PART I: HYPE MACHINE
NICK MEDLINE: Matt Harris — Steven picked Harris last weekend; I’ll certainly follow suit before the Nebraska matchup. The true freshman looked terrific in his first career start, more for his poise and composure than anything else. Harris showed marked improvement from redshirt freshman Dwight White, and continued his rapid ascent. He’s one of the clear bright spots on this troubled team.
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: Part I: Rashad Lawrence — I'll double up on Lawrence as a Hype Machine pick this weekend. After breaking out against Ohio State, the senior has just seven catches over the last three weeks and still hasn't hit the endzone. I expect Northwestern to be throwing early and often on Nebraska's 71st-ranked pass defense, and Lawrence has at least three inches on starting corners Andrew Green and Josh Mitchell. Things have been so stagnant of late, but with another full week of Colter at the helm, I think the Cats to take a few more deep shots. Lawrence is one of the best route runners on the team and should be fired up as he moves into the final games of his career.
PART II: MOST VALUABLE
NM: Damien Proby — He’s been excellent as well, and part of Northwestern’s resurgent front seven. The senior middle linebacker is among the best leaders by example — constantly making an effort to work better with those around him. At the center of an improved defense, he’ll be tasked with slowing down Tommy Armstrong and the multi-faceted Nebraska offense.
SG: Part II: Kain Colter — With Dan Persa knocked out and Northwestern's bowl eligibility on the line, a sophomore Colter upset the no. 9 Huskers almost single-handedly with two rushing touchdowns back in 2011. The stakes are close to as high this weekend, and with Trevor Siemian still reeling, it's Colter's show again. You'd like to think that Northwestern's playcalling gets a little more creative this time.
PART III: QUESTION MARK
NM: Can the running backs keep it up? — Northwestern will only have two available running backs on Saturday. The Wildcats are without workhorse power back Mike Trumpy, Warren Long, and Venric Mark—cause for significant concern. Still, Stephen Buckley and Treyvon Green have the requisite talent to succeed against Nebraska. If their energy lasts for four quarters–and if both play will–NU has one ingredient for upset potential.
SG: Can the O-line survive? — The Wildcat offensive line looks like its been playing Nick and I at the tackles lately. Another terrible performance in Nebraska will leave Northwestern without a chance. I'll keep this short and simple -- any more than four sacks on Colter and call it a loss.
PART IV: BOLD PREDICTION
NM: Trevor Siemian throws for two touchdowns — Players struggle. Players lose their focus. Players are mentally in the dumps. But I still think Trevor Siemian’s far too talented to stay slumping. Watch for some offensive adjustments on Saturday, ones that could vault the passing game in another key matchup. As for Siemian, he just needs to throw the ball well. I expect he’ll do just that.
SG: Stephen Buckley goes for 100 total yards — He's still not starting, somehow, but Buckley is the most promising player for 2014 after breakout games against Minnesota and Iowa. Talking to him this week, he's learned a lot from Venric Mark and was admittedly disappointed with his 99 yards last weekend. I think Northwestern looks to get its offensive confidence back with screens and small ball, while Buckley should edge a struggling Mike Trumpy and an injured Treyvon Green in carries. Even if the line doesn't hold up, Buckley's fast enough to make something happen.
PART V: SCORE PREDICTION
NM: Nebraska 38, Northwestern 24 — Can I confidently say that I believe Northwestern will win this game? No. There’s certainly upset potential here, but Nebraska is much too talented to let NU slip past in Lincoln. The Wildcats need one of their best offensive performances this year, and a balanced attack could lead to big-time success. Unfortunately for ‘Cats fans, though, the defense might regress at the worst possible moment.
SG: Nebraska 34, Northwestern 20 — It doesn't matter that Taylor Martinez isn't playing. Nebraska boasts one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten, and Ameer Abdullah could look like Carlos Hyde against NU's front seven. On the road, with the season falling apart, it's tough to see Northwestern recovering this week. Then again, I've picked the Wildcats to win in each of the past three losses.