The Northwestern Wildcats and Syracuse Orange will both try to start turning around poor 2011 seasons on Saturday as they go to battle at the Carrier Dome.
These certainly aren't elite, high-profile football programs, but with most of the powerhouses going up against North South Eastern State Tech, this makes for one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend.
Let's take a closer look.
When: Saturday, September 1 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
Listen: Northwestern fans can listen on WGN 720. Syracuse fans can listen on Syracuse IMG Network.
Live Streaming: WatchESPN
Betting Line: Northwestern (-2), according to Covers
Northwestern Injuries (via USA Today)
Treyvon Green, RB, Undisclosed, Probable
Syracuse Injuries (via USA Today)
None to report
What's at Stake?
Both teams are looking to rebound after a step in the wrong direction in 2011.
Northwestern went 6-7 in a poor season that ended with a loss in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It was the first time since 2006—Pat Fitzgerald's first year at Northwestern—that the Wildcats finished under .500.
Fitzgerald isn't on the hot seat yet, but a loss to Syracuse to start the year might heat up that talk.
The Orange, on the other hand, finished 5-7 last year. That's not necessarily a huge deal considering they haven't been a football powerhouse for the past decade, but Doug Marrone caused some optimism when he led his squad to an 8-5 record in 2010 during his second season.
2011, however, was a step back.
Northwestern Player to Watch: Kain Colter, QB
Colter was technically the backup to Dan Persa last season, but he had plenty of opportunities to show his worth and didn't disappoint.
The now-junior held his own in the passing game in 2011, completing 67 percent of his passes for 673 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception.
Where he really shined, though, was in the ground game. The dual threat ran the ball 135 times—most on the team—for 654 yards and nine touchdowns.
It will be fun to see what Colter can do now that the QB job is all his.
Syracuse Player to Watch: Alec Lemon, WR
With the departures of Nick Provo and Van Chew, the receiving production is going to fall on the shoulders of Lemon.
In 2011, the talented senior led the Orange in catches (68) and yards (834) and had just one less touchdown than Provo, so he was actually already the unquestioned leader of the receiving corps. Now, it's just even more clear that he's the go-to guy.
Ryan Nassib should be looking Lemon's way all night long.
Key Matchup: Syracuse Linebackers Against Kain Colter
Northwestern's QB can hurt teams in a variety of ways, so Syracuse simply has to pick its poison and let Colter beat them through the air.
He's just too dangerous with his legs.
The unwanted task of stopping Colter in the run game will come down to Syracuse's linebacking corps. That means Marquis Spruill, Siriki Diabate and Dyshawn Davis have a lot of work ahead of them.
I love both of these teams' offensive weapons, and as a result, this is a bit of a tossup for me. In the end, I think the veteran duo of Nassib and Lemon, along with the home-field advantage, will be enough for Syracuse to prevail in the end.
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