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Big Game Hunting: Peyton Ramsey-led Northwestern bids for 3-0 start vs. Nebraska

With Peyton Ramsey at the helm, Northwestern’s offense just kind of works.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Peyton Ramsey has thrown for 342 yards and one touchdown in his first two games as Northwestern’s quarterback. His stat line is about as dazzling as a putty knife or a toaster waffle.

So why has Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana, been as valuable in the early going as any Big Ten player? Because he’s capable, experienced, legit. It might not sound like much, but it’s everything and then some for the 2-0 Wildcats.

‘‘It was a lot easier once he got here,’’ receiver Kyric McGowan said.

You don’t plummet to 3-9, as the Wildcats did in 2019, by being any good. But that record hardly indicates how dismal things were for the team offensively. How does 117 yards per game through the air sound? How about an almost impossibly puny 4.5 yards per pass attempt? Or a pass-efficiency rating of 84.5?

Actually, that last number speaks for itself only to the nerdiest of stat nerds. Put it this way: No other Big Ten team had a pass-efficiency rating below 100. NU’s number now stands at a healthy 133.4.

But forget about all the stats. This is about being able to breathe, calm down and function. The Wildcats can do that now. It was on display in a 21-20 comeback victory last Saturday at Iowa. After NU fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter, Ramsey led back-to-back touchdown drives of 16 plays and 75 yards and 14 plays and 79 yards. Nothing amazing happened. The drives were perhaps a bit mundane but deeply satisfying, like a cross-country road trip when you’re just striking out into the world.

What’s next? Nebraska (+3½) at Northwestern (11 a.m., BTN, 720-AM) is another chance to pile into the family truckster and feel pretty good about having Ramsey at the wheel. The Huskers (0-1) haven’t played since a 52-17 loss Oct. 24 at Ohio State, a game that was highly competitive throughout the first half.

‘‘It’s a big advantage for Nebraska [to have] a week off to rest up,’’ Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ‘‘They obviously had a chance to watch us play. We were in a four-quarter war, a really physical game.’’

More likely, it’s to NU’s benefit to have 60 more minutes of football under its belt. No doubt, the Wildcats have the better-looking defense heading into the game. And though the Huskers have beefed up their roster under coach Scott Frost and have dangerous quarterbacks in Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey — both of whom should play — the Wildcats have an offense that looks like it’s playing football again. It might not sound like such a big deal, but it is.

The last three games in this series were decided by a single score. Honk, honk! NU, 24-20.

OTHER WEEK 10 PICKS

No. 1 Clemson (-5½) at No. 4 Notre Dame (6:30 p.m., Ch. 5, 1000-AM): Boy, you have to feel for the Tigers (7-0), who will be without all-everything quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Did we mention Lawrence’s backup, D.J. Uiagalelei, is 6-4, 250 pounds and one of the top recruits in program history?

‘‘The most important thing is to make sure that he’s not comfortable back there,’’ Irish coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘You’ve got to get a great pass rush. You’ve got to get him to move his feet. You’ve got to make sure [he doesn’t] get in a rhythm.’’

You know what else might help? Not getting obliterated in every area of the game, like the Irish (6-0) were in a 30-3 loss against the Tigers in the 2018 playoff. This is still Clemson, people. The talent is obscene.

‘‘We’ve won 22 consecutive games at home,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We’ve won 12 in a row [overall]. I don’t know, you guys decide.’’

OK, fine. Tigers by a field goal.

Minnesota (-7) at Illinois (2:30 p.m., BTN, 590-AM): A couple of winless teams go at it. The Illini are still without starting quarterback Brandon Peters (tested positive for COVID-19), backup quarterback Isaiah Williams (contact-tracing protocols) and No. 3 man Matt Robinson (injury). Here’s to you, Coran Taylor. Gophers, 38-17.

No. 23 Michigan (-3) at No. 13 Indiana (11 a.m., FS1): The heart says Hoosiers. Actually, the brain kind of does, too. But it isn’t the non-rivals Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh can’t beat. And Indiana hasn’t won in this series since — whoa — 1987. Michigan, 27-21.

No. 8 Florida (+3) vs. No. 5 Georgia (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2): Nothing beats the neutral-field Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Florida, but there’s no neutral about this: Gators quarterback Kyle Trask is better than Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett. Chomp.

Stanford (+8½) at No. 12 Oregon (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7): Hey, it’s Week 1 in the Pac-12. Are you ready for some rusty, sloppy football? Don’t hold me to it, but Ducks in a close one.

My favorite favorite: Mississippi State (-17) vs. Vanderbilt (2:30 p.m., SEC Network). Some are calling this the worst Vandy team ever. They’re wrong, of course, but you get the gist.

My favorite underdog: West Virginia (+6½) at No. 22 Texas (11 a.m., Ch. 7). The Mountaineers have beaten the Longhorns four times since joining the Big 12 in 2012, with road teams going 6-2 — and winning the last four — in the series.

Last week: 5-2 straight-up, 2-4-1 against the spread. Rough one.

Season to date: 11-7 straight-up, 7-10-1 against the spread.

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