|Venric Mark, who set the school record with 134 punt return yards last week, could steal the show for the Wildcats. (US Presswire)|
Vanderbilt Commodores (0-1, 0-1 SEC) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Kickoff: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Spread: Vanderbilt by 3
Watchability: Both teams are on the rise in their respective conferences. Vanderbilt nearly pulled the upset over No. 9 South Carolina, and Northwestern edged Syracuse 42-41 last week. Of the Wildcats' three non-conference opponents from one of the big six conferences, Vanderbilt represents the stiffest test.
Shining Stars: Northwestern: Wide receiver Demetrius Fields is the most talented and experienced of the Wildcats' deep group. He had a career-high eight catches last week for 83 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Trevor Simiean with :44 seconds left to give Northwestern the lead. Dating back to the end of last season, Fields has caught four touchdowns in his last five games, and he has made 15 catches for 156 yards in his last two games. Vanderbilt: RB Zac Stacy was stifled against the stingy South Carolina defense, but expect the senior, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, to find more gaps against the porous Northwestern defense. The Wildcats' rush defense allowed 177 yards per game last year, which was 84th in the country.
Who could steal the show: Northwestern: The Wildcats have a host of candidates for the position, including QB Kain Colter, backup QB Trevor Siemian, or WR Venric Mark, the reigning Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. We'll go with Mark, who not only rushed for 82 yards with a 5.9 ypc average but set a school-record with 134 punt-return yards highlighted by an 82-yard touchdown return. The 5-8, 175-pound junior had 49 yards on kickoff returns as well, making him Northwestern's all-time kickoff return leader with 1,513 yards. Vanderbilt: Junior wideout Jordan Matthews had the third-most receiving yards in his career with 147 yards on eight catches last week vs. South Carolina. The 6-3 receiver is at least three inches taller than all of Northwestern's cornerbacks and safeties and could have a field day given the soft coverage the Wildcats displayed vs. the Orange. The Wildcats allowed 470 yards passing last week, a Syracuse school record.
You going? Ranking the road trip: Saturday's game is the first night game Northwestern has announced this season and could be their only one depending on the schedule. The Wildcats are an exciting team with loads of offense facing their preeminent non-conference opponent. If you're in the Chicago area, why not check it out?
Magic Number: Northwestern: 197. As in the amount of points the Wildcats gave up in the second half of games last year, the highest total in the Big Ten. Up 35-13 last week vs. Syracuse, Northwestern allowed 28 second-half points and blew the lead before recovering it again late in the fourth quarter.
Magic Number: Vanderbilt: 3:5. The ratio of quarterback James Rodgers' touchdowns to interceptions in the past four games dating back to last season. Rodgers, who's the younger brother of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, needs to channel his inner-older brother and keep turnovers to a minimum against the Wildcats. Northwestern was plus-3 last year in turnover margin and forced three in the win over Syracuse.
The game comes down to whether: The Wildcats' secondary can limit Vanderbilt's passing attack. Northwestern's secondary includes two underclassmen and has only one returning starter. Expect a versatile attack from the Commodores that exposes the Wildcats' defensive vulnerabilites.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 27-20
For more Big Ten coverage, follow Mike Singer and Dave Carey @CBSSportsBigTen.