After losing to Duke at home last week, Northwestern looks to rebound against Akron in Evanston, Illinois. After opening the season with a win over Purdue at home, the Wildcats fell to the Blue Devils 21-7 last Saturday. Meanwhile, the Zips enter this game undefeated, as weather prevented them from playing their Labor Day weekend opener at Nebraska and they defeated FCS opponent Morgan State 41-7 at home last week.
For Northwestern the goal is to get things figured out on both sides of the ball entering their bye week before getting back to the grind of Big Ten play. Akron's last victory against a Power 5 team came in 2015 when the Zips beat Pitt 21-10. This is the first meeting between the two schools.
Akron at Northwestern
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Northwestern -21
Three Things to Watch
1. Akron’s drought against the Big Ten
The Zips' only win over a Big Ten school came at the expense of the Ohio State Buckeyes... back in 1894 (12-6 was the final score). Since then the Zips have lost 29 straight against college football’s oldest conference (founded in 1896). Some say not playing Nebraska was a blessing in disguise. Playing at the 50,000-seat Ryan Field however, which has a very loud student section, will add to Akron’s pressure to break this historic losing streak. Even more so because this game will be nationally televised.
2. Northwestern’s defense against another mobile quarterback
Last week the Wildcats were taken to task by Duke’s Daniel Jones for the second straight year. Although he left the game in the second half with an injury and didn’t return, the damage had already been done as he accounted for nearly 200 yards of total offense and was responsible for all three Blue Devil touchdowns. This week Northwestern will try to contain Akron sophomore Kato Nelson. Although he doesn’t get the accolades that Jones does, he is still a formidable threat.
Against Morgan State Nelson threw for 232 yards with three TDs while rushing for another 42 yards. In just 10 games for the Zips, Nelson has accumulated 1,461 yards of total offense and produced 12 total touchdowns. Northwestern can’t afford to have another athletic quarterback find holes in its defense.
3. Northwestern's success against the MAC
Since 2003 the Wildcats have posted a 12-4 record against MAC teams. That includes a 9-3 mark at home and a 7-3 record against MAC East members. Overall, Northwestern has outscored its MAC opponents 373-297 over those 16 games. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t like to point to statistics when it comes to motivating his players, but this has to give NU an edge heading into this game.
This game will be fun to watch but in the end Northwestern has more talent and skill. Home-field advantage will play a huge factor, especially since the Wildcats have won six of their last 10 night games at Ryan Field. On top of that, Pat Fitzgerald’s team has proven time and time again that they can bounce back from tough losses. Their previous success against MAC schools will be a huge factor.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, Akron 14
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.