2013-14 Northwestern Wildcats Predictions and College Football Betting Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 7/15/2013
Expectations have shifted for the Wildcats. For the last 15 years or so they were expected to make a bowl game, maybe win a big game or two, but not really be a major threat to the Big Ten elite. After a strong 10-3 year last season, though, many people think that this team is poised to make a big step forward. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has stuck around despite being courted by bigger programs, and he is recruiting very well recently. But can he turn his team into the kind of program for which 10 wins and a significant bowl game is just what is supposed to happen? A strong season this year would be a big step in that direction.
Offensively, the biggest key here is going to be the offensive line. It was exceptional last year, allowing fewer sacks than any other team in the Big Ten. The best three players from the unit are all gone, though, so the group needs to mature and develop quickly. With so much of the offense relying on having time to develop and make things happen, the speed with which the offensive line can evolve will define the season. Senior RB Venric Mark is probably their best offensive weapon, and the offensive line will obviously be key to his performance. Likely right tackle Paul Jorgensen, a junior, is particularly important. He has the size to excel, but his technique has been inconsistent when he has played. He needs to find focus and form in a hurry.
The biggest difference on defense last year compared to previous seasons was the aggressiveness they played with — especially up front. The team had tended to be too passive, but last year they looked to make things happen. They didn’t get the number of sacks or tackles for a loss that they would ideally have, but they still forced the issue many times, and that helped make things happen. That trend needs to evolve even further this year. The defense also needs to work on its stamina. Against Penn State and Michigan the defense collapsed late to turn sure wins into painful losses. Maturity and experience should help with that, along with improved depth in the secondary — and an offseason of lessons learned from those past experiences.
Northwestern Schedule Analysis
The Wildcats come into this season facing high expectations. Their schedule should make it easy for them to win seven games if they are the team that people think they are. It’s the other five contests that will determine whether they can meet those expectations or fall well short. The straightforward games include the first four nonconference games — at Cal, then at home against Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine — and then later conference games against Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.
The other five games are much tougher, and they come in groups. At the beginning of October they host Ohio State and then travel to Wisconsin the next weekend. Three weeks later they travel to Nebraska and then host the two teams from Michigan starting with the Wolverines. The good news is that three of those five games are at home. The bad news is that all five teams — with the possible exception of the Spartans if their issues catch up with them — are extremely tough.
2013-14 Northwestern Betting Odds and Trends
Northwestern is well-regarded this year, but not as a real national title contender — they are at +15000. They are the second choice to win the Big Ten Legends Division behind Michigan at +255 and the third pick at +600 to win the Big Ten. They are strong 8.5-point road favorites at Cal in their opener. (All odds are from BetOnline) No team was more profitable than Northwestern was last year. They were 11-1 ATS. They were not nearly attractive to bet on when it came to totals, though — they went “under” six times in 11 tries.
2013-14 Northwestern Wildcats Predictions and College Football Picks
I believe in Fitzgerald and his program. Northwestern will be a better program five years from now than they were five years ago — by a significant margin. That said, I don’t expect a step forward from the team this year. Playing at Wisconsin and Nebraska is going to be tough, Ohio State is very good this year, and Michigan won’t make the same mistakes they made last year. I just don’t see 10 wins to be had this year. Last year they won nine games and then won a bowl game. If they could do that again this year they will have had a successful season, and that seems like a reasonably likely outcome.
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