Northwestern is looking for a little better luck as it heads into this 2015 college football season. Injuries and close games have cost the 'Cats the last couple of years. Can they get back to a bowl? And more importantly, how should we bet Northwestern this year?
Northwestern Wildcats 2015 Betting Preview
After a run of five bowls in a row Northwestern has missed a bowl the last two seasons. The Wildcats have gone through a recent run of poor luck, with injuries and close losses. This season, though, if it can plug the hole at quarterback, Northwestern stands a decent chance of returning to a bowl.
2014 in Review
Northwestern began last season with some heightened expectations, but lost a couple of key offensive cogs basically before the season even started. The Wildcats then opened with home losses to California and Northern Illinois, both as betting favorites. They then beat Western Illinois, and opened the Big Ten season with upset victories over Penn State and Wisconsin. But Northwestern then gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and lost by seven points to Minnesota, then gave up a halftime lead in a loss to Nebraska, then got blown out by Iowa, then lost by a point to Michigan. The 'Cats found some redemption with an upset victory at Notre Dame, and followed that up with a win at Purdue. Then, with a chance to become bowl-eligible on the line, Northwestern ended the season with a thud, losing at home to Illinois.
So the Wildcats finished 5-7 overall, 3-5 in Big Ten play, and 5-7 against the spreads. The Wildcats have now suffered seven losing ATS seasons out of nine under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Northwestern also went 7-5 on the UNDERS last season, as 'Cats games averaged just 48 points per, a low total for college football.
The Wildcats return 14 starters this season, tied for fifth-most in the Big Ten. Six starters are back on offense, including 1,200-yard rusher Justin Jackson and three along the offensive line. But they'll have to find a new starting quarterback, and replace two of last year's top three receivers. Meanwhile, eight starters are back on defense, including the entire front four and three-quarters of the secondary.
Last season Northwestern averaged 353 yards per game on offense, while allowing 384 YPG on defense. We're not sure if the Wildcats will be able to improve that first figure, but they could improve that second figure. If that's what happens Northwestern will play some relatively low-scoring games this season.
Northwestern opens with a doozy this season, a home date with Stanford. A couple weeks later the Wildcats visit Duke. They also host Ball State, and that might not be a walk in the park, either.
In conference play Northwestern hosts Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State and Purdue, visits Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin and battles Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago. It also misses Ohio State and Michigan State, at least until after the 'Cats win the West Division, right?
We could see Northwestern splitting its four non-conference games, winning three of its home conference games, and beating Illinois. Toss in an upset somewhere along the line and the Wildcats will go bowling.
Betting Northwestern in 2015
Bovada is pegging Northwestern with a wins OVER/UNDER of six, and we see six or seven winnable games on the slate. But the Wildcats must get some better production from the QB spot, and must avoid stumbling in the games they should win. Six wins seems doable; we're just not sure if they can get to seven.
Northwestern seems to have a reputation for playing high-scoring games; half their contests were lined with totals of 51 and above last season. But we're thinking we might find some value betting the UNDERS with the 'Cats this season.