Saturday’s game between Northwestern and Nebraska was difficult to predict with confidence heading into the weekend, with each team showing flashes of both greatness and mediocrity through just seven weeks of play.
For the Huskers, its been mostly mediocrity, dropping to 3-5 with the loss. Replacing established head coach Bo Pelini with Oregon State‘s Mike Riley confused, even angered a lot of fans and to this point, it’s looking like a mistake. I’m not one to call for the dismissal of a coach after just one season with the program, so I think Riley deserves one more year, but Nebraska dropping in the win column this badly after seven years of being in contention under Pelini certainly puts him on the early hot seat.
Northwestern surprised a lot of experts by jumping out to a 5-0 start, which included an upset over Stanford in the opening weekend. The Cardinal haven’t lost since. They also walked into Durham and beat Duke, who hasn’t lost another game. Their out-of-conference resume is as impressive as anyone’s in the Big 10, but they’ve been throttled in their last two conference games.
The Wildcats needed a bounce-back game to stay alive in the Big 10’s West Division and they were able to with a hard-fought 30-28 win to improve to 6-2.
Justin Jackson is the fourth leading rusher in the Big 10 with 691 yards. He eclipsed 100 yards in four of the first five games but has managed just 95 yards in the three games since. He’s the difference maker in this offense and must find his early-season production if they want to stay with Iowa in the division. Freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson has shown a lot of promise this season, but has been inconsistent and has made mistakes that you’d expect from a freshman starting quarterback. The Wildcats’ defense ranks in the top half of the conference and has been good enough most of the season to keep Northwestern in contention.
Northwestern has a challenging schedule to finish the season, but there isn’t a game that the Wildcats shouldn’t be able to compete in. Following an open week, they’ll host Penn State in Evanston. They’ll close out the season with Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois. With Iowa unbeaten at the top of the standings, it’s safe to say Northwestern will need to win out to have any shot at Indianapolis.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.