Fearless Friday Predictions

I had a chance to hear Pat Fitzgerald on WGN radio this morning for his weekly interview with Dave Eanet.  One concern is the weather for tomorrow’s game as it looks like potential snow moving through the Happy Valley area in the morning but it will hopefully be done by noon time according to the self proclaimed “weather watcher” Fitz.  He also discussed Doug Bartels being out for a couple of weeks with a shoulder injury. 

Separately, Dan Persa continues to enjoy some big time pub as Teddy Greenstein continues on the Persa-returns-to-show-up-the-team-that-spurned-him angle with this doozy of a piece that implies Penn State was not exactly straight up with Dan in high school according to Dan Persa Sr.  More noteworthy though is Teddy’s assessment that Persa is the leading candidate to win the Big Ten’s MVP award – the Chicago Tribune Silver Football. Check it out here.

On to some fearless Friday predictions. We’ll start with the ‘Cats.

Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) @ Penn State (5-3, 2-2) – 3:30 pm et/2:30 pm ct-  ABC/ESPN2

By now you know the stats, the storyline and the stakes.  In general, I really like the match-ups of strengths and weaknesses here.  The Penn State OL has been a soft spot andn our DL has really stepped  up in recent weeks, in particular on stuffing the run.  Converesly, their DL has been dinged up and not been able to get a lot of pressure on QBs and we’ve got some good speed advantages over their middle of the back-7 (when was the last time you heard that).  I still believe we’ll need some old school takeaways in this one to really give us a boost and hopefully we can come out early to keep the crowd somewhat subdued.  Happy Valley is the type of place that can turn to Death Valley once momentum and the crowd kick it in.  Buckle-up for a white knuckler – AGAIN – but this time I think we come out on top. As mentioned, I believe this is a program pivot game and a “must” for us to get to 8 wins for the 3rd consecutive year.

Northwestern 23 Penn State 21

Iowa (6-2, 3-1) @ Indiana (4-4, 0-4) 12 pm et – BTN

This one has blowout written all over it.  The Hawkeyes are flying high after crushing then #5 Michigan State 37-6 keeping their Big Ten title hopes very much alive.  Their defense is stout as usual and they’re giving up just 14 ppg.   They’re clicking on offense as both Iowa and Indiana’s offenses resemble each other with one major difference – the Hawkeyes have a formidable ground game with Adam Robinson.  The Hoosiers have struggled converting yards in to points against Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern so there is no reason to believe they break precedent here. I expect Iowa to be blitzing with authority and blowing Indiana out setting up yet another chance for Northwestern to ruin Iowa’s Big Ten title hopes again next week in Evanston. 

Iowa 41 Indiana 17

Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) @ #16 Michigan State (8-1, 5-1)

Last week we saw what Iowa plays like when they’re mad and this week we’ll get to see how Sparty looks when they have red in their eyes.  Granted, Minnesota as an opponent does not exactly provide a true test for this theory, but no ‘Cat fan can condemn a team that took a Cardiac ‘Cat comeback to beat.  The “same old Spartans” theorists will be keeping a close eye on this one expecting the unexpected but I’m banking on the bounce back in front of the home crowd.

Michigan State 34 Minnesota 17

Illinois (5-3, 3-2) @ Michigan (5-3, 1-3) – 12 pm et – ESPN

Amazing how two teams with the exact same overall record can have such distinctly different perceptions.  The Illini are being lauded as the surprise and potentially most dangerous team in November as they’ve shored-up their “D” and are playing with an intensity not seen in the Zook era.  Meanwhile, the hot seat is burning in Ann Arbor as RichRod is again commanding a ship that started 5-0 and may not become bowl eligible despite 4 games left to play.  This game is HUGE for his tenure at Michigan as he hasn’t had many chances to get bowl eligible, especially at home.  Add to the fact the NCAA just added a year of probation to Michigan’s self-imposed two years and while you can see here this isn’t actually that the announcement isn’t that big of a deal, it adds to the PR challenges for the very image-conscience school.  This is the game outside of NU that I’m most intrigued to watch.  Shoelace against a solid Illini D that has already proven it can contain an Ohio State offense.  Freshman Nathan Scheelhaase is playing like a veteran and I expect a huge day out of him as Michigan has become the laughingstock of Big Ten defenses.  I think it’s close, but the Illini take control early and never relinquish the lead.

Illinois 34 Michigan 26

#7 Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1) @ Purdue (4-4, 2-2) – 12 pm et – Big Ten Network

The Badgers are approaching rare air under Bielema. Just a few weeks removed from trying to shed the “can’t beat ranked teams” stats, Wisconsin promptly beat #1 Ohio State and then top-15 Iowa in back-to-back weeks.  Objective observers might say the Badgers and Sparty have the easiest road to the Big Ten title and a Scotch-taped Purdue team shouldn’t be a problem for this Wisconsin team.  The Boilers are again dealing with QB injuries and are even further down the depth chart than when they came to town and upset NU.  However, Wisconsin just has too much offensive firepower and too good of a defense to let this one get away.  The Badgers are the highest they’ve been ranked since they were #5 back in 2007 and have a 4-game winning streak over Purdue. Get this, they’ve outscored Purdue the past two seasons 61-3.

Wisconsin 34 Purdue 16

Hoop-La – ‘Cats Win Exhibition Opener 91-71

NU started very slowly but Drew Crawford and John Shurna paced the way with 16 and 19 points respectively.  Click here for the NUsports.com recap.  The ‘Cats open up the regular season one week from today against Northern Illinois, a team I which we had in place of the FCS game every year on the football schedule.

  • So, no actual pick for the Wisconsin-Purdue game?

    Note that Iowa’s RB Adam Robinson may not play against Indiana, although I doubt that will have much of an impact on the game.

  • NUdone88

    Your picks seem about right to me. Yes, weather could be a factor tomorrow. This cold rain snow stinks in Chicagoland right now. Looking forward to an afternoon on the couch watching our Wildcats play for something meaningful. This could be our perfect game that we so desparately need. I always say it’s about Momentum in college football.

    Let’s see how our Cats roll….

  • Lake The Posts

    @jhodges – thanks – yes I saw that, but to your point, we’ve learned that Iowa RBs are almost insignificant in terms of name on the jersey as they continually produce from that spot as they amazingly just replace injured player after injured player.

  • In terms of rooting interest for bowls, I think we’re looking for Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Indiana to win this week. Too bad I don’t really see Iowa losing to Indiana…

  • NU Cat 95

    Not sure if this was discussed on another thread (I didn’t see a full post about it). But was curious to get folks’ thoughts on this article:

    http://www.altoonamirror.com/page/content.detail/id/543934/Giger–Fitzgerald-would-leave-Northwestern-for-PSU-job.html?nav=746

  • NU Cat 95: It’s been discussed to some length on both ESPN’s boards and Sippin’ on Purple. I think the general consensus is that there’s so little credibility to the source that we’ve already dismissed it.

  • NU Cat 95

    Ah, missed those. Right on, Sasser. Thanks for the scoop.

  • jason
  • kinsella316

    @jason – even though it’s “just a lowly blogger,” it’s cool to see someone related to that school in south bend give the ‘Cats some love. The guy makes some good points, especially about the ‘Cats attitude on the field. Cool to see some admiration towards Coach Fitz and the NU Football Family!

  • wildcat6

    That Team From South Bend is looking for a buoy, a lifeline, an oar, anything to hang on to. Utah and USC (and maybe even Army) will give them anchors. Sorry Irish, 5-7, no bowl this year….unless there are only 69 bowl-eligible teams! Even then, they’d probably turn it down like they did last year.

  • My prediction (first of the year) is Northwestern 27, Penn State 10.

  • zeek

    I don’t think Fitz would leave unless two things occur at the same time: 1) NU reaches a ceiling or waning fan support/administration support, and 2) opening at one of the very top jobs.

    While Penn State fits the second criteria for sure, there’s nothing to suggest that his program building effort at Northwestern has stalled or will stall any time soon. Recruiting continues to get better and better as last week showed with perhaps our earliest recruit ever (and one that should be a 4 star), and fan support is going to be at a 14 year high after this year, since we’re looking at an average of 36,000 compared to 24,000 in the stands last year.

    Considering that the administration is probably going to put down $100M+ for facilities improvements in the next few years if the Populous hiring is any indication as well as the new marketing efforts and Wrigley game, Fitz would probably not consider leaving because Northwestern hasn’t hit a ceiling and he probably believes he can build it into a consistent power with the support that he’s getting from the administration.

    Of course, right now everything is going perfectly, which is why I can say that confidently. But if say in a couple years time, things start to get rocky and recruiting falls a notch, or we have a string of <4 win seasons where the fanbase collapses, I think he might consider leaving. Until there's an indication that he can't achieve what he wants to achieve at Northwestern, which is to build the program into a consistent power that can possibly reach the Big Ten Championship game every couple of years, I don't think he's going to leave.

  • DT

    Who is this Giger guy, anyway? An Altoona, paper? Gotta love these anonymous sources, with the highly descpriptive, “with a smile, saying absolutely” or whatever the yarn spun was… I’m sure, Fitz, is chomping at the bit, to leave the North Shore of Chicago, for the garden spot of West Appalachia in State College… Beyond the football program and a minor league baseball program, the biggest attraction and cultural mecca near secluded PSU, is Hershey, and venerable, ‘Chocolate World”… Needless to say, dynamic and prosperous Altoona, and the robust journalism found there, would be a huge draw! How could Fitz say no to all that? Please… Maybe, the Coach at Rutgers, is still interested in Joe Pa’s gig… Quite possible, after years in Jersey, he just might find the trek through the Nittany Mountains to The Happy Valley, quite attractive…

    Cats= 34
    PSU= 27

    Not yet Jo Pa…

  • Re: FITZ TO PSU HYPOTHETICAL ARTICLE

    As I said on Twitter yesterday, this was clearly an attempt to drum up pageviews/readership by a local paper columnist – and it appears as though he was successful. As many others have noted, many of the facts in his article are incorrect (especially given that NU has vastly increased its support of the football program over the past year: marketing and facilities in particular, and Fitz’s new contract reportedly pays significantly more than the number quoted in the article, which was likely his salary under his original contract). Anyways not sure why he had to craft a story like this when there are plenty of other storylines going on for this game.

  • wildcat6

    I would be very surprised if Penn State did not hire from within, just as JoePa was hired in 1966 to succeed the very successful Rip Engle, who was head coach from 1950-1965. Did you know that Penn State has had FOUR head coaches since 1930, and one of those was for one year only?! That is amazing, unprecedented, and not repeatable in this era of college football.

    Why would Adam Rittenberg distribute that dubious and unsubstantiated link containing the hearsay of Fitz potentially ditching NU for Penn State? Right before the big game? Right after his video interview of Fitz expressing his admiration for JoePa? A real head-scratcher….

  • zeek

    wildcat6, the other reason why they would hire internally is that no external candidate could ever hope to measure up to JoePa.

    I mean, you’re setting up any external coaching hire for failure, since his shoes are too big to ever be filled. That’s the main reason why I’d expect the first coach after JoePa to be an internal hire. There’s no need to go for a splashy coach who would likely be overwhelmed by the hype. The second hire would make a lot more sense as an external hire in terms of taking their program in a new direction.

    In any case, as JHodges said, this topic is pointless. There’s absolutely no indication that Fitz would want to leave and this story is based on some random hearsay that was thrown in with a bunch of incorrect facts.

  • wildcat6: Adam Rittenberg is obligated to try and have some equal level of coverage for each of the football teams. If you noticed, this article was cited as one of his regular “Big Ten Lunch Links”, and during the season, Adam tries to have one news link involving each team. The inherent problem is that our ‘Cats still get the least press coverage of any team — most of his links are to articles by Teddy G. or from one of the major football sites (Bleacher Report or Rivals).

    Adam’s looking for something that hasn’t been rehashed several times already. But due to the low coverage, he sometimes reaches a little too far out there and grabs something that shouldn’t be publicized. I don’t fault Adam for promoting bad journalistic ethics, as I don’t think that’s his intention. If anything, I would challenge the ‘Cats blogosphere to go out, perhaps do some reporting, post it up and then let Adam know it’s out there. LTP, I don’t know if you do this already, but I know you have several posts over the course of a season that would be worthy of Adam’s Lunch Links. I’m sure he’d appreciate the fresh views (not to mention it would make his job easier).

  • vaudvillain

    I know that at least one LTP post made it onto Adam’s “lunch links” — if I recall correctly, it was after the loss to Purdue.

  • buckyor

    LTP also got linked by the BTN facebook page today, with photo of Wrigley being prepared for the game in a few weeks.

  • Rossington

    Hey, Mandel picked NU over PSU, 21-17, in his SI.com column on this weekend’s games. Here’s his take and a link:

    Northwestern (6-2) at Penn State (5-3)
    Joe Paterno, 83, will be going for his 400th career victory. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, 35, will be going for his 33rd. The Nittany Lions’ offense found its mojo the past two weeks against Minnesota and Michigan, but those are the Big Ten’s worst defenses. The Wildcats will slow down the Lions’ running game, and Northwestern QB (and Pennsylvania native) Dan Persa will put No. 400 on hold.

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/stewart_mandel/11/05/week-10-pickoff/index.html?eref=sihp#ixzz14RYjTYDE

    Go Cats!

  • PBRCat

    I doubt that Penn State would be the type of a work environment where a talented young coach like Pat Fitzgerald would be permitted to “grow” on the job. It would be extremely difficult to live down a loss like the one that occurred in the 2007 Duke game in Happy Valley. Following Joe Paterno is not going to be an easy job for any possible successor.

    I think Fitzgerald is committed to Northwestern for the foreseeable future. The team is showing progress on and off the field now and I think that he wants to be a part of it for as long as he has something to achieve and accomplish.

  • Henry in CT

    NU has had two great coaches in my time (Parsegian and Barnett) prior to Fitzgerald who left for greener pastures so everyone supposes that Fitz will leave also but this time I feel quite certain that it wont happen. The premise of the article about Fitzgerald leaving is that the NU program will never really be able to compete because of the higher academic standards but this is clearly wrong. It is possible to win at NU and all signs indicate that NU is going in the right direction to improve the program and BTW the standards at Penn St are pretty high as well. I think a lot of coaches would like to step into the situation that Fitz has now. Second, the expectations at NU are still moderate although improving but they would be very high at PSU. Succeeding Paterno is going to be practically a no-win situation sort of like following Wooden at UCLA. Fitz has a chance to accomplish something much greater at NU than he could ever do at PSU and he will become a much hotter commodity and he will get paid very well. In fact, I think pay has nothing to do with this at all. Finally, this is a question of character. Fitzgerald’s ties to NU are much stronger than were those of Barnett who previously coached at Colorado and played at Missouri. Barnett walked away after promising that he would never do so and things eventually ended about as badly they could for him. I can’t imagine anything like this ever happening with Pat Fitzgerald. Most think that he symbolizes Northwestern and we all know that Barnett is blacklisted from college football.

  • Lake The Posts

    @ all – thanks for the thoughts, links etc. Might be the first ND fan that went pro-NU in my life. Really good article. To all – as it relates to the Fitz-to-PSU “rumor”. I go out of my way to not publicize posts, commentary etc.. that is just baseless or bad. Without revealing too much and please know this is not said to be self-gratuitous, but I correspond with many of the media – from Adam Rittenberg to Teddy among others and they often read not only the posts but your comments to get a feel for Wildcat Nation. Indeed AR links from time to time but also sends me emails (as do many media members) when I’m either a)spot on in their opinion or b)way off in their opinion. Bottom line is your opinions matter.

  • Dave Peterson

    I know we relish the underdog role but it just gets me so angry reading PSU blogs this week…despite major media outlets predicting a close game if not a ‘Cat win these guys unanimously still think their Lions are going to win by 10+…ugh when do we get respect?!?!?

    ‘Cats 27 Lions 26

  • zeek

    Respect has to be earned. Just like every year before this when we drop games to Duke or Syracuse or Minnesota or whoever, everyone talks us down and assumes that we’re going to get blown out by Iowa/Wisconsin/etc. We have to go out and win tough games like this. Win this and we get ranked probably as well as a lot of respect.