Wrigleyville Classic Illinois-Northwestern: Brutally Honest Game Preview

wrigley-field sign-purple

It will certainly will be a bowl game type environment when the Northwestern Wildcats host the Illinois Fighting Illini, their bitter instate rival, in the Allstate Wrigleyville Classic at Wrigley Field. The Friendly Confines, home of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs,
last hosted a football game on Dec. 13, 1970. Kickoff is set for 2:35
p.m. CT this Saturday with ESPNU televising to a national cable

In order to feature the world famous Wrigley marquee in the set's
backdrop, ESPN's College GameDay will be originating its Saturday
broadcast from the corner of Clark and Addison. Meaning yes, Erin Andrews, Queen of all Sports Media
will indeed be here in Chicago. GameDay usually selects one "novelty
game" a season, and this year it's right here in Chicago's Lakeview East

The atmosphere will be further enhanced when NU moves it's usual, traditional "Wildcat Alley" set of gameday activities down to Wrigleyville.

For Illinois, it's essentially a "play-in" game as their postseason
lives hang in the balance. You can sense the bowl game tension in Ron
Zook's voice in this video.


Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) Synopsis:

Another thing that's "freaking sweet," as Peter Griffin from "Family
Guy" would say, is the East end zone for this game has no net behind the
goal posts, and no crossbar. It's instead faceted right into the basket
of the right field bleachers! So drunken bleacher idiots (oh, wait this
isn't a Cubs game, never mind then) and Sheffield Avenue perambulators
will have the chance to shag kicked balls!

Which reminds me- Illinois has a decided placekicking edge in this
game over NU. Always take Derek Dimke over Stefan Demos if given the

And yes, you can't use the phrase "he's a good north-south runner" in
this game, unless you're talking about a skill position player who
quickly gets from the backfield to the flat.

When Northwestern lost their starting QB Dan Persa (torn Achilles) for the season
last Saturday, they lost their MVP and an overwhelming majority of
their offense. Persa led the Wildcats on a thrilling march in the final
minutes that gave them a win over #13 Iowa and helped them maintain their recent dominance over the Hawkeyes.

The win earned Northwestern the Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week
award and Persa an ESPN College Gamenight "Helmet Sticker," the Walter
Camp National and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week Awards.

NU had a lot going with Persa, who ends his season #1 in all of college football
in completion percentage and lowest interception percentage. His 73.5%
comp. pct. breaks the Big Ten mark set by current Minnesota Vikings and ex-Wisconsin Badgers QB Darrell Bevell.

Now they turn the reigns over to local kid Evan Watkins,
a Carol Stream product (Glenbard North) who's a half-a-foot taller than
Persa, but not as quick. Watkins is 3-6 for 44 yards passing in his
career, but he's got a very strong arm and runs a 4.9 forty.

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald will no doubt have the team in its utmost
"GO CATS!" mode for this one. Not only is Illinois NU's chief rival for
the title of "Chicago's Big Ten
Team," but they're also a touchdown favorite. Expect a sclaed own
playbook and many fewer designed runs for Watkins. The transition from
Mike Kafka to Persa was smooth, but the transition from Persa to Watkins
will be a bit more difficult.

Persa had some impressive stats but the most impressive thing about
him: his escapability, doesn't show up in the stat. If they created a
"sacks avoided" or "sacks escaped from" statistic, Persa would be right
there among the league leaders.


Illinois (5-5, 3-4) synopsis:

Since Illinois suffered an absolutely catastrophic home loss to lowly Minnesota last week,
the WC has basically become a football version of a NCAA Tournament
play-in game for them. Because they need a sixth win to save their
bowl game lives. And they'll only have one more opportunity (Dec. 4th
at Fresno St.) to do it after this Saturday.

"We know it's a big game on both sides. When we look at our opponent,
especially this week as we watch them on tape, they're playing very
sound football playing with great emotion. You see the new
coordinators with their footprint on everything," Coach Fitz said

There's still a chance for Illinois to go to the Lone Star State for
the holidays. Either the Dallas Football Classic or the Texas Bowl
awaits if they can take this one, and/or next week at a very good 6-3
Fresno team. Like they say on Friday Night Lights, "Texas
Forever!" But it'll only happen if Zook, Vic Koenning and Paul Petrino
motivate these guys like Coach Taylor and his "Clear eyes! Full Hearts!
CAN'T LOSE!" style motivation.


Giving up 102 points in two weeks is UNFORGIVABLE. When it's a
defense previously ranked in the top 20 in all major categories, and
it's to one mediocre team, and another dreadful team- it's inexplicable.

But they'll win this week if they can correct last week's mistakes:
dropping three interceptions, including one on the last drive, giving up
toll road size running lanes for Adam Weber, letting a terrible
defensive line get consistent penetration.

Guys you'll see Saturday eventually playing on Sundays:

On the Wildcats, LB Quentin Davie and superback (tight end/fullback hybrid) Drake Dunsmore

Illinois- Mikel LeShoure is not Rashard Mendenhall
yet. But he wears his #5 and could jump this year and be a late first
round/early second round pick, just like Mendenhall did after his
junior year. The last time we saw two great backs like this in orange
and blue wear the same number back-to-back it was #44 in Syracuse with Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.

Martez Wilson is finally having the breakout year we suspected he would since he got here. Along with Corey Liuget, Akeem Spence, and Jeff Allen.


Prediction to be taken with a grain of salt (actually make that a whole truckload of salt):

NU 23, ILL 21 (Banks' 2010 record 15-6)

Actually, make that a whole silo of salt. Vegas has my alma mater as a
7 point favorite, and I can't really see why. Unless Persa is really
that much better and Watkins that much worse than I think they are?
Maybe the entire bookmaking industry isn't aware of these facts: The
team with the better record on game day has won the last 11 meetings and
16 of the last 17. NU has won six of the last seven.

Last week, before the results of Saturday's games, I would have gone
the completely opposite way with my pick. But maybe it's good for UI
that I've lost my last three picks. And after such a promising 15-3
start too!

All things being equal, I make coaching "The Decider" in making
predictions. And looking at the Pat Fitzgerald body of coaching work
versus Ron Zook, is like looking at Allison Brie vs. staring at "Mimi" on the Drew
Carey Show.

For potential NU bowl projection go here

For potential Illini projection go here

For more photos of Wrigley Field's transformation for football go here

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He's also a regular contributor to the Tribune's Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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    Paul M. Banks

    Fulbright scholar in media studies, MBA, small media business owner, Published author, Founder of The Sports Bank.net, a Fox Sports affiliate Member: Society of Professional Journalists, Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Former political writer for Washington Times.com, NBC Chicago.com and numerous business journals Credentialed for: United Nations, Rose Bowl, BCS National Championship, Final Four, Stanley Cup Finals, and NBA Playoffs. Been featured on: Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Live, The History Channel, CBS and ESPN radio. Does weekly segments for NBC and Fox Sports Radio stations across the nation.

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