Was gonna get this up earlier - decided to eat at the Chicken Shack instead. Time and $5.33 well spent.
Sadly, there are no Notorious B.I.G. quotes about Rice (a fact I confirmed by googling "rice notorious big" a google search for which I AM THE NUMBER ONE HIT MA I MADE IT), but I did just have a can of Welch's grape soda to wash down my chicken, which is Biggie's sex beverage of choice, according to the song "Big Poppa".
So anyways, let's preview this game - and leave your pick in the comments/vote if you feel so inclined.
When we got the ball: I'm not worried about Northwestern's ability to hang points on Rice, so, we need to think about two things: style points, i.e. how we hang said points, and what will be most helpful for our offense in the long run. We'll need to see if that whole run game that we randomly happened upon last week against Illinois State was a fluke or not, and we'll have another good team to ease it in against: Rice's defense has spent the past year having trouble stopping pretty much any form of attack, whether it come through the air or on the ground. It seems by this point - after two games - that Dan Persa is capable of doing all things to all people, so I won't even been focusing on him - I'm still battling him for GPA vs. completion percentage, so I'm hoping he's like 22-32 or something and I can breathe a little bit easier, but most likely, he'll continue his disturbingly high efficiency rating against a very, very weak pass defense against whom Northwestern should have no problems throwing the ball. Persa should pick them apart.
I can't stress this enough: Rice's offense seems to have the ability to come and go, but their defense is unwavering in its badness.
Semi-under the radar player to watch: Stephen Simmons. It looks like if somebody besides Arby Fields is carrying the ball - as a spell back or for whatever reason - it'll be Simmons with Jacob Schmidt's new-found case of fumbleitis. And if there's ever a time Northwestern will need a strong spell running back, it's going to be in Houston, with 80 degree heat and that gross, sticky humidity that anybody who has ever been in Houston for even a few minutes can instantly recall and start loosening their clothes in fear of the grimey sweat. (Also, remember Arby Fields hadcramping problems last time he had to play in 80 degree heat?) I think Simmons has the talent to compete for the starting gig, and with the speed he shows on kickoff returns, I can completely see him busting out a long touchdown run and making it hard to keep denying him the ball. (Not being able to pick Dan Persa for a category called "player to watch" forces me to say things that will probably look very stupid later on.)
When they got the ball: For the second time this year, NU will face an FBS team. The first time we did that, things got dicey and the Cats very much played to the level of their opposition. I don't see that happening again. The team has had two weeks to figure out the very opening week-y mistakes they made against Vanderbilt, and had a 60-minute televised scrimmage against Illinois State to iron out all them wrinkles. I expect a good, solid effort. Not perfect - I foresee one touchdown that genuinely shouldn't happen - but they should play like they should play.
Sam McGuffie does scare me a bit, but I get the sense that this is another case of "OH CRAP LOOK AT ALL OF ILLINOIS STATE'S FORMER FBS PLAYERS" where they have one really good player who doesn't belong. Same with NIck Fanuzzi, the Alabama transfer who is probably pretty bummed out that he totally could've won a national championship riding the bench there last year instead of going 2-10 in C-USA riding the bench at Rice last year - at the end of the day, these are two players who may have played at a higher level, but who their own team does not even consider worthy of starting.
Semi-under the radar player to watch: Bryce McNaul. McNaul has started one game in his career, and now will be seeing his first action of the year by taking over for Ben Johnson, who, quite frankly, looked fantastic in his two games playing. We'll see if McNaul can keep that going, because somebody's gotta stop that McGuffie close to the line of scrimmage (although that will probably be Nate Williams).
Transitive property faulty math that leads me to conclude that we'll win by a lot:
November 28, 2009: Houston, 73, Rice, 14
October 3, 2009: UTEP, 58, Rice, 41
September 12, 2009: Kansas, 34, UTEP, 7
September 4: North Dakota State, 6, Kansas, 3
October 3, 2009: Illinois State, 27, North Dakota State, 24
September 11: Northwestern, 37, Illinois State, 3
Faulty Math Estimated Win Margin: 143 points
Actual spread: Northwestern -6.5
My pick vs. the spread: Northwestern. I see us winning by more than a touchdown, so I'd even take -7, even though obviously it's always ALWAYS stupid to bet on NU considering how cardiac we are and great at playing disturbingly close games.
My pick in April and five-word-or-less jokey summary: NU. "Of Rice and Men", which I thought was pretty good considering it shows that Rice are not men and we are and also because the other two guys made jokes about the grain.
And my pick today...
Northwestern 31, Rice 14. Chances are we make this game close to screw with my head, but we really shouldn't. For the third straight week, NU will be the more talented team on the field. Yes, Rice will be more used to playing in the heat, but the bad news for them is that coach Fitz plans on repeatedly bringing fresh legs on the field, and as we saw last week, our backups, although inexperienced, look pretty good, on both defense and offense. And when all things are considered, we're playing a team that went 2-10 last year that won't be starting their preferred player at quarterback. Realize that.
So, I'm Jewish, so, I'm fasting for Yom Kippur, and that means I probably won't be online much, and it also means I'll probably miss the first part of the game tomorrow night to see the shofar blow. But I'll find a way to watch this game if it's the last thing I do, unless I have to pay money - remember the Jewish thing? - but I'll figure it out. Your game thread will be here obviously, so, be here. Or else.