Week 11 – Northwestern at Michigan

Posted Nov 9, 2012

Week 11 Fearless Prediction – Northwestern at Michigan


Northwestern (7-2) at Michigan (6-3) Nov. 10, 12:00, ESPN

Here's The Deal: It's a simple deal for each team: win, keep winning, and root hard against Nebraska.

Michigan will be off to the Big Ten championship game by winning out and getting a Husker loss, while Northwestern can win the Legends by winning its last three games and getting two Husker losses (by the way, Nebraska closes out against Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa).

Considering how bad the Leaders division has been, at worst, this might be a battle for the Big Ten's No. 2 overall bowl slot depending on how the rest of the season goes. The Wildcats have had two weeks to prepare after bouncing back from the gag at home to the Huskers with an impressive win over Iowa. The offense has been interesting, the defense solid, and the overall play has been at the highest level in the Pat Fitzgerald era. There might not be too many impressive wins on the résumé – the best victory came against Vanderbilt – but the Cats are beating the teams they're supposed to. This would be the signature win of the season in a key moment, and while a bowl bid is assured, there's still time to jockey for position in the bowl pecking order.

Michigan bounced back from its own problems against Nebraska with a solid, better-than-it-probably-seems win over Minnesota. There hasn't been a really, really good win – Michigan State sort of counts – for a program that came into the season thinking big things were going to happen. The Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl are still out there, and the realistic goals are still on the table, but there can't be a slip-up this week or next week against Iowa before finishing up at Ohio State.

Why Northwestern Might Win: Northwestern's defense has huge problems against great passing teams, but there are few problems against the run. Fortunately, Michigan's passing game hasn't been consistent with way too many problems, even with Devin Gardner throwing well against Minnesota last season. The Wildcats weren't bad against Taylor Martinez's running skills, holding him to 65 yards and a score on 18 carries, but got torched through the air – again, the Michigan passing game won't be a big concern. The run defense has been terrific, having most of its problems when powered on a bit, but that's not going to be an issue this week. Denard Robinson is still having problems with an elbow injury, and while he has been practicing, it's not crazy to suggest that NU might have more success against him than it would against Gardner.

Why Michigan Might Win: Northwestern is even more one-dimensional offensively than Michigan. The Wildcat attack lives off its speed and quickness from several different options, but there has been little to no passing game to count on with more than 140 yards just once over the last six weeks. The three touchdown passes over the last two games were an aberration considering there was just one scoring throw over the previous six games. Michigan has given up a touchdown pass in each of the last three games, but it leads the nation in pass defense ad hasn't given up more than 200 yards on the year. This isn't going to be the week the Wildcats find their passing game.

What To Watch Out For: Devin Gardner was terrific. The Wolverines turned to Russell Bellomy when Robinson went down against Nebraska, and the results were disastrous with a 3-of-16, 38-yard, three pick effort. Enter Gardner, who has been awful over the last few years when given the chance despite coming to Ann Arbor as a top prospect with the size, mobility, arm and talent to be a star. While one game against Minnesota is hardly an indication of future greatness, Gardner showed promise completing 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards and two scores with a pick, while running for 21 yards and a touchdown. Robinson could be back, making Gardner a receiver again, but there's hope that the ship won't sink in case the star of the show isn't right.

What Will Happen: It's all up the Michigan passing game. Northwestern had Nebraska dead until Taylor Martinez turned into Aaron Rodgers down the stretch. Penn State was able to come up with the win over the Cats because Matt McGloin had a brilliant day, picking apart the secondary on short passes to keep things moving. The Wildcats will struggle to move the ball, but with two weeks to prepare, they're going to come up with enough wrinkles to pull off the big upset.

CFN Prediction: Northwestern 28 … Michigan 24
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Michigan -11 O/U: 52.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Skyfall, 1 – Wreck It Ralph): 3.5