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September 2, 2011Predicting the outcome of football games has made millions of people broke and is about as difficult as being the public relations manager for Nevin Shapiro.
Predicting the outcome of Northwestern football games, however, is much, much harder than that.
Considering that the status of quarterback Dan Persa is up in the air and the Wildcats are on the road for a season opener against a team from a BCS conference and you can see why coin flipping was invented.
This daunting task will not deter the WildcatReport staff from making our bold predictions, though. We bravely take our stands because, in the final analysis, not too many people read these things anyway. And the ones that do are likely to forget by Sunday.
Here, then, are our best guesses for what will happen on Saturday, when the Wildcats take on Boston College (11 a.m. Central, ESPNU) in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
How much will Dan Persa play? Persa will take three snaps on the first offensive series of the game; a three-and-out.
Northwestern wins if The coaches have prepared Kain Colter, and he has prepared himself, to make about one half of the throws that Persa can make. If Colter can throw the short routes with any regularity, he will move the chains.
Northwestern loses if The defense has not made any improvements in the offseason. If we continue to miss tackles and leave Illinois game cutback gaps for Andre Williams, it will get ugly.
The bottom line You can't be a Northwestern fan and not be blindly optimistic about a sophomore quarterback being "the man" for the first time in a season opener on the road.
Prediction Northwestern 27 Boston College 24
How much will Dan Persa play? Coach Pat Fitzgerald has said Persa is 100-percent healed, and Persa has said mental reps are more important than physical reps. What does that mean? Who knows? But to me, it adds up to this: Persa will play -- just not much. Persa will attempt a few passes in the early going, but Colter will be in the game during key situations in the second half. Colter gives Northwestern a better chance to win than Persa, who still hasn't participated in live 11-on-11 scrimmages, as his effectiveness will be limited.
Northwestern wins if... They win the kicking game. No, seriously. Field position will be crucial, especially in what offensive coordinator Mick McCall allows Colter to do.
Northwestern loses if... They turn the ball over, like they did down the stretch last year against Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas Tech. Colter just needs to protect the ball -- he is a dynamic athlete and the offense will be geared around his running ability. Make smart decisions, limit the mistakes, and Northwestern will be fine.
The bottom line It's going to be a close one, and nonconference road games haven't been particularly friendly to Fitzgerald-coached teams. But am I the only one who thinks Boston College isn't that good? The Eagles finished 109th in total offense last year, and they'll be without running back Montel Harris. Yeah, BC has a rugged, strong front seven, but the Wildcats have an experienced O-line that will protect Colter, while the Cats' running game (from the RBs) isn't a huge part of what they do offensively. This Northwestern team has expectations too high to fall in the season opener, and Fitz has always opened 1-0.
Prediction Northwestern 23 Boston College 20.
How much will Dan Persa play? At least a few series, unless the doctors get their way. It'll be a tough way to kick off the PersaStrong campaign.
Northwestern wins if McCall and NU's offense can keep the BC defense guessing, especially if Colter can show off his arm.
Northwestern loses if NU's defense continues it's late-season swoon from 2010. (Also, if NU's offense gets too QB-draw happy.)
The bottom line The Persa quandary looms large over the game, but NU has other question marks. The run game will pick up the slack, but the defense's inability to create turnovers won't help an offense that could use a break.
Prediction Boston College 30 Northwestern 20
How much will Dan Persa play? A little over half of Northwestern's offensive possessions.
Northwestern wins if NU can exploit BC's makeshift secondary with the deep ball, whoever plays at quarterback. They won't be able to shove the ball down the throat of the team that had the best run defense in the NCAA last year with Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy.
Northwestern loses if Their run defense can't stop BC's Williams, even though they know the run is coming.
The bottom line The talent is even for two squads with a lot of uncertainty, but the matchups play well for NU: If there's one pass defense NU can dissect with a hobbling starter and backup with questionable throwing skill, it's BC's. And if there's one very talented running back NU might have a chance against, it's Williams, who plays for a team without any options at quarterback shifting under a new OC to a pass-centered system without a fullback.
Prediction Northwestern 20 Boston College 14
How much will Dan Persa play? I see Persa only playing in the second half if the first half is a shipwreck and NU is still within striking distance.
Northwestern wins if It can establish a running game, which will give Colter more time to make decisions. And the defense must put the last three games of 2010 behind them.
Northwestern loses if Colter is unable to establish a passing game and the same holes in the defense show up.
The bottom line It's only the first game, but the Wildcats need to make a statement. However, doing it in unfriendly territory could be too big of an obstacle.
Prediction Boston College 27 Northwestern 15
How much will Dan Persa play? I don't think he will take a single snap.
Northwestern wins if They can run the ball well enough to take some pressure off of Colter, and the defensive front seven steps up against BC's running game to force quarterback Chase Rettig beat them through the air.
Northwestern loses if The Wildcat defense makes Williams look like Mikel LeShoure.
The bottom line A quarterback making his first start on the road against a rugged defense is liable to make a mistake or two. And that could be the difference in what will be a tight game.
Prediction Boston College 21 Northwestern 17