1. NORTHWESTERN WIN TOTAL PREDICTION: WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN
Northwestern defied all logic and reason.
It turned the ball over way too often, wasn’t explosive, wasn’t great on third downs or special teams, and the defense was awful against anyone who could regularly throw.
Last in the Big Ten in rushing, the O line was last in sacks allowed, scoring appeared to be optional, and …
It won the Big Ten West. But how?
The Cats managed to convert on just about every chance they had, they kept games close, forced a ton of turnovers, and they led the nation in fewest penalties and fewest yards.
And they also caught a massive amount of breaks.
To be fair, Northwestern made its own good luck, but it was also helped by Purdue royally screwing up – and getting hit with an awful late penalty – in the season-opening win.
Nebraska gagged, Wisconsin and Utah were missing their starting quarterbacks, there was no Ohio State on the schedule until the Big Ten Championship, and Penn State wasn’t on the slate.
Whatever … Northwestern played for the Big Ten title and won its third straight bowl game.
In several ways, this year’s team should be better.
The passing game should be more efficient, the running game can’t be worse, and the defense has the talent and depth on the front seven to be stronger. Throw in an improved kicking game and there’s a lot to like, but …
Set The Regular Season Win Total At … 7
It’s a Pat Fitzgerald team, so it has a plucky chance to take down anyone at any time. Keeping games close helped in close-call losses to Michigan and Notre Dame, but it also almost proved costly in tight battles against miserable Rutgers and Illinois teams (don’t bring up Akron … don’t bring up Akron …).
This year, the Cats have to start out at Stanford – the Cardinal are better.
They have to go to Wisconsin and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks – the Huskers are better, and the rebuilding Badgers are playing in Madison.
They get Michigan State at home, but the Spartans are better. They get Ohio State and Iowa at home, but that’s still Ohio State and Iowa.
The back half of the schedule isn’t bad, and again, the team might be stronger, but unless there are a whole slew of massive breaks from the schedule early on, think of this as more like the 2016 team that went 7-6 and less like the ones that came up with 19 wins over the last two seasons.