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.
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.
DOC ROCHE (0-0)
No contest due to COVID.
NU 34 – MSU 4
ANDY DAY (4-1)
NU 20 – MSU 3
NU 42 – MSU 0