It’ll be a year of transition for the Northwestern Wildcats football program. The 2018 season means there’s no more Justin Jackson, the school's all-time leading rusher, there are changes on defense, and uncertainty regarding the quarterback position with Clayton Thorson continuing to make his way back from a torn ACL suffered last December. But what the Wildcats do have working for them however is that head coach Pat Fitzgerald is coming off of his second 10-win season, consecutive bowl game victories, the gains made in recruiting, and a sparkling new practice facility.
The "Cardiac Cats" are looking to finally break through by winning the Big Ten West for the first time since the division format was established in 2011. This also would give them the opportunity to play for their first Big Ten title since 2000. NU has a good balance of both easy and difficult teams on their schedule so how will this season go for Fitzgerald and company? Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Northwestern in 2018.
Northwestern Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite a 10-win season in 2017, Northwestern is a tough team to get a read on this summer. Quarterback Clayton Thorson appears to be on track to return after suffering a significant knee injury in the Music City Bowl win over Kentucky. However, even if he returns for the opener at Purdue, will Thorson be at full strength? If Thorson is back to 100 percent and has no issues, then a 6-6 prediction for Northwestern is too low. Regardless of how the quarterback situation looks, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team has a tough schedule. The Wildcats catch Michigan and Michigan State in Big Ten crossover play, take on Notre Dame in non-conference action and have road trips to Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota from the West Division. There’s a lot to like about this Northwestern team on defense and with an experienced offensive line. However, until there’s clarity on Thorson’s status, I’ll take the Wildcats to just get bowl eligible with six victories.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I think Northwestern could be a better team this season -- assuming Clayton Thorson is healthy -- but not win as many games as it did last year. Keep in mind, this team won three straight games in overtime last season. Credit the Cats for figuring out ways to win, but there is some luck involved with that. They key for this team will be its ability to protect its home field against some really good teams. I'm projecting home losses against Michigan, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, Win one or two of those and a rather ordinary season can turn into a really good one.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
So much of Northwestern's season comes down to not just having QB Clayton Thorson healthy, but having him take a step up in terms of his play against one of the more brutal schedules in the country. There are tricky games all over the map but I'm going to go as far as saying the Wildcats enter 2018 a bit underrated. While reaching double-digit wins may be a stretch with that slate of top 25 opponents on tap, it should still be a pretty good season for Pat Fitzgerald as Northwestern hangs around the Big Ten West race.
Gabe Salgado (@GabeSalgado82)
Sadly the Wildcats won’t win the division or have another 10-win campaign. But they will get to another bowl game, and they have a bright future ahead of them. Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson is expected to take over at quarterback in 2019 and the Wildcats will restock talent at other positions as well. This year will be a building block for what could be an even better 2019 campaign.