MnB Big Ten Preview: Northwestern's schedule is make or break in 2014

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It's that time of year again; time for Maize n Brew's Big Ten football preview! I'll be taking a look at everyone's schedule during this series. This week: Chicago's Big Ten Team.

In 2013 the Wildcats started out 4-0 before getting dismantled in the Big Ten. Wait, they did beat Illinois, so there's that.

Who They'll Play in 2014

Date Opponent Will Northwestern Win or Lose
8/30 California Toss-up
9/6 Northern Illinois Win
9/20 Western Illinois Win
9/27 @ Penn State Loss
10/4 Wisconsin Loss
10/11 @ Minnesota Toss-up
10/18 Nebraska Loss
11/1 @ Iowa Toss-up
11/8 Michigan Toss-up
11/15 @ Notre Dame Loss
11/22 @ Purdue Win
11/29 Illinois Loss

Key Games

Most Winnable: Hmmm, do I continue my over-the-top disregard for Purdue football and choose them? Or do I go with Western Illinois? Gosh, I so want to keep bashing the Boilers because that is some low-hanging fruit right there, my friends, but the answer has to be Western Illinois. Since 2009 the Leathernecks have gone 18-41 and have lost to Big Ten foes Minnesota and Purdue by a (not overly impressive) combined score of 60-33.

Guaranteed Loss(es): Notre Dame. Sure, Wildcats, you beat the Irish the last time you played them, but that was in 1995. Notre Dame leads your series 37-8-2, sooooooo. Prior to 1995, the last Northwestern win came in 1962. That's only two wins in 52 years, people! Granted, the series has seen only sixteen games in that time, but yikes! I also thought about throwing Wisconsin out there as a guaranteed loss, but Northwestern is 4-4 against the Badgers since 2000. That's pretty impressive if you think about it. The Badgers have been a perennial power in the B1G, but have had a habit of getting tripped up by the Wildcats...and this fact is certainly in the minds of every Badgers fan I know. The fear of Northwestern aside, UW should have no problems beating the Wildcats.

Toss-Up(s)

  • California -- Jared Goff got the start for the Bears in last year's game against Northwestern, and he promptly went for 450 yards. Goff will certainly get the nod again this year, and he's going to have a very deep receiving corps to work with on Saturdays. Sophomore Chris Harper tied with freshman Kenny Lawler with five touchdowns on the year. Bryce Treggs will also be returning and will bring 751 yards of offense with him. If Northwestern's defense can tally a couple pick-sixes like they did last year, then this could be a winner for the Wildcats.
  • Minnesota -- these games are always close. In the twelve games they've played since 2000, only four have been decided by double digits, and Northwestern holds a narrow 7-5 edge since then. After sitting out this game last year, it looks as though running back Venric Mark should be in the backfield for this one; if he can repeat his 182 yard and two touchdown performance from 2012, Northwestern could steal one on the road.
  • Iowa -- much like Northwestern's series with Minnesota, their 21st century match-ups with the Hawkeyes have been relatively close in score and is split right down the middle in record, with each team going 6-6 since 2000. C.J. Fiedorowicz won't be there to catch an overtime game winner this year, but Iowa still has some big uglies on the offensive line that could make this a repeat of last year's close one.
  • Michigan -- just think about last year...yeah, that's why I have them in this spot.

The Rest

  • Northern Illinois -- Northwestern is 6-0-1 all-time against the Huskies, but they haven't played since 2005, which means the Cats got to miss out on Jordan Lynch. That should make this year's match-up a lot easier.
  • Penn State -- since joining the Big Ten, Penn State has won 13 of 16 games against Northwestern and the last six. With James Franklin ready to make a splash in his first season in Happy Valley, you can expect this to be a road blowout loss for the Wildcats.
  • Nebraska -- Northwestern has played Nebraska only seven times and has lost five, winning the first on in 1931 and the last in 2011. Last year's game may have been close in Lincoln, but the Cats will be fighting against history. History usually wins.
  • Purdue -- I'm watching the original Rosemary's Baby right now, and I'm telling you this because there's nothing interesting about this game to detail. Mia Farrow was kind of a looker back in the day in a Gwyneth Paltrow kind of way. This was all before Woody Allen screwed her up six ways from Sunday, of course.Or was it Sinatra that did it?
  • Illinois -- and then there's John Cassavetes; I can't seem to watch him in anything else but The Dirty Dozen, but...oh, sorry. Illinois is not Chicago's Big Ten team, but they'll be the winners in Chicago this year. I think Tim Beckman will actually have a decent season in Champaign. Although the Illinois defense really needs to step up, they have some good options at QB that could also make a difference in this game.

The Outlook

Although I don't believe that Pat Fitzgerald is necessarily in any danger of losing his job at this point, Northwestern's schedule has them in a precarious position going into 2014. The man may be a god in Evanston, but if there is a similar result to last year or yet another bowl loss, I think his undercarriage may start to get a little toasty leading up to 2015. The Wildcats are nowhere near the doormat they used to be, but mediocrity is no longer acceptable either.

Other Schedules

- Purdue

- Illinois

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