It’s gameday eve!
In just over 24 hours, Northwestern will take the field for the first time in the 2019-20 season as they take on Stanford in Palo Alto. The early betting line favors the Cardinal by 6.5 points.
You can listen to Zach Koons, Ben Krieger, Jack Lido, and Pat Timlin on the call for WNUR Sports on 89.3 FM with coverage beginning at 2:30 central.
Let’s get our staff’s picks for the game:
Parker Johnson (@ParkerKJohnson): Stanford 24, Northwestern 23
Word on the street has it that Wildcat fans will be seeing healthy doses of both TJ Green and Hunter Johnson in this one. This concerns me, because in the two games that Green and Clayton Thorson truly shared snaps last year, Northwestern failed to register a passing touchdown. In one of those games (the season-opener at Purdue), NU stole a 31-27 victory by capitalizing on turnovers. In the other game (Duke), NU did not, and it resulted in a 21-7 loss. Stanford QB KJ Costello is a cool and collected presence in the pocket who will make plays and avoid crucial mistakes, so I see Stanford pulling this game out against a confused, sputtering Northwestern offense.
Ben Krieger (@thebenkrieger): Northwestern 17, Stanford 14
Disrespected once again by the national preseason polls, Northwestern’s defense plays with a chip on its shoulder and completely shuts the Cardinal down. Although the Wildcats struggle to find a rhythm offensively as Pat Fitzgerald extends the quarterback rotation into game action, they produce enough to get the win in the season opener.
Player to watch: Isaiah Bowser, RB, Northwestern
The easy choice here would be QB Hunter Johnson, and you certainly should watch him. But we don’t know how much he will play, and we know that Northwestern’s offense flows through its running backs. Bowser was impressive as a first year in 2018, and the Wildcats will certainly be relying on him early and often this season. A sophomore leap in his efficiency could transform Northwestern’s offense.
Kevin Sweeney (@CBB_Central): Northwestern 24, Stanford 19
In my mind, this game will be decided by which team is able to most effectively run the football. Both Pat Fitzgerald and David Shaw desperately want balance on the offensive side of the ball, and both teams had their struggles in the run game last season due to injuries and inconsistency. In my mind, Isaiah Bowser is the best back in this game, and that gives Northwestern the edge. A reinvigorated offensive line led by new O-Line coach Kurt Anderson gives Bowser plenty of room to operate, and the ‘Cats win a close one in Palo Alto.
Player to watch: Travis Whillock, S, Northwestern
This Stanford offense is very multiple, which requires defenses to be versatile and handle mismatches. A big, physical safety like Whillock who can provide run support in the box and also drop back in coverage is critical in winning games like this. If Whillock picks up where he left off last season, the ‘Cats defense will be in great shape.
Dave Peck (@dpeck10): Northwestern 20, Stanford 17.
A preseason quarterback battle certainly doesn’t guarantee sloppy play, but the divided practice reps between sophomore Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson and senior TJ Green may manifest itself in a slow offensive start for the ‘Cats. If NU has a chance to steal one in Palo Alto, it’s going to take a solid defensive effort from the guys up front.
Player to Watch: Joe Gaziano, DE, Northwestern
Beyond the attention that the QB situation will surely garner, I’m interested to see how some of NU’s top defensive players start the season, specifically senior defensive lineman Joe Gaziano. It’s no secret that Gaziano is one of the most formidable forces on the ‘Cats defense, but will he pick up where he left off after last season’s 44 tackle, 7.5 sack effort? With some question marks on offense, I’ll look for defensive leaders like Gaziano to keep things close against a Stanford team that ranked 11th in points per game among Pac-12 teams last season.
Eric Rynston-Lobel (@ericr_l): Northwestern 16, Stanford 13
Since Northwestern released its depth chart with “TJ Green OR Hunter Johnson” as the starting quarterback, this game scares me a little. Even if either or both players are productive, I’m not a huge fan of switching quarterbacks during the game.
We saw this last year when Fitz eased Clayton Thorson back after a torn ACL, and the offense was inconsistent. I’d rather the offense be inconsistent with one quarterback than with two. Ultimately, though, the ‘Cats have a propensity for figuring out how to win ugly games. I suspect this will be an ugly game, and I suspect they’ll come away with a win.
Player to watch: Isaiah Bowser, RB, Northwestern
Wh uncertainty at QB, Bowser will need to have a strong game to help the ‘Cats move the ball.
Drew Myers: Northwestern 31, Stanford 28
This is a quite a test for the Wildcats in their first game as they will be playing #25 Stanford on the road. Coming into the season without Clayton Thorson, Northwestern will also be navigating an offense with a new starting quarterback for the first time in years. While this game will certainly be a challenge for Northwestern, I believe the ‘Cats, who retained some of their better players, can beat Stanford who had an up-and-down season last year that finished below expectations.
Player to Watch: Hunter Johnson
Hunter Johnson has gotten a lot of chatter this offseason being a highly ranked quarterback when he was in high school and this should be the first opportunity we have to see him prove himself as Northwestern’s future starting quarterback.
Henry Ettinger (@Henry_Ettinger): Stanford 21, Northwestern 13
I have just watched too many duds from the ‘Cats in on-conference games. I have officially become a cynic. I know Fitz is about to give me his rotate the quarterbacks, create no offensive rhythm, and get shut out for the first half special. The defense will be really good all game, but a backbreaking touchdown from K.J. Costello should come with 6-8 minutes left in the fourth quarter to make it 21-6. Whoever is left back there will lead the ‘Cats to a touchdown, but following a missed extra point, there won’t be enough time left for another possession…
Players To Watch: T.J. Green OR Hunter Johnson QBs, Northwestern:
The OR says it all. Northwestern has talent across the board, but their season success depends on one of OR both of their quarterbacks.
Zach Koons (@zachkoons): Stanford 24, Northwestern 21.
The start of everyone Northwestern season seems to be filled with unwavering optimism and for the 2019 season, I stand mostly on the side of the believers. The Wildcats are going to be GOOD this year, but opening up on the road against an extremely talented Stanford squad is a tough task for any team. Cardinal QB K.J. Costello will have a field day against a shaky ‘Cats secondary and the offense will struggle to find it’s rhythm with no clear #1 quarterback.
Player to watch: Daniel Kubiuk, Punter, Northwestern. Field position wins ball games. Kubiuk is a converted QB and won the starting job, so now it’s time to back up a strong offseason by remaining consistent and forcing Stanford into tough starting field position.