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November 9, 2012Northwestern travels to the Big House on Saturday to take on Michigan in a game with big Legends division implications.
Neither Michigan nor Northwestern controls its own destiny because of losses to Nebraska, so a win won't guarantee anything. But the loser is certain to be out of the race for a spot in the Big Ten championship game.
While the Wildcats have won just six times in 41 tries in Ann Arbor, they are going for their second straight victory there. What are their chances this time around? Our intrepid staff weighs in.
Northwestern wins if They stuff the Michigan pro-style run and force Devin Gardner to use his arm more, and the offense shows a little bit more clock control than earlier in the season, taking the crowd out of the game for long stretches.
Northwestern loses if Denard Robinson is 100 percent and proceeds to run circles around the defense, like he did last year.
The bottom line I don't know that the Cats have what it takes to win this one. NU might be a year away from being able to walk out of the Big House with a win against a solid Michigan team. Then again, last year's Nebraska game wasn't supposed to happen either.
Prediction Michigan 27 Northwestern 24
Northwestern wins if The Wolverines play Robinson. As crazy as it might sound about the one-time Heisman candidate, Robinson was a below-average passer before his elbow injury and Northwestern's defensive weakness clearly lies in its secondary.
Northwestern loses if Kain Colter and Venric Mark cannot combine for at least 150 yards on the ground. Michigan's aggressive corners will shut down any passing game NU has so it will be up to the backfield to take up the offensive workload.
The bottom line: As big a win as this would be for Northwestern, the Wildcats have shown time after time they haven't been ready to take the next step. They've had a week off to prepare but it's been negated by the fact that they could be facing two different offenses. Like against Nebraska, turnovers keep the Northwestern in the game -- but fourth quarter defense plays them out of it.
Prediction: Michigan 20 Northwestern 13
Northwestern wins if The offense can put pressure on the Big Ten's top pass defense, in turn opening holes for the running game while its own pass defense (worst in the league) can finally play up to Big Ten standards.
Northwestern loses if Robinson or Gardner are allowed to freely roam in the Michigan backfield.
The bottom line Contain. Contain. Contain. The Cats' front seven on defense has been stellar, but this will be the most mobile quarterback they will face in Big Ten play this year. And the offense has to move the ball and finish drives.
Prediction: After much back and forth deliberation, Northwestern 34 Michigan 31.
Northwestern wins if The Wildcats' zone-read and option running games work against the best defense they've faced all year, enabling them to move the chains and control the clock.
Northwestern loses if The running game stalls and the offense has to rely on the passing game (dead-last in the Big Ten for a reason), while the defense doesn't come up with any turnovers.
The bottom line: Northwestern's seven wins this season have come against teams with a combined winning percentage of .397. This Michigan team has a guy that rolled up 454 yards and four TDs against them last year (Robinson) and a defense that ranks seventh in the country. Oh, and the game is on the road, too.
Prediction: Michigan 27 Northwestern 21