The ‘Cats have somehow clinched the West with two games left to play, and now will go to Indy on Dec 1st for a chance to make the Rose Bowl. A pipe dream that led the West Lot Warriors to name our beloved van Rose is now very much a real possibility – if we can win one game, we’ll make the trip to Pasadena (and so will Rose the van…somehow, someway).
Clinching with two games to go gives us the chance to scout our Indy opponent and debate about who we want to face out of the other side of the Big Ten. The B1G East is down to two teams who will play each other in the last game of the year – Ohio State and Michigan. So, who would we rather face?
The ‘Cats played Michigan very tough earlier in the season, taking a 17-0 lead on the Wolverines in Evanston before slowly but surely relenting to a methodical Michigan attack. The Wolverines ran in a TD in the fourth quarter to take a 20-17 lead that would end up as the final margin. Michigan, as they always have under Harbaugh, runs a pro-style offense that the ‘Cats have fared well against this year. The ‘Cats have given up less than 16 points per game to Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan – the three teams we’ve faced that feature that grind it out pro-style offense.
After losing a tight game at Notre Dame to begin the year, the Wolverines have pretty much skated through the rest of their schedule. Other than the tight three point win in Evanston, the next closest Michigan win was by 14 points at Sparty. Does that mean the ‘Cats match up well against the Wolverines, or was our first matchup a fluke? I tend to think it’s the former, and you can certainly argue that Northwestern now is a better team than we were on 9/29 when we first matched up. At that point, we had just learned that our star RB Jeremy Larkin was retiring from football, and reeling after a loss at home to Akron. We rushed for 28 yards in that game, and with the way Isaiah Bowser’s playing right now, you’d have to imagine we’d do better on the ground.
Everyone counted the ‘Cats out, and we showed up in a big way for that next game. If we end up playing Michigan in Indy, we’ll still be widely counted out and large underdogs as Michigan would be playing for a spot in the Playoffs. Vegas would have Michigan as about a 17 point favorite over the ‘Cats in Indy.
Now we come to Ohio State. You could say they’ve got a worse QB and a worse defense than Michigan. They also got blown out at Purdue, in a tough West Lafayette atmosphere where the ‘Cats prevailed earlier in the year. All in all, they seem like they’re trending downwards whereas Michigan is on the up and up. Should be a no-brainer we want to face OSU right?
Not so fast. I think OSU boasts more talent at the skill positions. They can chuck it deep to a slew of skilled receivers – they remind me of Notre Dame, at least on offense. They have the #3 passing offense in the nation, and would be going against a beat up Northwestern secondary.
Their defense is better than people think, coming in at #56 in total defense, just behind the ‘Cats at #50. I also think people are counting OSU out right now – if they were to get to Indy they’d be coming off a huge upset win over Michigan and have a lot of momentum going in their favor.
I think we match up better with Michigan than Ohio State and have a better chance to slow down their offense than we would against the Buckeyes.
Even though this seems like it’s Harbaugh’s year, he’s never actually won a big time game at Michigan. The Wolverines have never been to the B1G Title game, just like the ‘Cats. You’d think there’d be no way that he could get all the way to Indy only to lose a play in game against Northwestern that would have placed his team in the College Football Playoff. But, the pressure would really all be on the Wolverines in that scenario. I’d rather face a team that is new to this situation and hasn’t overcome that type of pressure yet, than an OSU team that has been there many times and won the big games in convincing fashion. I have flashbacks to last year when Ohio State looked so much faster than Wisconsin in the B1G title game.
Feels like a game against Ohio State could turn into a track meet, whereas a game against Michigan would be a rock fight. The ‘Cats perform much better in rock fights than track meets.
For all of these reasons, I’d rather play Michigan. Either way it’s going to be an incredibly tough game, but either way we’re going to have a chance. This will be the biggest Northwestern football game in at least 18 years. Let’s hope it comes up roses.