playing.  Don Pardo has some nice parting gifts for you.

Deep breath, Purple Patriots.  It was Bowling Green.  We were 21-point favorites despite the Debacle in Durham, after all.  As the anagrammaticly correct Line from last game pointed out, BGSU all too easily becomes BUGS.  And that's they way it looked on the field.  The Falcons looked like no more than all the bug splats on a windshield during a cross-country road trip. 

Yes, the 'Cats looked great.  But there's a reason for that.  Teams often look like that when playing truly downtrodden competition.  It's why teams like Alabama pay FBS bottom feeders almost 7 figures to come to their stadium to get shellacked in front of the home crowd.  Or Washington.  Or Nebraska.  Oh, wait.  Strike that last one.  At the end of the day, all due respect to BGSU, they were the true cupcake on NU's schedule.

But now it's the big leagues.  This week kicks off the Big Ten season for Northwestern, when the games really matter.  And what better way for the Cats to start their Big Ten campaign than with their main rival for the West crown, the Badgers.  Most prognosticators picked the Badgers to represent the West in the Big Ten Championship, but a handful chose our boys in purple and white (of course, those predictions were made before the thrashing at the hands of the Dookies).  So the winner of the tilt on Saturday likely has the inside track to Indianapolis.  Unlike last year, when the Badgers had all three Big Ten East powerhouses on the schedule (and lost heartbreakers to two of them), the only Big Ten East power the Badgers play this season is Michigan, who visit Camp Randall in mid-November.  That significantly raises the importance for the 'Cats to come away with a victory in Madison.

As has been the case so far this season, the Cats are riding the legs of Justin Jackson and arm of Clayton Thorson.  As one Line staffer likes to call him, Future Denver Broncos running back Jackson continues to play a pivotal role in the success of the offense.  Jackson has scored 4 touchdowns rushing, while averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry.  Thorson has continued his maturation and improvement this season, but he still needs to be smarter with his decision-making.  His completion percentage stands at 63.9%, which represents a big jump over his freshman and sophomore seasons.  However, his touchdown-to-interception ratio (4 TD, 3 INT) is still a negative, something he really needs to improve upon this season if the 'Cats have any illusions about making it to postseason play.  Thorson is a threat to run, which forces defenses to pay more attention to him and less to Jackson and NU's corps of receivers.  Thorson has been good about spreading the ball around to his receivers, as 3 have double-digit catches and one more (Jackson) sits at 9.

The defense obviously throttled the Falcons, but the game against Duke was a much better yardstick to see where they are against true D-I competition.  And it's not really a story with a happy ending.  The defense gave up 538 yards against an ACC also-ran, and Duke held the ball for over 40 minutes.  Some of that was aided by NU's generosity with the football (3 turnovers), but it is still evident that the NU defense just can't get off the field with any consistency.  As the Line noted in Week 1, when your leading tackler plays in the secondary, that's a bad sign.  And so it is:  against Duke 2 of the top 3 tacklers were the skinny guys with the small numbers.

And now the Cats are heading into what is shaping up to be another beatdown.  The Badgers are led by sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook.  Hornibrook, a lefty, saw significant game action last season, taking over the starter's job early in the season from fifth-year senior Bart Houston, though both played meaningful snaps.  Hornibrook is fresh of a record-breaking performance against the BYU Cougars in Provo (read:  significantly better competition, and on the road).  Hornibrook was 18 of 19 for 256 yards and 4 touchdowns, leading the Badgers' 40-6 drubbing of the Cougars.  That's not a typo; he missed 1 pass (and it was a drop). 

The Badgers, long known as Tailback U, have reloaded.  Gone is the two-headed monster of Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbawale (notably, both are currently on NFL rosters).  In their place the Badgers have found a gem in freshman Jonathan Taylor.  Taylor seems to have leapfrogged last season's 3rd-stringer, Bradrick Shaw, who played in 11 games and rang up 457 yards on 88 carries, despite Shaw being on the preseason Doak Walker watch list.    Taylor hinted at his talent in the season opener against Utah State (okay, so not much competition there), and then really shined against Florida Atlantic in Week 2, ripping off 223 yards on 26 carries, including a 64-yard run to paydirt.  Against their first "real" opponent, Taylor rolled up 128 on only 18 carries.  The offensive line has returned to what fans have come to expect from Wisconsin, 5 320+ guys moving everything in sight.  Alternate those two behind the typical Wisconsin road-grader offensive line, and the 'Cats D will be gasping for oxygen early and often. 

In the passing game, Hornibrook's favorite target is senior tight end Troy Fumagalli who, at 6'6", is a big target with great hands (all the more remarkable given that he has one less finger than most of the rest of us).  Repeatedly in 2016, when the Badgers needed a clutch catch to move the sticks, it was Fumagalli who got the ball.  And this year the Badgers have two credible threats at the wide receiver position.  Senior Jazz Peavy always seems to find a way to get open, and sophomore Quintez Cephus has shown a knack this young season for making acrobatic catches, including 2 touchdowns against BYU.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers are fresh out of Watts to torture the Big Ten.  The youngest of the Watt brothers, T.J., left Wisconsin after his junior year and now wears the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers (his season debut resulted in 2 sacks and an interception...yeah, it was against the Browns, but still).  The Badgers also lost Vince Biegel to the NFL draft.  Their best returning linebacker, Jack Cichy, suffered a torn ACL during preseason practice, and is lost for the year.  One would think that would leave the Badger linebacker corps pretty depleted.  Well, one would be wrong.  With a "next man up" mentality, the Badgers seem to have reloaded at LB and continue to field a strong presence, led by juniors TJ Edwards and Chris Orr. 

To win the game, the Cats offense must play virtually mistake-free football.  Thorson can't revert to his past generous ways.  The NU line has to open big holes for FDBRB Jackson, who needs to eclipse the 100-yard mark for the Cats to have a chance.  On defense, the front four need to stand up to the Badger road graders, keeping the linebackers clean and free to make tackles.  The initial Line's prediction of Iguibuike as the leading tackler on defense boding ill is particularly applicable for this game.  If the Badger running backs routinely reach the secondary, it will be a long afternoon in Madison.

This rivalry has seen some surprises in past years, with games turning out nothing like what was predicted before kickoff.  The Ron Dayne fumble game in Madison and the 35-0 pasting of the Badgers on the way to the Rose Bowl are two examples; to illustrate the counterpoint, in 2010 Wisconsin (thanks to 7 Wildcats turnovers) hung a 70 on the 'Cats (in fairness, Wisconsin was ranked #5 and no one thought we'd upset them...but surrender 70 points?!).  Most instructive, however, are the last two games, neither of which were examples of well-played football.  In 2015, FDBRB Jackson rolled up well over 100 yards, Thorson threw only 20 passes (completing a measly 9), Corey Clement ran for only 24 yards, and the Badgers had almost as many turnovers (5) as points (7).  The following year, Jackson had 42 yards total, Thorson put the ball in the air 52 times (!), but the Wildcats had the ball for less than 1/3 of the game, managing to score a mere 7 points.  In 2017, that formula will likely hold yet again.  If the Wildcats want to cast a pall over the 5th Quarter at Camp Randall, they need to run the ball successfully and keep the defense where it belongs...on the bench, win the turnover battle, and keep the Badger backs from running wild.

In my heart, I'd like to say that the Wildcats will do just that and will pull the huge upset.  However, I just don't see it happening.  Lining up a Cats defense that can't seem to find a way to stop drives and get off the field against a Wisconsin offense that is all about running the ball and grinding out drives strikes me as a fool's errand.  Hope I'm wrong, but I see 2 Badger backs reaching the 100-yard plateau.  Iguibuike will lead the 'Cats D in tackles, often double-digit yards from the line of scrimmage.  Fumagalli, Cephus, and Peavy will take advantage of a nicked up and undermanned NU secondary to keep the chains moving for the Badgers.  I expect at least one 50+-yard run for a touchdown by the Badgers.  On the offensive side of the ball, Justin Jackson will be on a first-name basis with TJ Edwards and Chris Orr by the end of the game, and they might even exchange favorite recipes.  One possible bright area for the 'Cats is that the Badger secondary isn't great, with cornerbacks picking up pass interference penalties because they have yet to master turning their heads to look for the ball.  Even if Thorson doesn't throw the ball to the guys in cardinal and white, however, it won't be enough.  Badgers take control of the Big Ten West with a dominating win at Camp Randall.

PICK: Wisconsin 38, Northwestern 17.  Take the Badgers and give the points.

Season to date:  2-1 straight up, 1-2 ATS

Penn State Preview and Prediction

By Charlie Simon

Matchup: Penn State Nittany Lion (5-2, 2-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 0-1)
Date: Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, 11:00 a.m. CDT
Line: PSU (-14) (O/U 51.5)


I am sorry but I have nothing for this write up.  Zilch, zippo, nada.  I turned off the Northwestern / Wisc game last week in the third quarter.  NU was up 10-7 at halftime but should have been up more.  The NU defense had created 3 turnovers and the best the O could do was 10 points.  Twice on 3rd and 1 the O was stuffed.  Wisc scored in the 3rd quarter, NU 3 and out.  Wisc scores again, NU 3 and out.  Wisc scores again, NU throws a pick six INT.  Game over.  Somehow NU did manage to puts some more points on the board but NU continues to struggle to press their advantage when they have one and make second half adjustments.

PSU comes to town with stud running back Saquon Barkley.  Here is how Fitz describes him:

"You know, Barkley is maybe the best player that I've ever seen on tape," Fitzgerald said.
"I've played against some pretty good backs, I've coached against some pretty good backs, but he's just absolutely spectacular. He's great in the run game, he's great in protection, catching the ball out of the backfield. He's a great return man. He does it all."

The scary part is that right now PSU is a better passing team then running team. They are averaging over 40 points per game.  Their pass protection is suspect but can NU capitalize on this? 

NU's defense is mediocre as their secondary has lost several players to injury and their LBs and line lack play makers.  NU's offense is similar as the line is nothing to brag about and our best player, RB Justin Jackson, has yet to hit his stride.  It could be a long day but I think NU is in the game until the 3rd quarter. 

PICK: PSU wins but NU covers.  Or maybe they don't...

Penn State 31, Northwestern 17. 

Season to date:  3-1 straight up, 1-3 ATS

Maryland Preview and Prediction

By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 0-2) at Maryland Terrapins (3-2, 1-1)
Date: Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, 2:30 p.m. CDT
Line: NU (-3) (O/U 49.5)
Northwestern lost last week to Penn State, 31-7.  While the loss was expected against a better team ranked #4 at the time, the game was notable for both the complete offensive ineptitude (5-19 on third down conversions) and the ejection of two of NU’s defensive players, Paddy Fisher (LB – obviously correct call) and Godwin Igwebuike (S – questionable call), who will both miss the first half of the Maryland game.  The defense played relatively well in the first half (holding Heisman candidate Barkley to -1 yards) only to break after too much time on the field in the second half.  To demonstrate the offensive performance, I offer the second half drive summaries:
3 plays, 5 yards – punt
3 plays, -7 yards – punt
3 plays, 2 yards – punt
4 plays, 11 yards – punt
3 plays, -2 yards – punt
3 plays, -5 yards – punt
3 plays, 3 yards – punt
9 plays, 80 yards – TD (after it didn’t matter and PSU second or third string playing)
My commentary on the state of Wildcat football:  This issues are obvious.  The defensive backfield is thin and has been for the last two years.  Injuries (which are inevitable) create a weak link, particularly late in the game.  The offense lacks adequate receivers to create downfield chances and the coaching staff is unable or unwilling to get creative to provide quality chances for success.  Option plays, misdirection…long gone.  Play action…ineffective if the team is unwilling/able to make downfield catches.  This means NU offensive players must match up one-on-one with defensive players that are expecting the obvious play, which NU delivers.  Against bigger programs, that puts NU players at a disadvantage, particularly on the line.  I predict more of the same as Fitz believes the almighty turnover is the only stat that matters.  Expect mediocrity.
Next up is the Maryland Terrapins. I’ll offer my obligatory snide comments on the opposing teams…they call themselves the “Terps” and have the worst helmets in NCAA football.  Moving on….
Maryland is playing better than expected this year with losses only to Central Florida (who may very well be this year’s version of 2016’s WMU) and OSU, and includes a win against Minnesota away.  The last few years, Maryland has been hamstrung by season ending injuries to their quarterbacks, and this year is no exception. Against OSU, their third-string QB started and was injured in the fourth quarter.  Although he is expected to play against NU, it remains to be seen if he can finish the game.  That said, the Twerps are averaging over 33 points per game with backups to NU’s 25.  The fourth-string backup is inexperienced, but is said to be a very good runner.
Their defense is mediocre against better offenses (particularly passing), but luckily for them they won’t face one this week.  There are no true standouts on their defensive side of the ball.  The secret for the Cats may very well be passing downfield to open up running room, but that would go against the current philosophy and ability.
My prediction is based on the risk-reward profile of both coaches, the game in their stadium, missing key defensive players, and the ability of Maryland to score points regardless of who is behind center.  Maryland will throw downfield (into a depleted Cat secondary) to score points and open up space.  They’d be happy with a high scoring affair.  NU will try to play it safe.  Unfortunately, those strategies would appear to play to the Twerps strengths and NU’s weaknesses.  That, of course, could backfire if they have to rely on their fourth string QB, but I'm not basing my prediction on hope.
PICK: Maryland wins. Give the points and take the ugly helmets.
Terps 27, Cats 24.
Season to date:  4-1 straight up, 1-4 ATS

Iowa Preview and Prediction

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2 B1G) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 1-2)
Date/Time: Saturday, 21 Oct 2017, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (+1.5); over/under (47)
That was a little more like it, right?  After two rough outings against top 10 squads, the Wildcats got a slash in the W column with a well-earned 37-21 win at Maryland, evening their record at 3-3.  The NU offense, dormant for much of the past two weeks, came back with a vengeance against a Terrapin defense that beared no resemblance to that which was seen against Wisconsin and Penn State. 
Justin Jackson was the story, finishing with 171 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, surpassing Damien Anderson to become Northwestern's all-time career rushing leader in the process.  Clayton Thorson got back into the swing of things as well, helped by some stronger play from the offensive line.  Thorson was allowed to step up in the pocket with time, throwing for one touchdown and running for another.  His second quarter rushing TD from 18 yards out is something we'd like to see more of. 
This week the Hawkeyes visit Evanston in a matchup that might be even closer than the betting line indicates.  Iowa comes in with an extra week of rest following their bye last week.  One could easily argue they've had two weeks off, given the Hawkeyes played Illinois before the break. Iowa came within a play of beating then #4 Penn State a month ago, losing as time expired on a fourth down touchdown pass.  They followed up that heartbreaker with a trip to East Lansing, where a once-defeated Sparty got out to an early lead they never relinquished in topping the Hawkeyes.
I loved the job the NU rush defense did in containing Saquon Barkley a couple weeks ago, at least for the first half.  In order to beat the Hawkeyes, some more of the same might be called for from the defensive front to slow down Iowa's senior back, Akrum Wadley. Like Penn State's Barkley, Wadley can cause trouble out of the backfield as well as simply running the ball. 
I like NU's chances if the running game gets off to a fast start, which will allow Thorson's passing game to develop.  I'm unclear, however, on whether the offensive line truly turned a corner at Maryland, or whether they simply feasted on a weaker opposing defensive front.  If it's the latter, this could be a rough one for Wildcat fans.  Regardless, the 'Cats need to play a full game, ensuring the third quarter doesn't become a negative turning point. NU has been outscored 31-7 so far in the conference schedule right after halftime.
The line on this game has been like a see-saw, with it moving back and forth from NU opening as an underdog, to the 'Cats being a slight favorite, and back to the current state as a one and a half point underdog, with stops at a pick-em along the way. 
I don't expect offensive fireworks in this matchup, and the Wildcat defense will keep it close. Thorson might make as much of an impact with his legs as with his arm in this one. 
PICK: Is this heaven?  No, it's Evanston.  Cats in a squeaker: Northwestern 21, Iowa 20.  Take NU and the points.
Season to date: 4-2 straight up, 1-5 ATS

MSU Preview and Prediction

By Charlie Simon

Matchup: Michigan State Spartans (6-1, 4-0 B1G) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 2-2)
Date/Time: Saturday, 28 Oct 2017, 2:30 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (+2.5); over/under (40.5)
As predicted, last week’s game between Northwestern and Iowa was very even, with NU pulling out a victory in overtime.  One play either way would have made a huge difference.  How even were the teams, you ask?  Time of Possession Iowa – 30:44, NU – 29:16, Total yards Iowa – 312, NU 339, 3rd down efficiency Iowa 5/17, NU 4/16.  How exciting were the teams to watch?  Not at all.  NU won because of a great individual effort by Justin Jackson to get the ball to the 1 yard line, where Thorson was able to sneak it in.  Iowa lost because on their turn in OT their tight end dropped the ball on 4th down. If you look at the video highlights from the game you see Thorson’s one yard run, NU’s other TD run and an 80 yard punt.  Yes, NU’s 3rd best offensive play was a punt.
In describing how even the two teams are, the announcers said something along the lines of 11 of the past 15 games between Iowa and NU have been decided by 7 points or less.  I would argue that the reason they are so equal is that the coaches espouse the same strategy; win with defense, take few risks, and only worry about scoring points when you are behind. Neither team attacks often, even though when they have in the past they have been successful.  Both teams' fans feel frustrated watching what they believe are underwhelming performance and suspect coaching.

This week brings another Big Ten foe with a great defense and a questionable offense to Evanston.  The Michigan State Spartans statistically have the best defense in the Big Ten and an offense that is lacking in consistency and big play ability.  The advantage they have is their coach, Mark Dantonio, likes to take chances.  He is not a crazy gambler, but wisely puts his team in a winning position by playing the game a little differently than most other coaches.

Northwestern used to do things differently also.  Remember when we used to run a hurry up offense?  This playing the game differently was our way of making up for the fact that we don't have 4 and 5 star recruits.  In the story of David and Goliath, David wins because he fights Goliath differently than Goliath expects.  If he would have tried to fight him hand to hand he would have gotten killed (literally!) but because he did what was unexpected he was victorious.  Why has NU given up on the hurry up offense?  Is it because we are now equal to other teams?  Not likely.  Even though we are statistically in the top half of the Big Ten standings, our offense scares no one.  I really do not understand why we gave up on the hurry up. 

The worst part about the current 'Cats is that they are no longer fun to watch.  They do not appear to try to win the game as much as not lose.  This was abundantly clear last week as they had the ball with over a minute to go and all their time outs, yet decided to wait for overtime instead of being aggressive.  It worked for them in the end but only because they were lucky.

Luck does not last forever and I think it runs out on the 'Cats this weekend.  Even though it will look ugly, Sparty's QB will extend some drives by running for a first down when the 'Cats should stop them on third down.  Also Coach Dantonio will have at least one trick up his sleeve to fool the 'Cats.

PICK: MSU 20, Northwestern 16.  Take Sparty minus the points
Season to date: 5-2 straight up, 2-5 ATS

Nebraska Preview and Prediction

By Brian Ullery

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (5-3, 3-2 B1G) at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (4-4, 3-2)
Date/Time: Saturday, 4 Nov 2017, 2:30 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (-1.5); over/under (54.5)


First of all, let us get the elephant out of the room.  NU faces UNL today.  Any network, sportscaster or Nebraska fan that continues to use NU for Nebraska just shows their idiocy.  The University is titled University of Nebraska at Lincoln (to differentiate it from their campus in Omaha).  To continually call Northwestern NW is absurd and frankly downright annoying, and I do not think we should take it any longer.  We have a football team who now goes to bowl games.  A basketball team that made the dance and finally a sports complex to rival any program.  But on to the main topic today.

Earlier this year, Tom Petty died.  A couple texts, a couple stories and he was gone.  Dave Grohl did an amazing tribute, but I really have not seen much else.  Almost everyone my age had Full Moon Fever and listened to it.  It was in the CD changer constantly and would come up on shuffle, and everyone just said “oh, Petty, this is great”.  The guy was amazing, just look at his stuff.  From the Wilbury’s to this decade, his music is downright AWESOME.  You can put an album in and just listen to it.  The Heartbreakers will never get listed as “a top 5 bands”, but maybe they should be.  So here’s my little tribute with a Breakdown.

The ‘Cats started the season with a win but a bad loss to Duke and then two fairly painful losses to Penn State and Wisconsin had us Free Fallin’.  We all thought, the ‘Cats were just another Face in the Crowd.   Fitz wouldn’t have it though, telling the ‘Cats that NU was Runnin’ Down a Dream.   He lined up his men against Maryland and said “Yer So Bad”.  Iowa was a defensive struggle with very minimal offense, and as Fitz took a knee to end regulation, he must have Listened to Her Heart, as it turned out to be the correct decision. This brought us to last week.  #16 Sparty came to town screaming You Got Lucky, and started the game opening up a 10-0 lead.  Was this Mary Jane’s Last Dance?  Come on, if this was going to be a blow out, the rest of the college football schedule was amazing.  The ‘Cats though were just Learning to Fly.  Thorson got shoved in by Jackson, a FG (amazingly the ‘Cats have reliable FG kicker this year) and it was all even going into halftime.  A HB option had JJ throwing a touchdown and the ‘Cats led for the first time, but a late Sparty score led to another OT game.  Back and forth, through two OT’s and then Flynn Nagel broke free scoring down the sideline.  Sparty had one last chance, but Nate Hall “Don’t Come Around Here No More” intercepted and it was over.  

Nebraska hosts Northwestern today in what should be a shootout.  Mike Riley’s Cornhuskers are allowing 30 pts per game and have not looked good this season punctuated by a loss to NIU and just getting destroyed by Wisconsin and the Buckeyes.  A new AD was just hired at Nebraska and Riley may soon be a Refugee.  An alleged QB whisperer, Riley has brought along Tanner Lee this season carefully, but some dividends started paying out last week as the junior led the team to a come from behind 25-24 win against Purdue.   Surprisingly, Nebraska's rushing attack is lacking as  their leading rusher is Ozigbo has only 359 yards from scrimmage.  Look for the Cornhuskers to throw early and often, trying to open up the Wildcats. 

NU Won’t Back Down and tells Riley he’s just an American Girl.  It’s Damn the Torpedoes as Skowronek gets in the end zone a couple times today, while JJ adds a third.  Lancaster and Gaziano each get a sack, while Igwebuke tells Lee “Don’t Do me Like That” with an interception.  You Don’t Know How It Feels to go somewhere warm for bowl season Nebraska, but the ‘Cats do. 

PICK: NU 31 UNL 20.  Take the ‘Cats and give the points

Season to date: 5-3 straight up, 2-6 ATS


Purdue Preview and Prediction

By GallopingGrapes

Matchup: Purdue Boilermakers (4-5, 2-4) at #25 Northwestern Wildcats (6-3, 4-2)
When: Saturday, November 11, 2017, 6:00 p.m. CST
Line NU (-4.5), O/U 48.5



And from those ancient days my story bring,
When Boilermakers from Lafayette passed in hostile fleet,
And ravaged Evanston, with Jeff Brohm their king,
Flushed with his youthful rage and furious heat;
Who on King Fitz's, the Purple emperor's head
Had vowed due vengeance for the asskicking laid upon them in 2016, dead.


In the same strain of Thorson will I tell
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,
On whom strange madness and rank fury fell,
A man esteemed unstoppable in former games;
If he, who to like cruel passing and blocking has well
Nigh brought loyal fans' feeble wit which fain would name
And hourly Shiner Bocks waste my sense, yet concede me skill
And strength my daring promise of Lowes Line prognostication to fulfill.

(Credit: Orlando furioso, with apologies to Ludovico Ariosto and William Stewart Rose)

Per tradition, the victims of this NU football preview are forced to endure the mind vomit that comes from whatever I've most recently downloaded onto my Kindle.  Sometimes, it's barely a step above the Penthouse forum (which I'm not sure is even still a thing, maybe I should ask FBI).  Unfortunately, at the moment I've been trying to exercise my brain muscle with the 1820s translation of a 16th century epic Italian poem regarding the Matter of France.  I know it's probably difficult to envision, as in your collective mind's eye you no doubt imagine me sitting on a Saturday morning in front of the television, not entirely unlike the Buckingham Palace Guard on casual Friday in my new favorite Geico commercial.  But allow your imagination to carry you instead to Texas, the heart of Big 12 Country, from whence this week's Lowes Line flies into your email inbox.  While my kids attack the hotel breakfast buffet like the Tsavo lions taking down colonialist railroad workers, I sit nursing my weekend-long wedding buzz with a morning Mexican coffee and the dark, crispy remnants of eternally warmed bacon as I search for inspiration to describe a football contest against freaking Purdue.  I will grant you that it was a struggle to figure out what to say about Boilermaker football, which frankly hasn't been interesting since they stole the recently departed and indisputably awesome Joe Tiller from Wyoming 25 years ago.

The epic hero of today's gridiron clash, the Roland of our story, is Future Denver Broncos Running Back Justin Jackson, who as he climbs the career B1G record book also is poised to become only the second RB ever to notch four 100-yard rushing games against Purdue (joining Ron Dayne).  Jackson's chance at this very specific accomplishment depends upon the NU offensive line NOT playing like they just met the Purdue DL on Match.com.  Guys, you aren't on the field to try to get to second base I know wrong sport don't worry about it just stay with me the Line is running late today and my buzz is wearing off.  Anyway, Purdue's team strength is supposedly its run defense, but on a nut-shrinkingly cold night in Evanston, look for FDBRBJJ to post his hunny and get the 'Cats one step closer to a bowl game against the Saracen hordes of a middle tier ACC team.  Frankly, that might be all the creditable football analysis you'll get from me this week.  Shockingly, I can't name a single player on the Purdue team.  I saw a tweet somewhere noting that the Boilermakers had been dealing out of the Colter/Siemien playbook with a QB tandem most of the season, but will be down to just one QB tonight.  Beats me which one NU's defense will have the pleasure of smashing into the frozen turf of Ryan Field.  The Wildcats have played more football this year than anybody, but as a courtesy to the fans freezing their butts off in the stands I think they will keep their feet firmly pressed on Purdue's neck, and avoid a fourth straight overtime game.

The real danger faced by our Wildcats is their newly minted top 25 ranking (no kidding, they snuck into the playoff rankings despite choking on the Dookies this Fall).  Granted, the committee technically ranks all 130 teams, but if you follow the B1G in 2017, you really only care about the Top 25, because the top 8 slots are beyond reach, like Prestor John in unexplored Ethiopia, sorry Wisconsin.  Anyway, if you don't mind another reference to the legends of Charlemagne and his greatest chivalric knight, a top-25 ranking for the Wildcats has proven to be as terrifying an opponent as the Moorish giant Ferracutus, descendant of Goliath, who enjoyed an Achilles-like invulnerability to mortal weapons, except in his navel.  Let's hope NU can pierce their #25 ranking right in the bellybutton, and climb the list to inflate Wisconsin's curriculum vitae as the Badgers' best win, dooming them to the Florida Citrus Bowl.  Speaking of rankings, it is a banner moment for NU's revenue sports.  Football is ranked, and I must note that NU's hoops heroes start their campaign with a top-20 ranking (!!) and a not-really-home victory in Rosemont over Loyola (Md), in a squeaker that should not have been that close.  The BasketCats even snagged a top-15 recruiting class this week.  Thank God their alums still set the nerd meter to its highest setting with Italian poetry game previews.  Surely the English Lit department is proud of me, right?  No?  Hey, hands off my B.A.

Prediction:  Take the 'Cats and lay the points.  NU 23, Purdue 17.  The 'Cats treat Purdue like Slats Grobnik banging down honest to God boilermakers in the darkness of a lower Wacker Drive tavern on a Tuesday night after deadline.

Season to Date: 6-3 ATS; 3-6 straight up.

Minnesota Preview and Prediction

By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-5, 2-5) at #23 Northwestern Wildcats (7-3, 5-2)
When: Saturday, November 18, 2017, 11:00 a.m. CST
Line: NU (-7), O/U 40.5 (ESPN FPI: 70.5% NU)


The Lowes Line enters this week on hot streak.  The last two Lines have been well written tributes or literary masterpieces, and have come scarily close to nailing the actual score.  Well, faithful readers, here is where those streaks come to die.  Prepare yourself emotionally for in-depth analysis that will contain no allegorical allusions or any resemblance to what will actually take place on Ryan Field come Saturday.

The Cats finally won a game in regulation, after setting an NCAA Division I-A record by winning 3 overtime games in a row.  And the Cats actually played for overtime, much to the consternation of pretty much every Lowes Line staffer.  But, in the end, it was clear that Coach Fitz might know a little more than we do.  Which comes as a surprise to exactly no one.

In contrast to the Cardiac Cats of old, this team is doing it with defense.  Statistically, it looks like we're getting smoked (the last two quarterbacks have passed for 445 yards and 375 yards against the Cats), but the run defense is stout and the Cats seem to make a timely stop when they need one.  For example, Purdue's leading rusher had a mere 22 yards rushing.  Each of the three overtimes ended on either a failed 4th down play (Iowa and Nebraska) or an interception (Michigan State). 

The offense is not going to rack up the score on anyone; gone are the days of thrillers like 56-53 and the "fast" and "superfast" offensive sets.  The offensive has been steady at time, if frustratingly vanilla.  Future Denver Broncos running back Justin Jackson is approaching 1,000 yards for the season (and will have reached that milestone in each of his four seasons, which is VERY unusual in Big Ten annals).  Jeremy Larkin has been a good change of pace back when inserted in relief, and he appears much quicker than Jackson at times, but that might relate more to teams loading up to stop Jackson when he's in the game, because he represents the biggest offensive threat for the Wildcats.  Jackson regularly shows off his versatility, becoming a much bigger option in the passing game.

Thorson has finally achieved a greater than 60% completion percentage, which is a significant jump for him.  And Fitz is getting him to use his legs more, which makes him more of a threat when he drops to pass.  Thorson has distributed the ball very well through the air, with no less than 5 receivers with 30 or more catches.  The receivers have been able to get open, but they have had drops at some inconvenient times.  On a third down late in the game against Purdue. a purple receiver dropped a pass right in his hands that would have meant a first down, allowing the Cats to run off more clock and salt away the game much more easily.  To make it easier on the defense, the receiving corps needs to make more catches when the ball is in their hands.

Next into Evanston rows the boat of the Minnesota Blonde Rats.  It is the initial campaign of new head coach PJ Fleck, whose "row the boat" philosophy sailed him from Kalamazoo, Michigan all the way to the Twin Cities, a voyage which included a stop in Evanston that resulted in a controversial 1-point win.  The Gilded Hamsters are cruising along a strong current of a 54-21 pasting of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Either the Auriferous Gerbils are far better than their 2-5 conference record would indicate, or things in Lincoln have hit rock bottom and they have started digging (that sound you hear in eastern Nebraska is Coach Mike Riley packing his bags).  Minnesota did its damage on the ground, with quarterback Demry Croft running for 183 yards and 3 touchdowns.  It is noteworthy that Croft is the 4th leading rusher on the team, as Rodney Smith leads with 799 yards.  Against the Huskers, Minnesota piled up over 400 yards rushing.  The Auric Vole passing game is fairly anemic, however, with both quarterbacks below 55% of passes completed.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Flaxen Chipmunks concede less to opponents, holding enemy offenses to 50 less yards per game and, more importantly, almost a field goal a game less.

Given the new football leadership in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it is perhaps helpful to compare results against common opponents.  Both defeated Nebraska, though NU needed overtime to do it.  NU beat Iowa, also in overtime, 17-10, while the Tawny Lemmings lost to the Hawkeyes in regulation by the same score.  NU beat Michigan State in a 3-overtime thriller, and Minnesota lost at home by a figgie.  And the Ochroid Squirrels lost to Purdue by two touchdowns.  The other two common opponents, Wisconsin and Illinois, loom for each team next week.

In a way, for the Aurous Marmots, this is a trap game.  Ahead lies the undefeated and hated rival Badgers, and nothing would make the Ski-U-Mah (I grew up there...and I have no earthly idea what that means) crowd happier than to ruin the Badgers' perfect season (assuming the Badgers can survive Michigan this week).  So it would be fair to say the maroon & gold have the game next week circled.  So they may be overlooking the 'Cats in favor of relishing the chance the following weekend.  However, in the same way, the 24K Woodchucks might focus on this week's game as their last chance to get to the postseason; at 5-5 overall they have 2 chances to win that coveted 6th game and become bowl eligible.  Odds would favor that coming this week against the purple and white.

The worry in this game is the presence of a very gifted running quarterback wearing a maroon helmet.  Although the Cats defense has played particularly stout against the run over the course of the season (surrendering just north of 100 yards per game v. 280 ypg passing), NU struggles against a running quarterback.  Paddy Fisher and his mates will have their hands full containing Croft.  Look for the NU defense to commit at least 8 into the box most downs, daring the Aurulent Guinea Pigs to pass.  If NU has success with this strategy, Minnesota will play senior Conor Rhoda, he of the gaudy 54.1% completion rate (well, gaudy compared to Croft's 45% rate).  And so the chess match begins...

Prediction:  No pressure here, as the last 2 Lines have virtually nailed the score.  NU 27, Minnesota 21.  Cats defense slows down the Saffron Prairie Dogs' rushing attack enough to win, but not enough to cover.

Season to Date: 7-3 ATS; 4-6 straight up.

llinois Preview and Prediction

By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: #22 Northwestern Wildcats (8-3, 6-2) at Illinois Illini (2-9, 0-8)
When: Saturday, November 25, 2017, 3:00 p.m. CST
Line: NU (-16.5), O/U 46 (ESPN FPI: 89.3% NU)

The following may, or may not be based on actual events:
E:  “So, why exactly are we out here?  The traffic is ridiculous”
A:  “She gave me a list of things I need to get today.  I promised to get all of them at huge deals and then I can sit and watch football all day tomorrow.”
E:  “This seems like a bad idea to me.  Haven’t you heard of Amazon?”
A:  “It’ll be fine.  No sweat.  I’m sure the good weather is keeping people a home.  How did Northwestern do last week?  I was busy fixing the furnace.”
E:  “They embarrassed Minnesota, 39-0.  Ran all over them, and barely had to throw the ball.  The rain really helped as well since it was tough for either team to throw, but credit the defense for pushing the Gophers around all day.”
A:  “So that makes them 8-3 right?  Another win to get to 9-3 and a good bowl game.”
E:  “And ranked #22 with Illinois on deck.  Hard to believe this team lost to Duke, though that’s ignoring the three OT wins. They could just as easily be looking for win number 6 to get to the Motor City Bowl…again.”
A:  “Buck up, we’re at the first stop.”
E:  “Best Buy…look at the damn line already.”

E:  “Come on lady, why do you need nine Kindle Fire 8” tablets?”
A:  “Damn, did you see the look she gave you?  Maybe she has a lot of grandkids.  Let’s just hang out and see if she changes her mind and we can snag one of the last ones.  Is Illinois still coached by that Cuddly Bear guy?  What’s his name?  Puffy?  Cushy?”
E:  “Yeah, still coached by Lovie.  Quite a downfall considering he coached the Bears to a Super Bowl and now is in his second straight pathetically losing season.  To be fair, this is the first year he had his own recruiting class, but it was pretty bad.  I’m betting there’s a chance he gets axed after the season…not likely, but definitely in the cards.  Illinois fans don’t have a reputation for patience.  For some reason, they think it’s the eighties and they’re still a decent program.  Despite records, they'll still be surprised that they lose to NU.”
A:  “Nine straight losses will put anyone on the hot seat I’d think.  Anyone I’d recognize on that team?”
E:  “Really only one.  Jeff George Junior is the primary quarterback…that Jeff George’s son.  Technically, he's the backup but started 7 games this year.  Honestly they’ve got some decent players on offense, but they can’t seem to put together a decent game together.  Obviously, it doesn’t help that their defense is not very good…”

A:  “Quick, while she tying her shoe, grab one those tablets out of her cart and let’s go!”

E:  “I don’t remember IPhones being on the list…and there’s no discount.”
A:  “Seriously, it’ll be fine. If I get her one too, she’ll be fine with it.  I’ll take two of the 8 pluses.”
[Clearly frazzled saleswoman]:  “I’ll have them brought right out.”
A:  “So seriously, how has NU done it this year?”
E:  “Couple of things I think.  Obviously, a big thing is some of the other Big Ten teams are having down years at the same time.  Nebraska is uncharacteristically weak, MSU and Iowa are inconsistent.  Maryland, Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois are just really not very good.  But that shouldn’t take away from the team.  The defense and offensive line have gotten noticeably better over the season.  Running backs are obviously a strength.  Wide receivers are a weakness, but McCann seems to have figured out how to get the most out of them.  Thorson is serviceable if he’s given enough time to work, though he cracks under pressure.”
A:  “There seems to be a lot of grumbling among the fan base.  A guy at work was bitching AFTER the Minnesota win.”
E:  “Yeah, I think it’s to be expected.  The problem is that Fitzgerald has put his stamp on the team and he’s very old school Big Ten.  He’s conservative and would much prefer to win with defense and a strong running game.  He obviously thinks any “fancy gimmicks”, like a hurry up, no huddle offense or complex options are distractions that detract from execution of the little things, which he loves to talk about.  As a spectator, it can seem like he’s not really giving the team a chance to win in the tougher games.  Plus, the Duke-type loss seems to be happening a lot… you know, an early season loss against a team they should beat.  Points to either the coaches being too conservative early in the season or not having the team ready to execute.  Either way, it’s disturbing.  All that said, it’s definitely a percentages thing…his system seems to deliver between 6 and 10 wins a season depending on which way the ball bounces.  A losing season would be surprising, but so would NU getting into the national conversation regarding the national playoffs.  That should be acceptable year-to-year, but some of the conservative decision making can be frustrating.”
[Clearly frazzled saleswoman]:  “Here are your phones.  Total is $2040 with tax.”
A:  “Great.  Hey, can I get an extra bag?”
[Clearly frazzled saleswoman]:  “Sorry, we always run out of bags so I can’t give out more than one.”
E:  “What?  He just spent two grand!?!!?”
[Clearly frazzled saleswoman]:  “Security!”

A:  “Yeah, yeah, I’ll return them.  I just thought………..OK, OK.”  [Hangs up]  “Damn anti-fraud notifications.”
E:  “I’m not saying anything.”
A:  “I’ll have to go back tomorrow to return them.  Security personnel will have changed.  Besides they’re looking for you anyway.”
E:  “Fine, you should have plenty of time to make it back before the game at 3.  Are we almost done?  You promised Hooters like 3 hours ago.”
A:  “Yeah.  Last thing on the list.  What’s the difference here?   List says Nintendo Switch, but this thing isn’t on sale.  Besides, I've never heard of that before.  This other Wii U console is 30% off.”
E:  “I’m pretty sure the Wii U is not cool.”
A:  “Help me find a salesperson….by the way, my neighbor wants to bet on the NU game.  What do you think?”
E:  “I really expect more of what happened last week.  Run, run, throw, decide that was a bad idea, and run some more.  No reason to save Justin Jackson for next season.  Without the rain, it’s probably not going to be quite so easy as last week.  16.5 point spread is a lot and Illinois plays better at home.  I’d say NU 28 – Illinois 14.
A:  “So, you thing they’ll take home that tailpipe trophy again this year?”
E:  “Stovepipe hat!  Yeah, seems like the Land of Lincoln trophy will be returning to Evanston.”
A:  “These damn salespeople are ignoring us.  I’ll just get the Wii U.  I’m sure the kids will be happy enough with it.”
Prediction:  A win seems virtually a lock, but the score is a crap shoot.  Illinois has nothing to lose and a single mistake could make it closer than expected.  Count on the Illini to play tougher at home.   NU 28, Illinois 14.  Cats win easily, but not enough to cover.
Season to Date: 7-4 ATS; 5-6 straight up.

Kentucky Preview and Prediction

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl - #21 Northwestern Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 B1G) vs Kentucky Wildcats (7-5, 4-4 SEC)
Date/Time/ Location: Friday, December 29, 2017, 3:30 pm CST, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
Line: NU (-7.5)


The 'Cats (the NU kind) come into the postseason riding a seven-game winning streak, winning seven conference games for the first time in the Fitz era. With a win, NU would have won ten games for the third time in six years, a pretty incredible feat.

After starting 2-3, NU turned it around, storming past Maryland, getting some good breaks in winning three consecutive overtime games, and then dominating Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois to close the regular season.

Senior back Justin Jackson rushed for over 1,000 yards for a fourth season in a row, and QB Clayton Thorson had a solid redshirt junior campaign, set a school record with 26 wins, and has 44 TDs through three seasons, making him the most accomplished passer in NU a history in three seasons. That said, that Thorson formally declared he'd be returning for his senior season was a surprise to no one paying attention.

I like the way NU's defense has been playing of late, and while Kentucky is a mid-level SEC team, compared to the bottom half of the Big Ten West that NU had feasted on since early November, the Wildcats of Lexington should provide as good a test as NU had seen in some time.

Be that as it may, I like the Evanston 'Cats to continue to play the solid defense we've seen over the second half of the season, which will be the difference, as well as show they're able to move the ball on the ground.

Pick: Too easy to say go with the Wildcats. Look for our boys from Evanston to get win number 10, but the 'Cats from Kentucky to cover.  Northwestern 24, Kentucky 17.  Take UK and the points.

Season to date: 8-4 straight up, 5-7 vs the spread.

Best wishes to all Lowes Line fans for a happy and healthy 2018.