2011 record: 2-5 (0-4)
2010 record: 7-6 (3-5), lost to Texas Tech in Ticket City Bowl
2011 Sagarin: 110 (IU is #142. Jesus Christ. Indiana State is 113).
2010 Sagarin: 71 (IU was #98)
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (6th season, 36-34)
Series: Northwestern leads 44-34-1
TV: noon, Big Ten Network
I suppose it's a testament to where the 2011 Hoosiers stand that a game in which IU is a 9 point home underdog may be IU's best remaining chance for a win. IU is a nine point home underdog to a team that is ranked below 100, but the Wildcats haven't won since September 10. Northwestern's five-game losing streak began with a loss to Army, but otherwise has come against a pretty solid schedule: Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, and Penn State. Northwestern's only win over an FCS team came over Boston College, a team that hasn't defeated an FBS program (the same is true of IU). Both teams are hungry to end long losing streaks. Northwestern, with five losses and Nebraska and Michigan State looming ahead, probably isn't going to go to a bowl game, but a loss to IU would all but end the Wildcats' season.
Over the last decade, the IU-NU series has been very competitive on a game-by-game basis, but the net result has been lopsidedly in favor of the Wildcats. NU has won 6 of the last 7 matchups, but each game has been decided by less than a touchdown. In 2007, IU was 6-4 and could have assured a bowl bid with a win, but blew a 14-3 lead. That was a minor setback compared to 2009, when IU built a 28-3 lead and held on until NU pulled ahead with a field goal in the final minute. IU's only win since 2001 was in 2008, when a horrible IU team somehow upset NU's best team since the mid 1990s, and prevented the Wildcats from winning 10 games in a season for the first time. It's been a strange series, entertaining for all but enjoyable only for Northwestern fans.
The 2011 Wildcats have struggled in large part because of nagging injuries to quarterback Dan Persa. NU was hyping Persa as a Heisman candidate before the season, but he missed the first three games because of an Achilles injury. He suffered a turf toe injury against Penn State last week, but is expected to play against IU. Persa hasn't been on the field for a win, but his overall numbers have been pretty good. The good news is that like last season, Persa is completing nearly 75 percent of passes. The bad news is that Persa has only 6 TDs to 3 interceptions, and his mobility has declined, at least on paper: has negative-98 rushing yards and only 1 rushing TD after running for 9 last season. Here are the rest of the Wildcats:
As you can see, Northwestern's leading rusher is backup quarterback Kain Colter, who played in Persa's absence and has been used in Wildcat-type settings. Mike Trumpy, expected to be NU's top running back, is out for the season with an injury, leaving Jacob Schmidt, Adonis Smith, and Treyvon Green to carry the load. Smith missed last week's game at Penn State but is expected to play. Jeremy Ebert, who torched IU for 98 yards and 2 TDs last year, is NU's leading receiver, by far, with Christian Jones and Demetrius Fields a distant second and third. On defense, the Wildcats have struggled. Their 423 yards per game and 31 points per game are better than IU's totals, but only marginally.
As for IU, there will be no quarterback controversy this week. Tre Roberson is listed as the starter with Edward Wright-Baker as the backup. Damarlo Belcher is on the depth chart and is expected to play. Center Will Matte is still hurt and is unlikely to play. Of course, the off-the-field storyline in this game is the connection of IU's current coaching staff to Northwestern. Kevin Wilson was on Randy Walker's staff at NU before he went to Oklahoma, and was the offensive coordinator for NU's 2000 Big Ten co-champs. WR coach Kevin Johns made a lateral move to IU before this season. Former NU running back Noah Herron is an IU graduate assistant. Wilson and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald overlapped by one year: Fitzgerald was NU's linebackers coach in 2001, which was Wilson's last year at Northwestern.
As much as the Hoosiers have struggled this season, I have a strange feeling that this will be the week we break through. Perhaps one of the close ones in this series will go IU's way for a change. Indiana 35, Northwestern 34.