You know you do it. You’ve already peaked ahead to the 2013 schedule and done the mental checklist of “win” or “loss” in your Malcolm Gladwell-esque instant reaction to the opponent. Let’s take a peek at the 12-game slate and offer some nuggets of wisdom on trying to hopelessly predict what could be.
8/31/13 - @ Cal - Sonny Dykes is the new sheriff/head coach in town after a very successful stint as the head coach of Lousiana Tech, where he finished up his third year with a 9-3 mark. The 2011 WAC coach of the year inherits a 3-9 Cal squad that will be looking for Dykes to replicate his instant impact turnaround skills which he flexed at La Tech. Fans of LTP are clamoring for Seal-gate – a non-conference fan infiltration to the Bay Area, which we haven’t been to since we played Stanford in the early 1990s. The ‘Cats will be favored, but this is a danger game as Dykes unleashes his new system on the Cal Golden Bears.
LTP Pick: Northwestern win
9/7/13 – Syracuse: The 2012 season-opening win at Syracuse looks a hell of a lot better in January of 2013 than it did in early September. The ‘Cuse won the Big East and won 9 games, including a blowout Pinstripe Bowl win over West Virginia. QB Ryan Nassib has become one of the top NFL prospects at the glamour spot and thank God he’s gone. Doug Marrone left Syracuse to take on the head coaching job of the Buffalo Bills, which means this off-season will include serious transition time both at the head coaching spot and at QB. The changing of the guard is enough to likely have NU as a single digit favorite over New York’s Big East Team.
LTP Pick: Northwestern win.
9/14/13 – Western Michigan – This is the Jim Phillips scramble to fill the schedule game. Vanderbilt was on the docket for a Nashville engagement, but pulled the plug in less-than-credible fashion earlier this year. NU scrambled to fill the vacant date with any team, and MAC lower tier Western Michigan, fresh off a coaching change, was just what we could muster. Bill Cubit got the axe after a 4-8 season and former NIU Husky standout, PJ Fleck, assumes the reigns of the Broncos. Fleck has become Fitz junior as one of the youngest head coaches in America.
LTP Pick: Northwestern decisive win.
9/21/13 – Maine - The ‘Cats annual FCS opponent should likely pose little challenge to NU. The Black Bears, known for launching the career of Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, have struggled in year 20 under head coach Steve Cosgrove. Maine went 5-6 in the CAA last season, including a 34-3 loss to common opponent, Boston College.
LTP Pick: Northwestern blowout win.
10/5/13: Ohio State – After a bye week, Northwestern willl open the B1G season with a home date with Ohio State. It’s been four years and two coaching changes since we last faced the Buckeyes and this will be as hot as a ticket as could be in Evanston. Assuming we go 4-0 as predicted and buoyed by a preseason Top 20 ranking, NU will likely be mid-teens, hosting a Top 5 Buckeyes squad coming off a 12-0 season. The Buckeyes must replace essentially their entire defensive line, but you can bet, backed by Braxton Miller , they’ll be heavy favorites in a guaranteed sellout at Ryan Field.
LTP Prediction: Ohio State wins in close one.
10/12/13 – @Wisconsin – The ‘Cats will open the B1G road slate with a tough one, a date in Camp Randall against newbie coach, Gary Andersen. Wisconsin returns to the ‘Cats schedule after a two year hiatus and will be looking once again to try and find its offensive identity as the Badgers look to restock the skill positions. Here’s to NU eking out a classic barnburner in Madtown.
LTP Prediction: Northwestern win in nailbiter fashion.
10/19/13 – Minnesota – This is the classic quick glance “win” response from NU fans, yet, games against the Gophers always seem to come down to the last possession. Northwestern will be favored in this one, but if the past is any predictor of current/future games, it should be a Cardiac ‘Cat type game.
LTP Prediction: Northwestern win.
10/26/13 – @Iowa – Oh, Iowa. That program which we’ve managed to own during the Pat Fitzgerald era. Kirk Ferentz has been under relatively intense scrutiny after a dismal 4-8 campaign and the ongoing challenges of a vanilla offense and a cursed RB position. By now, Iowa has Northwestern marked as a rivalry game, so they’ll be ready to go, but, this one is too important for NU to let slip away.
LTP Prediction: Northwestern narrow win.
11/2/13 – @Nebraska – The ‘Cats return to the site of their monumental 2011 upset win over the Huskers. The mystique of Nebraska is gone, and it is now a full-fledged, burgeoning rivalry, as NU looks to avenge the 29-28 comeback loss from 2012. Rex Burkhead may be gone, but the key pieces of the Huskers are back for battle in 2013. This one promises to be yet another dogfight.
LTP Prediction: Heartbreaking loss.
11/16/13 – Michigan – Buoyed by OL stud Taylor Lewan returning for another year, and a full year of prep for rising star QB Devin Gardner, the ‘Cats sure sellout home date with Big Blue has the potential to be another classic. ‘Cats fans are still in knee-jerk pain when they see the Michigan name, as we had them dead to rights in the Big House last season before a Hail Mary play saved the day. This is one of those season make-or-break games and could very well be for the division title. As evidenced by our on-field match-up last year, Northwestern and Michigan may very well be the most evenly matched teams in the entire conference. It’s coin flip time.
LTP Prediction: Loss on last possession
11/23/13 – Michigan State – Fitz and company had a watershed win over Sparty, ending a seemingly never-ending slide against Mark Dantonio. The Spartans will be a work in progress this season and have lost their three biggest playmakers – RB Le’Veon Bell, DE William Gholston and TE Dion Sims – to early entry in the NFL draft. It’s a crushing blow to a team that was mediocre in 2011, but still scared the hell out of you. Expect the Spartans to be down again this year, and this is one that Northwestern has a chance to make a statement in.
LTP Prediction – Northwestern double-digit win
11/30/13 – @ Illinois – The LOL trophy is alive and well in Evanston after this year’s blowout win over Tim Beckman’s Illini. The 2013 fortunes don’t look to be too bright for our in-state rival and on paper, this one looks like a decisive advantage to the men in purple and black. The ‘Cats take care of business and await their January 1 bowl selection.
LTP Prediction – Blowout win
So, there you go. A way-too-early schedule surf of 2013. You could make an argument that we could go 11-1 or 7-5. The Ohio State game, which we very well could win, is the only one on the schedule that you know we’ll be a decided underdog entering the game. Every other game we’ll be favored or a very slight underdog. Most people will look at the Ohio State, Michigan, @Wisconsin and @Nebraska games and say “if we win X out of those four…” while counting on us to win out on the rest of the schedule. Let me hear you…