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Northwestern Wildcats Football Preview: Predicting the 2016 season

When you are Northwestern football and you hit the 10-win mark, how exactly do you top that? Winning a division title and a Big Ten championship sure would be a nice way to do just that.

It is the goal of every team, but few have a realistic opportunity of making that happen. Do the Wildcats have that realistic opportunity in front of them for the 2016 season? Let’s take a look at just that with our staff picks for the season on a game-by-game basis.

2016 Northwestern Wildcats Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 3
Broncos Western Michigan Broncos
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
11:00am CT
ESPNU
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 10
Redbirds Illinois State Redbirds
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
2:30pm CT
BTN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 17
Blue Devils Duke Blue Devils
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
7:00pm CT
BTN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 24
Cornhuskers Nebraska Cornhuskers
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
6:30pm CT
BTN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 1
Hawkeyes at Iowa Hawkeyes
Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA
11:00am CT
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 8
OFF
Saturday
Oct. 15
Spartans at Michigan State Spartans
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
2:30pm CT
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 22
Hoosiers Indiana Hoosiers (HC)
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
11:00am CT
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 29
Buckeyes at Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
4:30pm CT
ESPN/ESPN2
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 5
Badgers Wisconsin Badgers
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 12
Boilermakers at Purdue Boilermakers
Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 19
Gophers at Minnesota Golden Gophers
TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 26
Fighting Illini Illinois Fighting Illini
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
TBA Buy
Tickets

*courtesy FBSchedules.com.

vs. Western Michigan Broncos
Andy: Win
Dave: Win
Kevin: Loss
Zach: Win

Three of four believe in the Wildcats enough for a win, and it is easy to understand Kevin’s pick of the Broncos because #RowTheBoat and all. Western Michigan has some crazy offensive skill position players, but that defense is still in need of some serious work even for the MAC. Justin Jackson is way too much for WMU and the season gets off on the right foot (or feet in this case).

vs. Illinois State Redbirds
Andy: Win
Dave: Win
Kevin: Win
Zach: Win

ISU (not the Cyclones) has been climbing up the ranks in the world of FCS football, but just simply don’t have what it takes to give Northwestern a real challenge offensively. Don’t be surprised if the Redbirds don’t cross the goal line until the scrubs are in in the final few possessions of a blowout at Ryan Field.

vs. Duke Blue Devils
Andy: Win
Dave: Win
Kevin: Win
Zach: Win

Just a few years ago these two academically minded universities were also becoming giants on the football field. The problem is, only one of them has sustained that success and its name is Northwestern. Of course, that’s not a problem for the purple-loving fans out there, but a major one for the Blue Devils. With this game at home the Wildcats should take care of business in the battle of the non-Ivy brainiacs.

vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Andy: Win
Dave: Win
Kevin: Loss
Zach: Win

Surprise? Well, if you know anything about the battle of the NU’s then you should know to expect the unexpected. Nebraska offers perhaps the biggest offensive challenge for the Wildcats so far on the schedule, but the defense is going to have a rough time of it at Ryan Field. Even if the Huskers faithful show up in huge numbers, it won’t be enough to overcome the fact that Northwestern’s offense does well what the Huskers come in to the season worried about most.

at Iowa Hawkeyes
Andy: Loss
Dave: Loss
Kevin: Loss
Zach: Loss

We are about to find out if the Wildcats are going to be real contenders or the usual pretenders on the divisional level. Judging by the L’s hanging on all four of our staff predictions you can bet the Wildcats are going to be pretenders. However, I say this game is going to be razor-close and it could be another wild ending but just as Ryan Field does strange things to visitors, so does Kinnick and Iowa pulls out a crazy victory here.

at Michigan State Spartans
Andy: Loss
Dave: Loss
Kevin: Loss
Zach: Loss

Pretender status gets cemented here, and it may be unfortunate because the Wildcats may be a better overall team than they were in 2015. Sometimes that is just the way things work with a team and its schedule and this will be the case for Northwestern in 2016. Getting Iowa and MSU on the road in back-to-back weeks sinks any hopes of a Big Ten West division title, and this time it will be the run game of the Spartans that surprises a previously stout rushing defense.

vs. Indiana Hoosiers
Andy: Win
Dave: Loss
Kevin: Win
Zach: Win

Once again, near unanimity for the staff here and one can easily chalk this game up to the “must-win” category. Simply put, a home game sandwiched between the rest of this schedule is vital if Northwestern wants to sustain any hopes of a bowl game. Richard Lagow appears to be a dangerous quarterback, but how does he handle a really weird atmosphere and a secondary that is adept at making quarterbacks look bad. He’ll throw a pick-six and Northwestern will enjoy a much-needed victory as a result.

at Ohio State Buckeyes
Andy: Loss
Dave: Loss
Kevin: Loss
Zach: Loss

Asking Northwestern to go in to Columbus and beat OSU is just simply a task too difficult at this point. Even the best of the best in the country have a rough time of it at the Horseshoe, and this may be the only game this season we see running back Justin Jackson under the 100-yard mark. That’s bad news and Northwestern gets dumped by the Buckeyes in rather easy fashion.

vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Andy: Loss
Dave: Loss
Kevin: Loss
Zach: Loss

Strange things happen when these two teams get together, and let’s just say Wisconsin owes Northwestern in a bad way. UW has lost the last two in the series and shouldn’t have lost either of them, yet found a way to give the game away both times. Don’t expect that to happen with a very good defense married to a much improved run game. Expect a 20-plus point game for the Badgers offense and that will be enough to win it…even in Evanston.

at Purdue Boilermakers
Andy: Win
Dave: Loss
Kevin: Win
Zach: Win

Dave has some pity for the Boilermakers — not so much for myself. Sorry Purdue faithful, but this team simply doesn’t have the consistency nor the athletes to hang with what Northwestern will put on the field. Don’t be surprised to see quarterback Clayton Thorson have a career day throwing to the likes of Flynn Nagel and Solomon Vault for its biggest win of the season on the scoreboard.

at Minnesota Gophers
Andy: Loss
Dave: Win
Kevin: Win
Zach: Win

These two teams go in to 2016 looking like the teams on the outside hoping to contend in the West division. Both have excellent run games, great secondaries and underrated quarterbacks. So, what will give in this one? Home field advantage is what, and that means a win for the Gophers in what should be a classic sloberknocker in the Big Ten West division.

vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Andy: Loss
Dave: Win
Kevin: Loss
Zach: Win

The battle for the Land of Lincoln trophy comes to Ryan Field, and judging by how most on our staff see the Wildcats’ season shaping up this is going to be a vital game to get to bowl eligibility. Little is really known about how the Illini are going to look in Lovie Smith’s first season, but I’m confident that the offense from Illinois is just good enough to give Northwestern all it can handle. Look for Wes Lunt to go out on a high note, lifting the top hat trophy in his final regular season college football game.

 

Season Records:

Andy: 6-6 (3-6 B1G)
Dave: 6-6 (3-6 B1G)
Kevin: 5-7 (3-6 B1G)
Zach: 8-4 (5-4 B1G)

Our Projected Big Ten Standings:

Andy Dave Zach Kevin
Big Ten East
1 Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State
2 Michigan State Michigan Michigan Michigan
3 Penn State Penn State Michigan State Michigan State
4 Michigan Michigan State Penn State Penn State
5 Indiana Indiana Indiana Indiana
6 Rutgers Maryland Maryland Maryland
7 Maryland Rutgers Rutgers Rutgers
Big Ten West
1 Wisconsin Iowa Wisconsin Wisconsin
2 Iowa Wisconsin Iowa Nebraska
3 Nebraska Nebraska Nebraska Iowa
4 Minnesota Minnesota Northwestern
5 Northwestern Northwestern Minnestoa Minnesota
6 Purdue Northwestern
7 Purdue Illinois Purdue Purdue

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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