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.
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.
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.
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.
NU 17 – Minny 20
Cats 45 – Boat Rowers 6
Cats 14 – Minnesota 21.5 (first half point in football history)
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.
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?
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.
GameScore: 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.
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!
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
54 – 0 Gatos
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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:
Happy New Year Wildcat fans! We enter 2021 in a golden era for Northwestern athletics, with football in addition to men’s and women’s basketball teams all ranked. It’s a good time to be a Wildcat fan. And what better way to start the year than with a bowl matchup against Auburn. On to the West Lot Warrior predictions…
The 2010 Outback Bowl was the first and only ever bowl game I’ve attended, and wow was it a doozy. An absolutely bonkers game where the ‘Cats looked like they were out of the game multiple times and continued to storm back against a talented Auburn team which won the title the following year (albeit with the sizable addition of Cam Newton). Mike Kafka set a bowl record with 47 completions and 78 attempts…insane.
That was the first football game of the 2010s, and it feels fitting to play the same team just over a decade later. After a great year for the ‘Cats and a hard fought loss in the B1G Championship game, it would be great to start out 2021 with a win over an SEC team. I remember how bad the Tigers fans were in Tampa 11 years ago – just drunk ass annoying people yelling “War Eagle” (when their mascot is a Tiger??) at us after a 3 point OT win over what they clearly thought was an inferior NU team.
Game Summary: The ‘Cats had a lot of players unexpectedly enter the transfer portal, including McGowan, Leota and my boy Bowser. Will be tough to see them go, and perhaps is a sign they know something we don’t about Fitz’s future?
I don’t think Auburn is super interested in this game after an extremely mediocre 2020 and firing their coach. But, they still have talent and that vaunted SEC speed right? That will keep them in the game, but I trust Fitz to get the NU players up for this one as a way to send off Coach Hank in style with his 400th win. The ‘Cats wrap up a stellar campaign with a bowl win, and revenge over the Tigers.
Game Score: NU 24 – AU 21
Play of the Game: Pick six from Cam Mitchell.Player to Watch: Brandon Joseph. The redshirt freshman was named an AP All American and had a ridiculous one handed pick in the B1G Championship. What will his encore look like?
Warrior to Watch: Andy Day. 10am PST start time after New Year’s Eve…rough.
Other Game to Watch: It’s great the ‘Cats are on national TV on New Year’s Day as an appetizer for the CFP Semis, but wish we were not going head to head with the Peach Bowl. I’ll go with OSU-Clemson as my game to watch – these two teams have been talking a lot of shit this week and really seem to dislike each other. I think the Buckeyes will have a rough go of it after the B1G pulled every punch to get them in this game. Watch for the Tigers to roll in this spot.
No contest due to COVID.
Cats by 2 scores. Ramsey with his best game of the year. This game is meaningless, but I have a feeling 2021 is going to be fun for Wildcat Nation. Let’s get it started the right way.
Cats 45 Auburn 7 Gus Malzon is recalled at halftime. Northwestern is led onto the field by Mike Kafka, and Corey Wooten and blows this bullshit team out.
The ‘Cats are once again playing on Championship weekend and represent the B1G West in Indy. Can they pull off the upset and rain chaos upon the CFP picture?
What a wild year.
The ‘Cats got off to a great start in mid-October by throttling Maryland. It looked like NU had found a quarterback. After a few nail biters against Iowa, Nebraska and to a lesser extent Purdue, NU was ready to claim the West against Wisconsin. And that they did.
Inevitably, everything came crashing down to earth against Michigan State. Some were wondering how the hell that was possible… even for NU. Surely, it was the usual NU curse. The one where the ‘Cats fall flat on their faces when on the precipice of something nice (after all, we can’t have nice things). But, it really wasn’t that. In hindsight, the loss to Sparty happened because NU isn’t actually that good and the ‘Cats have absolutely no margin for error.
Unfortunately, it appears as though both the B1G West and the totality of the B1G are as bad as either have been in years. NU’s win at Iowa was the only half impressive accomplishment for the team. Hell, the Cats haven’t even defeated another team with a winning record. There are only 4 of those in the entire conference and NU is one of them. Some may point to the lack of non-conference games as the determining factor for this anomaly, but even then it’s still statistically far fetched that a 14 team conference would only have 5 teams AT OR ABOVE .500 (Minnesota is now .500) at the end of this season. The ACC has 9. The SEC has 7. The 12 team AAC has 6. The 10 team Big12 has 6. Even the Pac12 – with an absurdly limited sample size – has 7.
So, what am I getting at here?
Simply put, NU is overrated at #14 and that’s largely a result of inflationary victories at the time against Purdue and Wisconsin. It turns out that both of those teams are hot garbage. Purdue is probably the worst team in the B1G not named Illinois. Wisconsin has totaled 10 points or more in exactly 2 games this season – their first 2. A lot of people are (rightfully) tearing into the College Football Playoff rankings, but it shouldn’t have anything to do with NU’s ranking which is actually higher than where it should be based on pure numbers. Take a look at what the computers think of the ‘Cats. FPI has NU at #23 and the Colley Matrix has NU at #22 (with a #118 SOS). The OG BCS would rank the ‘Cats at #16.
Enter Ohio State.
They are not overrated. While they have only played 5 games, they pass the computer test, the eye test, the smell test and (sometimes) the COVID test. They have more 5 star wide receivers on their bench than any other B1G team has on their entire roster. Let that sink in. Their offense is lethal. Their defense is better than many of the pundits claim.
But, Ohio State isn’t infallible either. They have played 1 game in the past 4 weeks. They played like absolute trash for 20+ minutes against Indiana earlier in the season. That level of trash – over an entire half or 3 quarters – could easily lose to an NU team playing well. OSU exposed themselves for having a floor that is fairly low for a team of their caliber. But, that’s not new for the Buckeyes. They have been randomly trounced by B1G West teams (Iowa and Purdue) in recent years when they simply didn’t show up. It’s 2020 and there’s absolutely no reason that can’t happen again.
Northwestern is a 20.5 point dog. Rightfully so. They are -1112 straight up. Why in the hell would anyone expect them to win? Well, it’s 2020. When any sense of normalcy starts returning to the world it seems like all hell breaks loose yet again.
Game Summary: Ohio State will be rusty early. I expect Fields to miss a few throws that would otherwise seem pedestrian. I also expect him to make a few bad reads trying to tuck it and run when NU is surprisingly well schemed to stop that.
This type of rust won’t be unexpected with only one game played in the previous 4 weeks. But, the longer it goes on the more irritating it becomes for Buckeye nation and Justin Fields.
Meanwhile, the ‘Cats won’t do much on offense in the first 15 – 20 minutes, but they’ll do enough with Cam Porter and creative uses of both Ramsey’s and McGowan’s legs to give everyone some hope that they can put together a few sustained drives and stay in the game.
As the game goes on, OSU will start pressing defensively to try to create a change in momentum. This is about the time when Twitter will light up with questions from the NU faithful about what could have been for the past 10 years. Wait…. what?
Yea. Remember Mick? Our offensive coordinator for more than a decade? The one who allowed us to waste away a top 25 defense year after year? Somehow he’s marshaling a top running game for a CFP contender (Iowa State). But, he never had the audacity to swing for the fences when he had nothing to lose. Bajakian will. And I think it will work. See you on Twitter.
Game Score: NU 31 – OSU 27
Play of the Game: One of several Bajakian home runs or the Papa Fitz home run call on special teams.
1) Andrew Marty deep ball to Ramsey out of the Wildcat 2) Riley Lees pass to RCB off a reverse 3) Kuhbander run for a TD out of the kicking formation
Player to Watch: Greg Newsome. The ‘Cats need him to be able to hold down the fort with no help. That’s an incredibly tall task, but I think he’s up for it.
Warrior to Watch: All of us. Are you kidding? The champagne could be flowing like we’re partying in the grass of the West Lot in 1995.
No contest due to COVID.
I can’t wait for the game this weekend. The ‘Cats are in their second B1G Championship Game in three years. We join Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State as the only other schools to compete for multiple B1G Championships.
My first trip to Ryan Field was a home game against Duke in 2007. The Blue Devils held the nation’s longest losing streak at 22 (yes, twenty-two) straight games. Duke beat the ‘Cats to break that insane losing streak, then proceeded to lose every other game for the remainder of the season.
What that experience has done is make me appreciate this moment more. We’ve come a long ways from my first ‘Cats game til now. I was complaining earlier this week about the ‘Cats lack of respect in the polls while at the same time bemoaning our backbreaking loss in East Lansing that still stings. After taking a pause, I realized that neither mattered.
What matters now is that we’ve got an opportunity to win the Big Ten on Saturday. When we came to the 2018 game, I partied in Indy and was just happy to be there. This year, there is no partying in Indy, and I’m not just happy to be here. I want to win, and I think we can.
There are a few intangible factors working in our favor:
1. Coach Hank is retiring after this season. The team is going to be uber-motivated to send him off with a win in the B1G Championship.
2. Jim Philips is moving to the ACC. I think the players will also play hard for Jim – even though is leaving of his own volition.
3. The game has zero fans and starts at 11am CT. The ‘Cats are very used to playing 11am CT games with no fans in the stands. This works in our favor.
4. Peyton Ramsey is named after Peyton Manning. Ramsey is playing in his home state again and in the stadium that hangs Manning’s jersey in the rafters.
5. No one believes in us.
The biggest factor is the last one. The ‘Cats are one of the best teams in the country at playing hard as big underdogs. We can’t handle being the favorite, like we were against MSU and shat the bed. I think the team will play extremely hard on Saturday, and give the Buckeyes our best shot.
I continue to lament about the Sparty loss, but I would not feel nearly as good about our position coming into this game if we were an undefeated team ranked in the Top 10. In that scenario I could see us getting blown out by 50. But given the MSU loss has dropped us in the rankings and set us up as an enormous underdog – these elements work in our favor for this weekend.
Before the 2018 B1G Championship Game, I wrote that the NU-OSU matchup was like a college basketball game. Whichever team dictated tempo would have the upper hand. The same holds true in 2020, we can’t get into a track meet with OSU or we will lose. We’ve got to muck the game up, have some semblance of success running the ball, and burn clock to win.
The ‘Cats have not been able to run the ball well at all this year – although I say that after we nearly racked up 400 yards on the ground last week. I think our game plan has to be Peyton Ramsey passing on early downs to then set up the run. If we can connect on some short and intermediate routes against a somewhat suspect OSU secondary, that should open up some running lanes for our RBs (I guess Porter?). Ramsey throws a little fluttery ball without a ton of power behind it – playing in a dome without the Midwest winds whipping around should help him with his accuracy.
I expect a big game from Kyric McGowan, who was the leading receiver for the ‘Cats in the 2018 matchup. Kyric has had two brutal mistakes this year – a muffed punt against Iowa and then the dreadful blown handoff against MSU which basically cost us the game. Aside from those two incredibly harmful plays, he’s been our best player on offense, bar one (Peter Skoronski). He has had extremely sure hands and come up big in clutch situations. I think the senior will ball out on Saturday, both through the air and on the jet sweep.
In the 2018 title game, OSU’s receivers absolutely killed our secondary. Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell, both now NFL stars, tore us apart while Dwyane Haskins threw for nearly 500 yards and played the type of game that got him drafted in the top 10. Our secondary this time around is the strength of our team. We had two first team all B1G-ers with B Jo and Newsome, and have plenty of other talent with Pace as well. They will have the test of blanketing OSU’s (shorthanded???) receivers on Saturday, and I think they’ll do a much better job than two years ago.
The problem, and it’s a big one, is Justin Fields. We’ve had notorious problems with running QBs in the past, and Fields is a prototypical running QB. We can spy him with our senior LBs, but none of them are fast or athletic enough to stay with Fields in the open field. I’m terrified of those 3rd and 8 situations, where our secondary does its job in coverage…and Fields just easily scampers for the first down.
So we need to have Fields basically play a poor game (maybe that one week off of rust will help), we need to be able to run the ball, and we need to win the turnover battle. The ‘Cats have not had a defensive score all year. It’s happening this Saturday…mark my words.
The ‘Cats don’t have the talent or speed that OSU does. But I do think this Buckeyes squad is not as strong as the 2018 version, and the ‘Cats have a better defense and a better O line than two years ago. We also have a lot of intangibles working in our favor. I certainly think we will cover the spread, and I believe we can win this game.
Game Score: NU 33 – OSU 27
Play of the Game: Greg Newsome pick six.
Player to watch:
Offense – Peyton Ramsey. This is his moment. He came to NU to compete in this game, and is playing in his home state in Lucas Oil Stadium, where his namesake took the field for so many years. Need a big game from Peyton.
Defense – Earnest Brown IV. He had a monster game two years ago, with a forced fumble, half a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Getting some pressure on Fields will be critical on Saturday to force some mistakes.
Warrior to watch: whole squad
It’s 2020. Anything could happen. I could easily see this game getting out of hand quickly. But I can also easily see Northwestern pulling off the unthinkable. I’m going to predict the latter.
Game Summary: ‘Cats win the toss and defer to the second half. OSU gets a first down or two but the drive fizzles out and the ‘Cats get the ball with decent field position. A well rehearsed drive later and… what’s this? The ‘Cats are up 7-0. The game goes back and forth, and the ‘Cats enter the locker room trailing 14-13. OSU +21.5 bettors are sweating (for good reason). Stupid Darren Rovell is giddy on his stupid Deal Or No Deal style live stream. Howie Mandel rolls his eyes. Did you know he’s a Germaphobe like Warrior ZVon? Google “Howie Mandel Hazmat Suit.” I digress.
‘Cats get the ball to start the second half, and what do you know, it’s a trick play for a big score. A defensive battle heats up, but a big turnover by OSU proves to be the difference. The ‘Cats prevail. OSU goes home crying (and complaining about how something wasn’t fair, despite them not even qualifying for the game!!). The CFP committee poops themselves. The ‘Cats get Chick-Fil-A. Huzzah.
Game Score: NU 23 – OSU 21
Play of the Game: The aforementioned trick play. Everyone will be going nuts by themselves on their home couch.
Player to Watch: Ramsey. We need to put up some points. I don’t think we need to win a shootout, but we certainly aren’t gonna win 13-10.
Warrior to Watch: Everyone. Especially Roger.
I am not as optimistic as the other Warriors, but I’ll still put a bottle of champagne on ice if we’re down by 10 or less at halftime. Big Kudos to the coaching staff and the players for getting here two of the last three years. I have to say it’s been an amazing time in NUFB history to be a fan.
Game Summary: Cats lose. Rovell loses all his money and never takes a deal.
Game Score: NU 17 – OSU 41
Play of the Game: We’ll have a lucky pick or two . Sadly no defensive TDs or successful trick plays today.
Player to Watch: Peyton Ramsey Bolton!
Warrior to Watch: The Squad. We’ll be spread out over 3 time zones and Day is one to watch here with the 9am local start. How amped can he get before kickoff?
Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what the Cats have here tomorrow, boys. That’s what they’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow we play with them. Tomorrow, we stay with them. Tomorrow, we smack them in the mouth and we shut them down because we can! Tomorrow, WE are the greatest football team in the world. The Cats were born to be football players. Every one of you. And Northwestern was meant to be here tonight. This is our time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great football team Ohio State has. Screw ’em. This is our time. Now go out there and take it.
Game Summary: Justin Fields is the best player on the field, but football is a team sport. It’s the weirdest year in living memory where anything can and has happened, but Ohio State seems to think they are going to waltz to the playoff. As the great philosopher, Mike Tyson, once said, “everyone’s got a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” The Cat’s need to physically dominate this game and hope Justin Fields makes a few mistakes, which he is prone to do. Does 2020 have one last shock in store for us? Let’s hope so…
Game Score: Northwestern 28 – Ohio State -27
Play of the Game: Fields rushes towards the goal line but is stripped by JR Pace. The ball goes out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Two weeks ago the ‘Cats fanbase was dejected after losing to a terrible MSU team via a blown handoff and allowing the Sparty QB to continue slithering for 8 yard runs throughout the contest. A few days after the ‘Cats had vaulted to #8 in the rankings, the purple faithful was distraught and dreams of a CFP withered away. Or did they?
The ‘Cats enter the weekend 6-1 with a date against OSU on Saturday in the B1G championship. We are heavy 20 point underdogs, pretty much in a similar spot to the 2018 champ game (believe we were 18 point dogs in that game, and despite a closer game than expected, OSU still covered :/).
Our chances for a W are slim, but it’s pretty legit that we will have a shot on the field to win the damn conference. The shot is long in and of itself (ESPN gives us a 1% chance), but let’s look at a scenario … what if we did win?
Caveat: I completely recognize that we have no business playing in the College Football Playoff and would likely get run off the field by Alabama. But the top 4 in the CFP has something sacred about it – it’s such an exclusive club that it’s an honor to even be considered. Many NU fans would rather play in a bowl against a beatable opponent and finish with our highest ranking in years. I’d rather make the CFP…mostly because it would be hilarious to be there.
Background: I used to be obsessed with the 538 CFP predictor, where they showed each team in contention for the CFP and odds to get there based on various scenarios. That predictor is since defunct and has been merged into ESPN’s “Playoff Predictor” which is a poor man’s version (layoffs at ESPN may have had something to do with it).
My dream was to find creative ways to get NU into the CFP, and my favorite year was in 2015 when it seemed like there were some routes to get there. This is the closest we’ve been since then. My purple bias aside, there is a path right now. It is an incredibly unlikely path, but if certain games break our way on Saturday we could get there. There are really three paths in my mind:
Bama beats Florida
ND beats Clemson
Cincy loses to Tulsa
NU beats OSU
This path would have the ‘Cats jumping the winner of the Big 12 – but we would have a better win than either team and one less loss (though in fewer games). We would also need to stay ahead of the Pac 12 winner, if it is USC. I think this is the most realistic scenario for us to make the final four.
Bama beats Florida
ND beats Clemson
A&M loses to Tenn
NU beats OSU
This is a similar path, but swaps out a Cincy loss for an A&M loss to lowly Tennessee. All the same factors hold true about staying ahead of B12 and P12 winners. However, I do truly think a one loss B10 team with two top 15 wins would be ranked above the winners of those two conferences.
Bama beats Florida
Clemson beats ND
A&M loses to Tenn
Cincy loses to Tulsa
NU beats OSU
A Clemson win would put them and ND both in the final four, and Bama winning would sew up three spots. We would then be competing for that fourth spot with A&M, Cincy, P12 and B12 winners. If A&M and Cincy go down, I think we could get there.
Second Caveat: This is all assuming the committee looks at the teams in the mix through leveled eyes, which is an extremely flawed assumption. If NU were say Wisconsin or Michigan, one loss and a conference championship would make them a shoo-in for the final four. But we’re not, we’re Northwestern. Our name alone (plus a loss to a 2-5 team) knocks us down several pegs. The committee in the first two scenarios above could easily slot a 2 loss Clemson in ahead of us – let’s be honest, Clemson is a much better team than the ‘Cats. There’s also a decent chance the B12 winner would stay ahead of us – the CFP would use the fact that we played fewer games than others as the excuse. But if the committee is truly factoring in the resume and placing importance on conference championships, then we have a slight chance.
Something to look out for tonight: Tonight’s CFP ranking is important in that we need to stay ahead of USC for these scenarios to play out – we were one spot ahead of USC last night.
None of this matters if we lose to Ohio State. We truly are David versus Goliath – ESPN gives us a 9% chance at a victory. However, I’d encourage all ‘Cats fans to take a beat and look at where we are right now. We’re in our second B1G championship game in three years – playing for an outside chance at a NY6 bowl or even a playoff spot. This is extremely rare territory in the century-long history of the Northwestern football program. Enjoy it after a truly shitty 2020. Remember, it’s an honor just to be considered.
The ‘Cats picked up a big win in a big spot, prevailing over Wisconsin 17-7 last week and taking a stranglehold on the B1G West in a season that’s gone off the rails due to COVID. As games get canceled left and right, Northwestern continues to plug along to a 5-0 record and a top 10 CFP ranking. Can they keep it up this week against Sparty?
TRENT (4-1 PICKS)
Stakes are stressful. We’ve got real stakes now as the ‘Cats enter this weekend at 5-0 and ranked #8 in the country. We’re basically in the B1G Championship game at this point, and if we win out and could beat Ohio State there’s a good shot we would make the College Football Playoff. 2020 truly is an insane year.
This weekend we play a mirror image of ourselves in Michigan State, a team with a great defense and a brutal offense. We are favored by nearly two touchdowns on the road against a B1G blue blood. This makes me incredibly nervous – this would be a textbook letdown spot for the ‘Cats. However, this year’s team feels different. Based on their soundbites and social commentary over the past week, they don’t seem complacent.
The backdrop on all of this is COVID. Teams are going down left and right, with OSU being the latest to show a spread amongst the players. Thankfully, the ‘Cats have avoided COVID issues to-date – in this year of attrition, that is half the battle. I say this as I knock on wood of all various sizes, shapes and colors.
Game Summary: MSU has looked terrible to-date and scored 7 total points in the past two games. I don’t expect them to score much more this week. The ‘Cats will struggle to move the ball, especially if we cannot get the run game going. Our rushing offense is a big area of concern right now – Bowser got rightfully benched last week after a backbreaking fumble, and looks like he may still be injured. Bajakian threw everything against the wall, even giving Cam Porter a good deal of run last Saturday, and still ended up with less than 1 rushing yard per carry on average. That ain’t great.
I anticipate those struggles will continue this week, and we’ll put our whole offense on Ramsey’s shoulders. I think he’ll give us just enough with his arm and his legs to pull this out, but it’ll be closer than expected. If we win this, we officially clinch the B1G West.
Game Score: NU 27 – MSU 24
Play of the Game: Brandon Joseph gets another pick. Kid’s a ball hawk and is leading the nation in INTs with an average of one per game.
Player to Watch:
Offense: Bowser. Something’s up with him and he’s been off all year. Would be nice to see him get going in this game.
Defense: Eku Leota. Dude’s a beast. Our defense is working at all three levels right now, but getting that pressure upfront makes everything on the back end so much easier.
Warrior to Watch: Nick Rankin. Will this be the game that gives him a heart attack?
Other Game to Watch: We’re at such a strange point in the year where we really don’t have much to root for in the B1G. The West is sowed up if we can win just one of our last three games, and Ohio State looks like they’ve got the East on lock barring a late collapse.
Now it’s really root for the teams we have beaten to keep winning and make our wins look impressive, and then hope the teams ahead of us in the playoff rankings to falter. Here is my playoff watch for the week, including all teams ahead of the #8 ‘Cats:
Friday: #2 ND @ UNC. Would be great to see the Domers go down, and it’s a possibility this week against Sam Howell and the Tar Heels. This is ND’s toughest remaining regular season game, and a loss would eliminate the possibility of two ACC teams in the playoff. Upset potential: 4/5
Saturday:#4 OSU @ IL. Ohio State should sleep walk through this game…if it gets played. Still hasn’t been canceled yet. Upset potential: 1.5/5. Cancellation potential: 3.5/4
Kentucky @ #6 FL. Kentucky has a lot of players out due to COVID. No way they’re stopping the high flying Kyles. Upset potential: 1/5
#22 Auburn @ #1 Bama. The Iron Bowl always brings upset potential given the fierce rivalry. But this year’s Bama team is impossible to stop, and will be fired up for revenge after losing to Auburn last year. Nick Saban’s got COVID – will he be calling plays from up in the Goodyear blimp? Upset potential: 2.5/5
Pitt @ #3 Clemson. Pitt is a team that has upset the Tigers in the recent past. But, Clemson was so pissed after FSU “canceled” on them last week that they’ll be rearing to play and will run up the score. Upset potential: 1/5
LSU @ #6 Texas A&M. A&M in my mind is the biggest wildcard in the playoff race.They are a threat to get in over a P5 conference champ. I think they’re due for a sleepwalk game, and this could be it. But LSU isn’t half the team they were last year. Upset potential: 2/5
(#7 Cincinnati’s game was canceled due to COVID)
Well, well, well…. This is strange territory. The ‘Cats are all but certain to win the West at this point. They aren’t likely to play next week against Minnesota, so they essentially need this game to be played on Saturday to win the division. But, we’re looking at bigger things at this point.
The last time the ‘Cats were in a position like this was mid-November 2000. NU had just knocked off Michigan in one of the greatest college football games ever played (thanks, Kevin Wilson). Standing between the ‘Cats and an outright B1G title and another trip to the Rose Bowl were two shit opponents (Iowa and Illinois).
NU subsequently laid a big egg at Iowa and had to settle for a share of the conference title and a trip to the Alamo Bowl for a throttling (thanks, Frank Solich).
I don’t think that’s going to happen this time. This team is built on defense and resembles the 95/96 version of the ‘Cats more than anything else.
Game Summary: The ‘Cats will continue to look lethargic offensively for most of the game. I expect the running game to have issues yet again against a fairly decent Michigan State defense. That said, I also expect NU to pick up a few chunk plays at opportune times.
My hope is that this game is won easily because of field position and turnovers. MSU should struggle mightily against our defense. It’s an absolutely terrible matchup for a sub par quarterback.
Game Score: NU 27 – MSU 9
Play of the Game: Ramsey with a long scramble for a TD.
Player to Watch: The offensive line. They have been fine on pass protection but there are no holes for our backs.
Warrior to Watch: Let’s go with Grayhack. Why not?
Other Game to Watch: I think Bag has this covered… I’m most interested to see if/why the Ohio State – Illinois game is played.
The undefeated Cats and Badgers meet at Ryan Field this afternoon in a contest that will basically decide the B1G West. This game was supposed to be played at Wrigley Field, with two whole viable end zones. Damn you, 2020.
Let’s see the picks…
I cannot overstate the importance of this week’s game against Wisconsin. This is the biggest clash we’ve had since 2018 Ohio State, which offered us a chance to make the Rose Bowl. This is the most important regular season game since…maybe 2015 Michigan? 2013 Ohio State? The 2000 season? To put it simply, this is a big one.
Wisconsin’s defense has allowed 18 points in two games, while their offense has scored 90+. They’ve looked absolutely dominant against Michigan – showing no rust from two weeks off due to COVID. It’s terrible to say but the best thing for the ‘Cats here is for Roche’s prediction of ‘no contest’ to occur, allowing us to skip this one and knocking Wisconsin out of B1G West contention. Let’s assume and hope that will not happen.
Wisconsin has pummeled their opponents in all phases of the game to-date – there is a reason that ESPN had them listed as the fourth most likely team to make the playoff this year at the beginning of 2020. But, this is not Ohio State or Alabama. Those two teams that they pummeled? They are 2-6 on the year (and easily could have been 1-7 as IL kicked a late FG to beat Rutgers). The Badgers have beat up on two bad teams. They have a freshman QB, who has looked great to-date, but was also sitting behind Jack Coan to start the year.
Maybe you see where I’m going – I love this spot for the ‘Cats. Heavy underdogs at home. No fans in the stands, so that we won’t see a 75% red stadium on Saturday. Cold rain in the forecast (maybe that’s a wash). In really sad news, one of our former weight training coaches passed away this week. Fitz will have the guys playing hard in honor of his memory.
Game Summary: Forecast for Saturday is temps in the 40s, 10-15 mph winds and a 60% chance of rain. This for two teams that will play great D. Here’s some free advice: take the under.
I anticipate a slog fest and both teams trying to run the ball – Wisconsin with more success. We could not run at all against Purdue, and it made the game much closer than it needed to be at the end. Purdue’s rushing defense is ranked #54 – Wisconsin’s is #6. It’s going to be tough going on the ground – and while we can’t go completely one dimensional, I honestly hope we will abandon it if it’s not working.
This game is all about Peyton Ramsey. He came up clutch against Purdue and we need him to play lights out this week in the rain. Notorious RCB stepped up in a big way and looked like Austin Carr out there with three TDs. Our offense is not great, but we’ve made plays when it counts. If we can do that again, and win the turnover battle, we can win this game.
Game Score: NU 17 – WI 16
Play of the Game: Eku Leota sack forces a fumble, which Bergin scoops up and scores. Aren’t we due for a defensive score??
Player to Watch: Peyton Ramsey
Warrior to Watch: Paul
Other Game to Watch: Purdue – Minnesota. If Purdue loses this game, we’d basically have to lose out not to finish in the top two in the West.
This game is important. I agree with Bag. It’s also a COVID season and everything is completely out of whack. So, unfortunately, that does take away from some of the luster here. I fear it could also take away from the legitimacy of a significant NU accomplishment – winning the B1G or making an NY6 game.
But, whatever. It’s still entertaining and the ‘Cats are clearly still good. They would be good if this was a normal season. They also probably would have lost to a MAC team for no reason in non-con play.
Wisconsin appears to be very good. Forget their results to date because it’s hard to judge from one week to the next let alone with a 3 week gap between playing shitty opponents. That said, they look fast. That’s very un-Wisconsin like. They also have their best QB since Rus Wilson. He’s young though…. so maybe he’ll make a few mistakes in a hostile environment like Ryan Field with no fans.
As far as NU goes, their offense needs to be better. The general lack of a run game for several weeks now has been very disheartening. While the ‘Cats amassed yards on the ground against Nebraska and Iowa, they did it in random chunks. There wasn’t any consistency there. NU’s ground game was horrid this past week against a below average Purdue defense. Some reasonable play calling and Peyton’s knack for converting third downs have kept the offense out of McCall territory. But, they aren’t far off statistically. Don’t believe me? The ‘Cats are currently 75th in offensive efficiency. The execution has to be better this week or this game could get ugly.
Game Summary: Look for Wisconsin to try to start fast in this one. In their first 2 games, they seem more inclined to do that than in years past. Hopefully this results in an early pick from Mertz. He’s going up against a far better secondary than the trash Illinois and Michigan put out there. This might get him off his game as he hasn’t faced one bit of adversity as a college quarterback thus far.
NU’s defense should be stout again. Wisconsin will get their yards on the ground, but the ‘Cats will stop drives when they need to. That’s what this defense does best.
The outcome of this game is going to come down to Peyton Ramsey’s ability to throw the ball downfield. NU is more likely to need chunk plays in this game as Wisconsin’s defense is not going to allow the ‘Cats to methodically drive down the field. So, somebody needs to get open and Peyton needs to deliver.
Look for a nail biter going into the 4th with some unexpected heroics from a receiver or two way down on the depth chart.
Game Score: NU 27 – WI 23
play of the Game: Bryce Kirtz gets open behind an ambitious Wisconsin DB and scores on a 55 yard TD catch late in the 4th.
Player to Watch: Ramsey
Warrior to Watch: Z Von… his significant other went to Wisconsin. Will they still talk to each other after the game?
Other Game to Watch: Meh… Not sure much else matters here. The winner of this game is going to win the West barring Wisconsin winning and then having another COVID cancellation. I’m curious to see Indiana play Ohio State. Indiana is a 20 point dog…. seems disrespectful.
DOC ROCHE (0-0)
No contest due to COVID.
his week the following things have happened to my teams: The Bears sucked, Theo left, and the Bulls announced they were tanking again. 2020 keeps telling us to get on the line and blowing the whistle. It’s time for a team to be our Mike Eruzione and save us from more pain. Are the Cats that team? I hope so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEXS8TBd6ug
Game Summary: We know this game is going to be ugly. Every Cat’s fan knows that this game will take years off their life. Whether or not the Cats are able to win will depend on the following factors:
An ability to run the ball
Not turning the ball over.
Turning turnovers into Touchdowns Breaking off chunk plays
A consistent pass rush
Making Wisconsin work for every yard
A lucky bounce or two
Game Score: NU 14 – WI 13
Play of the Game: Northwestern blocks a 45-yard game-winning field goal attempt.
Player to Watch: Defensive Ends – Need to pressure Mertz in a big way.
Warrior to Watch: Z Von, people are saying he might join Twitter if the Cats win.
Other Game to Watch: Arsenal vs Leeds United: The game got feisty last year in the FA cup.
ANDY DAY (4-0)
I had a dream about this game last night, and unfortunately I already bet on ‘Cats +7.5 prior to this vision. It goes as follows (yes, this actually happened in my dreams last night):
Game Summary: The Warriors were all together at an outdoor sports bar, drinking waiting for the game to come on. Somehow, we manage to not realize the game has kicked off an hour ago, and get the establishment to change our TV to the ‘Cats. As the game turns on, we get a big interception that leads to a touchdown one play later. ‘Cats now lead 13-6! I leave for the restroom, and take my time getting back to our table. By the time I return the ‘Cats are down 40-13. I don’t know how it happened, and it happened fast. The game ends with the same final score
Game Score: UW 40 – NU 13
Play of the Game: Clearly the INT that sets us up for a TD.
Player to Watch: Whomever allowed UW to score 34 points during my trip to the restroom.
Warrior to Watch: Gonna go with Z here. Will a mid-game tweet from Paul send him off the deep end?
Other Game to Watch: COVID.
Game Summary: The Cats always play Wisco tough and this is going to be the only year for NU to ever have a shot at the College Football Playoffs. They’ll need to beat Wisco today and then beat OSU in the B1G Championship and they’ll likely punch their ticket. A man can dream.
Game Score: Wisco 25 – NU 26
Play of the Game: Scoop and Score by #77 – I have no idea who this is. Just have a feeling.
Player to Watch: #77
Warrior to Watch: Hack. How will his Wisco lake house neighbors react if NU dashes their hopes for the season. I hope he’s flying the NCat flag up there!
Other Game to Watch: OSU / INDY. Visiting my sister and BIL this weekend and they’re both Buckeyes. Could NU win and OSU lose?!?!