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Northwestern Wildcats Football Preview: Predicting the 2017 season

It’s time to predict just how we see the 2017 Northwestern football season going…game by game of course.

The offseason for the Northwestern Wildcats has been one of extreme optimism. Everything was coming up roses (pun!) for the Wildcats. The belief was that with the Pinstripe Bowl win in their back pocket and veteran players returning at key offensive skill positions, the Wildcats are ready to contend for the Big Ten title.

Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson form the core of an offense that seems ready to break out after struggling for much of the last two season. The defense loses a key player in Anthony Walker and Ifeadi Odengibo, but returns a talented secondary led by Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Northwestern. Expectations are only rising for the team.

There are still plenty of holes to worry about. The Wildcats replace a lot of talent in their front seven. There is plenty of concern they will struggle to get consistent push and pressure defensively.

The Wildcats also have a lot to replace at wide receiver with Austin Carr graduating following his breakout season. Solomon Vault, expected to fill some of those shoes, was lost for the season thanks to a lower body injury. The Wildcats will need key players to step up to support the stars.

Wildcats Preview Week: Lessons from 2016 | State of the Offense | talking10 Podcast | State of the Defense | Impact Players

And there is always the existential dread that is being a Northwestern fan. All the close games, near misses and almost made it chances that mark Northwestern football.

Everything needs to fall perfectly in place for Northwestern to get to the promised land and a Big Ten West title.

But the path seems open. Wisconsin in in transition and the Big Ten West seems wide open. And Northwestern has the individual talent it would seem to make a big impact. This is the kind of team that would seemingly be the one to break through for Northwestern.

Of course, the team has been in this situation before. After their last bowl win, in fact. And the team struggled, failing to qualify for a bowl game. No one expects that this time around. But the Wildcats have big expectations for this season. As they should.

Let’s get into our schedule and staff predictions, with thoughts brought to you by yours truly, Philip Rossman-Reich.

2017 Northwestern Wildcats Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 2
Wolf Pack Nevada Wolf Pack
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
2:30pm CT
BTN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 9
Blue Devils at Duke Blue Devils
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC
11:00am CT
ESPNU
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 16
Falcons Bowling Green Falcons
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
6:30pm CT
BTN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 23
OFF
Saturday
Sep. 30
Badgers at Wisconsin Badgers
Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 7
Nittany Lions Penn State Nittany Lions (HC)
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
11:00am CT
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 14
Terrapins at Maryland Terrapins
Maryland Stadium, College Park, MD
Time TBA
ESPN/ESPN2
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 21
Hawkeyes Iowa Hawkeyes
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 28
Spartans Michigan State Spartans
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
Time TBA
ESPN/ESPN2
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 4
Cornhuskers at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 11
Boilermakers Purdue Boilermakers
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 18
Gophers Minnesota Golden Gophers
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 25
Fighting Illini at Illinois Fighting Illini
Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets

*courtesy FBSchedules.com.

Philip’s Take: Nevada rated as one of the worst teams in college football last year even with a 5-7 record. This should be a fairly straightforward warmup for Northwestern. A chance to get Justin Jackson going, establish a favored wide receiver and get the defense’s legs wet.

Philip’s Take: Duke is always a tricky game. Especially when the Wildcats have to travel to Durham, where September is often muggy and humid. But the Wildcats have won two straight trips to visit the Blue Devils, including the the last three overall.

Philip’s Take: Beware the MAC. Northwestern learned that lesson last year when the team failed to row the boat and got beat by Western Michigan. This Bowling Green team should not be as good as that Western Michigan team. The Falcons could provide a challenge, but the Wildcats are likely to roll.

Philip’s Take: Northwestern’s Big Ten slate starts with probably its two toughest opponents. The Wildcats have fared well against the Badgers in recent years. But wisconsin’s physical style always seems to wear down Northwestern. With the Wildcats breaking in a virtually new front seven on defense, the Badgers should control the line of scrimmage in this one.

Philip’s Take: Things do not get much easier for the Wildcats in their homecoming game and Big Ten opener against the Nittany Lions. Coming off the team’s surprise Big Ten championship, Penn State has big expectations for this year. With a team likely staggering from a loss to Wisconsin, this could be a time for James Frankling to pick his first win off Pat Fitzgerald.

Philip’s Take: The first Big Ten matchup between Northwestern and Maryland should provide a little bit of a reprieve for the Wildcats. The Terrapins last year were a pretty mediocre offense, but strong in the running game. This road trip to Maryland will not be easy. But Northwestern should be able to survive.

Philip’s Take: If Northwestern wants to be serious about winning the Big Ten West, winning the next two games will be absolutely critical. The Wildcats can probably get away with splitting the openers against Penn State and Wisconsin, but the team needs to separate itself against its rival Iowa. The season gets made or broken in this stretch. This should be a good game, as it usually is.

Philip’s Take: This is another differentiation game for Northwestern that will go a long way to determining its bowl positioning. The Spartans likely remember the 54 points the Wildcats dropped on them last year. Something they will want to make up for as they reestablish their defense and smash mouth running game.

Philip’s Take: After getting through murderer’s row in October, the Wildcats will be looking forward to the end of their schedule. Northwestern may need these games to rally for bowl eligibility, as they did last year. Justin Jackson should be in for a big season and in for a big game against Purdue.

Philip’s Take: Northwestern would love to get some revenge on P.J. Fleck for the loss to Western Michigan last season. The Golden Gophers are a talented group and Fleck will work his magic. But it will take time. Northwestern can get the last laugh this time at Ryan Field.

Philip’s Take: The Wildcats have needed to win this game the last two years to reach bowl eligibility. The consequences may not be as dire this time. But certainly Justin Jackson will be motivated to close his career with a big game over the in-state rival. Plus: HAT.

SEASON RECORDS:

Andy: 9-3 (6-3 B1G)
Dave: 7-5 (4-5 B1G)
Phil: 7-5 (5-4 B1G)
Philip: 8-4 (5-4 B1G)
Rayan: 7-5 (5-4 B1G)
Zach: 8-4 (5-4 B1G)

OUR PREDICTED 2016 BIG TEN STANDINGS: 

West:
1.
2. Northwestern (Andy)
3. Minnesota (Andy)/ Northwestern (Phil, Philip, Rayan, Zach)
4. Minnesota (Dave/Philip/Rayan/Zach)
5. Minnesota (Phil)/ Northwestern (Dave)
6.
7.

East:
1.
2.
3.
4. Maryland (Dave)
5. Maryland (Phil/Rayan)
6. Maryland (Philip)
7. Maryland (Andy/Zach)

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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