It was a summer full of unknowns, but we will have Big Ten football for the 2020 college football season. After announcing a 10-game, conference-only schedule back in July, the Big Ten reversed course in August and decided to postpone the season until the spring. These decisions were made due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But in September, the powers that be changed their minds again and decided to play an eight-game conference-only schedule with one more crossover matchup outside of the Big Ten Championship Game to be arranged for Dec. 19 (matchups TBD).
Improvements in coronavirus testing, contact tracing, and the players' desire to take the field this year were among the factors that convinced the Big Ten to try to have an abbreviated season. The teams will get their wish and the '20 season will kick off on Oct. 24. In other words, Northwestern can begin its road to redemption.
These Northwestern Wildcats are looking to rebound in 2020. After winning the Big Ten West in 2018, Northwestern was looking to build off of that success last season. What happened, instead, was the complete opposite. The Wildcats struggled on both sides of the ball from the start, suffered injuries at numerous positions, and finished the season with third- and fourth-string players throughout their depth chart as the team dragged itself to a 3-9 record, going 1-8 in Big Ten play.
During the offseason, Northwestern hired a new offensive coordinator and brought in some fresh talent at quarterback, in the hopes of breathing new life into this program. If the Wildcats want to get back to the postseason, they'll have to navigate a challenging, modified Big Ten-only schedule.
Northwestern has bounced back from losing seasons under head coach Pat Fitzgerald before and is hoping to do so again. Athlon asked a few editors and a college football contributor to share their realistic win/loss projection for the Wildcats in 2020.
Northwestern Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Wildcats went from Big Ten West Division champs in 2018 to a disappointing 3-9 finish last year. Coach Pat Fitzgerald rarely makes changes on his staff, but Northwestern needed tweaks to an offense that averaged only 16.3 points a game last fall. New play-caller Mike Bajakian should upgrade this offense, and help at quarterback is coming in the form of Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey. The Wildcats need more production but return experience at receiver. Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson headline a solid one-two punch at running back, and three starters are back in the trenches. Last year’s three-win season certainly wasn't the fault of the defense. Northwestern held teams to 23.6 points a game and allowed just 5.1 yards per play. With nine starters back, the potential is in place to have one of the better defenses again in the Big Ten. I've got the Wildcats finishing 3-5, but if the offense takes off better than expected, go ahead and pencil in Fitzgerald’s team for another upset or two.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Northwestern has undergone significant changes on offense and while it could foster improvement statistically speaking, it also could take some time for all of the pieces to come together. A bigger concern for me is a fairly unforgiving schedule that has the Wildcats taking on Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue, and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks. And that stretch is followed by back-to-back road games with Michigan State and Minnesota. Unless Northwestern's new-look offense comes out firing on all cylinders, I think Pat Fitzgerald's team will struggle to just reach .500.
Gabe Salgado (@GabeSalgado82)
There are going to be some hiccups along the way with a new offensive coordinator calling the plays and a new quarterback under center. The Wildcats also have a difficult late-season stretch with Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota in consecutive weeks. Successfully rebounding from a miserable 2019 campaign won't happen overnight, so hitting .500 is a realistic expectation for Northwestern.