No. 5 – Northwestern Wildcats 1-3 (0-1)
Last Week: 5
Even though Northwestern is 1-3, they’ve played nearly all quality teams up to this point. Western Michigan is arguably the best team in the MAC this year, Duke has formed a respectable program, and Nebraska is now #15 in the nation. Of course, losing to Illinois State 9-7 is not going to be easy to forget, and the Wildcats have a very tough road ahead of them to become bowl eligible, but this isn’t the week Purdue or Illinois jumps ahead of them.
Maybe I’m just like everyone else, waiting for Northwestern to turn their season around and show at least a little of what they did in 2015 when they won 10 games. The truth is that might not come. They’ve only allowed a remarkable 17 points per game this season, but teams are honing in on star running back Justin Jackson, forcing Clayton Thorson to throw.
That leads to a lot of problems for the Wildcats as Thorson has completed just 53.2 percent of his passes. Jackson is averaging a career-low 4.1 yards per carry, and it won’t get much better until Thorson relieves some pressure off him or their offensive line drastically improves.
If it wasn’t for a missed 27-yard field goal and extra point, the Wildcats would have been in the thick of things with Nebraska in the fourth quarter. They ended up falling 24-13, however those were four big points off the board. Not to mention they also played the Cornhuskers very tough in the first half, only trailing 10-7.
Although, the biggest scare of the game is when star linebacker Anthony Walker went down. Luckily for the Wildcats, he returned to the game in just a couple of plays and should suit up against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a make or break game for both struggling teams this week.
When it comes down to it, the Wildcats caught a lot of lucky breaks in 2015, which helped them reach 10 wins. Sure, they’re 1-3 with a loss to Illinois State, but their win over Duke was impressive and they’ve shown flashes against Western Michigan and Nebraska of the team they were last year. The difference is they’re not catching the breaks this season.
Northwestern has one of the best defenses in the nation but Justin Jackson can’t carry the whole offense by himself. There are too many question marks surrounding this team, but, at the same time, mostly everyone would confidently pick them to beat Illinois or Purdue.