WildcatReport's staff predicts how Northwestern will fare when the Wildcats travel to West Point for the first time since 1988 to take on Army (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS Sports Network).
We've added a new wrinkle this week: Mr. Big Ten Expansion Rumor, Purple Book Cat, will be our special guest prognosticator. We will invite one WR member to take part in this feature each week.
Guest Prognosticator: Purple Book Cat
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…installing a hidden camera in Jim Delany's office.
How much will Dan Persa play? Persa will start. He'll play every third series until NU takes a two-score lead.
Northwestern wins if… The offensive line dominates the Army front seven, paving the way for Wildcat stakeholders, notably the Kain Colter/Dan Persa and Mike Trumpy/Jacob Schmidt/Treyvon Green factions. The Army offensive tactics pose no long-term threat to the stability of the defense, and all members of the defense (particularly the defensive backs) equitably take care of business.
Northwestern loses if… The Delany-esque tactics of diversion and distraction employed by Army's triple-option attack create insurmountable divisions within the defense, breaking it apart.
The bottom line The last time I watched Northwestern play a service academy, I painted my body purple to witness the 52-3 dismantling of the Wildcats by Air Force, in one of the more embarrassing episodes I have ever endured. I will never again underestimate a service academy, nor should the Wildcats (Google "2002 Northwestern Air Force" to witness the worst thing that's happened to NU football since the Dark Ages). But this is a game the Wildcats have every reason to win.
Prediction Texas 21 Notre Dame 17. Maybe I'm a little too early on that one. How about Northwestern 35 Army 21.
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…breaking down the games every week, anyway. What else do I have to do?
How much will Dan Persa play? Selfishly, I want to see him play a few series. Realistically, I dont think he takes any snaps.
Northwestern wins if… They play a strong, disciplined game. I feel like I am abusing that word this week, but NU has the clear talent advantage. They have to execute and finish.
Northwestern loses if… They are intimidated by the environment of being at Army and lay an egg.
The bottom line Discipline? I am a one-trick pony. It's going to be a barn burner.
Prediction Northwestern 28 Army 24
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…losing money in the stock market.
How much will Dan Persa play? At least one series, probably closer to an entire half.
Northwestern wins if... The defense makes their presence felt. They need to get into the backfield and stop plays before they start in order to help out the offense.
Northwestern loses if… The offense regresses. Now that a running game has been found, this would be the wrong time for the passing game to be rusty or the line to miss assignments.
The bottom line This game is well within the Wildcats' reach. They have to play up to the potential expected of Persa, Jeremy Ebert, Drake Dunsmore, and all the positive news we heard about the defense coming out of pre-season.
Prediction Northwestern 24 Army 10
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…boring everyone in Philadelphia with my arcane knowledge of NU football.
How much will Dan Persa play? Considering Persa still hasn't been given full clearance from the medical staff as of late Thursday night, I don't think he will play this week. Give him two more full weeks of practices/scrimmages, Persa will be ready for Illinois come Oct. 1.
Northwestern wins if… They take care of the football and keep the time of possession battle close to even. Northwestern's up-tempo, fastball offense worked to perfection against Boston College, exhausting Eagles defenders and keeping them off balance. I like a high-paced, dynamic offense as much as the next guy, but it'll be important against Army to control the game clock as much as possible by keeping the ball on the ground and not turning it over.
Northwestern loses if… They don't stay assignment-sound defending Army's offense. Without Jack DiNardo and Brian Arnfelt, the Cats need Niko Mafuli and their younger defensive tackles to play the best football of their careers, as stopping the triple-option attack starts in the "A" and "B" gaps.
The bottom line This is a game that might have worried me in years past, but it's one Northwestern should win. To go 3-0 in the nonconference slate with a bye week before Big Ten play kicks off, and with Persa about to return, this isn't exactly the start to the season fans envisioned three months ago, but it's hard to be disappointed.
Prediction Northwestern 38 Army 21
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…much more likely to find a real journalism job.
How much will Dan Persa play? Unless NU is losing, no more than a few snaps. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is too cautious.
Northwestern wins if… The NU defense bends, but doesn't break. It's pretty much a given that Army will pile on the rushing yards, but that won't matter much if NU makes timely stops.
Northwestern loses if… The Wildcats cough up the football. They have only one turnover this season after a woeful end to last year, and a relapse would leave the defense in a tough spot.
The bottom line It seems that NU's non-conference schedule might not be as tough as previously thought, but a road game is still a road game. It won't be pretty, particularly the hits on Colter, but the Cats will get their 3-0 start.
Prediction Northwestern 27 Army 17
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…enjoying my senior year at NU much more than I am now.
How much will Dan Persa play? With the game safely out of reach thanks to Colter, Persa plays his first series.
Northwestern wins if… The defense was paying attention during its weeklong preparation for Army, studying the triple option.
Northwestern loses if… There is such a thing as the Northwestern "Sailgate Jinx" none of us know about it because it's never happened before.
The bottom line Northwestern has better athletes than Army. If they're patient and play smart, without giving up many big plays against Army's unique gameplan, they'll win easily.
Prediction Northwestern 35 Army 20
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…happily employed at a real media organization.
How much will Dan Persa play? Didn't this guy graduate? If medical staff gives him the OK, expect to see him for a couple of series.
Northwestern wins if… The offense continues to click and the defense can eliminate the big play. Army's offense will roll up yardage, but the key will be to keep the damage minimal while limiting the Black Knights to short gains.
Northwestern loses if… The defense forgets its responsibilities and tries to do too much while the Cats' running game fails to materialize.
The bottom line This game will require Northwestern's defense to play its most disciplined game of the year. It would be especially nice to see if Colter knows Ebert is still part of the Cats' offense. Ball control will be critical
Prediction Northwestern 28 Army 20
If I wasn't writing for WildcatReport I'd be…a much better businessman, husband and father.
How much will Dan Persa play? We might see good ol' No. 7 run a series or two, just to get his feet wet before Illinois in two weeks.
Northwestern wins if… They dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. And they should -- the Wildcats will have a massive size advantage on both the offensive and defensive fronts.
Northwestern loses if… They let Army go on long, clock-bleeding drives and lose possessions by turning the ball over.
The bottom line Army's three biggest defensive linemen weigh 225, 260 and 220 pounds. That tells you all you need to know.
Prediction Northwestern 31 Army 17