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Northwestern Wildcats National Championship Odds
With their season already done and little to play for but pride – and to avoid a winless Big Ten record – the Northwestern Wildcats stunned their in-state rivals, beating Illinois outright as a 6.5-point dog putting a stop to their six-game ATS losing streak. Illinois had less to play for and it showed. The Illini reached the 6-win bowl eligible plateau a few weeks ago and await their postseason fate. NU has had two one-win Big Ten seasons under Pat Fitzgerald and in both that victory came in the season finale against Illinois. The Cats finished with their fewest wins under Fitzgerald, but they did win the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the fifth season in a row.
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Northwestern Wildcats Season Review
It was a stunning turnaround for Northwestern, and not the good kind. With their loss to Minnesota a few weeks ago, the Cats were guaranteed a last-place finish in the Big Ten West. Since the conference expanded and started playing a championship game in 2011, no team finished last in its division a year after playing for the title – until this season. NU went 8-1 in league play last year before succumbing to Ohio State in the conference championship. Their three overall wins this year are the fewest since Fitzgerald took over the program in 2006 and matched the low-water mark last set in 2002.
The biggest issue with the 2019 edition was offense and the lack of decent quarterback play. The Cats cycled through four different players at the position ending the season with Andrew Marty starting due to injuries and poor performances. Marty wasn’t even considered for the position with TJ Green, Hunter Johnson and Aiden Smith above him on the depth chart. Green was lost for the year in the season opener, however, and neither Johnson nor Smith did enough to distinguish themselves over the course of the season.
With Johnson and Smith combining to complete less than 49 percent of their passes with only four touchdowns, the offense fell into a funk scoring a total of 78 points through the first eight games. That included an outburst in a 30-14 win over UNLV, the Cats only victory over that span. In consecutive losses to Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana, the Cats were outscored 106-6, failing to score a touchdown. Over their final four games the Cats tallied at least 22 points in each totaling 118 points and winning twice. They ended a seven-game slide in a 45-6 win over UMass and ended the season with a fifth straight victory over Illinois.
Despite their barrage of points over the final quarter of the season, NU still owned one of the worst offensive teams in the country scoring just 16.3 points per game to rank 126th out of 130 teams. Shortly after their season-ending win the team parted ways with offensive coordinator Mick McCall.
Fitzgerald’s trademark is defense and once again the Wildcats were strong on that side of the football. They gave up 52 to Ohio State, but that’s a common occurrence for OSU opponents. They ended the year allowing just 23.6 points per game and 336.2 yards per contest, both middle-of-the-pack numbers in a strong conference.
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With the help of a fourth-string quarterback the Wildcats beat rival Illinois for the fifth straight time and avoided a winless Big Ten record with a 29-10 upset. Marty replaced an ineffective Johnson two weeks ago and sparked the offense by accounting for three touchdowns. He threw for 95 yards on 8 of 10 passing with a score and added 52 yards and a pair of TDs on 16 carries in a loss to Minnesota.
That was enough for Marty to earn his first career start, and the sophomore didn’t disappoint. He ran for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns while throwing for another score as the Wildcats put up their third-highest point total of the season. “I saw a leader. I saw a guy that was tough and physical,” Fitzgerald said of his young QB.
Perhaps a bigger surprise was the play of former cornerback Coco Azema. The true freshman led the way with 123 rushing yards on just seven carries, including a 24-yard touchdown scamper late in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points. “We’re seeing some of our younger players really come into their own. We’ll find a place to put him (Azema) on the field,” Fitzgerald said.
Northwestern possessed the football for nearly 42 minutes and ran for a season-high 378 yards while amassing 433 total yards and holding Illinois to just 160 total yards. “This was an incredible physical display of how you should play Big Ten football,” Fitzgerald said.
2019 Northwestern Wildcats Betting Schedule
||Northwestern at Stanford
||Saturday, August 31
||Northwestern vs. UNLV
||Saturday, September 14
||Northwestern vs. Michigan State
||Saturday, September 21
||Northwestern at Wisconsin
||Saturday, September 28
||Northwestern at Nebraska
||Saturday, October 5
||Northwestern vs. Ohio State
||Friday, October 18
||Northwestern vs. Iowa
||Saturday, October 26
||Northwestern at Indiana
||Saturday, November 2
||Northwestern vs. Purdue
||Saturday, November 9
||Northwestern vs. UMass
||Saturday, November 16
||Northwestern vs. Minnesota
||Saturday, November 23
||Northwestern at Illinois
||Saturday, November 30
Northwestern has long played second fiddle to programs like Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten. The Wildcats have had some good seasons but don’t recruit well enough to consistently hang with the elite teams in College Football. Northwestern’s longest sustained run of recent success came in the 1990s, when they won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1995 and 1996 under coach Gary Barnett.
Northwestern’s most recent conference championship came in 2000 when Randy Walker led the team to a 6-2 finish in the conference. The Wildcats certainly had a nice showing in 2018 and would love to build on that in 2019. Projections aren’t sky-high but if Johnson can live up to his billing as an elite quarterback, Northwestern may be able to easily outpace projections this year.
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