It's unlikely that either Northwestern or Nebraska can win the Big Ten West regardless, but the loser of Saturday's game for sure is eliminated from the race. The Huskers are -7 on YouWager's college football odds with a total of 48.5 points.
Wildcats Trending Wrong Direction
Northwestern was one of the pleasant early surprises of the season as it got off to a 5-0 start, including impressive wins over current ranked teams Stanford and Duke (guess all the smart schools play each other). The Wildcats were ranked 13th in the nation entering their Oct. 10 game at No. 18 Michigan but Northwestern was dominated in a 38-0 loss. NU entered that allowing up a nation-low seven points a game and gave that up in the first 13 seconds on a kickoff return for a score. It allowed a season-high 21 points in the first quarter alone and managed just 168 total yards on offense and held the ball for less than 23 minutes.
So was Northwestern (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten) a fluke or did it have simply a bad day in Ann Arbor? The answer appears to be the former as NU hosted No. 17 Iowa on Saturday and was crushed 40-10 to fall out of the Top 25. The Wildcats allowed Hawkeyes backup running back Akrum Wadley to rush for 204 yards and tie a school record with four rushing touchdowns. Iowa outgained Northwestern 492-198 (season-high 294 yards rushing that NU allowed) and the Wildcats turned it over three times and held the ball for only 22:38. Clayton Thorson was 17-for-35 for 125 yards with a touchdown and pick. Justin Jackson rushed for 30 yards on 10 carries.
To be fair, NU has struggled the past two weeks against what are the Big Ten's best two defenses right now against the run. But in the first five wins, Northwestern never trailed by more than seven. At Michigan, the Wildcats were down by 21 at first quarter's end, and against Iowa they were down by 20 with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter. With those big deficits, it takes the Cats' best weapon, Jackson, out of the game plan.
So now the Wildcats are two games behind Iowa in the Big Ten West and obviously they would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker. But it's not out of the question that Northwestern could win out. After this they host Penn State and Purdue, visit disappointing Wisconsin and face Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago. Also, there have been some rumors that USC might want to speak with Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald about its job opening after this season.
Northwestern is 4-3 against the spread on college football odds this season and 2-5 'over/under.'
Huskers Off Best Win Under Riley
The Huskers (3-4, 1-2) are actually quite close to being unbeaten. They lost Week 1 at home to BYU 33-28 on a Hail Mary on the game's final play. On Sept. 19 at Miami, the Huskers lost 36-33 in overtime after staging a big fourth-quarter comeback to tie. On Oct. 3, Nebraska lost 14-13 at Illinois on a TD pass with only 10 seconds left. And on Oct. 10, NU fell 23-21 at home to Wisconsin on a 46 yard-field goal with four seconds left. So all four losses have come on the opponent's final offensive play.
But last week, Coach Mike Riley's team played its best game of the year in winning 48-25 at Minnesota. Nebraska jumped to a 17-7 lead and then scored 21 unanswered points after Minnesota trimmed the margin to 17-14 late in the second quarter. Huskers QB Tommy Armstrong completed 18-for-26 for 261 yards on the day and three touchdowns. He added eight carries for 38 yards rushing. Running back Terrell Newby rushed for 116 yards on just 13 carries, including a career-long 69-yard TD on Nebraska's first offensive possession. It was the Huskers' longest play from scrimmage this year. The Huskers didn't turn the ball over and had only two penalties.
Saturday's game will feature a reunion of Nebraska's 1995 national championship team, one that many believe is one of the best single-season teams in NCAA history. Nebraska won all 12 games by at least 14 points in 1995; nine of the 12 victories were by at least 37 points. The team will be honored before the game. Nebraska also will wear alternate Husker Bold uniforms for the game.
Nebraska is 4-3 ATS on college football picks and 4-3 O/U.
Nebraska went to Evanston off its first loss of the 2014 season (at Michigan State) and routed the Wildcats 38-17 despite trailing 17-14 at halftime. Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah, now a rookie with the Detroit Lions, had four 1-yard touchdown runs and 146 yards rushing. Armstrong completed 18-for-29 for 221 yards, rushed 10 times for 55 yards and even caught a 16-yard touchdown pass. Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian was 18-for-39 for 173 yards with a pick. Jackson rushed 22 times for 128 yards and two scores. The Wildcats gained just 28 yards on 26 second-half plays. It was a rare blowout in the series. The previous three meetings resulted in victories decided by three points, one point and a last-second Hail Mary (last matchup in Lincoln won 27-24 by the Cornhuskers).
College Football Picks: Take Nebraska -7 at YouWager and 'under.' Northwestern is 2-8 ATS in its past 10 after a loss. The Huskers are 6-2 ATS in their past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The 'under' is 9-4 in Northwestern's past 13 in October.