Northwestern went from hosting ESPN College GameDay to one of the most cursed teams of the 2014 season in a hurry. Losing starting talent left and right didn’t help matters much. So, the hope was that 2014 would bring a fresh start…but that appears highly unlikely heading in to the season.
Just before putting together my predictions for the season the Wildcats learned that star wide receiver Christian Jones was done for the year and star running back Venric Mark was transferring out of the program. Those were huge blows in terms of talent, but this is a different Northwestern and their production may be easier to replicate with the depth on the roster.
Knowing what we know, how do I see the 2014 Wildcats season playing out? Let’s take a look at the schedule and predictions.
Aug. 30 – vs. Cal: WIN
Northwestern destroyed Cal out west last season for a rare win against the Pac-12 on the road. Playing at home versus the Pac-12 has been kind to the Big Ten, and Cal’s defense may be getting better but not good enough just yet. I don’t see Northwestern putting up 44 points and I don’t see Cal putting up 30 here in the Midwest either. Look for this one to end 35-21 or so.
Sept. 6 – vs. Northern Illinois: WIN
Put Jordan Lynch out there against the Wildcats and this game becomes a lot harder to predict. However, Lynch is off trying to stick around in the NFL and out of eligibility and that means a lot easier of a matchup. There is still a three-way battle going on in DeKalb, Ill. for Lynch’s replacement, but there are some other nice parts to the puzzle for the Huskies. It just won’t be enough to take down Trevor Siemian and Co.
Sept. 20 – vs. Western Illinois: WIN
All that’s left is for Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois to be on the schedule and the Wildcats could’ve taken care of the directional schools in the state. Western Illinois is easily the worst of the FCS bunch in Northwestern’s home state, going 4-8 last season and winning just two games in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. This should be a cakewalk, especially coming off a bye week.
Sept. 27 – at Penn State: LOSS
These two teams didn’t meet in 2013, but the last trip to Happy Valley wasn’t a fun one for Pat Fitzgerald and Co., as they lost 39-28 to a team coming off the first of four years of sanctions from the NCAA. Now there’s a coaching change at Penn State and the roster is starting to feel the weight of the sanctions, but there are still plenty of talented players doting the PSU roster. For me this game will tell a lot about where Northwestern’s season is heading. Win and it could be an interesting run, lose and the hot seat may start warming up for Fitzgerald…because what’s coming down the pipeline isn’t fun to look at.
Oct. 4 – vs. Wisconsin: LOSS
While these two teams don’t like playing at each other’s houses very much the simple truth is that Wisconsin is better on paper. A look at history also suggests that Wisconsin could be due for a loss in Evanston. To say I’m conflicted about this pick would be an understatement. The difference for me is that Wisconsin’s run game is just plain scary great. Look for Melvin Gordon to do more of what he did in the matchup last year (22 carries, 172 yards and a touchdown) and that means a Badger victory.
Oct. 11 – at Minnesota: LOSS
This is a third-straight toss up game for me, but the hardest to pick because both teams are about equal in terms of talent and potential. However, Northwestern just simply isn’t that good of a road team and Minnesota seems to play just about everyone well at home. Advantage Gophers, but only slightly.
Oct. 18 – vs. Nebraska: LOSS
Nebraska and Northwestern have had their famous tussles in the old Legends division, so expecting anything but an amazing game from this would be just wrong. That doesn’t mean I see Northwestern pulling off an upset at home either, especially with Nebraska likely coming in to this game as a ranked opponent. Until the Wildcats can prove they can win against ranked teams I’m sticking with the science of the matter.
Nov. 1 – at Iowa: LOSS
This season may get downright dreadful for Northwestern fans as their team enters November still searching for a Big Ten win, and the bad news continues with a trip to Kinnick stadium on the docket. Iowa’s defense is what scares me about this matchup and so does the lack of momentum on the positive side for the Wildcats. Look for this to be a low scoring affair, which plays right in to Iowa’s hands.
Nov. 8 – vs. Michigan: LOSS
Both these teams come in to the season with a lot to prove, but by this point in the season one team could have a lot to play for and that’s Michigan. While playing at home gives them a great chance to pull off a mild upset in Big Ten play, it just isn’t in the cards. Ultimately the matchup between Devin Funchess and the Wildcats secondary gets exploited and the Wolverines win it.
Nov. 15 – at Notre Dame: WIN
Hey, something’s got to change and considering the Wildcats are likely to have played a ton of close games already why not play another one…only win it this time? Both Notre Dame and Northwestern got major roster news late in fall camp and neither school got good news. Notre Dame’s news was potentially worse, and affected the quality of options available. Give me the Wildcats in an upset for a change.
Nov. 22 – at Purdue: WIN
Confidence grows after a potentially surprising win over Notre Dame, so a return trip to the state of Indiana means another win for the Wildcats. This could be the first time all season the Wildcats are favorites to win a gam, such has been the schedule. In an attempt to stay bowl eligible for their head coach, Northwestern pulls one game away with a relatively easy win over a Purdue team that doesn’t feature the team speed that Northwestern has.
Nov. 29 – vs. Illinois: WIN
It’ll be “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” staking claim over the team that says it is the “State of Chicago.” No way the Wildcats blow their chance of going bowling. This team is too talented not to go bowling, but the schedule is just that daunting it will take a fight to the final week of the season for it to happen. With these two teams knowing each other so well it’s all about home field advantage for me.