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November 9, 2012

Staff Predictions: Michigan vs. Northwestern

If you had to choose one Big Ten program to root for other than the one you grew up following, which would it be?

Four out of five TheWolverine.com staffers choose Northwestern, demonstrating they understand the predicament in trying to cut down the mighty purple in a staff predictions article. Only board elder John Borton (probably showing his age a bit in recalling the days in which the Wisconsin was lousy at everything but hockey, its coaches much more likeable than the 1-2 punch of Bielema and Bo) dissented in choosing the Badgers.

In his defense, it was lunchtime, he was hungry and probably thinking more about the strip steak and bread at Mariner's Inn on Lake Mendota than anything Bucky-related.

But what can you say about Pat Fitzgerald other than he's a good coach; a likeable guy who runs a clean program? Even Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has nothing but positive things to say about Fitzgerald - heck, athletic director David Brandon reportedly flirted with the idea of trying to get Fitzgerald to Ann Arbor to help with the repairs following the dark years.

And basketball coach Bill Carmody, with his Princeton style offense and Conan O'Brien haircut?

Yeah, he's responsible for adding a goofy looking, slow footed seven-foot European to the conference every few years, but is that reason to bash the guy? The basketball Wildcats have still never made the NCAA Tournament, after all.

In short - and as long as Gary Barnett isn't coaching them - the Wildcats continue to be our lovable losers, even if they're winning at a much higher clip these days. From the outstanding food, atmosphere and company at Tommy Nevin's Pub in Evanston, to a Friday night out in Chicago and the 55 percent maize and blue in the stands, it's one of the best road trips in the Big Ten.

In other words, be kind to the dozen or so folks you see wearing purple in Michigan Stadium Saturday - particularly since there's a 50-50 chance half of them are folks who just came for the pregame wine and cheese and didn't know who was playing.

Congrats to Mike Spath, last week's winner (he says. We don't really look). This week's receives a copy of MSU head coach Mark Dantonio's new book "Laying in the Weeds: Not Exactly How I Meant It" documenting the Spartans' 2012 season, and former Illinois head coach Ron Zook's new offering, "How You Like Me Now?"

The picks:

Chris Balas: Northwestern is a tricky team - an up-tempo (at times) offense, and defense that's not extremely talented but plays hard. That said, Michigan is aware of the task at hand, knowing it must win its last two at home to set up a showdown at Ohio State that could propel the Wolverines to a Big Ten title game.

The Wolverines will be prepared, whether Denard Robinson plays or not.

Michigan 31, Northwestern 20


John Borton: Michigan will take care of business against Northwestern. The question is, can Penn State reveal even a scintilla of self-control if ahead by 10 in the fourth quarter at Nebraska? The Wildcats blew a two-score lead against the Cornhuskers, Wisconsin caved late, and the Spar… ah, they are who you thought they were.

Michigan 31, Northwestern 17


Michael Spath: Northwestern has had to play in front of hordes of visiting fans at Ryan Field this season so going on the road won't faze the Wildcats this weekend. They're going to put a scare into Michigan, but whether Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner starts for the Wolverines, U-M will be able to score enough, and its defense will keep the NU ground game in check for the Maize and Blue to come out on top.

Michigan 31, Northwestern 21


Andy Reid: The times, they are a-changin'. I was born to a world in which a loss to Northwestern was about as likely as colorless Pepsi. Both happened in the early- to mid-1990s, and now I don't know what to believe anymore. In these dark and scary times, Northwestern - Northwestern! - has beaten Michigan four times since 1995, after going 40 years without a loss to the Wildcats. But the Wolverines will take care of business tomorrow.

Michigan 31, Northwestern 17


Tim Sullivan: It's tough to criticize Northwestern for losing to good teams and beating bad teams this year, given that Michigan has done the same. However, the Cats aren't crushing weak opponents like Michigan has been, and frankly they could be considered weak themselves. U-M is not playing its best football of the year, and that should still be enough to take down Northwestern - especially if NU gets a fourth-quarter lead, like they've squandered in both losses this year.

Michigan 31, Northwestern 23


Kevin Minor: Pat Fitzgerald continues to move the Northwestern football program in the right direction, and despite two hiccups early in the conference slate, the Wildcats still have a slim chance to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1996.

NU has a lot to play for and possesses a proud group of seniors that have won more games than any other five-year class in school history (37), and the Wildcat offense has seemingly found its identity with an option-based attack led by junior quarterback Kain Colter and junior running back Venric Mark. The duo combined for 328 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a 28-17 victory over Iowa two weeks ago.

Still, the Wolverines employ one of the most potent defensive units in the Big Ten, ranking second in scoring defense (16.8 points per game) and total defense (288.7 points per game) and have not lost a home game under second-year head coach Brady Hoke.

Northwestern will put up a fight, but U-M is too good at the Big House, and will pull this one out in a late-game thriller.

Michigan 28, Northwestern 24


Guest picker Doug Karsch of WXYT Radio, 97.1: The most underrated part of last week's win at Minnesota was the performance of the Michigan wide receivers. Gallon, Dileo and Roundtree all stepped up and made big time catches to help along Devin Gardner - that kind of performance will help whomever is taking snaps for Michigan.

The Northwestern pass defense ranks last in the Big Ten. The Wildcats have small-waterbug-type playmakers in the backfield - so small Borton and Balas could look at them eye-to-eye. (Hey Borton, along with 'From The Sidelines' each week, could you also print 'Balas Unfiltered - thoughts from Chris Balas leading up to kickoff?' That would be classic).

Michigan 34, Northwestern 20


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