No. 21 Stanford (0-0, 0-0 Pac-12) vs. Northwestern (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Michael Peterson: Stanford 35, Northwestern 20
The early start, humid weather, different time zone and potential first-game jitters mean it’s possible that a shaky Stanford shows up, but the Cardinal clearly own the edge on paper. Count me as a believer in the Stanford offense this season; the unit has too many weapons not to put points on the board against the Wildcats. Christian McCaffrey takes the opening kick back for a touchdown, Kevin Hogan continues to be commanding and the Stanford offense dominates in the trenches, making up for some mistakes made by the young defense.
Do-Hyoung Park: Stanford 31, Northwestern 10
Contrary to what the SEC of old might want you to believe, you have to put up points to win football games, and that’s been a glaring weakness for Northwestern over the last few seasons, even against weaker defenses. Seeing as how the Wildcats are replacing an experienced quarterback and most of their offensive line, I think points will be few and far between for the home team. Even if new quarterback Clayton Thorson has talent, I expect the coaches to give him a lot of high-percentage, predictable throws to get his juices flowing at the collegiate speed, meaning that Stanford’s safeties should be able to cheat against the run a little more and stuff Justin Jackson before he can catch a rhythm. Bold prediction: Stanford’s defense will hold Northwestern to under 50 rushing yards.
Although Northwestern’s defense is experienced and talented, the Stanford offensive line should easily win the trenches. Christian McCaffrey will pick up 200 all-purpose yards as a result and Stanford should catch Northwestern’s secondary leaning with some well-timed play-action bombs. Hogan will be poised, confident and accurate, and Stanford easily covers the 13-point spread — and then some.
Winston Shi: Stanford 30, Northwestern 17
Northwestern’s had some good seasons in recent years, but the verdict is clear: Stanford should out-talent the Wildcats on Saturday. With Kevin Hogan back for his senior season, four returning starters on the offensive line and speed to burn across the skill positions, Stanford should be poised for its best offensive year in a while. At the same time, while I will believe Stanford’s defense is down when I see it, the fact remains that Stanford only listed five players on the defensive line’s two-deep. With that in mind, Northwestern is breaking in a new left tackle and center, the two most important positions on the offensive line. No Power 5 team is a walkover — really — but if Stanford is a good team it should put Northwestern away.
Andrew Mather: Stanford 27, Northwestern 17
Growing up a devout Iowa Hawkeyes fan, one thing I learned the hard way is that trips to Evanston are rarely comfortable even if Northwestern appears heavily outmatched on paper. Pat Fitzgerald always seems to get his boys to give their all during the team’s most important games, and a chance to beat a top 25 program and fellow academic powerhouse should have them firing on all cylinders.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see RB Justin Jackson and the home squad looking more energetic out of the gate on Saturday morning, especially if the young Stanford defense is anything short of stellar as it takes the field for the first time as a unit. However, the Cardinal have everything they need and more to take their eighth consecutive season opener, and I think that as adjustments are made Stanford will begin to dominate the game and avoid too nervous of an ending. I’ll wager that both offenses start out brightly enough but Hogan and McCaffrey keep possession effectively and Lance Anderson’s boys come through to hold Northwestern in the second half. Oh, and Conrad Ukropina is a perfect two of two on field goals.
Vihan Lakshman: Stanford 34, Northwestern 17
I really like Stanford in this matchup on both sides of the ball. Talented pass rushers Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi will look to terrorize a Northwestern offensive line experiencing quite a bit of turnover, which should make life difficult on first-time starter Clayton Thorson. Meanwhile, Kevin Hogan has looked extremely polished in training camp, and he will likely have plenty of time to deliver the ball against an inexperienced Wildcat pass-rush. An energized Northwestern squad will get out to a fast start behind Justin Jackson and Pat Fitzgerald’s magic bag of tricks, but Stanford will pull away behind a patented bruising second half.