Expectations are high for Northwestern heading into the 2021 season.
After their second Big Ten Championship appearance in three seasons, the road back to Indianapolis for coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team is a 12-game roster that includes three straight non-conference clashes and a tough six-game streak for Big. Ten to conclude the regular season.
September 3 v Michigan State
2020 review: 2-5
Last matchup: 2020 (Michigan State 29 – No. 8 Northwestern 20)
Northwestern will be looking to avenge last year’s loss to Michigan State in the season opener at Ryan Field.
The Spartans are looking to improve in coach Mel Tucker’s second year in office and return the five starting offensive linemen, as well as impact players, including wide receiver Jalen Nailor. Like the Wildcats, Michigan State is hosting a quarterback battle between red-shirted second-year quarterback Payton Thorne and transfer of Temple graduates Anthony Russo.
An early season win over a Big Ten opponent could set the tone for NU’s 2021 season.
September 11 against Indiana State
2020 record: no match due to COVID-19
Last match: Never
For the first time in the history of the program, NU will face Indiana State.
The Sycamores, who retired from the spring 2020 season, have not played since Nov. 23, 2019. Indiana State has struggled recently, last making the 2014 playoffs. of Division I of the NCAA.
The Indiana State game will provide the Cats with an opportunity to implement adjustments from the week leading up to their next non-conference test.
September 18 at Duke
2020 review: 2-9
Last clash: 2018 (Duke 21 – Northwestern 7)
When Northwestern last went to Durham in 2017, Duke beat the Wildcats 41-17. The Blue Devils beat NU again at home the following year.
Returning to North Carolina for this season’s game, NU is having their best campaign since 1995. Meanwhile, the 2020 Blue Devils team have dominated college football with 39 turnovers. Duke replaces the starters as quarterback, attacking tackle and defensive end.
However, the Cats are in a similar position – returning 39% of production as of 2020, the lowest number in the Football Bowl subdivision – adding intrigue to the game.
September 25 vs. Ohio
2020 review: 2-1
Last clash: 2008 (Northwestern 16 – Ohio 8)
Northwestern rounds out their non-conference roster against Ohio, which has only played three games in 2020. The Bobcats have found the end zone often, averaging nearly 35 points per game.
This will be Ohio’s first season without coach Frank Solich since 2005, who retired after 16 years in Athens, Ohio.
To counter the Ohio offense, the Wildcats’ defense will need to return to their 2020 form, in which they have allowed less than five yards per game and 15.89 points per game.
October 2 in Nebraska
2020 review: 3-5
Last match: 2020 (Northwestern 21 – Nebraska 13)
The pressure will likely be on Nebraska when NU returns to Lincoln.
Coach Scott Frost has failed to reach 0.500 and a bowl game in his three seasons at the helm of the Cornhuskers. Even as Nebraska sack double-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez, players like wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson have left Lincoln through the transfer portal.
It can be deduced that this Big Ten West clash will be near. Eight of NU’s last 10 encounters with the Cornhuskers have been single scorers.
October 16 vs. Rutgers
2020 review: 3-6
Last match: 2018 (Northwestern 18 – Rutgers 15)
After five consecutive losing seasons, Rutgers hired Greg Schiano – who led the Scarlet Knights from 2001 to 2011 – to bring success back to Piscataway.
Rutgers took action to do so last season, averaging 27 points per game with a landmark win over Penn State.
However, the Rutgers defense has allowed 449 yards and 32 points per game in 2020. As a result, this comeback weekend game for the Wildcats can be defined by their offense, which will likely have new starters in the game. quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line.
October 23 in Michigan
2020 review: 2-4
Last matchup: 2018 (No. 14 Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17)
NU arrived in Ann Arbor on October 10, 2015, ranked No.13 nationally and walked away with their first loss of the season – a 38-0 blowout at the hands of No.18 from Michigan.
Heading into 2021, coach Jim Harbaugh is under pressure. With a revamped coaching staff and returning players such as defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and running back Hassan Haskins, NU will face a team with a win-now tenure.
Playing in front of over 100,000 fans at the Big House adds an additional challenge for the Wildcats. A win over Michigan – a team full of four- and five-star talent – would give the Cats a huge morale boost ahead of five straight division competitions.
October 30 vs. Minnesota
2020 review: 3-4
Last matchup: 2019 (No. 10 Minnesota 38 – Northwestern 22)
In 2020, the game between NU and Minnesota was called off due to COVID-19 as part of the Golden Gophers program.
Despite struggling last season, Minnesota sack an experienced squad that includes quarterback Tanner Morgan, 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year Mohamed Ibrahim and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention defensive end Boye Mafe.
The last time the Wildcats faced Minnesota at Ryan Field, the Golden Gophers torched NU defensive backs with 211 yards and four touchdowns. The Cats’ defense stopping the Minnesota offense will likely determine this game.
November 6 vs. Iowa
2020 review: 6-2
Last game: 2020 (Northwestern 21 – Iowa 20)
NU’s one-point win over Iowa marked the Hawkeyes’ second straight loss to start the 2020 season. Wildcats rival Big Ten West went on to claim six straight wins to end the season.
The Hawkeyes return enough depth on offense, like junior quarterback Spencer Petras and junior center Tyler Linderbaum. Defensively, Iowa has a few players to replace on a unit that allowed 16 points per game in 2020.
At Ryan Field, Iowa has won two of the last three clashes. Still, the Cats have won four of the last five against their division rival. This match will likely have a huge impact on the race for a Big Ten West Championship.
November 13 in Wisconsin
2020 review: 4-3
Last matchup: 2020 (No. 19 Northwestern 17 – No. 10 Wisconsin 7)
Despite NU’s upset victory over Wisconsin in 2020, the Badgers are still set to win the Big Ten West, according to the cleveland.com Big Ten 2021 preseason poll.
Wisconsin will be led by quarterback Graham Mertz, linebacker Jack Sanborn and tight end Jake Ferguson. Wisconsin should not be underestimated, having made the Big Ten Championship six times since 2011.
With fans back in the stands at Camp Randall Stadium in 2021, the Wildcats will face one of their toughest opponents of the season at one of college football’s most energetic venues in a game that could decide the Big. Ten West.
November 20 vs. Purdue (at Wrigley Field)
2020 review: 2-4
Last matchup: 2020 (# 23 Northwestern 27 – Purdue 20)
For the first time since 2010, NU returns to Friendly Confines.
The Wildcats’ opponent in Major League Baseball’s second-oldest stadium is Purdue, whom NU has beaten in six of its last seven encounters. The Boilermakers have one of the Big Ten’s best quarterback receiving duos with Aidan O’Connell and David Bell.
Slowing down Bell and finding gaps in the Boilermakers’ high school were the keys to NU’s victory last season. Achieving these things once again will be crucial for a victory in front of a passionate crowd on the North Side of Chicago.
November 27 in Illinois
2020 review: 2-6
Last matchup: 2020 (No. 14 Northwestern 28 – Illinois 10)
Recently it all happened in the Cats in the Land of Lincoln rivalry.
The Wildcats have beaten their rival in the State six times in a row and eight of the past 10 years. The Fighting Illinis have struggled recently, leading to the sacking of Lovie Smith and the hiring of Bret Bielema – a Prairie State native and former head coach of Wisconsin and Arkansas.
He has a lot of ground to catch up, as the Fighting Illini in 2020 allowed the second highest points per game in the Big Ten and averaging 20.1 points per game. Considering that NU and Illinois are in very different places as programs, the Cats’ seventh straight victory in the rivalry looks quite achievable.
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Twitter: @ dschott328
– Football: Ahead of the 2021 season, Northwestern is looking forward to the trip to a Big Ten Championship
– Football Diary: Fitzgerald, three players discuss name, image and likeness legislation and research conference title at Big Ten Media Days
– Football: How Northwestern’s 2021 Scouting Class Seeks To Help The Wildcats Reach New Heights