It's almost time for the season, so I bet you're wondering what's going to happen. Specifically, I bet you're wondering what me and some other people think will happen, because I am your anchor and rock for all things.
Well, you're in luck! Me and the SoP staff share our predictions for the season after the jump, and we'd like to hear yours as well.
Hold it, then hit it!
It’s always tough to predict what the Cardiac ‘Cats are going to do. Since I have been following Northwestern, from 2006 when I committed to NU up until now(also known as the Pat Fitzgerald era), they always seem to give a glimmer of hope only to come crashing down at some point. In the Fitzgerald era, they have shown they can compete with and beat the elite teams in the conference at times (see: Iowa ’09, ’10 & Nebraska in ’11), but also drop their "cupcake" out of conference games (see: Duke ’07 & Army ’11). Since 2006, the ‘Cats have lost one of their non-conference games four of the six years. The two years they didn’t lose one are a bit of a tease as in 2008, NU had their best year wins wise with Fitzgerald at nine and in 2010, Dan Persa morphed into Doug Flutie 2.0.
Heading into this season everything would have to go right to exceed seven wins. Kain Colter would need play up to his potential and become a Russell Wilson lite. He has many weapons at his disposal, but none really proven. If the receivers live up to the hype, they can be a high octane offense, but they are losing their top 3 pass catchers from last year (including Colter) so it is imperative that Kyle Prater becomes what we all want him to be. The much-maligned defense should be playing with a Doritos Locos Taco-sized chip on their collective shoulders this year after all the criticism they've sustained, but personnel-wise they look weaker than last year with departures of All-Big Ten performers Brian Peters and Jordan Mabin.
Knowing the history and returning players, I am predicting NU will have one disappointing loss in the first four non-conferences games and start the year 3-1. From there, I think the Wildcats will beat Indiana and finally defeat Penn State. Then at 5-1, when we all are excited that we may have something this year, they will break our hearts with a crushing defeat at Minnesota. They will then lose at
home to Nebraska, follow that up with a W against Iowa, two Ls against Michigan and Michigan State and then finish the season with a mild upset and state championship against Illinois (We are Chicago's Big Ten Illinois State Team or something like that).
Overall - 7-5 (4-4) 4th in Legends Division - Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (L, monkey turns 65 and starts receiving senior citizen benefits)
Northwestern has the talent on hand to win a lot of games this year, especially considering the schedule; of the first seven opponents, Vanderbilt and Penn State are the only two that have a good case to be favored over NU. Penn State's case assumes that a complete coaching transition and the replacement of 15 starters (by Bill Connelly's count) goes smoothly; if anything goes wrong, they could be in a world of hurt this year. Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State all should beat NU handily, while Iowa and Illinois should be competitive games. Like Penn State, Iowa and Illinois replaced significant chunks of their coaching staffs this offseason; if those changes don't work, Northwestern could manage five conference wins with ease; a strong non-conference showing would put Northwestern at 9-3 or 8-4 on the year. More likely, the Cats pick up wins over Indiana, Minnesota, and one more conference opponent; I will go with Iowa. In the noncon,
Vanderbilt looks like the most likely loss, South Dakota should be an easy win, and Syracuse and BC are likely wins for a 3-1 record. My final prediction is 6-6 (3-5) and a trip to another lower tier bowl.
I am unconcerned about the offense; with the talent at the skill positions, it has a good chance to match or better last season's 28.9 PPG even with question marks on the right side of the line. Though the defense lacks depth (or top end talent) at defensive tackle, I expect the run defense to be moderately effective due to the strength of the defensive ends, linebackers, and Ibraheim Campbell
against the run. Even if Campbell turns into the second coming of Ed Reed, however, the secondary is likely to be vulnerable to the pass. The key to improving on last year's defensive showing, then, will be the pass rush. If one or more of the defensive ends can apply consistent pressure, the defense could claw its way to mediocrity, and the team could improve on last season's win total. Since I don't expect this to happen, I would be satisfied with stopping the downward slide in wins and setting the stage for a stronger 2013.
Ever since last season ended, I was prepared for this to be a down year for NU football. A gazillion questions in the defense, a rebuilt offensive line, a not-so-inspiring running game, unknown kicking game, and I'm still not convinced Kain Colter will be an effective full-time QB. But optimism always reigns supreme this time of year, and it's been hard not to get excited over the start of football season. As with all seasons, we'll need a few things to go our way for us to be successful, and we're always capable of falling apart. But I like where the program is headed. A month ago, my prediction would have been something like 6-6, though I wouldn't have been surprised if we went 5-7 and missed out on a bowl. But now? I'm sippin' on that purple, and I'm zooming my prediction up....to 7-5, 5-3 in conference. I think we'll look crappy early on. But like the 2009 Kafka-led team, we'll look much better by the end of the season.
I tried to write this once, but lacked anything interesting to say, so I stopped writing and then forgot do it, but then Rodger emailed me to say I was holding everything up, so now I'm writing again.
I've been looking over the depth charts and I can't find anything to be excited about besides the passing game. Last year's defense was a disaster and this year's version, coached by the same people as last year, featuring many of the same sub-Big Ten level players as last year, and replacing what few good players it had with guys who weren't good enough to start last year, and yeah, it's gonna be ugly.
I guess the only thing making me optimistic is more than half the schedule is against teams just as bad or worse than Northwestern, so we've got that going for us.
I dunno, 6 wins and another bowl loss?
(ed. note: way to be, Loretta!)
I say the same thing to everybody who asks: Northwestern's gonna score a lot of points, and give up a lot of points too. That much seems evident. With that understood, Northwestern looks like it will be a very mediocre team.
Looking at the schedule, I see four games NU really should win - Boston College, South Dakota, Indiana, Minnesota. The odds Northwestern actually goes ahead and wins all four of these, of course, is slim to none, but that should be four wins if NU does its job. I also three NU really should lose: Nebraska, Michigan State, Michigan. The odds Northwestern loses all of these is high. Notice they're somewhat backloaded on the schedule, so Northwestern could really end up looking pretty at the start of the year - heck, it's not impossible for NU to start the season 7-0.
So that leaves the Cats with a bunch of highly winnable, highly losable games. The smart money is on Northwestern to go 6-6, but it could easily be much better or much worse with a few lucky bounces or bad breaks here or there.
But for now, I'll pick NU to go 6-6 (3-5) with a trip to DETROIT, BABY. I can't wait for them to prove me wrong, starting Saturday.