Commentary: Preseason Prediction for 2010
by Jonathan Hodges

I've previewed Northwestern's 2010 schedule, offense, defense, special teams, questions for Camp Kenosha, and reviewed the results of the preseason scrimmage.  Now it's time for that moment you've all been waiting for, my preseason prediction for the 2010 season.

In order to justify my prognostication abilities, my successful prediction rate for individual games from the prior 4 seasons (2006-09) of preseason predictions is 75%.  Also, during that span I predicted the 'Cats to have a 29-19 regular season record.  Their actual record: 27-21.  Last year, I correctly predicted NU's regular season record of 8-4.

So, given that I've already gone through the details of each opponent, I'll dive right into my chances of Northwestern winning each game on the 2010 schedule in order to come up with my predictions:

(Opponent, Likelihood of NU win: from 0, sure loss, 5, tossup, to 10, sure win, My Prediction)

Vanderbilt, 7, W
Illinois State, 9, W
@ Rice, 7, W
Central Michigan, 7, W
@ Minnesota, 5, L
Purdue, 5, W
Michigan State, 4, W
@ Indiana, 6, W
@ Penn State, 3, L
Iowa, 3, L
Illinois (at Wrigley Field), 6, W
@ Wisconsin, 2, L

Predicted Record:  8-4 (4-4)

Northwestern has a very manageable schedule this season, continuing the trend from recent years, including four beatable non-conference opponents and missing Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten slate.  Yes, the 'Cats have found a way to inexplicably lose a should-win game the past three years, but I am confident in the depth of the 2010 squad and the experience that Coach Fitz has earned (sometimes the hard way).

So, I'm predicting that the Wildcats sweep the nonconference slate (not a giant leap).  Yes, there are some games to worry about (Vanderbilt, Central Michigan), but NU should be favored in all of those.

When October rolls around, every game is essentially a swing game and NU's performance that month will define the season.  Expect a lot of close games, and keep the defibrillator close at hand.  I'm predicting a 3-1 record in that crucial month, although NU could very much win or lose each game in a vacuum.  We'll see if the Wildcats can build momentum and attain bowl eligibility for the fourth straight season before heading into a treacherous November.

I predict a 1-3 record in November, where NU faces its toughest tests of the year, traveling to Penn State, facing Iowa at home, and traveling to Wisconsin.  There's the Illinois game at Wrigley Field sandwiched in there as well, and they will always put up a fight, no matter how down the program is.  PSU, Iowa, and Wisconsin may all be involved in a race for the conference crown by that point, and Northwestern has a chance to have a big say as to who will be the title winner.  And, if NU can repeat what it did this past November (going 3-0 despite being the underdog in all 3 games), the Wildcats may find themselves near the top of the conference standings once the dust settles.

In any case, I predict another successful season that will send the 'Cats off to a warm bowl destination and will continue to build on Fitz's legacy as Northwestern's head coach.

Predicted Bowl: Texas Bowl (vs Big XII #6, Dec. 29 @ Houston, TX)

Like usual, NU's bowl position very much depends on if the Big Ten can place a second team in the BCS, and that looks relatively likely this season with two teams already in the top 10 (Ohio State and Iowa).  Wisconsin and Penn State are also ranked going into the year.  Expect these four teams to take the top four bowl spots.

My predicted record for the 'Cats should put them in solid contention for the Gator and Insight Bowls, who pick next (in that order).  I'm being conservative and predicting that NU is not given the benefit of the doubt and will be passed over in favor of other Big Ten teams that have the same record or one less win (think Michigan State and Michigan).

The sixth bowl in the Big Ten pecking order (not counting a second BCS spot) is not a bad consolation prize, the newly upgraded Texas Bowl, which will now be televised on ESPN (was on NFL network prior to last season) and feature two teams from BCS conferences (which has only happened once in its four year history).

As we all know, things can change rather quickly as the season progresses and even as bowl politicking takes place; last year I put NU's chances at being selected for the Outback Bowl at slim to none even hours before the announcement came out.  So, I'll put this prediction out there now and we'll all wait to see how things shake out on the field and then behind the scenes to determine NU's destination in late 2010 or possibly early 2011.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.