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This is the first year without either, Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, how is that going to go? Will Clayton Thorson live up to his hype?
It's really tough to know what Clayton Thorson is going to bring, in part because we're yet to see him compete at the college level and in part because there are a lot of unknowns around him. He has a terrific running back in Justin Jackson, but his wide receivers after Christian Jones (who is coming off ACL reconstruction) are suspect and struggled mightily last year. The line is basically completely new from last year's bunch. Thorson has skills, but he needs the guys around him to step up. Look for him to be a dual threat more so than Siemian was but also a more competent passer than Colter was.
Coming off of two straight 5-7 seasons and his best days behind him (ex: 2012) is coach Pat Fitzgerald's job in Evanston in trouble?
Pat Fitzgerald's job security is just about as secure as it can get. He's absolutely beloved in Evanston for his role on the Wildcats Rose Bowl team as a linebacker, and he has a huge contract. If this year goes poorly, then coordinators and assistants will likely be gone, but Northwestern would probably need two or three straight bowl-less seasons for Fitzgerald's job to be in trouble.
Last year, Northwestern seemed to play well against ranked (2-1), will Stanford see the Northwestern who beat Notre Dame (who Stanford lost to in OT last season) and Wisconsin or will they see the Northwestern who lost to Iowa by 41?
I would be shocked if the Northwestern that showed up at Iowa last year showed up in Evanston on Saturday. Fitzgerald, generally, is very good at getting his players pumped up for big games, and he has made it clear that this game has been circled for quite some time. By all accounts, Northwestern will be prepared and ready for the Cardinal.
What worries you most about the Stanford matchup? Is there anyone in particular or is it a matchup?
Both Stanford's defensive line and Northwestern's offensive line are somewhat inexperienced, but Stanford is always able to replace talent with talent. Northwestern's offensive line hasn't played a single game together and has to replace three guys. I worry about Stanford's front seven against Northwestern's line. Thorson needs time to throw, especially early in the game, and Jackson needs lanes to run through or else it could be a very long day for the Wildcats.
What is the biggest aspect of Northwestern football that should have Cardinal fans worried about?
Northwestern has a very talented secondary that tends to make big plays in big games. In the previously mentioned Wisconsin game, Northwestern picked off four passes from Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy. In the Notre Dame game, Northwestern forced four turnovers. The defense is opportunistic and Stanford will need to take care of the ball to avoid the upset. Also, one aspect that has nothing to do with Northwestern football is the game time. An 11 a.m. CT start means a 9 a.m. PT start. Will Northwestern catch Stanford (almost literally) sleeping early in the game?
Who is your impact player?
The impact player is Justin Jackson. He's the best offensive player on the team and he will have to find some yards early on so there's not a ton of pressure on Thorson to pick apart the defense. If Northwestern can run the ball with some success, that will be huge for their offensive gameplan.
What is your prediction for the game?
Northwestern should hang close to the Cardinal for a while, but I just don't think there's enough firepower in this offense-- yet-- for the hosts to win. The Cardinal pull away at the end. 24-13, Stanford.