2018 Lowes Line


The Complete 2018 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, P.S. O'Briant, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.  For the 2018 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line! 

Purdue Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (0-0) at Purdue Boilermakers (0-0)
Date: Thursday, August 30, 2018, 7:00 pm CDT, Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN
Line: Northwestern (+1.5)


Welcome back to the Lowes Line, NU fans!  Hard to believe 2018 marks the twentieth (!) season of us honoring Marcus by keeping his Northwestern football previews going.  Truth be told, I would have to think if Marcus read some of this drivel we spit out twelve or so times a year, he’d likely say, “How the hell is this shit you guys write supposed to be an honor?  You can keep it.”  Be that as it may, we continue scribing nonetheless.

When we last left our beloved ‘Cats just before New Year’s, they were busy finishing off their second consecutive season with a bowl win and second season in the last three with ten wins. The optimism was muted, however, as QB Clayton Thorson tore his ACL during the bowl win over Kentucky. 

Getting to ten wins this season will be a tall order for the ‘Cats, as they play four teams ranked in the preseason Top 25.  Aside from the unusual conference game for a season opener at Purdue this week, NU has non-conference matchups at home against Duke and Akron before the bulk of Big Ten play kicks in.  The ‘Cats will host current #14 Michigan, Nebraska, #4 Wisconsin, and Illinois, while traveling to #11 Michigan State, Rutgers, Iowa, and Minnesota.  The ‘Cats also host #12 Notre Dame in Evanston for the first time since 1976.

Going into the 2018 campaign there are a lot of positives for NU.  You have to like the offensive line, which returns 4 of 5 starters from a squad that averaged 174 yards per game rushing throughout the ‘Cats current 8-game winning streak.  Behind them will be sophomore tailback Jeremy Larkin, who had a coming out party in the Music City Bowl, and rushed for over 500 yards on the season while backing up Justin Jackson.  It will be interesting to see if the 5-10, 197 lb. Larkin has the same durability as Jackson had.

Thorson is on the mend quicker than many of us might have expected, having been mentioned on the depth chart as a possibility to make the start a mere 8 months after a serious knee injury.   We’ll see if this occurs, although I’m skeptical.  If Thorson is not cleared to go, junior walk-on TJ Green will be the man behind center. 

Defensively, NU has a solid front seven, with five returning starters.  Samdup Miller and Joe Gaziano are the big names up front, while the linebackers are led by sophomore captain Paddy Fisher, the first sophomore to be named a captain in the Fitz era.  Fisher is joined at linebacker by TFL-machine and senior Nate Hall, who missed the Music City Bowl with an injury, but is expected to be a full strength.

As for the opening day opponent in Purdue, Boilermaker head coach Jeff Brohm had a solid first season in West Lafayette, inheriting a squad that went 3-9 the year before his arrival, and winning the last two regular season games of 2017 to finish at 6-6, before topping Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl.  The offense is led by a two headed QB in the form of David Blough and Elijah Sindelar.   The backfield was a smorgasbord of running backs last year, and without a clear cut number one, 2018 looks to be no different.  The four backs with the highest rushing totals from last season all return for Purdue, with DJ Knox and Markell Jones the big names.  The question for the Boilers will be on defense, where seven starters have left the squad. 

So what to expect for the 2018 opener?  NU tends to start the season slow, but with a conference game right out of the gate, Fitz should have the proper level of focus instilled in the team.  Although officially listed as an underdog, I like the ‘Cats chances to get a W the conference opener. 

I expect the Wildcat defense to dominate, forcing the Boilers to throw the ball.   NU’s defense holds, but the Wildcat offense is not entirely there just yet.  If Thorson is out, all bets are off, and even if he’s in there, I expect the running game to be more prevalent for NU.

Pick: NU on a Thursday is true Must See TV.  ‘Cats pick up where they left off in 2017.  Take NU and the points.  Northwestern 20, Purdue 14.

Duke Preview and Prediction
By Hans Steckly

Matchup: Duke Blue Devils (1-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-0)
Date: Saturday, September 8, 2018, 11:00 am CDT, Ryan Field
Line: Northwestern (-3)


Duke is puke, Wake is fake, who we hate is NC State.

It's a fun little jingle that our child brought home from kindergarten last year.

Do I need to rehash last year's matchup?  41-17.  A lot of overall yards vs a little.  Great game for Daniel Jones and TJ Rahming.  Cats had 22 rushing yards on 21 carries.  As Harry Doyle would say, "That's all we got, one goddamn yard per carry?"

Fitz said "We were out-coached, out-executed, out-played.  That starts and ends with me."

I'm not sure what the difference is between out-executed and out-played.  Maybe he meant to say we were executed and out-played.  But, what I'm wondering is what has changed in a year.  Did Duke get better or worse?  They went on to lose 6 in a row in the middle of their season, but finished with  3 wins in a row before thumping NU again in the Quick Lane Bowl.....Wait, that was NIU.  Well Duke couldn't seem to tell the difference.

Nonetheless, Jones has developed into a better quarterback while Thorson is good but has a major knee injury to overcome.  Justin Jackson is gone as are Igwebuike, Queiro, and Lancaster--the best parts of the worst pass D in the Big 10.  Meanwhile, Jones and Rahming return with 5 other starters on O, and 8 return for a defense ranked 21st in the nation last year.

And....I'm a Fitz fan, but what is the likelihood that he won't be out-coached by Cutcliffe again?

So, how is NU favored by 3 and experts are picking them to handily cover?  It's like picking me to make a good impression at a date party; I feel like they just don't know me.

The one area that Cats could have gained an edge is mentally, only because they must have had their steel confiscated last year when they passed through the mettle detector before the flight to Durham.  There's a big maybe that they can write the blowout off to showing up flat, and they can show up at home with a score to settle.

We might want to take away the Cats' pledge pin before the party starts, but I can't pick against them when they are favored.  However, the only way I foresee victory is if it comes down to a last touchdown and Duke goes for 2 on the road; we double cover Rahming, forcing a pass to a tight end who can't quite hold on to it.

Pick: In a squeaker Northwestern 24 - Puke 23.

Lowes Line ytd 1-0 and 1-0 ATS

Akron Preview and Prediction

By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (1-1) vs. Akron Zips (1-0)
Date: 6:30 p.m. (CDT), Saturday, Sept. 15, Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Line: Northwestern (-21), O/U 45.5
Outlook:  Perhaps it was the color of the uniforms that had Thorson and Green confused.  At a school whose "alma mater" hymn features the lines, "Hail to Purple, Hail to White, Hail to thee, Northwestern!" maybe the fact that the home team was running around in some grey monstrosity and not, in fact, wearing purple and white, addled the two quarterbacks and they didn't know to whom they were supposed to throw the ball.  Twice did Thorson and Green conclude that blue was far closer to purple than grey, with the ball ending up in Duke defensive hands.  Hey, Under Armour, the words "Hail to Grey" do not appear in the alma mater, so maybe you ought to factor that in the next time you're trying to create eyesores for the team to wear.  How about you stick to the tried and true purple jerseys and white pants for home games?

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ex-zip-it A."

If you watched the game, things looked great at the start.  NU took the opening kickoff and marched the ball down the field, highlighted by a 40-yard run by Jeremy Larkin, punching it in the end zone from the 2.  Thorson was 5 for 5 on the opening drive.  And that was pretty much the end of the game for the Wildcats, who apparently decided to take their ball and go home.  Hopefully, at this point, you found something better to do than watch the rest of the game.  Like getting a root canal.  Or a colonoscopy.  NU would never threaten again, with some short, mediocre drives, 2 3-and-outs, and 4(!) turnovers on downs.  Jeremy Larkin eclipsed the century mark, as did Flynn Nagel, but the rest of the offensive performance was very uneven and uninspiring.  Neither Thorson nor Green impressed with their decision-making, nor the speed with which they made decisions.

"Look, I'm Zippy Longstocking!"

Defensively, it wasn't a terrible performance.  For the most part, NU kept the Duke offense at bay.  One touchdown was surrendered one play after an interception.  For the entire second half, the defense kept Duke from approaching the end zone, and seemed to be successful at getting off the field when Duke faced 3rd down.  Take back the second quarter, in which the Duke quarterback Jones carved up the secondary through the air, and it was a strong performance.  But when the Cats offense can't move the ball at all, and puts the defense in difficult situations with its generosity, one cannot expect the defense to pitch a shutout.  Which, given the anemic offense, the defense pretty much has to or the game is over.

"When a problem comes along, you must zip it!  Zip it good!"

Perhaps, then, an ideal opponent comes to Ryan Field, an opponent that will help NU fix all that ails it.  Early-season schedules of many of the major college powers are littered with games against exceedingly over-matched opponents.  The games have two purposes:  1) allow your team to run up an impressive score in front of your (hopefully deep-pocketed and generous) alumni, engendering good feelings towards the old alma mater; and 2) give your team a glorified scrimmage at full speed and with full contact, to iron out any kinks in the game plan before playing real competition.  NU didn't really have that opportunity this season, coming out of the gates hot against an up-and-coming Purdue squad.  At West Lafayette, no less.  While Duke is no Division III team, the reality is the Blue Devils are a mediocre ACC team, having won their division once since 2000, while finishing DFL 9 times (cue Ferris Bueller's principal, "Nine times!").  If NU truly has aspirations on continuing its bowl appearances, then it has to beat teams like Duke, not lose to them in consecutive years, and look embarrassingly bad while doing so.

(subtitle:  "Zip it!")

Astute readers of the Lowes Line (yeah, yeah, I know...they quit reading after the first couple of editions) will have picked up that Akron comes in having played only one game this season.  Their season opener against Nebraska was cancelled due to weather; there is no indication of when it might be made up.  So we have a slimmer body of work by which to judge Akron's prospects against the Mildcats.  And likely the game they did play won't help much, as they routed Division I-AA Morgan State 41-7, and the Bears's only touchdown came with 11 seconds left in the game.  Akron rolled up 430 yards of total offense against a much lesser opponent.  Kato Nelson, their sophomore quarterback, is a bit of dual threat, which always spells trouble for NU defenses.  While the Akron defense had its way with the Morgan State offense, limiting it to 192 total yards and one garbage-time touchdown, I think it's safe to say that, even despite NU's underwhelming performance against the Blue Devils, NU's offense is in a different class altogether.

"Would you like to have a suckle of my 'zipple'?"

Hopefully NU gets healthy in all aspects of the game, and I think the Zips of Akron present that opportunity.  Larkin will get his 100 yards (and probably pretty easily) and Moten IV will probably roll up a generous total, too.  Thorson will take two steps forward in his ACL recovery and will start making better decisions, faster.  NU's defense will continue its stronger play, keeping the Zips from giving the NU faithful too much of a scare.  That said, I don't see NU enjoying a playground romp on Ryan Field.  Twenty one points is too tall a mountain for this version of the Wildcats to ascend.  To quote Coach Lee Corso, "Closer! than the experts think."

And, fingers crossed, we have seen the last of those awful unis.

Pick: NU 30, Akron Zips 10.  NU wins comfortably, but doesn't cover.

Season to Date:  Straight up, 1-1.  Against the Spread, 2-0

Michigan Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: #14 Michigan Wolverines (3-1) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (1-2)
Date: 3:30 p.m. (CT), Saturday, September 15, Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Line: Northwestern (+14.5), O/U 46.5


Last Game Review:  Not going to spend much time reviewing the game two weeks ago.  Cat’s looked fairly good in the first half, if predictably conservative.  Unfortunately, the fact that the Zips JuCo transfer center almost single-handedly sabotaged their offense for the entire first half hid the fact that the NU offense was not executing well.  Frankly, three turnovers by Thorson and a run game that averaged less than 4 ypc by the running backs against a vastly inferior opponent is just not going to cut it. Just when the Cats hit bottom (hopefully at that time) with the Duke loss, they found a way to sink even lower.  It looks like an unfortunate combination of an underperforming line and a rusty QB is creating very poor outlook going forward.
News:  In case you missed it on your news feed of choice, the Cats got some very bad news this week.  Starting running back Jeremy Larkin retired from football due to a condition related to his neck.  Fortunately, the condition was caught before any permanent injury was sustained.  The Cats will rely on Junior John Moten IV as the primary ball carrier.
Outlook:  NU hosts the 14th ranked Michigan Wolverines this Saturday after a bye week to right the ship.  Michigan is 3-1, losing to Notre Dame in its first game before beating up on some inferior opponents the next three weeks.
So far, the Wolverines have relied heavily on their running attack, calling run plays twice as often as pass plays (by comparison, NU has been much closer to 1:1).  They have a large stable of running backs who have all put up gaudy numbers, but rely most on the triumvirate of Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, and Tru Wilson.
Through the air, transfer QB Shea Patterson is capable of mixing both short, medium and long passes to great effect when he has time, particularly looking for WR Donovan Peoples-Jones to reach the endzone.  After a rough opening game against ND, he has shown why Harbaugh was excited to get him.
Speaking of, Michigan is skippered by the “weird brother”: Jim Harbaugh.  Seriously, he’s one oddly hilarious guy.  Just look at a few of these quotes:



(thanks to mlive.com for the above)
Seriously, he’s one of those guys that would fun to have a glass of milk with and just shoot the s***....I totally see these quotes coming from a few folks on this distribution list.  He can also be very stubborn (not unlike Fitz).  He wants to stick to a game plan come hell or high water.  The biggest criticism is predictability on offense and an inability to adjust “on the fly” if things aren’t working out the way he presumably expected.
So with that information, Notre Dame clearly provided the blueprint for beating Michigan four weeks ago.  Stop the run and force Patterson to pass more then Harbaugh is comfortable with and the Wolverines have trouble getting momentum on their side.  The first part plays into the Cat’s strength on defense, as they have kept opponents from success running the ball so far.  If that continues and the Cats can win the turnover battle, the game should be competitive.  Unfortunately, the second part to that plan (pass defense) is much more suspect, and obviously that offense needs to show more than they have in the last two games.
In the end, it’s tough to see a path to a win for the Wildcats. If the O-line improved significantly in the last two weeks, if Molten performs significantly better with more carries than he’s shown so far, if Thorson can avoid the interceptions, and if the pass defense can come up with a few turnovers, then that Cats could have a chance to steal this one.  Given the performances so far, those are big asks.
Pick: Michigan 42, NU 24.  Michigan wins and covers.
Season to Date:  Straight up, 1-2.  Against the Spread, 3-0

Michigan State Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (1-3, 1-1) at #20 Michigan State Spartans (3-1,1-0)
Date: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday, October 6, 2018, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
Line: Northwestern (+10), O/U 43.5
Last Game Review:  Well, after jumping out to a 17 point lead last week, many Northwestern fans believed that NU was going to be able to pull another magic turnaround as they have done the past few seasons.  Oops, 20 unanswered points and it was all over.  Michigan dominated the second half and the Cat offense has yet to score a second half point against a Power 5 school this season.  Thorson was anemic on offense and Moten was not able to break anything to open up the passing game.  
Outlook:  Well, NU has played well against Sparty the last few contests and hopefully this will be the start of something big.  The West side of the B1G is just a disaster and with a few breaks, the optimist in me, still thinks Indy is a possibility.  MSU is beat up and injured as much as the 'cats.  Sparty lost another receiver last week and their offensive line is struggling.  The running game will rely on freshman La'Darius Jefferson (a bruiser) with QB Brian Lewerke keeping the ball on the ground as well.  The blueprint for success for the 'Cats would be take advantage of a depleted WR corps, have Paddy spy Lewerke, and double cover Felton Davis.  Paddy needs a HUGE game this week for the D to have any success.  Stats can be manipulated and interpreted anyway you want, but how about these.  The 'Cats allow 379 yards per game and rank last in the B1G in red zone defense.  Oh did I mention that they are 121st out of 129th in that category as well.   That has to change.    On the other side of the ball, it does not look good.  Sparty has the leading run defense in the nation (allowing only 40.3 yards/game) and the offensive line woes for the 'Cats continue.   Thorson ended up on his back 6 times last week and I expect more of the same this week. Over the past two seasons, the NU offense has been able to crack the Sparty defense by using quick passes and lots of underneath crossing routes en route to 2 straight victories. This may be the blueprint for success today as well.  We shall see.
Pick: Unfortunately, I see a pick six deciding this game as the corner jumps a route.  Michigan St.  24, NU 17.  Michigan St wins but NU covers.
Season to Date:  Straight up, 2-2.  Against the Spread, 3-1

Nebraska Preview and Prediction
By Charlie Simon

Matchup: Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-5, 0-3) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 2-1)
Date: 11:00 a.m. (CDT), Saturday, October 13, 2018, Ryan Field
Line: Northwestern -3.5
The Lowes Line is going to be a little abbreviated this week as their was internal scheduling confusion.
Last Game Review:  Last week looked like it was going to be a repeat of the Michigan game two weeks ago.  NU got out to a lead and then the opposing team shuts them down in the second half and pulls away to win.  But this time NU was able to actually put together a drive and score in the second half.  The defense did the rest and the 'Cats got their second win of the year to spoil MSU's Homecoming.

Nebraska comes in with a record of 0-5. Yes that is not a typo.  They are simply "Not Good".  First year coach Scott Frost has weekly pivoted back and forth from praising his players to calling them soft trying to get them to perform as he would like.  So far neither has worked.  Neb is mistake prone and leads the league in penalties.  This is not your father's Nebraska, or even yours.

NU looks like they have a good defense this year.  They have held both UM and MSU in check.  The problem is on offense.  The running game is almost non existent both due to lack of production and early abandonment.  Today even if they are not picking up yards we need to keep running the ball.  Eventually we will wear down Big Red.  Thorson has been very streaky this year.  One quarter he looks great, the next not so much.  A balanced game plan will help by not putting all the pressure on him.  He had some great touchdown passes last week but they were low percentage passes that could have easily been incomplete.  He was lucky on a few.  Luck does not last.

I think this one is going to be close.  Nebraska, out of desperation believes it can and must win this game.  Also NU always has trouble with running Quarterbacks.

Finally I remember why I moved South.  I was waterskiing last weekend.  Damn it is cold here.  See you at the game and Go 'Cats!
Pick: Northwestern wins, but barely.  Nebraska covers.  20-17.
Season to Date:  Straight up, 2-3.  Against the Spread, 4-1

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Galloping Grapes

Matchup:  Wisconsin Badgers at Northwestern Wildcats
Date:  Saturday, October 27, 2018, 11:00 a.m. (CDT)
Place:  Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
Line:  Northwestern +7

Outlook:  I know it’s hard to believe after the nightmare that was the initial non-conference schedule (Akron!  Goodness gracious!!), but this Wisconsin game is huge for the Wildcats.  Bad losses to Duke and GAKron don’t count in the B1G, and thanks to a season-opening win at Purdue, NU finds themselves in pole position as they welcome the B1G West heavyweights from north of the border into Evanston.  Win this one, and they can treat the Notre Dame game as a fun little diversion that can’t hurt the ‘Cats in the division standings, allowing the team to focus on an equally huge game at Iowa in November.  The national media will hate this possible outcome, but how crazy fun would it be for NU to sneak into the B1G Ten championship game with 4 losses?

NU is getting the Badgers at the right time, too.  Home game, the Badgers defense is beyond sketchy, NU is rolling after a week’s vacation in beautiful New Jersey, and … wait … what?  NU hasn’t actually played Rutgers yet?  Yikes, this is embarrassing.


Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
Rutgers Preview and Prediction

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 3-1) at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-6, 0-4, How The Hell Did They Win 1 game?)
Date:  Saturday, October 20, 2018, 12:00 p.m. (New Jersey Local Time)
Place:  High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Line:  Northwestern (-20.5)

It’s completely ok to overlook this game, which the Lowes Line has dubbed “The Pillowfight in Piscataway.”  I’m pretty sure the Northwestern Wildcats are overlooking this game, and they actually need to come to New Jersey to play in it.  It’s fine.  To recycle a phase I’ve used in prior Lines (always in reference to pathetic Illini teams), Rutgers stinks on ice.  Picture a turd, from a small yappy dog like a chihuahua, at rest on a shallow puddle of gutter water barely frozen over in deep autumn’s first frost.  That’s Rutgers football in 2018.  Do you need more evidence of ineptitude?  Just look at that point spread.  Has Northwestern ever been a 3-touchdown favorite in a conference game?  On the road?  NU could accidentally cover this spread.

Before the season, I was at a party talking to a group of fellow dads--most of whom are Rutgers alums and fans, yes they exist, like leprechauns riding unicorns--and they were trying to convince me that this game was huge for Rutgers because Northwestern could be their last opportunity for the 6th win needed for bowl eligibility, given their closing schedule after this game (at Wisc, Mich, Penn St., at Mich St.).  I don’t want to ploink that little chihuahua turd into their scarlet red punch bowl, especially on the occasion of Rutgers Homecoming (SAD!), but I’m pretty sure this game is more like the last chance for Rutgers to score a point this year.

I’m not even going to bother trying to give you any real football analysis for this game.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  That’s sorta my thing, and you would all just drop dead of shock if I actually did identify a current player by name, or try to describe an offensive philosophy, other than White Lion’s so-called rock music.  The truth is, not one person reading this blog post cares about any Rutgers player(s).  And there is no real point in talking about NU’s stars, since I expect Fitz to be pulling from deep down his bench by halftime.  Does anybody know who NU’s 5th string tight end is?  In other words, get ready for a very healthy dose of TJ Green.  (Hey, I named a player! Take that, jerks!  Yes, I know that’s a QB, not a TE.  I’m pretty sure.)

The really sad part is that Kevin & I have been looking forward to this game for, literally, years.  Not just since it first hit NU’s future schedule, or when Rutgers snuck into the B1G Ten, but going all the way back 25 years.  Back in those bad old bachelor days, our corner penthouse apartment was a stone’s throw away from, and basically overlooked, the Rutgers football stadium.  It’s a nice venue, right along the river, as befits the school that played the first intercollegiate football game ever.  That’s nice history, in near-total contrast to the present day Scarlet Knights, who are simply historically shitty.

All that said, we are going to tailgate the hell out of this game.  We will be joined by a handful of loyal Northwestern alumni in the yellow lot by the stadium.  I’m packing in the pit barrel grill, and we will be rolling a breakfast fatty (stuffed sausage, not grass), and serving pulled pork and bloody marys under a purple NU flag and grey New Jersey skies.  Post-game party at my house, win or (you’re damn right this could happen, have you lived Northwestern football the last 35 years, and did you watch the Akron game?) lose.

In an effort to be a good neighbor to my local Rutgers alumni and friends, I humbly offer the following copyright-violating sketch for their Homecoming pageant.  May I present…


(dedicated to those idiots at ESPN who refuse to acknowledge #NUnotNW)

(with apologies to Graham Chapman and the rest of the lads)


FITZ: Who are you?

COACH ASH: We are the Scarlet Knights Who Say... NU!

FITZ: No! Not the Scarlet Knights Who Say NU!

COACH ASH: The same!


COACH ASH: We are the keepers of the sacred words: NU, Ping, and Don’t Fire Me!


FITZ: Those Wildcats who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!

COACH ASH: The Scarlet Knights Who Say NU demand a sacrifice!

FITZ: Scarlet Knights Who Say NU, we are but simple non-unionized amateur athletes who seek the wins necessary to earn a spot in the conference championship game.


FITZ and WILDCATS: Oh, ow!

COACH ASH: We shall say 'NU' again to you if you do not appease us.

FITZ: Well, what is it you want?

COACH ASH: We want... a 3-star recruit!

[White Lion bursts from the shadows and wails a dramatic, albeit discordant, power chord]

FITZ: A what?


FITZ and WILDCATS: Oh, ow!

FITZ: Please, please! No more! We will find you a 3-star.

COACH ASH: You must return here with a 3-star or else you will never pass through this Garden State alive!

FITZ: O Knights Who Say NU, you are just and fair, and we will return with a 3-star.

COACH ASH: One that looks nice.

FITZ: Of course.

COACH ASH: And not too expensive.  We are amateurs, after all, nudge nudge, wink wink.

FITZ: Yes.

COACH ASH: Now... go!

[Time passes…]

FITZ: Knights Who Say NU, we have brought you your 3-star recruit. Admittedly, it’s a punter, from Perth Amboy.  May we go now?

COACH ASH: It is a good 3-star, even if it is a punter from Perth Amboy. I think I shall convert him into a defensive tackle. But there is one small problem.

FITZ: What is that?

COACH ASH: We are now... no longer the Scarlet Knights Who Say NU.


COACH ASH: Shh shh. We are now the Scarlet Knights Who Say Dear God Get Us Out Of The Big Ten East And Maybe Can We Play A Full Sun Belt Schedule Please Please Please.


COACH ASH: Therefore, we must give you a test.

FITZ: What is this test, O Scarlet Knights of-- Knights Who 'Til Recently Said NU?

COACH ASH: Firstly, you must find... another 3-star recruit!

[Dammit, White Lion pops out of the nearby shrubbery to mangle another power chord, making all the children cry]

FITZ: Not another 3-star!  You already turned the last one into a punter-tackle!

[If I can just break into the script here for a moment, this dramatic presentation is somewhat based in fact--I am told that the top recruit for the Rutgers class of 2019 is a QB-DT 2-way player.  I’m buying Rutgers season tickets next year if that’s true.  Maybe he’ll also play on the basketball team.  Back to the show.]

COACH ASH: Then, when you have found the 3-star, you must place it here beside this other recruit, only slightly higher on a bit of a stool so you get a two-level effect with a little space in the middle that makes it look like a real recruiting class.

SCARLET KNIGHT: A class! A class! NU!

COACH ASH: Then, when you have found the recruit, you must cut down the mightiest team in the B1G Ten West Division... with... a creative offensive game plan that makes adjustments at halftime!

[White Lion ruins the soundtrack once again]

FITZ: We shall do no such thing!

COACH ASH: Oh, please?

FITZ: Cut down Wisconsin (or Iowa) with a creative offensive game plan that makes adjustments at halftime? It can't be done.

COACH MCCALL: Aaaaugh! Aaaugh!  It can’t be done!

WILDCAT WILLIE: My liege, it's the Fighting Illini!

ILLINI (singing): Packing it in and packing it up
And sneaking away and buggering off
And chickening out and pissing off home
Yes, we are no longer the worst!

FITZ: Oh, yes you are!  We’ll see you next month!

ILLINI (singing): We’re sneaking away and buggering off...

Pick:  This is for entertainment purposes only.  “Gambling is illegal (on NJ-based teams) at Bushwood.”  NU *could* cover a 3-TD spread, but Fitz doesn’t like to blow anybody out (except Iowa, because eff Iowa), and he’s going to rest everybody he can the week before a huge Wisconsin matchup, and this will be the most boring discount-market vanilla game plan ever, and the very darkest corners of NU’s bench won’t blow anybody out by 21 points, and oh yeah, remember NU lost to FRIGGING AKRON and the ‘Cats just aren’t as good as they look because Rutgers looks so much worse.  So it’s going to be an ugly, closer than strictly necessary, but still never really in doubt win, by less than 21 points.  NU 28, Rutgers 10.  Take the points, but maybe parlay the NU money line with a more interesting game like NC State to cover against Clemson.

Season to Date: 3-3 SU, 5-1 ATS

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction

By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: #23 Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 3-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 4-1)
Date: 11:00 a.m. CDT, Saturday, October 27, 2018, Ryan Field
TV: Fox
Line: Wisconsin (-7), O/U 51.0


I'm sure our readers enjoyed the previous version of the Line for its farcical and likely legally-actionable contents ("What?  A summons?!").  But, season after season, that Line staffer puts a hell of a lot of pressure on me, because I have to follow his creative exploits.  Dammit.  Talk about being born under a bad sign...

...which sums up the current state of Scarlet Knights football.  See what I did there?  That's a "segue".  Take that, Python boy!  Prior to Northwestern's visit to the home of Rutgers football, seeing Rutgers on your schedule would seem like Christmas come early (official slogan:  "Scarlet Knights football...catch the sniffles!").  It's every team's chance to get in a Saturday practice against a veritable scout team, get all the plays working, coast to an easy victory.  Seriously, the Scarlet Knights paid the University of Buffalo well into six figures to visit Piscataway and then just as graciously lost to the Bulls.  And the game wasn't even competitive!  It was 35-6 at halftime, for cryin' out loud!  It's a good thing for Rutgers that relegation isn't a thing in college football, or else the Scarlet Knights might be lining up against a beast of a Pop Warner team before long.  The Wildcats visited Piscataway as a somewhat unbelievable 20.5-point favorite on the road (when was the last time NU was favored by 20+ for a road conference game?  Very probably this is a trick question, as the answer has to be "never.").

And that's where the fun ended.  Northwestern has a history of playing to the level of its opponent.  And apparently we are failing our history course, because we have repeated it over and over again.  Last Saturday was an excellent example, as Northwestern trailed much of the game against a clearly inferior opponent, and only managed to leave New Jersey with a somewhat miraculous 3-point victory.  Seriously, it has to be embarrassing we couldn't even keep up with the Buffalo Bulls!

There was one silver (or, more correctly, purple) lining to the huge cloud of a performance in Piscataway.  The Wildcats actually seem to have found a running game after repeated putrid performances.  Enter Isaiah Bowser.  Now, those of us that were sentient in the late 1970s heard "Bowser" over and over again and it conjured up memories of:

Yes, the gentleman with the slicked back hair was indeed Bowser, and he graced our television for 4 seasons as part of the Sha Na Na show.  His trademark was flexing his bicep, and then reversing his fist and flexing again.  I have to say that I'm more than mildly disappointed that we saw no reprise from NU's #25 on either occasion of crossing the goal line against the Knights.

The Sha Na Na front man and known hand jiver's descendant eclipsed the century mark, representing the first NU rusher to do so since the unfortunate forced retirement of Jeremy Larkin.  Coach Fitz has said he wants to run the ball, but this time they finally stuck with it and the results showed.  It's a far cry from our running against against the Spartans, with Damian Anderson II being the top rusher with a measly 12 yards.

The emergence of the running game saved the day, because Clayton Thorson's arm certainly wasn't going to.  This Line staffer is continually flummoxed by the praise heaped on Thorson by the announcers du jour.  They seem to think he's some type of quarterback savant, with laser accuracy.  Well, folks, a 50% pass completion rate against the Scarlet Knights is proof they really aren't paying attention to what is happening on the field.  Flynn Nagel continues to be a bright spot, somehow getting separation and snagging errant passes to at least keep Northwestern competitive.  But if NU is going to make any noise in the Big Ten West, all aspects of the offense must come together as we enter this stretch of games that includes both West powerhouses, Iowa and Wisconsin.

And it is Wisconsin that comes calling this Saturday in Evanston.  Unfortunately, NU does not have the benefit of being a kind of trap game for the Badgers.  Wisconsin's last opponent was lowly Illinois, whom they clobbered 49-20, and after playing the Cats, Wisconsin returns to the friendly confines of Camp Randall for a glorified scrimmage against Rutgers.  So, in this trifecta, the Wildcats represent by far the most compelling challenge to the Badgers' supremacy in the West, and all weasel eyes will be focused on the purple and white (and grey...and black...and whatever else Under Armour does to desecrate our uniforms).

The Wildcats will be playing Mario to Wisconsin's Bowser.  If you had a Nintendo or Super Nintendo, certainly you remember the other pop culture Bowser, the bruising turtle frequently preventing Mario from rescuing Princess Peach.  To make all Mario Kart aficionados involuntarily cringe, I present the 90s version of Bowser:

All of the typical hallmarks of Wisconsin football are present with the 2018 version of the Badgers.  Big, mauling offensive line:  check.  Versatile, gifted running back rotation:  check.  Deep, athletic linebacker corps:  check.  Quarterback expected to manage the game: check (Russell Wilson was the one outlier here).  Good coaching:  check (Bret Bielema notwithstanding).  The Badger offense continues to be led by Alex Hornibrook, the junior southpaw quarterback who has started since midway through his freshman year.  At times Hornibrook looks in total control of the offense, able to make every throw in the book.  At other turns, Hornibrook makes what can be charitably characterized as questionable decisions with the football, so he is prone to a bonehead pass or two that inevitably ends up in the hands of the opponent.  As an aside, Hornibrook receives similar, inexplicable praise as Thorson.  Having watched both players for as long as I have, it is clear TV analysts for each's games are basically stealing money, because they're obviously not paying any attention.

Behind Hornibrook, Jonathan Taylor heads up a trio of gifted runners.  The bloom has come off Taylor's Heisman campaign this year, but he still manages to roll up yards gained, especially after contact.  Taylor is second in Division I-A in rushing yards.  His Achilles heel seems to be his tendency to put the ball on the ground, something he has tightened up in recent games.  Behind Taylor, Taiwan Deal represents a bigger, more physical runner.  And on obvious passing downs, Garret Groshek lines up in the backfield, and has proven to be a good threat to run out of the shotgun or catch passes.  The Wisconsin receiving corps is decent despite the continued absence of Quintez Cephus, and their top three receivers are threats to make big plays.  If Hornibrook can actually get them the ball.

When the Cats have the ball, expect to hear the names Edwards, Van Ginkel, and Connelly early and often, just like voting in nearby Chicago.  Those three represent the latest incarnation of the talented linebackers Wisconsin has recruited in recent years.  Van Ginkel will introduce himself to Thorson in the backfield as an edge rusher, and Edwards has great range, tackling ability, and a nose for the football.  The Wisconsin defensive line actually a weak point this year, struggling to put pressure on the passer.  But they do occupy blocks to free up the linebackers to make plays.  The secondary, though led by a seasoned playmaker in D'Cota Dixon, actually suffers from a lot of youth and inexperience.  Hate to say it (given Thorson's erratic arm), but this might be the way to exploit the Badgers' D.

Lengthy Digression:

What happened to the Northwestern offense?  I dearly miss the offense that scared the crap out of every defense that saw NU on its schedule.  The offense that played fast or faster, was creative in getting the ball to playmakers, that allowed NU to win games like the "instant classic" against Michigan in 2000, for example.  The offense that caused ESPN to put timers on the offense between plays, and rarely did NU hit double digits before the ball was snapped.  That made the most out of the athletic abilities of its athletes.  These days, I'm fairly certain no opponent looks at their schedule, sees Northwestern, and experiences a moment of panic (and certainly no one will this season when they see our results against Akron and Rutgers).  Frankly, as it stands, I would not be surprised if the American Medical Association and the FDA were studying Northwestern offensive playing calling to classify it as a member of the barbiturate family.  Just as effective as soporific medications that require a prescription, but definitely not habit-forming.  Perhaps Mr. McCall's time as the play caller needs to come to a close, and we find someone else who reignites passionate offense?  /digression off

So, which Bowser will we see at Ryan Field come Saturday?  This one?

or this one?

Pick: Sadly, Bowser won't be singing "Goodnight, Sweetheart, it's time to go" and flexing at the end of the tilt at Ryan Field.  The Cats will feel like a stereotypical Italian plumber bonked with one too many turtle shells.  Wisconsin's running attack will be just too much for the Northwestern defense to contain.  Wisconsin is generous with the football, allowing the Cats to keep it close, but Northwestern's defense tires late, allowing the Badgers to pull away on a late rushing touchdown.  Wisconsin 27, Wildcats 21.  The Cats cover, but the Big Ten West crown slips away.
Season to Date:
Straight up, 4-3.  Against the Spread, 6-1

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction
By Jersey Cat

Matchup: #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (5-3, 5-1 B1G)
Date: Saturday, 03 Nov 2018, 6:15 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (+8)

Let's get it out of the way early...Notre Dame hasn't beaten Northwestern in 24 years!  You'll hear this line a fair amount, and while true, you’ll be tired of hearing it by kickoff, the implication being that NU has dominated the Irish over the last quarter century.
Truth is, Northwestern and Notre Dame have played exactly once since the miracle of 1995 in South Bend.  That was in 2014, as a 3-6 NU team went into South Bend and beat the Irish in overtime, 43-40, thanks to some incredible QB play by Trevor Siemian, the running of a freshman named Justin Jackson, a blocked Irish PAT returned for two points, and some inexplicable decision making by none other than Irish head coach Brian Kelly on whether to go for two after a touchdown.

This time, the ‘Cats host the Irish not at Soldier Field as in the early 90s, but at Ryan Field.  Notre Dame hasn’t played in Evanston since 1976, and the 'Cats haven’t beaten the Irish in Evanston since 1962, when the Wildcat coach was a guy named Ara Parseghian, only slightly better known for leading NU’s opponent this week to multiple national championships in South Bend.

Northwestern comes in riding a four-game winning streak, bookended by wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin as underdogs with closer-than-they-should-have-been victories over Nebraska and Rutgers sandwiched in between. 
Last Saturday against the Badgers, NU was able to take advantage of Wisconsin turnovers and produce points.  Freshman back Isaiah Bowser eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive game.  Bowser for the moment looks to be the feature back the ‘Cats have been looking for since the retirement of Jeremy Larkin due to health reasons.  Clayton Thorson didn’t have a tremendous stat line against Wisconsin, but he scored two rushing TDs and threw for another while getting picked off three times.  Most impressive from Thorson was his 5 yard TD run where he probably ran about 15 yards, giving the ‘Cats a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.  Thorson showed some mobility thought to be lost following ACL surgery on that play, as well as on a 27-yard scamper to convert a 3rd and 5 in the second half.  The defense continued to be impressive, forcing turnovers and doing a solid job of stopping the Badger running game as NU delivered a surprising 31-17 victory.

I know it’s hard to be critical after such a nice win, but here goes…I’m sick of the uniform combinations.  My kingdom for the purple helmet with the white N!  What’s the deal with this grey and black all the time?  And somebody tell the athletic department that there’s no shame in a purple jersey with white pants or vice versa.  How does the alma mater go again?

“Hail to Under Armour,
Hail to cash,
Hail to no tra-di-tion…”
Humor the old folks once in a while with some purple and white, will ya?  Is this so damn difficult?

Jersey Cat's Suggested Uniform

[Ed. Note: NU's announced uni for Saturday
isn't too far from what Jersey wanted.

On to the Irish, who come into Evanston ranked # 3 in the country at 8-0, following a 22-point win over Navy.  The Irish have had a clean slate thus far, but have hit a few bumps along the way.  Most significant was their game against Pitt, a home game for the Golden Domers, where they needed a fourth quarter TD to pull out the 19-14 victory.  It’s the toughest test they’ve faced to date.

Irish quarterback Ian Book has been impressive, having taken over the starting job from Brandon Wimbush after ND’s first three contests.  He’s damn accurate, hitting on 76% of his throws.  Book’s primary target is senior wideout Miles Boykin, who has 6 TDs in his last four games.  He has a four-inch height advantage over NU’s best cover man, Montre Hartage, so this matchup should be an interesting one.  Another one will be the how Wildcat defensive front contains Irish back Dexter Williams, who has gone for 140+ yards in 3 of his last 4 games.

With the speed and athleticism of Notre Dame’s defensive line, it could be tough go for the Wildcat offense.  I see them having more success throwing the ball than running it, and Thorson will have to spread it around.  If this game is going to be an upset, though, it’s going to be due to the play of the NU defense.  Getting some pressure on Book will be key to force him into some hurried throws or ones that keep the big plays to a minimum.
It’s no secret that the ‘Cats tend to play better as an underdog than they do as a favorite.  Add to this that Notre Dame has a history of playing down to opponents against whom they appear to have a distinct advantage talent-wise.  Then throw on top of that the fact that NU’s stated goal at the outset of the season, to win the Big Ten, will not be impacted by the outcome of this matchup, win or lose.  Are the ‘Cats playing with house money on Saturday night, seemingly with nothing to lose?  Do they come out loose and play with an aggressive, WTF attitude?  Let’s hope so. 
To close, what would a game be against the Irish without a nice limerick?  Apologies to the man from Nantucket...

There once was a team from South Bend,
Whose win streak was bound to soon end.
To Evanston they came,
For a big evening game,
Where a great story would surely be penned.

The match seemed unfair at first glance,
In September, NU played as though in a trance.
But as a home dog,
The 'Cats come out of their fog,
For to the B1G Champ Game they plan to advance.
Notre Dame arrived prepped for the rendezvous,
But that line did Northwestern break right through.
NU's D-line came hard after Book,
Who turned it over, his confidence shook,
And for the 'Cats, another hard-fought W.

On this night, NU proved the best team,
Coach Kelly's ears shooting out steam.
To South Bend the Irish returned,
And quickly they learned,
Their playoff hopes now but a dream.
For losers, Coach Fitz says are stats,
In the postgame ESPN chat.
But as NU had won,
"Time for good, clean, American fun."
And left with his trademark, "Go 'Cats!"

So ‘Cats fans, throw back what you got,
Whether a cold one, a dram, or a shot.
And “Cheers,” or better yet, “Slainte”
Which, everyone knows, sounds like “lawn chair”
On to Iowa goes the Northwestern juggernaut!

PICK: Don’t bring a shillelagh to a gunfight:
Northwestern 24, Notre Dame 23.  Take the 'Cats and the points.
Season to date:  Straight Up: 4-4; Against the Spread:  7-1.

Iowa Preview and Prediction

By P.S. O'Briant

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats (5-4, 5-1 B1G) at #21 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 B1G)
Date: Saturday, November 10, 2:30 PM, CST
Line: Northwestern (+10.5)

After three losses to non-conference teams - never forget the Zips EVER - our Northwestern Wildcats find themselves at a crossroads.  Two wins from the Big Ten Championship game and one win from bowl eligibility, this 5-4, unranked team must continue scratching and clawing to regain a “respectable” placement in the college football bowl season (i.e., Holiday Bowl vs. a corp sponsorship bowl where you have to Google the name to even find the location).
What Happened Last Week?
There is no nice way to say this: Notre Dame beat them with a shillelagh. Quarterback Clayton Thorson did not play well Saturday. Offensive Coordinator Mick McCall - don’t even get me started on McCall - likes to open with simple throws on the team’s first ball possession. Through the first seven games of the season, Thorson completed an average 4.28 of his first five throws to start each contest. Against Notre Dame, Thorson completed an average of 1.5. Why does he miss those easy throws? How can we get Thorson into a rhythm early on in the game?

The issues became all too apparent in the second half of the game. Thorson was pressured, hit, or sacked on 9 of 17 drop backs. He never looked comfortable in the pocket, and Northwestern could do nothing to stop the Notre Dame pass rush. In the third quarter - warning: the following stats are graphic and may be disturbing to younger viewers - Notre Dame had 209 yards and NU had 32. Cardiac 'Cats? Put an aspirin under their tongue and call an ambulance.

On to Iowa. I HATE Iowa.
Since the 20 year “rivalry” started with Northwestern (self imposed by former Coach Gary Barnett), I abhor Iowa. I don’t like them. I don’t trust them. I hate losing to them. When people out here in Seattle ask me about B1G vs. Pac-12 football, I grunt and show them a picture (see attached) of the 1997 Iowa-NU game - in a blizzard - or I rant about defense and weird scores and broken legs. That’s real football people, and I miss it out here.

Iowa beat Northwestern 21 straight times from 1973-1994. Finally, in 1995, in Fitzgerald’s second season as a player, the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes. Fitzgerald broke his leg in that matchup, keeping him on the sideline for the 1996 Rose Bowl. Northwestern is now 11-9 against Iowa since that win. Fitz and Kirk Ferentz will coach against each other for the 13th time; more than any existing rivalry in the nation.

Things to watch out for - Iowa
Iowa has always been a ground-and-pound style offense, but Quarterback Nate Stanley has seen significant success this season targeting their tight ends, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. Both of these players are athletic with catches over 50 yards. They are a force, and they are threats anywhere on the field.

Then there is the DEFENSE. Iowa boasts the second best defense in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have given up just 18.6 points per game, 86.2 rushing yards per game, and 283.7 total yards per game. Those are solid numbers, good enough to rank 8th nationally in total defense. That said, Iowa’s identity as a defensive powerhouse is shaky after surrendering 38 points and 434 yards of offense against Purdue last week, and the Hawkeyes will want to rebound to avoid extending their two game losing streak. In addition, Matt Hankins will make a return to the secondary after missing the past five games to injury and suspension. Hankins was the number one cornerback coming into the season, and the Hawkeye defense will be best served by Hankins returning to the starting lineup this week.

Northwestern has allowed 24 sacks this season, and Thorson’s diminished mobility will prevent him from escaping the pressure or beating the Iowa defense with his legs. Freshman Running Back Isaiah Bowser brings a semblance of consistency to the run game, but not what we expected before Larkin’s retirement. NU’s struggle with the run game will allow the Hawkeyes to focus on the pass rush - the best way to protect Iowa’s secondary from suffering another poor day of coverage against Northwestern’s receivers.

Things to watch out for - Northwestern
Thorson is the third leading passer in the B1G, averaging 245.9 yards per game and a 60.2% completion rate. This has much to do with Thorson’s arm strength and desire to get the ball to star Receiver Flynn Nagel as often as possible. Offensively, the Thorson-Nagel combination is a powerful threat - like putting up 220 yards against Nebraska. Nagel is a precise route-runner who makes plays after the catch, and he is effective on third downs.

Some of Thorson’s best games at Northwestern have come on the road, including Michigan State this season and Iowa back in 2016. Thorson also has 11 touchdowns…and 10 INTERCEPTIONS. The question is, which Thorson will emerge from the pink locker room at Kinnick Stadium? If the Wildcats are going to win this game on the road, they need a "B1G" performance from Thorson. It will take great execution all around - though most importantly up front - to put points up against the Hawkeyes. Just in case Thorson needs an incentive: he is only 239 yards from hitting the 10,000-yard mark for his career.

The Good.
Iowa is reeling after two straight losses, and Coach Fitz holds a special animosity towards the Hawkeyes. Northwestern has been strangely effective in B1G games where they are the underdog, and this is the type of game in which the Wildcats thrive. Northwestern has been sneaky-good on the road, but to beat a solid defensive team like the Hawkeyes, Thorson must perform like he did against Michigan State.

The Bad.
Northwestern released its injury report for Saturday’s game:

Kicker Charlie Kuhbander — OUT
Safety Jared McGee — OUT
Cornerback Trae Williams — OUT

McGee and Williams went down with injuries against Notre Dame, while Kuhbander has been dealing with a leg injury all season. Kicker Drew Luckenbaugh could be back healthy after missing the previous two games (he hit the game winner against Nebraska). If you are a fan at the game and have NCAA eligibility (and are against unionizing student-athletes), you might want to start stretching.

The Ugly.
Iowa pretty much dominates every statistical category in this matchup. They are the better team on paper: better offensive line, better defensive line, and better tight ends that are a matchup nightmare. Everything favors Iowa in this game. They have a significant edge in virtually every stat: even ESPN gives Iowa a 77.9% chance of winning and Vegas has Iowa as a 10.5 point favorite. And yet...these are the situations where Northwestern THRIVES. They LOVE to win as an underdog. They especially love to win as an underdog against IOWA. Iowa has been favored by at least 9.5 points against Northwestern four times in the last 10 years…they lost outright to NU each time.

Then there is Kinnick Stadium. Kinnick is a daunting place to play. With the fans so close that they almost touch the field, Kinnick offers the ultimate home field advantage. The Hawkeyes are 4-1 at home, as opposed to 2-2 on the road, and they have a history of playing well in big home games. Kinnick Stadium has a way of getting in opponents’ heads. When Hayden Fry started coaching at Iowa back in 1979, he ordered that the walls in the visiting locker room be painted…PINK. During a 2005 renovation, they even added pink toilets and lockers.

The Wildcats have plenty at stake. Last week, Northwestern came up short, but the players assured the fans that the ND loss will not derail their first B1G West division title in history. Northwestern is finding its identity late this season as a gritty, hard-nosed football team that avoids penalties and relies on the discipline of its players to put the team in a position to win each game. The Wildcats are one of the most disciplined teams in the nation, with only 26 penalties all season, the fewest in the FBS. There will not be room for error against the Hawkeyes, so discipline could be the edge for Northwestern.

I an curious to see if the offense tries to bludgeon away with OC McCall’s ineffective play calling in this contest. NU ran the ball at least 40 times in each of the least three games, despite results that hardly embody the slogan, “expect victory.” Will the Wildcats ram their heads against that wall of giant, corn fed linemen all day, or will they exploit Iowa's vulnerability through the air, as Purdue did to dramatic effect last week? If Northwestern wants to try and pound their way through the size and athleticism of the Hawkeye defensive line, this will be a long, cold day in Iowa City. If Thorson decides to live up to his NFL hype, this game will get interesting. In order for the offense to break through and put consecutive drives together, they must find a way to balance the passing AND rushing attacks. It is a difficult task to find success in both phases of the offense, but it will be crucial if NU wants to leave Kinnick with a victory.

And don’t forget the defense: if this game is going to be an upset, it will come down to the play of the NU defense. Force the turnover and finally get some sacks. Fitz won’t say it publicly, but he LOVES to beat Iowa too.

So how do they win?
1. Put up or shut up for Clayton Thorson.
2. Keep avoiding penalties.
3. Do not buckle under the pressure of pink locker rooms.
4. Force the turnover. Old school B1G football.

Let Under Armour put them in pink for all I care (just to match the visitor locker rooms)…just beat Iowa.

Pick: Cardiac ‘Cats Return. It will be an ugly, low scoring, B1G defensive struggle but NFL prospect Thorson shows up.

Northwestern 20, Iowa 17.  Take the Wildcats and the points.

Season to date:  Straight Up: 4-5; Against the Spread:  7-2.


I am excited to be asked to pen the Lowe’s Line for the first time, and I attempted to write this column in the spirit of its namesake, Marcus Lowes. Some of you may know that I grew up attending Texas Tech games (my father was in grad school and a band director). Later, I was a freelance sports writer in Oklahoma covering high school football matchups, although my press pass got me on the field for OU Sooner games during the days of Coach Barry Switzer - and I was hooked. Whenever asked why I chose Northwestern, I always have an ironic answer: I went to NU for the football, naturally. I could get an outstanding education while watching us get our butt kicked by Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and IOWA...

I also found something fun…an original Lowes Line archive from 1997 against Iowa, written by the one and only Marcus Lowes. And the picture I took at that very game - in a blizzard.

13 November 1997 12:08 PM

The Lowes Line, Week 12
MATCHUP: Iowa at NU (11:30 a.m. CST, ESPN2)

SPREAD: Hawkeyes by 9

OUTLOOK: The hated Hawkeyes need a victory like a drowning man needs a rope. What started out as a promising season for Iowa suddenly sees it scrambling for a bid to the Outback Bowl. And the stress is showing: Tim Dwight admitted there's been more intrasquad scuffling during practice this week than at any time during the season. Dwight says the guys simply are keyed up--perhaps the trainer doubled their steroid rations--but we at the Lowes Line say the Hawkeyes are desperate. Iowa has a relative cakewalk at home against Minnesota in the final week of the season, but without victories in both their last two games, the Hawkeyes conceivably could be home for the holidays.

The Wildcats simply want to end the season on a high note against a team that has evolved into a fierce rival. The youngsters got their snaps last week; look for coach Barnett to pull out all stops, play all the seniors and hope for the best. Can emotion carry a team with a horrendous run defense past one of the strongest rushing attacks in the nation?

Emotion--and a little luck, perhaps.

PICK: NU 26, Iowa 21. Take the Cats and the points.
SEASON TO DATE: Straight up, 7-4; against the spread, 6-5.

Minnesota Preview and Prediction

By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: #22 Northwestern Wildcats (6-4, 6-1 B1G WEST CHAMPIONS!!!) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-5, 2-5 B1G)
Date: Saturday, November 17, 11:00 a.m., CST
Line: Northwestern (-2); ESPN FPI: NU 60.1% chance to win; O/U 47.5



Ahem, my apologies for the frivolity.  But I think it's safe to say that this time last week very few people, including the experts, believed Northwestern would clinch the Big Ten West Saturday.  Too many pieces would have to fall in place for it to happen, not the least of which was traveling to Iowa City and beating a Hawkeyes team that, preseason, was predicted to contend with Wisconsin for the Big Ten West title.  Wisconsin would have to lose at Happy Valley to a Penn State team that looked miserable in the Big House the week before.  And the Badgers accommodated, looking good for for the first 3 plays and then miserable afterwards, losing 22-10.  And then Purdue would have to lose to Minnesota.  Purdue, who clobbered Ohio State.  But what a difference a couple of weeks (and a bunch of snow) made.  The Boilermakers laid a major egg on TCF Field, losing in a laugher, 41-10 (and, no, that's not a typo).

The scene at Kinnick immediately after the game was giddy, with Fitz calling all of his players to a huddle in which he told them that Wisconsin and Purdue had lost, and they were the champs.  If you haven't seen it, look here:  The sweet moment Northwestern players found out they won the Big Ten West

How did we beat the hated Hawkeyes?
If you took one thing away from last week's Line, it was that guest author O'Briant cared little for the Hawkeyes.  (Aside:  when Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the first conference game was at Wisconsin, and ESPN's College Gameday was at Camp Randall to mark the occasion.  The best sign in the crowd read:  "Everyone here hates Iowa".  How true!)  Iowa had a string of dominance over the Wildcats that has become a little more even since Gary Barnett took over the program.  Still, most prognosticators believed that Iowa would emerge victorious from Kinnick Stadium (most, that is, except Mr. P.S. O'Briant) and would delay the Wildcats clinching the Big Ten West at least another week.  But the Wildcats stunned everyone and gave them, as Lou Brown would say, a big sh*tburger to eat.  How'd we do it?

"Goodnight, Sweetheart, well, it's time to go."  Does that give you enough of a hint?

Whether you're a fan of the 70s/80s Bowser of Sha Na Na fame, or the 90s version that ran rampant in Mario Kart, the 21st century version in purple and white put on a show on Saturday.  The leader of NU's rejuvenated running game put 165 yards on Iowa's defense and averaged over 5 a carry.  The sickly rushing attach after Jeremy Larkin was forced into retirement seems a distant memory.  Thorson, frustratingly, went back to being his normal self, he of the 50% completion percentage and more picks than TDs.  Oh, but what a TD it was!  Bennett Skowronek's diving catch for a touchdown in the 4th quarter that providing the winning margin will forever live in Wildcat lore.  It was a great throw by Thorson and and even better catch.  After that, it was up to the defense to preserve the victory.

And preserve it they did.  Twice late in the 4th quarter, the defense started to bend but then caused a turnover that halted any chance the Hawkeyes had to march down the field.  Overall, defensively Northwestern played well.  The Cats D held Iowa to 64 yards rushing, and held up reasonably well against the Iowa passing attack.

Still, though, when it mattered that the Cats move the ball to keep the clock running and the ball out of Hawkeye hands, the Cats really couldn't.  After taking the lead, the Cats managed 2 3-and-outs after a Hawkeye punt and then fumble, but did get a first down after the second Hawkeye fumble, albeit going for it and making it on 4th and 2.  But I like that Fitz challenged the offense to go out and win the game.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream...

Next up for the Cats is TCF Bank Field and the P.J. "Row the Boat" Fleck-led Golden Gophers of Minnesota.  This is Fleck's second year on the bridge and it has been a curious year for the team.  They were blown out by Nebraska, Maryland, and Illinois (!) and so the boat they're rowing looks like this:

But then they beat Fresno State (ranked in the CFP before losing to Boise), beat tough-out Indiana, and torpedoed Purdue.  After those games, they must have felt like this: The Lonely Island - I'm On A Boat ft. T-Pain

The Gopher defense actually showed up and held Purdue's offense to 233 total yards.  Meanwhile the offense put up over 400 yards and held onto the ball for over 33 minutes.  At the helm of the Gopher offense is redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan.  He took over mid-season from Zach Annexstad.  His completion percentage approaches 60% (in a somewhat limited sample), but he does not seem to be a huge threat as a runner, averaging 1.3 yards per run.  That will help the Wildcats defense, which does not deal with with running QBs.

However, the Gophers O will be driven by the twin screws of Mohamed Ibrahim at tailback and Tyler Johnson at wide receiver.  The former sports a gaudy 5.7 ypc and has scored 5 TDs on the ground.  Frequently, in goal-to-go situations, the Gophers will also use football polymath Seth Green (but not the one of Scott Evil fame), who has racked up 8 rushing touchdowns to go with one receiving and two passing (he was 4 for 5 with 2 TDs and a pick against Purdue).

Tyler Johnson will be the Kraken for the Wildcats secondary.  He averages over 15 yards a catch and has hauled in 9 touchdowns so far.  He's also playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, having recently been left off the Belitnikoff Award list.  He will look to prove the voters wrong with a strong showing against the Wildcats.  Add in the absence of Montre Hartage from the NU secondary, and Johnson might be able to run wild.  It will take a team effort to keep him in check.

So is NU the Scylla & Charybdis?  Or are we the Lazy River?
This game is very worrisome.  After surprising everyone to clinch the Big Ten West last Saturday, NU is probably due for a let down.  This isn't a trap game, as Indy is far enough away that the Cats won't be looking over Minnesota and Illinois to see Michigan or Ohio State.  However, because we have the division all sewn up, NU might rest on its laurels and put up a half-hearted effort against Fleck's oarsmen.  Add into that the Gophers' collective euphoria over clobbering a superior Boilermaker team and the ability to get up for a chance to beat the division champion, and all signs point to an ugly result at TCF Bank Field.  The same field where Purdue did its best Titanic impression.

In order to avoid being the Andrea Doria to Fleck's Stockholm, a few things need to happen.  First and foremost, the Cats have to run the football.  Mr. Sha Na Na (or armored turtle, if you prefer) has to run early and often and well for the Cats to have a chance.  That does many things:  it takes the game off Thorson's shoulders, it provides the Cats with (hopefully) scoring opportunities, and it keeps Tyler Johnson and the Gopher offense in drydock, where they belong.  Thorson has to stop passing out the football like gift vouchers.  His 12 TD/12 pick ratio this season will not cut it this game.  The Cats D was able to overcome Thorson's two interceptions last Saturday but, just like you can't count on getting turnovers at crunch time, it's folly to rely on your defense to continually bail you out of boneheaded decisions.  Thorson has to be better with the football.  And the Cats D needs to scheme to stop Tyler Johnson from gashing it with huge gains through the air, while remaining stout against the run.  The secondary will definitely be tested against this Gopher team.  Paddy Fisher has to have a huge game in the middle.

Pick: Northwestern 27, Minnesota 24.  The Wildcats struggle early with apathy, but catch on just in time to avoid an embarrassing loss.  The Wildcats win and cover...but just barely.

Season to date:  Straight Up: 5-5; Against the Spread:  8-2.

Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: #19 Northwestern Wildcats (7-4, 7-1 B1G WEST CHAMPIONS!!!) vs Illinois Illini (4-7, 2-6 B1G)
Date: Saturday, November 24, 2:30 p.m. CST
Line: Northwestern (-17); ESPN FPI: NU 92.1% chance to win; O/U 58.0

Last Week’s Review

I bet if you asked Fitzgerald, last week’s game was extremely satisfying.  The Gophers are unpredictable, but certainly dangerous.  However, the Cats looked in control and steady throughout the game.  Zero turnovers for the Cats, while taking the ball away three times is certainly in the Cat game plan each week.  Again aided by a stout run defense and serviceable, if unspectacular run game, Thorson was able to avoid mistakes and let NU’s superior personnel wear down the Gophers for a final score of 24 to 14.  That takes the Cats’ record to 7-4 overall with an excellent chance of getting to 8 wins before the Big Ten Championship game.  Certainly not the outcome that we expected after the losses to Duke and Akron at the start of the season.
At this point, it’s apparent that the team has improved from the beginning of the year and the coaching staff has discovered the formula that gives them a good chance to win each week.  On offense, Thorson can be inconsistent in terms of accuracy, but his knee has healed to the point where he is again a threat to run and can certainly win (or lose) games with his arm.  Frankly, NU could probably score more points by relying on a more aggressive air attack, but against comparable or worse opponents, Fitz just isn’t willing to take those risks.  The running game is fairly one dimensional with only runs between the tackles effective with results that are pedestrian, but good enough to allow the offense to put consistent pressure on opposing defenses.  I have no stats to back it up (food coma to blame), but clearly the specter of three-and-outs are greatly reduced over the recent run of success.
On defense, the strength is against the run.  Without a doubt, that strength has created major problems for all their opponents so far and a major reason for their success. The pass defense is much less consistent with a pass rush that is MIA for long stretches and a medium to long pass defense that, honestly, is cause for anxiety.  Like the run offense, the pass defense is just good enough to cause takeaways when needed.
Next Up, the Illini

Illinois continues to make steady progress under head coach Lovie “Grizzly Adams” Smith, though slower than hoped by their fan base.  On the season, the Illini have won four games against inferior or similar teams in terms of talent level, but also lost a few games they could have won (Nebraska and Maryland) and been blown out several times, including a 63-0 shellacking by Iowa last week.  Those embarrassing losses in particular have the alumni and local press actively questioning how much longer Smith will have to turn things around.
On offense, the Illini are markedly reliant on a single strength, but it’s a good one.  Their running game is extremely impressive with mark of 6 yards per carry.  In particular, good production from Reggie Corbin and contributions from quarterback Al Bush Jr lead that attack.  Their passing attack leaves much more to be desired and is considered a significant weakness.  Bush Jr. tends to pull down the ball to run at the slightest pressure and is not particularly accurate even on a good day.  Still, the Illini are able to put up large scoring numbers even when reliant on the running game, especially against weaker defenses.
On defense, there are no strengths to speak of.  They are giving up over 40 points per game.  Both rushing and passing defenses are equally putrid.  Remember when I said Illinois gains 6 ypg running?  They also give up 6 ypg.  The Illini can score a lot of points, but they have to because they give up a lot of points.  The only good thing is the team will continue to improve.  This year’s team starts only a handful of seniors…the last class left over from the previous coaching fiasco.
What to Expect:

One could say this is another chance at a trap game for NU, but Illinois just isn’t good enough to really to make good on that opportunity.   Plus, last week’s game suggests the Illinois team may have written off another lost season.  The key for the Cats will be to slow down the Illini running game.  The biggest concern may actually be Al Bush Jr, as the Cats have a habit of giving up big running plays to QBs (think of the Notre Dame game).  However, assuming the Cats slow them down at bit, expect the easier sledding on offense to put too much pressure on Illinois’s offense.

Pick: Northwestern 31, Illinois 21.  Fitz is never one to run up the score given his intense desire to protect the football.  Watch for some tense moments in the first half as the Illini have some success running against NU, but once they fall behind and have to throw more, it’s all over.  Cats win, but don’t cover due to conservative playcalling.

Season to Date
Straight Up: 6-5; Against the Spread:  9-2.

By Charlie Simon

Matchup: #21 Northwestern Wildcats (8-4, 8-1 B1G) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 8-1 B1G)
Date: Saturday, December 1, 7pm CST
Location: Indianapolis, IN
TV: Fox

Line: OSU -14

Late this summer Pat Fitzgerald tweeted a meme with the line "I wish someone had told me during the good old days that these were the good old days..." implying that these are the good old days for Northwestern.  They may or may not be old, but this is a great time to be a Northwestern Wildcat.  The Wildcats have averaged over 7 wins per year during Fitz's tenure and going to a bowl game is so common that I don't remember how many they have been to and the thought of just hoping to win our first bowl game is a distant memory.

Today the Wildcats are making their first appearance in the B1G championship game. The 'Cats will be representing the B1G West and the Buckeyes will be representing the East.  NU arrived here by beating all their B1G West opponents while OSU was also perfect in the East division.  The lone in conference losses for both teams can in cross over games (NU losing to UM and OSU losing to Purdue).

The majority of the editorial staff here at the Lowes Line was cheering for the Buckeyes to win last weekend as up to the Michigan game OSU looked very mediocre.  They do not have a run game to speak of and their defense was very porous.  We thought NU could take the Buckeyes this year.  Then we watched the OSU vs Michigan game.  OSU looked amazing.  They scored 62 points against UM's defense that was the statistical best defense in teh country.  Maybe we should have hoped for UM.

After further review I believe the 'Cats can win tonight.  NU will play a very different defensive scheme than Michigan.  NU will play at least 10 yards off of the outside receivers while UM played extremely tight bump and run coverage.  That coverage is great if the QB does not have time in the pocket to wait on deep routes but a handicap if the QB has time.  NU will allow OSU to throw 5 yard outs and quick screens to outside receivers all day.  They will allow OSU to freely move the ball until they reach the 15 yard line.  At that point NU will tighten coverage as OSU can not get behind them when they only have 25 yards to defend.  NU will bank on OSU not being patient enough to take the 5 yard gains and move steadily down the field.  NU will count on OSU trying for more and getting a penalty, an incompletion, or a turnover to stall the Buckeyes.  If they don't stop them before the 15 they will tighten up and try to force a field goal.  The wildcard will be OSU QB Dwayne Haskins' running.  He is a great passer and NU will try to weather that storm but he also can run.  He does not run often but he is big and strong can pick up a 1st down when needed.  Will NU have LB Patty Fisher spy on the QB like they did against Illinois?  If so that can limit Haskins' runs but removes another defender who will be needed in pass coverage.

To keep up with the high scoring Buckeyes, Northwestern must continue to use a balanced attack.  Even if it is not successful at first NU must keep running the ball.  If NU becomes one dimensional NU QB Clayton Thorson will be running for his life.  Thorson needs to have a good day but he doesn't need to feel that he has to win the game with every throw.  Take what is there and limit the mistakes.  NU is good enough to hang close to the Buckeyes.  How is that possible you ask when the Buckeyes have the #2 ranked offense and NU is #110 just ahead of Kansas but behind, well, behind about everybody else?  The difference this year has been penalties.  NU is the least penalized team in the nation averaging only three yellow flags per game.  To prove the point, "name an NU offensive lineman, go ahead, I dare you to try."  I know one name.  Why don't we know their names?  Because the only time you hear the name of an offensive lineman is when they get called for holding penalties.  How many past games have we seen where NU's offense is moving down the field only to get a holding penalty and not be able to recover from 2nd and 17.  The offense this year gets 3-4 yards per play and with three and sometimes 4 downs, that is just enough to keep the chains moving.  Granted there is a very small margin for error but that formula has gotten them to this point.  Luckily the defense has been stout enough to keep NU in almost every game.

Did I just mention Luck?  Looking back over this season and last you can say the 'Cats were very lucky.  Last year they won three games in overtime.  Over time games are a coin flip, yet the 'Cats won three in a row.  This year NU was down by double digits to Nebraska very late.  I think ESPN estimated that Nebraska had a 98.9% chance of winning, but as we sat in the stands on that Homecoming day, I told my kids, "Just wait, Nebraska does not know how to win yet."  And they didn't.  The Cornhuskers made some errors and NU made some great plays and won in OT.  I have now seen enough college football to say that some years things just go your way.  I think that several of the NU teams from the past ten years are more talented than the 2018 Wildcats but for some reason this team knows how to win.  It isn't a fluke when it happens again and again. 

NU's defensive secondary have been banged up but everyone should be back this week.  NU's #1 kicker is out with and injury and their #2 is Questionable.  This concerns me but somehow NU has found a way to win and I think they will again today.  This might be a "homer" pick as no one who isn't an NU alum is picking the 'Cats, but I truly believe.  I did not believe before the NU vs Notre Dame game but watching the 'Cats put away Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois without our starters, convinced me.  And if I believe then the boys in Purple must also believe because they are there.  They must feel what I have only seen.  Yes, OSU is a great team but NU has already gone toe to toe with UM and Notre Dame.  They can win this game.  Keep it close.  The longer the game is close the more the pressure is on OSU.  OSU feels that they need to win big to impress the Selection Committee.  If the score is close OSU could start press and falter...

Finally this game is being played in Indy.  The same place as the climax of the greatest sports movie of all time.  Where an underdog small school believes they can win and do.  Just a coincidence, I think not.  I just leave this here for you:


Pick: Northwestern 31, OSU 30.  The Wildcats know how to win and prove it.

Go 'Cats!

Season to date
Straight Up: 7-5; Against the Spread:  10-2.

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl –
#22 Northwestern Wildcats (8-5, 8-1 Big Ten) vs #17 Utah Utes (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12)
Date: Monday, 31 Dec 2018, 6:00 pm CST
Line: Northwestern (+7)


Happy Holidays, ‘Cats fans!  This postseason has NU in California for New Year’s Eve, taking on the University of Utah in the Holiday Bowl.  A show of hands – after allowing 36 second half points to Akron on a September Saturday night in Evanston, who expected the Wildcats to be in a relatively major bowl game with eight wins?  You liars can put your hands down now.

Following the disaster against the Zips, the ‘Cats regrouped during the bye week.  They came out strong against a tough Michigan squad, ultimately falling by three after squandering a 17-point lead.  It seemed bad, especially as we learned of the forced retirement of sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin for medical reasons, but there were obvious signs of improvement, most notably the ability of Clayton Thorson to take a greater percentage of snaps after returning from ACL surgery following an injury in the Music City bowl last season.  To be fair, that Thorson was as effective as he was this season is pretty incredible.

So what happened next?  The ‘Cats managed to pull off seven straight conference wins, three of those over teams who were ranked at the time.  Naturally, the games were all close, being won by an average of just over seven points.  We saw an incredible comeback (Nebraska), a “just get the hell out of here with a W” (Rutgers), and a “hang around long enough and good things will happen” (Iowa).  The most dominant game in that stretch was actually against a ranked Wisconsin team where NU held a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter.  In the midst of this run was the emergence of freshman back Isaiah Bowser, who ran for just under 800 yards in the seven games in which he was the feature back.

Having gone 8-1 in the Big Ten, NU won the Big Ten West, a first for the ‘Cats.  They put up a good fight and were within one score in the fourth quarter before falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, finishing the season with an 8-5 record, the other losses being home nonconference matchups with Duke and Notre Dame, in addition to the aforementioned contests against Akron and Michigan.

Ok, let’s talk Fitz for a second, and the discussion of him going to Lambeau.  We bellyache about him at times, that he’s too conservative, that he doesn’t step on throats, etc.  But let’s face it, he bleeds purple and is perfect for Northwestern.  The guy deserves credit.  He consistently gets more out of his recruits than arguably anyone else in college football.  Not opinion.  The numbers bear that out.  Short of a scandal coming out of a “Get to Know the Coach” fireside chat in a sorority house gone awry, Fitz will never be fired, and can coach as long as he wants, even after they ultimately put a statue of him outside Ryan Field.  Why would he want to trade that security for the opportunity to be hired just to be fired in Green Bay?  Further, it’s no secret that Fitz is the ultimate rah-rah guy, and this Lowes Liner can’t see that approach working in the NFL.  He’s made to be a college coach, and I have to think any pro GM would see it similarly.  Ixnay on Green Bay, otay?

On to Utah, runners-up in the Pac-12 this season to Washington.  Utah is led by head coach Kyle Whittingham, one of five FBS coaches in their current position longer than Fitz.  Whittingham has been head coach in Salt Lake City since 2005, and has been on the staff in a variety of defensive positions since 1994.

Utah presents a unique challenge for Northwestern.  They have a solid offense, and have put up nearly 38 points a game in their six Pac-12 wins.  Their attack is fairly balanced, although they’ve been hit by the injury bug like the ‘Cats.  The starting QB, Tyler Huntley, broke his collarbone earlier this season, but is possibly going to be able to be back for the Holiday Bowl.  In addition, Utah’s primary running back, Zack Moss, suffered a knee injury and has missed the final four games of the season.  Even with these injuries, Utah has been able to move the ball effectively before being shut down by Washington in the Pac-12 championship game.

The defensive unit for Utah is its strength.  Their run defense is about as good as it gets, and the ‘Cats will not have it easy getting Bowser going.  The interior of the Utah defensive line is led by Bradlee Anae and John Penisini, two Utes who made All- Pac-12 for their ability to stop the ru..
“Um, two what?  What was that word?”
“What word?”
“Did you say ‘Utes’?”
“Yeah, two Utes.”
“What is a Ute?”
“Oh, excuse me, two YOUTHS."

What?  You expect a Jersey guy to write a column about Utes without a My Cousin Vinny reference? Your only question should be, “What took you so long?”    Anyway, these youths (actually also Utes) are Tackle for Loss machines, along with linebacker Chase Hansen, and will present a tough test for the NU rushing attack.

Northwestern’s usually strong defense will be without two senior starters as linebacker Nate Hall (shoulder) and lineman Jordan Thompson (knee) will miss the game after having had season ending surgeries.

Expect this to be a low-scoring affair, with both defenses setting the tone for the game.  NU is going to need Thorson to spread it around in order to get on the board, and the Wildcat defense might need several huge plays or even a score to get a third consecutive bowl win for Fitz. 

Pick: Like Mona Lisa Vito, expect this to be dead on balls accurate: a Ute win but a ‘Cat cover.  Utah 20, Northwestern 17. 

Season to date:  7-6 Straight Up, 10-3 Against the Spread.