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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Sep 22 2010 @ 5:19 pm In Northwestern | 3 Comments

With conference play just 10 days away, the Northwestern Wildcats head into their final non-conference game with a chance to take a 4-0 record into Big Ten action.

Fittingly, their biggest test yet should come on Saturday in the first home game since school resumed in Evanston.

The Central Michigan Chippewas (2-1) may not play in a power conference, but they are a perennial power in one of the stronger mid-major conferences in the nation. Central Michigan has won the Mid-American Conference three times in the last four years and has appeared in four consecutive bowl games, winning both the MAC and the GMAC Bowl last season.

Again in 2010, the Chippewas have a team to be reckoned with. They have numbers similar to the Wildcats heading in to Saturday’s match-up. Both schools average over 30 points per game while ranking in the top-10 in the nation in fewest points allowed. Central Michigan is fourth in the land after giving up just nine points-per-game through their first three contests, while Northwestern checks in eighth with a scoring defense of 12.3 points-per-game.

Central Michigan opened their season with a 33-0 victory over Hampton before dropping their conference-opener on the road in Week 2, a 13-10 overtime loss to Temple. In that contest, an anemic running game that managed only 43 yards was coupled with three turnovers in the defeat.

While the Chippewas struggled to run the ball against Temple, the ground game bounced back with a vengeance during last weekend’s 52-14 win over in-state rival Eastern Michigan. Starting running back Paris Cotton, a 5-foot-9 junior from Miami, ran wild for 209 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries to earn MAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

This weekend, Cotton will be staring out at Wildcats’ linebacker Quentin Davie, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.

Cotton averages 6.2 yards-per-carry on the season and has scampered for 349 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, he is Central Michigan’s second-leading receiver thanks to 11 catches for 92 yards.

His partner in crime is starting quarterback Ryan Radcliff, who entered the season with big shoes to fill after record-smashing former QB Dan LeFevour graduated to the NFL. The redshirt sophomore has gone 60-for-92 with an average of 265 passing yards-per-game, but has thrown only three touchdowns while being intercepted twice. His favorite target is fellow sophomore Cody Wilson, who averages a hefty 21.4 yards-per-reception and has 14 catches for 300 yards and a pair of scores on the year.

The key to this game, however, will be which prolific offense can come closest to its average output against the staunch defensive unit across the line of scrimmage.

The Chippewas have allowed an average of just 79.7 rushing yards- and 250.7 total yards-per-game, while the Wildcats have allowed 123.3 and 357.3 against stiffer competition.

Those numbers may seem to give Central Michigan’s defense a slight edge, but the Chippewas have yet to see a dynamic quarterback with the skill set of Dan Persa. Additionally, Northwestern will be their toughest opponent yet by a wide margin.

The Wildcats’ defense, on the other hand, has already survived a pair of difficult road tests and boasts a strong +6 turnover differential as one of their calling cards.

With two similar teams, it may very well be the turnover battle that decides the outcome.

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