MSU Preview and Prediction
By Lone Star Cat
Matchup: Michigan State Spartans (0-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (0-0)
Date: Friday, September 3, 2021, 8:00 pm CDT
Line: Northwestern (-3), o/u (45.5)
Welcome back to college football, Wildcat fans! Today we embark on a
23rd season of paying tribute to our friend and brother Marcus by
continuing his NU football game previews. They’ve been fun to do
over the years, a fond remembrance of Marcus, and we hope you enjoy
reading them as much as we do writing them.
After the Covid-shortened season of 2020 that had Northwestern in the
Big Ten Championship game for the second time in three seasons, the
‘Cats finished the year by topping Auburn in the Citrus Bowl for their
fourth consecutive bowl victory. They finished at 7-2 and with a
top-10 ranking, the first time inside the top-10 at the end of the year
since the magical season of 1995.
Following this week’s opener against the Spartans, NU has
non-conference matchups with Indiana State and Ohio University in
Evanston, sandwiched with a trip to Duke in between. The Big Ten
slate has trips to Lincoln, Ann Arbor, Madison, and Champaign, while
the ‘Cats welcome Rutgers, Minnesota, and Iowa to Evanston, with a home
game against Purdue at Wrigley Field in late November.
The offseason saw plenty of action surrounding the NU program.
First, and perhaps most important, was the retirement of long-time
defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, after having been calling the
defense for NU since 2008. Hankwitz was replaced by Jim O’Neil,
who had stints as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns
and San Francisco 49ers, and most recently as the defensive backs coach
for the Las Vegas Raiders. O’Neil will be hard pressed to match
what NU’s defense brought to the field last year. The defense was
incredibly stingy, especially in the second half of games, as NU
opponents averaged less than a TD after halftime.
Another milestone for the NU program in the offseason was that two
Wildcats were taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
Offensive lineman Rashawn Slater was taken 13th by the Chargers and
defensive back Greg Newsome II was taken 26th by the
Browns. Both are projected to be starters for their
respective teams. Finally, the transfer market for NU
remained active in the offseason, as the ‘Cats pulled in six transfers,
five of whom are on the two-deep in Week 1.
Although there’s a new defensive coordinator leading the pack, coupled
with the loss of several key personnel, the defensive play is likely
going to be the key factor in NU’s success this season. Returning
is sophomore Brandon Joseph, only the second NU defensive player in
program history to be named a consensus All-American, after Coach
Fitz. Joseph had a great year and his highlight reel interception
in the end zone during the Big Ten Championship game will likely
accompany every big play he makes this year. Defensive lineman
Samdup Miller returns after opting out of the 2020 season. Miller
is a force up front, and has started 35 games in his career
already. He’ll be joined by seniors Joe Spivak and Trevor Kent to
apply pressure on opposing QBs.
On the offensive side of the ball, senior QB Hunter Johnson was named
the starter over sophomore transfer Ryan Hilinski, who came from the
University of South Carolina. This was a little bit of a
surprise, but the bigger surprise was Fitz naming Johnson the starter a
full two weeks before the season opener. It almost makes you
think Hunter Johnson has either really progressed since his rough go as
the starter in 2019 after arriving from Clemson, or that Hilinski may
not be as advertised just yet. Time will tell, but if Johnson
lives up to half the hype surrounding him upon his arrival in Evanston
a couple years ago, NU should be in good hands. The bigger
question is not who the signal caller will be, it’s to whom the ball
will be thrown. Grad transfer Stephon Robinson is likely to be
the main target. Robinson comes to Evanston from Kansas, where he
had a solid year in 2019 before getting injured in 2020. NU
doesn’t seem to again have much size at receiver, so it will be
interesting to see how the offense shapes up.
The running back situation is a bit cloudy. Sophomore Cam Porter
was thought to be the feature back, but he was lost for the season with
the incredibly specific “lower body injury,” which is either a
fractured femur or a sprained pinkie toe. Picking up Porter’s
duties running the ball will be Evan Hull, who showed some sparks in
the win over Illinois last season. Grad transfer Andrew Clair
from Bowling Green is also likely to get time carrying the ball.
NU again starts the season with a conference game, having emerged
victorious in 2018 at Purdue and last year vs Maryland when starting
the season against a conference opponent. It’s not lost on most
NU fans that getting off on the right foot in conference play has led
to a division title in each of those seasons.
I could break down the Michigan State offense and defense and get into
how NU should have the advantage if they can stop the run, given their
strong secondary, but let’s face it… you don’t care. What we do
care about is that these little buggers in green were the only ones to
topple the ‘Cats in the regular season in 2020, all but eliminating the
dream of a playoff spot for NU. The revenge factor has to be
high. NU wasted a great opportunity last season in East Lansing,
and while the personnel has changed a fair amount, you can bet Fitz
will not have forgotten what happened last time out against Sparty.
The so-called and often self-proclaimed experts say to look for a low
scoring game, but what do they know? We’ve been doing this stuff
for more than 20 years! NU’s second-year offensive coordinator
Mike Bajakian gets the ‘Cats moving early, and we get more scoring in
the opener than expected out of NU, as they avenge 2020’s lone regular
Pick: Northwestern 30, Michigan State 20. Take the ‘Cats and lay the points.
The Lowes Line is an
e-mailed description of NU's
football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome
how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict. Our
friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.
The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Lone Star Cat,
GallopingGrapes, P.S. O'Briant, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.
the 2021 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes