Will Northwestern bounce back from a difficult loss to Nebraska?
Will the Wildcat offense wake up from its three-week sleepwalk and return to the type of potent attack we are accustomed to seeing in Evanston?
Will the defense be able to cover (no pun intended) for the loss of two cornerbacks, including starter Nick VanHoose?
Those are just some of the questions WildcatReport's staff wrestled with to make our fearless predictions for Saturday's Homecoming game against Iowa.
George "The Glad Hungarian" Stoichev
Northwestern wins if… They wake up on offense. The numbers aren't that bad for NU with scoring at about 30 points per game, but the offense stalls more than a mid-80's Ford. A lot of scoring plays have been quick, explosive strikes. NU needs to eat more yards, burn clock, and continue scoring. Whether that's through the run game or pass game, it doesn't matter. It just needs to happen.
Northwestern loses if… the offense continues to struggle while the defensive line can't get consistent pressure. Let's face it, the secondary is going to be a mess this week and passes will be completed at will. However, that can all be mitigated with a nice pass rush that stifles James Vandenberg's decision making and maybe forces a couple of turnovers. The Cats have to get to the quarterback.
The bottom line… Despite the Nebraska loss, I think the Cats are playing at a higher level than Iowa right now. The Hawkeyes also won't have a week to prepare for the NU O, and their defense is not that stout to begin with. I sense a 2008-like season for NU: 5-0 to start, alternate wins and losses to get to 7-3, end with back-to-back wins for 9-3 and a solid bowl game.
Prediction Northwestern 30 Iowa 20
Alex "Purple" Wayne
Northwestern wins if… Northwestern's defense gobbles up Mark Weisman and Iowa's offense can't seem to find any answers to attack Northwestern's secondary. Iowa's a team that's not feeling as confident than they'd like to, Floyd of Rosedale or not. Weisman's a walkon sensation, and if he gets held to any meager output, then Iowa won't feel like they've got an easy time of it on the road against a program that's answered the challenge against them.
Northwestern loses if… The secondary injuries, particularly to VanHoose, become a real liability. Iowa's passing game doesn't frighten me. It's the idea that the NU defense would be confounded about whether Iowa will run or pass that keeps me from feeling like NU could be caught flat-footed by an Iowa squad as undistinguished as this.
The bottom line… After missing his first attempt, a 53-yarder that the team shouldn't have even needed, Jeff Budzien comes back like a man possessed. He hits three field goals and begs for an opportunity at a 48-yarder, but coach Pat Fitzgerald calms him down as the offense moves back to more snaps with Kain Colter at QB. He runs the offense with more option plays, and Mike Trumpy gets the ball more often on the ground. A long week of passing drills has Tony Jones and Kyle Prater better prepared, and Northwestern finds their groove yet again.
Prediction Northwestern 30 Iowa 27
Danny "Less Is" Moran
Northwestern wins if… Offensive coordinator Mick McCall attempts to establish Colter as a legitimate passing threat. He can't be more inaccurate than Trevor Siemian was last week, and it will open up the running game.
Northwestern loses if… Weisman carries the ball more than 20 times. Each time he has done so this season, he's rushed for over 100 yards.
The bottom line: Northwestern hasn't played a good all-around game since Big Ten season started but are lucky enough to be 2-2. Their luck continues since they have a banged up secondary but will play against Vanderberg. The Wildcats' defense will be able to do just enough to limit the Hawkeyes' scoring and win the field-postion battle in the fourth quarter to take the game.
Prediction: Northwestern 20 Iowa 17
Larry "Kilo" Watts
Northwestern wins if… The defense sets up shop in Iowa's backfield and makes like miserable for Vandenberg while the Wildcat offense can be consistent from start to finish.
Northwestern loses if… Vandenberg has time to pick apart Northwestern's depleted secondary.
The bottom line… This game should come down to the loss of two Iowa offensive linemen and two Northwestern cornerbacks.
Prediction Northwestern 31 Iowa 17
Louie "C.K." Vaccher
Northwestern wins if… The offense is less predictable than an after-school special. Let Colter throw some passes and Siemian hand the ball off once in a while. Right now, everyone in the stadium knows what type of play is coming based on whether No. 2 or No. 13 is taking the snap.
Northwestern loses if… The Wildcats can't put pressure on Vandenberg. He's been having a difficult year, but he will eventually find open receivers against Northwestern's banged-up secondary if the pass rush isn't there.
The bottom line: Northwestern should win this game, period. They are the better team, playing at home, with more to lose. The offense doesn't need to be Oregon -- if they consistently move the chains, the Cats should get the W on Homecoming.
Prediction: Northwestern 26 Iowa 17