Prediction Caturday: Miami of Ohio

The ‘Cats have a night game this week, and it’s a home ‘blackout’ for the team and the student fans. Most fans wish they’d blacked out last week after losing to Southern Illinois. This is the first time the RedHawks have visited Evanston since most of the Warriors were still in school (longer ago than we’d like to admit). Do the WLW predict a bounce back this Saturday night at Ryan Field? Let’s get to the picks.

BAG

Welp, we did it. We lost to an FCS team. This one doesn’t feel as low as the loss to Illinois State in 2016, but it’s pretty darn close. Any time you can pay a school a half million dollars to come for a visit and then promptly get your ass kicked, you’ve got to do it.

This really wasn’t a fluky loss. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. SIU was the better team and led for much of the game.

The high we had from beating Nebraska in Ireland has evaporated after back-to-back losses. We’re questioning our humanity, our sanity and our coaching staff.

Where do we go from here? How about a night game against a frisky MAC team at Ryan Field on Saturday. Fun fact – Northwestern is 3-6 against Miami of Ohio all time.

Miami (OH) has had a decent start to the year, staying competitive for a half against both Kentucky and Cincinnati. We are 6.5 point favorites at home against the RedHawks, and it seems like a natural spot to take the visitors and the points.

The ‘Cats aren’t going to have many more chances for wins this year, but this is one of them. I can 100% see Fitz going crazy on the sidelines and celebrating with the team after beating a 1-2 MAC team. When you lose to an FCS opponent, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.

Game Score: NU 24 – Miami (OH) 17

Play of the Game: The ‘Cats actually get a stop on third down.

Player to Watch: Hilinski. After looking great against Nebraska, he’s come back to earth. Is he closer to the below-average QB he showed us last year, or what we saw in Ireland?

Warrior to Watch: Me. After attending three consecutive weddings in a row, I’m excited to have a weekend off. I’ll only be getting off the couch for Cheez-Its and pee breaks this weekend.

Other Game to Watch: If you’re an absolute lunatic like most of us Warriors are, you’ve looked at the B1G West standings and realized the ‘Cats are sitting in first place. It’s absurd to think about after losing to an FCS team, but technically we are still alive for the B1G title. If you subscribe to this sicko line of thinking, you’ll be watching the Minnesota – Michigan State game this weekend. Minnesota has separated itself as the clear favorite to win the B1G West, absolutely destroying teams so far and ranking in the top 5 in the nation in both offense and defense. They’ve also played no one, and have a big test this weekend at MSU. We root for B1G East teams anytime they play the West, and it’s no different on Saturday. Let’s hope they row the boat straight into the bottom of Lake Michigan. This is sick shit.

DOC ROCHE

Game Summary: lolcats

Game Score: NU 14 – Miami (OH) 17

Play of the Game: The ‘Cats actually get a stop on third down.

Player to Watch: Hilinski til proven otherwise 

Warrior to Watch: Rusty. I hear Tailgreeter and Shake Shack are doing B1G things

Other Game to Watch: The Yankees or The Cardinals. Aaron Judge is looking for HR 61 this season. Albert Pujols is chasing 700 career dongs. Will either make history this weekend?

editor’s note: yes.

RUSTY

‘Cats 24 – Miami 17

ROGER

Cats win 27 – 21 because it just seems like they shouldn’t win another game after last weekend, but they will.

For the record, this isn’t about to be a 2018 repeat where we beat a conference opponent in week 1 and proceed to lose all of our non con games on the way to winning the B1G West.

This team has so little margin for error when it comes to beating bad teams. The O/U on wins for the season should be at 3/3.5. 

I think the ‘Cats win today and probably pick up one more along the way. I doubt they get to 4.

What does that mean this off-season? More of the same? Or is Fitz finally getting pressured for driving the program into the ground?

PAUL

Cats 22 – Redbirds – 21

Prediction Friday: Duke

The ‘Cats are home from a successful trip to Ireland and back at familiar Ryan Field to take on a very familiar opponent in Duke. In a surprising turn, Northwestern is a 10 point favorite against the Blue Devils. Let’s see how the predictions stack up for week two.

TRENT

It feels like the ‘Cats have played Duke every year since the beginning of the Obama presidency. Maybe even Bush. Senior.

Seriously, can we find a more interesting non-conference opponent? It’s getting a little tedious matching up against the Blue Devils every year – there are 150 other programs out there, for Cutcliffe’s sake.

The first ‘Cats game I went to was against Duke, at home in 2007. That fateful day at Ryan Field we snapped an absurdly long Duke losing streak, by blowing a lead in the fourth quarter.

The Blue Devils have had the better of the ‘Cats in recent years – winning the last three matchups, and some of them in blowout fashion.

Duke shut out a suspect Temple team in week 1, while the ‘Cats were obviously resting on their Irish laurels last week. For some reason, the Vegas gods came together and made Northwestern a 10 point home favorite this week. What evidence is there that the ‘Cats are better than Duke? 

We all know by now that the ‘Cats are great as underdogs, and terrible as home favorites. Being a double digit favorite against a team that beat us last year has me a little freaked out, ngl.

Game Summary: 

Duke has a solid dual threat QB, which always gives us trouble. I think they’ll put up some points in this game and turn it into a rare shootout for the ‘Cats. It’ll be on Northwestern’s offense to keep pace behind a running back duo that may be the best unit on our team. Fitz is smart enough to know Duke’s run defense is lacking, and pound it again and again on the ground to grind out drives and chew up time. We’ll also need another solid game out of Hilinski in order to keep the defense on the heels with some play action. This game scares the heck out of me, and I could easily see us losing (that would be a typical ‘Cats move). But, if we can control the line of scrimmage as we did against Nebraska, I like the ‘Cats in a squeaker.

Game Score: NU 33 – Duke 30

Play of the Game: Evan Hull takes a screen pass to the barn.

Player(s) to Watch: The offensive line. They played a fantastic game in week zero. If they control the line of scrimmage this Saturday, we can and should win the game. It’s amazing how a solid line helps solve a lot of other problems.

Warrior to Watch: Paul. First game as a newlywed. Will the ‘Cats give him a win as a wedding present?

Other Game to Watch: Alabama – Texas. Not because this game will be close, but because it won’t be close. I find it hilarious that Texas is switching conferences and is bound for life as a middle-low tier SEC team. They couldn’t even beat Kansas last year. Expect Bama to show the Horns a preview of what they’re in for on Saturday.

DOC ROCHE

Game Summary:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Game Score: Duke 28 – ‘Cats 21

Play of the Game: Cam Porter breaks a long run for a TD to tie the game in the 4th

Player(s) to Watch: Hillinski. Same as it ever was 

Warrior to Watch: Roger. I eat his Blood Pressure’s finally under control. 

Other Game to Watch: White Sox – Athletics. The AL central is butt this year. So the barely-.500 white sox are within striking distance of the Guardians. They need to clean up when they play sun .500 squads.

HACK

God save Ireland, said the heros God save Ireland, said they all.
Whether on the scaffold high or the battlefield we die, oh what matter when for Éirinn we fall.

Ireand’s College Football team remembers last year and crushes the Blue Devils.

Cats 45 – Duke 6

Play of the Game: Hilinski to Navarro for a 68 yard touchdown on the first play of the game.

Cat to Watch – O Line – Only puked 4 times in camp, so do they have stamina?

Warrior to Watch: Paul – He’s married and the Cats don’t lose when Warriors are in Europe

Game to watch: Bama @ Texas – Is Quinn Evers good? Is Texas back? Will Bama win by 50? All three could happen

A DAY

I hate this matchup. The ‘Cats have lost 3 in a row to the Dukies, and they always seem to give us trouble (even when they shouldn’t). On the bright side, with a win the ‘Cats would tie the all-time series against Duke at 11-11. Both teams are riding high off of their first games of the season. Duke looked strong, shellacking a bad Temple team. The ‘Cats offense showed promise… but after a lackluster (at best) from the Huskers in Week 1, it is hard to judge just how improved that unit is. I guess that’s why you play the games.

Game Summary: Honestly I have no clue. I think Duke is going to score some points, and I think the ‘Cats will score a few as well. I think this one is close, and the ‘Cats are able to eek out another close win by running out the clock in the final minutes.

Game Score: ‘Cats 24 – Duke 21

Play of the Game: Cam Porter TD run from ‘Cats territory.

Player to Watch: It’s Hilinski again, but this time with a little more optimism (lol)

Warrior to Watch: ZVon – Is he even a Warrior anymore? I texted him an ad for Bud Light Pro V1s and he seemed to like them.

Game to Watch: Iowa vs Iowa State – After many years of watching an inept ‘Cats offense, the cringe factor of the Hawkeye offense brings me pure joy. Inject it straight into my veins (and take Iowa St. +3.5).

ROGER

I agree with Trent here. Playing Duke annually is getting really boring. I remember going to see Northwestern play at Wallace Wade Stadium back in 1996. I was 9 years old. We’ve been doing this nearly every year since.

It’s also worth pointing out that this game has meant absolutely nothing more often than not. Sure, it counts as a win or a loss which is relevant if you’re trying to achieve bowl eligibility, but the game itself has not been a good measuring stick for either team in recent years. Look back to 2018 when the ‘Cats lost to Duke at home and then subsequently won the B1G West going away. Duke was terrible that season. The ‘Cats were quite good.

Anyways, the game will still be played in front of 17,000 screaming fans on Saturday at 11am.

Shockingly, the ‘Cats looked half decent in Week 0 over in Dublin. Are they actually half decent or is Nebraska really that bad? Or was it the Dublin element? Or was it Andy Day’s attendance? Who knows. But, they showed signs of being a reasonable football team. The offensive line was brilliant. The defensive line was half decent – particularly inside against the run – and the QB play was the best we’ve seen in several years. 

Meanwhile, Duke beat Temple 30 – 0 in Week 1 and had a fairly balanced offensive attack. The offensive part is not surprising given that former NU receivers coach Kevin Johns is now coordinating at Duke. He was always destined for greener pastures. That said, he and Fitz never got along particularly well and had quite the fallout when he left in 2011 to go to Indiana. The defensive part of Duke’s performance was a little more surprising. But, my sources say Temple is absolutely putrid once again so I’m not sure what to make of that score.

Game Summary: I really don’t expect Hilinski to play as well as he did against Nebraska. But, I don’t think he necessarily needs to. If the offensive line picks up where they left off and the stable of running backs does their thing, then the ‘Cats will be able to move the ball.

Defensively, the edge needs to be a bit more sound containing Duke’s QB on broken plays. Thompson didn’t run nearly as often as I expected in Week 0, but Leonard (Duke’s QB) is surely going to try.

Duke will move the ball… particularly early.. as the ‘Cats D settles in for a different look. I actually think Duke will jump out with 2 scores early, but the ‘Cats will be able to move the ball well themselves. Look for a close one at half… 17 – 14 Duke.

I’m cautiously optimistic that NU is better in the trenches and will show that in the 2nd half. Some ground and pound will net a 28 – 17 Cats lead heading into the 4th where they’ll hold on for a 35 – 24 win.

Game Score: NU 35 – Duke 24

Player to Watch: Hilinski. He was quite good against Nebraska. Can he back that up with another solid performance?

Warrior to Watch: How about Doc Roche. Is he on call during the game?

Other Game(s) to Watch: The Premier League. Will they play this weekend? God save the queen!

PAUL

Cats – 28

Devils – 17

Fun with Divisions

One of the funniest things about the B1G is the power imbalance between the two divisions. When the B1G first split up its teams in 2010, it was the Leaders & Legends division. Hilarity ensued.

After adding Rutgers and Maryland, the conference realigned, now with geographic divisions for east and west. That realignment, while geographically accurate, just so happened to place 4 of the 5 national brand powerhouses on one side of the Big Ten – the East. Some people may try and argue that Nebraska is still a national blue chip brand, and to those people I say lol.

This realignment was hugely beneficial to Northwestern, and all the other teams in the West. It’s no coincidence that after the realignment, the Big Ten East has won every single conference championship game. The Big Ten has had three teams represent the conference in the College Football Playoff – each of them hailed from the East.

While the teams in the East are competing for national prominence in the playoff, the West has been a dogfight of underrated teams trying to make up for a talent gap. This is where Northwestern thrives, down in the mud. It gives us motivation that we have something to play for each year…we have a realistic shot to win the West and make it to Indy for the Big Ten championship. The ‘Cats have done this two out of the last four years. Only three teams have ever won the West and made it to Indy – Wisconsin and Iowa being the other two. Nebraska made it in its first year in the Big Ten…but as the winner of the Leaders division.

We want to maintain this division advantage as long as we possibly can. Once USC and UCLA join the conference, there will inevitably put the ‘Cats in a tougher spot to make it to Indy, assuming they would both be in the West (seems like a fair assumption).

The power imbalance has led us to look at the crossover games each year between the West and the East. Each team in the West plays each other team once, and then has three crossover games against teams in the East. The division championship can be won or lost can be simply based on how lucky each team is with their crossover schedule. Playing Rutgers in a crossover game is much better than playing Ohio State.

Just for kicks, I’ve looked at each West school’s crossover games for this year, to try and determine who got the easiest draw in 2022. Who has an advantage based on their schedule. Using an aggregate of CBS Sports analysts’ predictions for Big Ten standings, I’ve given each school a rating – the higher the number, the easier their schedule. Here are the results for 2022.

Nebraska – crossover: IU, @Rutgers, @Michigan. 15

Minnesota – crossover: @MSU, @PSU, Rutgers. 14

Purdue – crossover: PSU, @MD, @IU. 14

Illinois – crossover: @IU, MSU, @Michigan. 12

Wisconsin – crossover: @OSU, @MSU, MD. 10

Iowa – crossover: @Rutgers, Michigan, OSU. 10

Northwestern – crossover: @MD, @PSU, OSU. 9

As you can see, the ‘Cats have the toughest schedule. This isn’t the only measure, and certainly isn’t 100% objective, but gives us one more piece of intel about where the Big Ten West could shake out this year. It’s also important to note that in the same CBS Sports poll, every single analyst picked Northwestern to finish last in the West. We’re off to an ideal start taking down Nebraska in game 1. Is that a harbinger of good things to come? One can dream!

*Note – if interested, below were the aggregate CBS rankings for the East.

  1. OSU
  2. Michigan
  3. PSU
  4. MSU
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Rutgers

Prediction Friday: Ireland Edition

The ‘Cats are kicking off the college football season…in Ireland! West coast warrior Andy Day has made the trip to Dublin to watch the ‘Cats take on the Huskers. After a down season last year, what are the Warriors expecting in 2022? Let’s get to the picks…

ANDY O’DAY

Oh boy. College Football is upon us. By the time you’re reading this I’ll have already had a pint of Guinness in Dublin (or maybe more than one – I’m on vacation!). It’s hard to be optimistic after last season, but I somehow find myself holding out hope that this team is going to surprise everyone (myself included). Will we? Probably not. But, everything about this game is strange – it’s occurring in Week 0… it’s occurring in Dublin, Ireland… it’s occurring against a team that demolished us last season and yet had the same record as us… to name a few. If the ‘Cats are going to surprise us this season, this sure feels like an opportune game to start.

Game Summary: I think the game starts slowly – Nebraska is adjusting to a lot of new players and coordinators and will struggle offensively out of the gate. The ‘Cats offense will feature a handful of 3 and outs (I will likely be chanting “RUN, RUN, PASS, PUNT” from the stands). I think the score is something like 7-3 at half (I don’t really care to venture a guess at who is winning). I think the ‘Cats defense (hopefully) finds its groove in the second half with a crucial takeaway or two, and the offense breaks off a few long runs for a scoring drive of some kind. It’s close the whole way and Nebraska has the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win but falls short (yet again).

Game Score: ‘Cats 13 – Nebraska 10 (Grab your ‘Cats +400 ticket now!)

Play of the Game: A monster punt from Luke Akers to flip the field.

Player to Watch: Our Starting QB (whomever that may be). Feels like this will be the position to watch until further notice.

Warrior to Watch: I’m afraid I have to call my own number here. I’ll be in attendance. I’ll be posting updates on the Warriors social accounts so make sure and follow along in the fun!

Other Game to Watch: Chicago Sky vs Connecticut Sun in Game 1 of the WNBA Semifinals on Sunday.

TRENT

Week zero is upon us, and what a perfect moniker for a Northwestern – Nebraska game. I don’t understand why week zero exists – it seems to never have any games worth watching with any sort of marquee teams – but it does give the ‘Cats to get top billing in a nationally televised game right off the bat. Whether impartial viewers turning in will subsequently turned off to watching any more college football because of the B1G West slog fest is to be determined on Saturday.

You can’t mention this game without talking about the fact that it is set in Ireland. Why? No idea. Pat Fitzgerald has some Irish heritage, but other than that I can think of no rational explanation as to why these teams are playing across the pond. It makes no sense…but that’s college football.

The ‘Cats got absolutely drubbed by the Huskers last year, an atypical blowout in this matchup. Northwestern has given Nebraska problems ever since our friends in red entered the Big Ten, expecting to be among the top dogs but instead simply serving as another piece of the (for now-ish) Midwest trash heap looking up at The Ohio State University.

Nebraska went 3-9 last year, and was for some reason lauded by sports pundits as one of the best 3 win teams of all time. Blasphemy. This is a team that found ways to lose games time and time again, except for when they were boat-racing the ‘Cats by 49. Longtime Husker QB Adrian Martinez transferred out of the program, and is replaced by a transfer QB from Texas. Scott Frost is on the hottest of hot seats, and needs a big season in order to retain his job.

I expect this game to be close, and low scoring. Both teams are going to be rusty coming in with new pieces on offense, not to mention a seven hour flight across the pond and a drastic time difference (though both these teams are very familiar with playing around 11am CT). The ‘Cats have had a tendency to surprise teams in the first game, and Fitz has no doubt been showing plenty of tape from last year’s drubbing to fire up the troops. Say what you want about Fitz as an X’s and O’s coach, but he is a great motivator. Sitting as a 13 point underdog, with no one expecting Northwestern to have a chance…these are the moments we shine. And I use shine in a very relative way, because Nebraska is not a good team, and we won’t need some perfect effort to beat them.

We will need a better effort than we put up in pretty much every game last year – where we struggled to move the ball whatsoever and gave up massive chunks of yardage on defense. Our defense has to be better than it was last year…otherwise our new D coordinator will be short-lived. Ryan Hilinski appears to have been named the starter at QB, and my excitement level has since dropped from a 6 to a 2.5. Hilinski looked atrocious last year, not helped by the fact we had essentially no playmakers at WR. With Stephon Robinson now gone, we’ll have even less talent in 2022. I expect a lot of check downs to our RBs, who are going to have to carry the offense both on the ground and through the air.

Game Summary: I think the ‘Cats come out with a nice scripted drive and put points on the board early, shocking everyone wearing purple. Nebraska then rebounds and takes a lead at halftime, as Northwestern’s offense struggles mightily. I see the D coming up big in the fourth quarter, getting a late turnover and putting the ‘Cats in great field position. The ‘Cats ground game wears down Nebraska late, and Evan Hull punches in a TD to give the ‘Cats an unexpected victory. Yes, I like the ‘Cats to cover easily, and win the game outright (+400 on the moneyline is too high). 

Game Score: Northwestern 23 – Nebraska 21

Play of the Game: Cam Mitchell picks off a pass from Casey Thompson in the fourth quarter, setting up the ‘Cats for a late score.

Player to Watch: Cam Porter. Is he healthy??

Warrior to Watch: No question here. Andy Day is making the trip over to Ireland and will be there in-person. Will the ‘Cats make his trip worth it? Will he get a roof over his head, and a Guinness in his belly?

Other Game to Watch: Week zero means a bunch of crap. It’s saying something when the ‘Cats are top billing on a college football Saturday. I’m going to go with Vanderbilt @ Hawaii in the late game. Hawaii seems to always play in this spot, and I’ve watched more of their games than I care to admit. They always seem to cover as well. The Rainbow Warriors are a 7 point dog against a truly terrible Vanderbilt team, and I like Hawaii to pull it out after midnight on the east coast.

ROGER

‘ve been following the ‘Cats fairly religiously since I was 8 years old. September 2, 1995 to be exact. But, I have to admit that I have never been more apathetic heading into a season. I suppose that could change if the ‘Cats storm out of the gates and start 5-0, but I’m really not sure at this point that it will. 

This has little to nothing to do with the ‘Cats and damn near everything to do with the game of college football. It’s just not particularly appealing to me anymore. Some of that could be the narrowing of relevant games thanks to the College Football Playoff. It could be the complete lack of authenticity that has enveloped the sport the past decade. It could be the NIL implications. I don’t really know the exact cause. But, for the first time ever I’m more excited about the upcoming NFL season than I am the impending college football season. 

So, with that, here’s my prediction for a game that is both irrelevant and the definition of the lack of authenticity (there are probably some NIL implications too… see Decoldest Crawford).

Game Summary: It’s the first game of the season in a foreign country. This has all the makings of ugly football… particularly in the first half. I think the ‘Cats will keep it respectable for the majority of the first half. Nebraska will get up 14-0 thanks to some terrible front 7 play from the ‘Cats, but we’ll manage to get a touchdown back late in the first quarter to feign competitiveness. Nebraska will punch one in right at the end of the half to make it 21 – 7.

The second half will be a glorified practice with Nebraska getting up 35 – 10 before the end of the 3rd quarter and then the 4th quarter will be irrelevant.

Game Score: Nebraska 38 – ‘Cats 17

Play of the Game: Evan Hull busts a long TD run late in the 1st to get the ‘Cats back in the game… temporarily.

Player(s) to Watch: The front 7 on defense. I fully expect the QBs to be terrible again, but if we are to avoid getting boat raced in most of our games this year then we need to see serious improvement from the defense… particularly the line and LBs.

Warrior to Watch: It’s gotta be Andy Day. He’s there in person and he was forced to sit with all of the free loaders in coach who had their student loans wiped away this week.

Other Game to Watch: Man City vs. Crystal Palace. The Palace boys are no pushover. This could be a fun match leading into the ‘Cats game.

DOC ROCHE:

Game Summary: meh

Game Score: Nebraska 31– ‘Cats 10

Play of the Game: Andy O’Day slams several Guinness before kickoff

Player(s) to Watch: whoever the QB is, in perpetuity

Warrior to Watch: Andy O’Day celebrating on our behalf on the Emerald Isle

Other Game to Watch: F1 is back after their summer break with the Belgian GP. Max seems like he’s got the title wrapped up, but Mercedes has been figuring their shit out recently. Is Lewis gonna capture a race this year?

PAUL

I’m not getting my hopes up this season. Our talent is lacking thanks to guys going to transfer portal or heading to NFL early and we still can’t recruit like the big boys on the B1G. Our QB situation is horrendous and our schedule this year is set to be one of the toughest in the conference.

I have no idea why this week 0 game is being played in Ireland and no clue why our opponent is Nebraska. As some of you know I was raised a Cornhusker fan as my dad went to school there and I’m always one to be the contrarian so rooting for Ohio State growing up in Ohio was not an option. I hope Nebraska has a good season this year as Frost is on the hot seat and Nebraska is desperately trying to become relevant again after leaving the Big 12. I fear their season will start off slow but hopefully will be able to flip last year’s script and win some close games after losing so many last year in dumpster fire fashion. This first game will likely follow that playbook.


Game Summary: Cats are going to get waxed on offense as Nebraska will prepare for our run heavy and short passing offense. Unlikely we get anything more than a few lucky long passes in with our lackluster talent at QB. I don’t see us scoring more than a touchdown here and we’ll go down 24-10 at half. Fitz won’t switch up the gameplan and the 2nd half will be much like the first with more turnover on downs as we go for every one on Nebraska’s side of the field. Backups come in in the 4th Quarter.

Game Score: Nebraska 34 – ‘Cats 10

Play of the Game: Recover a muffed punt. But then turn the ball over on a QB sack fumble the very next play.

Player(s) to Watch: Agree with Roger here. The front 7 are going to make or break our year.

Warrior to Watch: ADay for sure. Let’s hope he can celebrate a victory in Polaris class on his return. 

Other Game to Watch: Browns Bears preseason. It might be a more interesting game than the Cats. 

HACK:

Let’s get down to business, in the year of our lord 2022, the Cats are going undefeated. 

Cats 45 – corn people 4

Believe people!

Season Outlook – 4 Things

College football kind of snuck up on us. It feels like the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest was just last week, and now I’m already seeing pumpkin spice latte (PSL) ads on Twitter.com. A true sign that fall is here.

Northwestern had, by all accounts, a shit year in 2021. Coming off a Big Ten title berth in a COVID shortened 2020, people were unreasonably high on the ‘Cats last year. True fans saw the truth…we had QB uncertainty entering the fall, injuries, a new D coordinator and a serious lack of Talent. Hunter Johnson started our first game. It showed.

The ‘Cats weren’t competitive for most of the year, with two wins against D1 teams. The losses, of which there were many, weren’t particularly close.

In the course of my Northwestern fandom, the ‘Cats have been a zig-zag team. They tend to overperform against low expectations, and underperform against high expectations. So we should be in a perfect spot this year, with no one expecting the ‘Cats to do anything…right?

It’s hard to find reasons for optimism as we creep towards the last week of August. We lost Brandon Joseph, star safety, to the enemy. Ryan Hilinski is back – we saw what he can (and can’t) do last year. There was no coaching turnover (shocker). The 2022 schedule is much tougher than 2021.

Here are four things I think I know heading into the 2022 season:

1. We’ll have a run-first offense. Cam Porter is supposedly healthy, and Evan Hull was a surprise bright spot last year. Peter Skoronski is a star on the O line. The pieces are there to have a solid rushing attack. But if we can’t throw the ball whatsoever (we averaged a pitiful 177 yards / game through the air last year), the opposing defense can simply stack the box and shut down the ground game.

2. At least three QBs will start a game in 2022. Ryan Hilinski will be better than he was last year, but it’s a very low bar. My hope is that the coaching staff won’t hesitate to rotate QBs if we can’t get anything going through the air – we all know the definition of insanity. Each of the QBs on the roster is relatively new to the team, and there shouldn’t be any sort of loyalty to anyone based on longevity. My gut is we’ll see both Hilinski and Sullivan start at some point this year, and then I’d bet that Carl Richardson or Jack Lausch gets at least one start as well…assuming our passing offense is totally inept. Hilinski is as immobile as Sister Jean, and at least the other options on the roster give us another dimension with some speed. I’d expect some QB rotation within games as well. 

3. Our defense will improve. Again, a low bar. We regressed on defense in 2021, but that’s not too surprising based on how good the D was in 2020 and following the loss of longtime beloved D coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Tackling was an issue. For the first half of the season, we seemed to give up a 50+ yards on every first play from scrimmage. Our linebackers were poor. This had to be a huge focus for Fitz during the offseason – it’s a stain on his reputation as a stellar linebacker during his playing days. He’s got too much pride to let the D slip again in 2022. We should still have a decent d line and secondary – our linebackers are the big question mark, and the hope is that we’ll see some improvement coming into this year. 

4. We’ll win more games in 2022 than in 2021. With only three wins under our belt in 2021, this feels achievable. Looking at the schedule, I’ll be honest it is hard to find four wins. Games against the D3 Salukis, and Miami (OH) are certainly winnable…and then we’ll have to beat two of Duke, Illinois, Minnesota or Maryland. I think we get it done, but barely. Season prediction: 4-8. 

Conference Championship Picks Against the Spread

The ‘Cats season has officially ended, thankfully. What a downer, hopefully we’ll make some changes going into next year (doubtful).

Now that NU football is behind us, my excitement has turned towards what could be a fun end to the CFB season. This is the first time there is at least some (potential) variety in our playoff final four.

Would be really chill to not see Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State…but instead some new blood like Cincinnati and Oklahoma State.

It all goes down this weekend, with a slate of conference championship games. The Warriors have been pretty sparse on blog posts this year, so I’ll now attempt to pick every single game this weekend against the spread. Here goes nothing.

Western Kentucky (-2.5) – UTSA

I have no analysis for this game, other than UTSA has had a very good season and beat Illinois. Why would they be an underdog in the title game? Not sure but give me the Road Runners plus the points.

Oregon – Utah (-2.5)

I’ve had very little confidence over Oregon all year, even after they beat Ohio State. They got shellacked at Utah in the first meeting between these two. Technically the Ducks still have an outside shot at the playoff, should chaos reign supreme on Saturday. Sometimes in these rematch games it goes the other way, but I think the Utes may just be a bad matchup for the Ducks. Give me Utah.

Baylor – OK State (-4.5)

Oklahoma State wins this game and they’ve got a damn good shot at making the Playoff. But here’s the thing about college football. Somehow the system always seems to benefit the blue blood, tried and true teams. It’s almost like there’s this universal conspiracy to keep new teams from breaking into the top echelon of the sport. Baylor is good and can certainly beat OK State in this spot. I see this as a tight, low scoring game and Baylor either pulls it out or loses by a FG.

Kent State (-3.5) – Northern Illinois

I’m picking Kent State because Julian Edelman went there. Did you know he played QB in college? My guard also goes up when I see a team favored by a 3.5 or 7.5 point margin. That always makes it feel like a rat line – the bookmakers are adding that extra hook to make the public lean towards the dog, when they think the favorite could win big.

Utah State – SDSU (-6.5)

Give me the Aztecs and their great punter.

Houston – Cincinnati (-10.5)

Cincy wins this and they should be in the playoff. They would be undefeated conference champions, the only team that can say that other than Georgia (if the Bulldogs also win). But, I’m a believer in this chaos conspiracy to keep the G5 teams out of the playoff. It’s bad for business.

Houston is 11-1, but it’s a fraudulent record. They have beaten absolutely no one. You could say the same for Cincy, but you would be wrong – they beat ND. Could Luke Fickell be distracted by all the rumors flying around about him joining XYZ blue blood program? I don’t think so. I see the Bearcats big in this one.

Georgia (-5.5) – Alabama

Alabama has not had a great years, by their insanely lofty standards. They needed a miracle to come back against Auburn last week. Their last four games have been decided by one score. Georgia has looked dominant all year.

So you gotta pick Georgia, right? Absolutely not. I’m never betting against Saban as a near touchdown underdog. This line was 6.5 yesterday and dropped a point already. Bama has the better QB – Bryce Young is really impressive.

Maybe I’ll be wrong and the Bulldogs will roll the Tide…but I don’t see it. I do see a close game that UGA pulls out with a late FG.

Michigan (-10.5) – Iowa

Harbaugh finally got the monkey off his back last week, beating the Buckeyes. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, it almost seemed like an impossibility that the Wolverines would ever overcome that hump after recent history.

So now Michigan will roll in the B1G Championship game, right? Wrong. Everyone is fawning over Harbaugh this week and absolutely no one is talking about the Hawkeyes. We all talked about Harbaugh couldn’t win the big game – now that he’s won one, why do we think it’s a shoo-in he’ll win two in a row?

This is not a terrible matchup for Iowa – this is a much better scenario than playing a high scoring OSU team. The line is way too high here – this is a TD game or closer.

I see this turning this into an ugly-ass rock fight, as the Hawkeyes keep it close and turn over Michigan twice. The Wolverines ultimately pull it out, but it’s way too close for comfort and Iowa covers.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) – Wake Forest

Both teams have solid QBs – this is a pretty even matchup. I like Wake Forest plus the points in what should be a close but very high scoring game.

Prediction Caturday: Minnesota

Fall is in full swing and it’s perfect weather for a B1G West matchup. The ‘Cats dropped another one last week to Michigan, but can they bounce back this week against Minnesota? The B1G West is a bit of a mess, and you could make a case for any West team beating another on any given day. Let’s take a look at the Warriors’ picks this week.

TRENT

The ‘Cats kept it close against Michigan for a half, but alas the damn did not hold and the wolverines erupted in the second half and covered the spread. The special teams set NU back in a big way as Kuhbander missed badly and we had a punt blocked.  


We’ve got Minnesota this week, and this feels like a rough matchup to me. I’m not sure how the Gophers lost to a bad Bowling Green team earlier this year. After three straight wins, they seem to be getting back to their form from 2019 when they nearly won the West. 


Game summary: The ‘Cats seem to struggle against the run. Every time I watch the secondary seems to be flying around the field, yet our linebackers are slow and plodding. The Gophers like to run, and I see them running all over us. This could get ugly.


The bigger question is, can the ‘Cats score points? Our offense looked totally lost last week aside from a huge Evan Hull run. While Hilinski has a good arm, he struggles with accuracy in a big way. Marty was warming up last week in a uniform…could we see him back on Saturday? Without him, count this as a loss.


Score: NU 15 – Minny 33


Play of the game: Big sack by Brandon Joseph. He had a great safety blitz for a sack against Michigan.


Player to watch: Marty/Carl. I would bet one of these two QBs will see playing time on Saturday.


Warrior to watch: Me. I’ve got to move across the country next week. Wish me luck.


Other game to watch: Michigan-MSU. Michigan didn’t impress me last week (even in beating the Cats by 26. This game is in East Lansing, so not sure why everyone seems to be chalking this up as a Wolverines win. 

ROGER

Bag has a fairly good summary/prediction here.


I tend to agree with pretty much all of what he said. I would also add that our offensive line is still way below average… which is thoroughly disappointing given the uptick in recruiting at that position in recent years.


We’ll lose this. Minny is average, but could win the division. That’s a result of the division being truly terrible.


Score: NU 12 – Minnesota 27

Play of the game: We don’t give up a 50+ yard play on Minnesota’s first offensive play from scrimmage

Player to watch: The right side of our offensive line

Warrior to watch: Gotta be Bag… party in the city where the heat is on.

Other game to watch: Michigan – Michigan State. Both teams are modestly above average, but have zero chance against Ohio State. Curious to see how this plays out.

PAUL

NU 17 – Minny 20

HACK

Cats 45 – Boat Rowers 6

ANDY DAY

Cats 14 – Minnesota 21.5 (first half point in football history)

DOC ROCHE

Cats 14 – Minny 21

Prediction Caturday: Duke

The ‘Cats take on a terrible Duke team down in Durham. With a broadcast on the ACC Network, this isn’t quite what you would call appointment viewing for many Americans. But you can bet your ass the Warriors will be watching. At least those who have access to the ACC Network.

Let’s get to the picks…our Warriors are a bit torn this week.

DOC ROCHE

Game Summary: It’s pretty freeing knowing the cats are gonna be meh this year. Really frees up the weekends.

Game Score: Cats 19 – Duke 16

Play of the Game: Majestic opening kick

Player to Watch: It’s always hunter?

Warrior to Watch: GUYS ROGER’S A DAD

Other game to watch: Purdue – ND. How will Purdue do without the drum?

TRENT

Kind of a rough start to the season for the Cats. Our offense and Hunter Johnson looked stagnant last game against an FCS team. This week we go to Duke. I feel like we play the Blue Devils every single year. Can we switch it up in the nonconference please?I’m tired of playing Duke.

Game Summary: I think this will be a low scoring game. A lot of running. Expect Hunter to use his legs quite a bit. We aren’t a very good team, but neither is Duke. I see us reverting to our usual ways with a boring offense and a solid D. This may be one of our last wins this year.

Game Score: 21 – 19 Cats

Play of the Game: Brandon Joseph house call on a punt return.

Player to Watch: Brandon Joseph

Warrior to Watch: Hack- is he heading down to Durham to tailgate?

Other game to watch: Michigan State @ Miami. Curious how Sparty looks in their third game, down in my future city.

A DAY

Should be a fun one (i.e. a bad college football game that is close). Winner takes the all time lead in the series. Will really come down to can we stop the run and does Hunter look like Week 1 Hunter or Week 2 Hunter. I’m an still an optimist after listening to the most recent West Lot Pirates podcast, so I guess I gotta go ‘Cats.
Game Score: NU 24 – Duke 21

Play of the Game: Hunter TD pass over 40 yards

Player to Watch: Hunter “not the Punter” Johnson

Warrior to Watch: Trent – he seemed concerned he wouldn’t be able to find the game on TV.

Other game to watch: Cincy @ Indiana – LET’S GO BEARCATS!

PAUL

Game Score: NU 18 – Duke 25

Play of the Game: Closing whistle

Player to Watch: Linebackers

Warrior to Watch: Roche the Fisherman

Other game to watch: Purdue to pull out a win against Notre Dame

HACK

54 – 0 Gatos

ROGER

Duke 45 – NU 24

Duke is terrible but they have a solid running back. I think this is probably going to be NU’s worst defense in 30 years, so any opponent with some semblance of a competent running game or passing game will torch us.

Prediction Friday: Michigan State

Football season is here! And so too is a new beautiful, healthy baby, born into the world this morning. That’s right, one of the beloved founding fathers of the West Lot Warriors, Roger, is now an actual dad. Given father and mother have somewhat split allegiances between two B1G teams taking the field this evening…will the winner determine the fandom of said child? Let’s hope her birthday will also be marked by a Northwestern win.

The Warriors certainly believe it will…let’s see the picks for our opening game.

TRENT:

Wildcat football is back at Ryan Field on Friday night. The ‘Cats only regular season loss last year came to MSU, and it seems like the NU players are holding a grudge and out for revenge against Sparty in 2021. For some reason this betting line opened up at NU -7 but quickly was bet down to -3, which seems much more like it. 


Hunter Johnson will start at QB, and no one knows what to expect. The last glimpse we had of HJ he frankly looked scared out on the field, and while he showed great arm strength he did not demonstrate any kind of accuracy or pocket presence. Reports out of camp are that he’s looked much more confident, and Fitz surprisingly named him both a starter and captain far in advance of our first game. 


Our defense should be quite good again this year, but I have serious doubts about our offense. It’s on HJ to assuage those concerns. We have very little returning production at WR and RB – instead relying on transfers to help carry the day. 


I have no idea if MSU is good or not. The extent of my analysis is that they have two good returning WRs who killed us last year, one of whom has a great name – Jalen Nailor. They also have enough of a Chicago fanbase whereby Ryan Field will probably be more green than purple. Let’s see how it goes.


Game Summary: This should be a very low scoring game. Take the under. Our offense features wide receivers who likely won’t be able to get any separation, along with RBs who are unproven at the B1G level. Andrew Clair is a transfer from Bowling Green who was an all-MAC player…three years ago. Our O line should be pretty solid, but I think we’ll have a difficult time moving the ball. 


Our defense should likewise shutdown Sparty’s offense. We have two unproven LBs starting in place of Gallagher and Fisher…I’m worried about a drop-off there, but our D line and secondary will be strong.


All this to say – I see a low scoring, tight game, and that’s where Fitz and the Wildcats tend to excel. It won’t be pretty, but my crystal ball predicts a win.


Game Score: 17 – 13 NU wins


Play of the Game: Sack by Samdup Miller leads to an opportune takeaway by the ‘Cats D. 


Player to Watch: Hunter Johnson


Warrior to Watch: Grayhack. Big night for him and new venture Tailgreetr.


Other Game to Watch: I’m most excited to watch US Soccer begin its qualifying journey for the World Cup. By the time this is posted, we’ll have (hopefully) beaten El Salvador and will be taking on Canada in a huge matchup on Sunday [editor’s note: welp]. This is not your father’s Canada – it’s a pretty solid squad and they’ve got Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies back on the roster after he missed the Gold Cup with an injury. With Pulisic out because of COVID, look for Brenden Aaronson to step up and bag a goal or two.

ANDY

What we do know: There are certainly some individual studs on the defensive side of the ball. The Warriors somehow got a West Lot pass from the ticket office this season.What we don’t know: Just about everything else.

  • Has Hunter “Gatherer” Johnson improved since his vastly disappointing 2019 campaign?
  • Will the defense transition smoothly to a new coordinator and a slew of first-time starters?
  • Can Stephon Robinson Jr. return to the form of his 2019 campaign at Kansas?
  • Can Genson Hooper Price have a breakout year?
  • Will the RB room be able to fill in for Cam Porter?

Most of our season relies on the answer to the first question being yes (or our coaching staff being horrible evaluators – someone else coming in and being competent works too). We should have a much better sense of the answers to these questions when the final whistle blows tomorrow night (though we probably won’t really know for sure for a few more weeks). I’ll try and play the optimist below (at least Mick McCall is gone – Iowa State said farewell to him too).


Game Summary: Don’t expect a lot of scoring in the first half. Both teams will have inexperienced QBs (or at least QBs who haven’t started in quite a while) at the reins, and I expect our defense to be stout. Charlie Kuhbander overtakes Damien Anderson and becomes the 4th highest point scorer in NU history with a FG in the 2nd quarter. We head to the locker room with a score of NU 10 – MSU 3. Gonna take a gander that the ‘Cats manage one big play with a short field to muster the lone TD of the half.


The offenses will heat up (relatively) in the 2nd half, trading a few scores, until both sides adjust. ‘Cats muster just enough offense to take the lead, and just enough defense to hold on for the W.


Game Score: NU 23 – MSU – 17


Play of the Game: Pick late to seal the game by Brandon Joseph


Player to Watch: Who else could it be besides Hunter Johnson


Warrior to Watch: Grayhack. Will he trust his DJ?


Other Game to Watch: Very solid slate for week 1, but I’ll have to go with Iowa/Indiana. Both teams come into the season ranked with high hopes. Can Indiana do us a solid and give Io_a an early B1G loss? I certainly like them +4.5.

DOC ROCHE

You guys. Big week for the warriors. I became an uncle again (x2!). Kathleen Roche got engaged. Jenna’s in labor as I write this. There’s a new episode of Ted Lasso on Friday. Also, there’s an American college football game this week. 

I’m not going to pretend I know anything about this team. Or about Michigan State.

Game Summary: Ugly early drives. Defensive TD’s. Last-minute FG gives ‘Cats the win. Is Charlie Kuhbander still on the squad? [editor’s note: yes he is]


Game Score: NU 20 – MSU -19


Play of the Game:  Opening kickoff. So much potential. It’s like the first day of school. 


Player to Watch: Gotta be HJ


Warrior to Watch: Roger! He’s gonna be a dad! 


Other Game to Watch: All of them. Excited for football and the cooler temps, you guys. 

PAUL

Game Summary: NU is going to surprise everyone and come out with the best HJ you’ve ever seen. Lot of people’s hopes are going to be “get up” after this one. 


Game Score: NU 29 – MSU 10


Play of the Game: 60 Yard TD Pass as we go into halftime.


Player to Watch: HJ all around


Warrior to Watch: Hack & Crew. How will the 1st Rose-less tailgate go off? 


Other Game to Watch: Wisco Penn State – loving the East/West matchups to start the season. 

ROGER

Game Score: Cats win 20 – 16

Play of the Game: Blocked punt

Player to Watch: The freshman running back who isn’t even on the depth chart [editor’s note: Anthony Tyus, aka the A Train]

HACK

Game Score: ‘Cats 54 – MSU 3

“Thursday” Pump Up Jam – Prayers Up

We have no idea what this team will be. Will this offense be able to score points? Will this be 2019 all over again? We’re praying that this season is closer to 2018 or 2020. These lyrics pretty clearly summarize what the scene will be at the Warrior tailgate on Friday evening:

Prayers up
Whole squad sending prayers up
Purple drank in my prayer cup
Whole squad sending prayers up

Travis Scott