The Wildcats are ranked in the first College Football Playoff rankings. Do our broadcasters think they can stay ranked with a big win against Penn State tomorrow? The game starts at 11 on ESPNU, but you’ll be listening right here on wnursports.com or on 89.3 FM in Evanston and Chicago.
Ben Goren (@BenG412): Penn State 20, Northwestern 17
This game is going to be phenomenally close. I want to pick NU because of the way Fitz owns James Franklin, but PSU’s defensive line is just too darn good.
Player to Watch: Blake Hance, OT, Northwestern. The inexperienced LT has struggled at times this year. He has no room for error this week.
Ari Ross (@aross50): Northwestern 23, Penn State 17
Whichever offensive line can get the better push, giving their RB more room to run and QB more time to throw, will win this game. Carl Nassib leads a stout defensive line against a banged up Wildcats O-line, while Dean Lowry & co. will try to pressure Christian Hackenberg into mistakes. If Hackenberg has time, and Matthew Harris doesn’t play much, Hackenberg could have a field day picking apart the Northwestern secondary.
Player to Watch: Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern. Getting pressure on Christian Hackenberg, especially with a depleted secondary, will be key and as the Wildcats’ best pass rusher, Odenigbo needs to get pressure against one of the worst O-line’s in the country.
Austin Miller (@austin_james906): Northwestern 20, Penn State 10
Penn State’s offensive line is bad… While I was typing this Christian Hackenberg got sacked again. Northwestern will apply enough pressure to Hackenberg to make it hard for Penn State to score, and NU’s offense will do just enough to get the win and continue the ‘Cats playoff push.
Player to Watch: Penn State’s offensive line. It’s been bad. Christen Sackenberg (see what I did there?) has spent a lot of his season on the turf, and it’ll have to be different this Saturday if PSU is to win.
Josh Burton (@josh_burton1): Penn State 23, Northwestern 17
The Nittany Lions, as evidenced by their 7-2 record, have been a big surprise this season, mostly due to the incredible play of their highly touted quarterback, Christian Hackenberg. Penn State has surrounded Hackenberg with explosive skill-position guys that will make the Lions tough for even Northwestern’s good defense to control. I don’t think the Wildcats’ anemic offense will be able to move the ball well enough to keep up.
Player to watch: Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ top receiver is only a sophomore but has caught 41 passes for 704 yards with three touchdowns in his nine games. His explosiveness and speed make him a great target for Hackenberg’s deep passes as well as making him a very tough cover for any defensive back. He has a catch of 30 or more yards in seven of nine games this season.
Max Gelman (@MaxGelman): Northwestern 38, Penn State 34
In a surprisingly high scoring game, Clayton Thorson outplays top Cleveland Browns prospect Christian Hackenberg. Unlike last year’s family weekend football game, when neither team scored in the first half, Penn State and the ‘Cats will combine for over 800 yards of offense.
Player to watch: Matthew Harris, CB, Northwestern. In his first game action in almost a month, Harris should reinforce the suddenly-thin NU secondary. Hackenberg will probably be too good for them to handle, however.
Ari Levin: Northwestern 27, Penn State 24
Should be a close game, but the ‘Cats should still have enough left in them to pull out a win at home. These Wildcats are ranked #21 by the College Football playoff committee, and have shown they can beat tough competition. This should be interesting since Northwestern and Penn State have both lost only to ranked teams (Michigan and Iowa for Northwestern, Temple and Ohio State for Penn St.)
Player to watch: Christian Hackenberg, QB Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ junior quarterback is expected to be a high NFL draft pick next year, and is an all-around top prospect. How will he hold up against Northwestern’s secondary?
Tim Balk (@timbalk): Northwestern 17, Penn State 16
The ‘Cats’ o-line will probably get creamed by Penn State’s front seven. No matter. Look for NU to benefit from the bye week, the home crowd and an increasingly comfortable Clayton Thorson.
Player to watch: Hackenberg: NU has faced some bad QBs this year. This guy, who is going to be playing on Sundays someday, is not one of them. If the ‘Cats can get pressure on Hackenberg as they did last year, they can keep him from being a game-changer.
Sam Brief (@sambrief): Penn State 24, Northwestern 14
Christian Hackenberg’s efficiency (13 TD to 2 INT)—mixed with a staunch defensive line led by NCAA sacks leader Carl Nassib—will make the difference against a run-of-the-mill Northwestern offense. Penn State by ten.
Player to watch: Blake Hance and Eric Olson, OL, Northwestern. These guys will have the job of containing Nassib on the edges—a daunting task.
Michael Stern (@michaeljstern23): Northwestern 16, Penn State 14
The Wildcats continue to struggle in the red zone, but Matt Harris’ return allows the defense to keep Hackenberg in check. Jack Mitchell hits a field goal at the final buzzer to give NU win number seven.
Player to watch: Cameron Dickerson, WR, Northwestern. After catching 24 passes last season, Dickerson has two receptions this year. Penn State will bring pressure with one of the nation’s best defensive lines, so Clayton Thorson must get rid of the ball quickly and distribute it to his slot receivers, including Dickerson.