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The One Good Thing About the End of Summer is the Beginning of Wildcat Football

First Look at the ’11 Football Season

I really like summer. I’ve often thought that if I were a billionaire (note: a million+ bucks doesn’t go as far as it used to) I would have a house in Sydney Australia and shuttle back and forth between Spring/Summer in the Northern/Southern Hemispheres. But until then, I’m stuck in the Northern Hemisphere.

But, there is one thing that makes me appreciate Northern Hemisphere Autumn - Wildcat Football! I remember looking forward to Wildcat football even during the Dark Ages (pre-1995). Now that expecting consistent winning seasons is no longer a sign of insanity, I look forward to football season even more.

And given the start of football season, I will start writing my weekly Wildcat football columns.

I want to start with a quote from some of my fellow Big Ten alums (Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue) at the end of the ’09 season:

“We can’t take Northwestern for granted anymore.”

The 2010 season was a disappointing 7-6, punctuated be very disappointing 4th quarter folds against Michigan State and Penn State and another bowl loss. (Not that the other 3 losses were any better…) Only 7 wins and a minor bowl game was a disappointment.

The previous sentence shows how far the Wildcats have come since 1995. “Only 7 wins and a minor bowl game was a disappointment.” If the Wildcats had gone 7-6 in 1995, Coach Barnett would have won Coach of the Year and the Cats would have been big news. (The actual finish of 10-2 was a bigger miracle, but we’ll discuss that in a future column.)

For readers of this column (yes, I do appreciate the two of you :-) ), you know that I’ve come to look at games in terms of The Good (or even Great), The Bad, and The Probable. Last year’s Wildcats finished in the low end of The Probable category - I predicted a regular season somewhere between 7-6 and 9-4, with a bowl game. I’m going to do something similar this year.

Before I get to my predictions, let me give a short discussion of what others think will occur. In short, the prediction are all over the place - ranging from winning the Big 10 (B1G) Legends division and going to a BCS bowl to finishing 5th (just above Minnesota) in the division and missing a bowl game. Northwestern still lacks consistency and it shows in the huge spread of predictions.

My prediction? Just like last year, I’m not sure. In all scenarios, the major variable is improvement.

The Good (Okay, let’s be honest - The Great):

The Wildcats finish between 10-3 to 14-0, get to the Big Ten title game, go to a New Year’s bowl game AND WIN THE BOWL GAME!

As an aside, if the Wildcats win every game, I think they win the BCS National Title. Note: I am not saying that NU will win a national title. I’m just saying that going 14-0 (which includes a Big Ten title win and a BCS bowl win) would be enough to give NU some sort of claim on the Big Trophy or at least a Top Five finish. For that matter, a 14-0 season finish would be regarded as a sure sign that the world will actually end on 21 December 2012 (end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar).

The major factor this year is “improvement.” Improvement means Persa improving from the Achilles injury and becoming an even better quarterback. It means the defense bounces back with a vengeance from last year’s late season collapse and becomes fearsome. Regaining a dangerous running game would also be a great improvement. For NU to get to “The Good/Great” status, the team must have improvements in every facet of their game and luck.

Other major factors include consistently great play, dodging the injury bug, and gaining a running game (thereby making the passing game more effective). The coaching is perfect and properly aggressive. The ‘Cats play with heart and make very few mistakes. They overlook no one. The momentum builds through the season and NU takes care of business, earning a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Title Game (against Wisconsin).

The Wildcats go to a BCS bowl game and face a SEC opponent for the National Title. (Or maybe the “token” non-automatic BCS conference bowl team to see who finishes in the Top Five.) The game is one of the most anticipated of the postseason, a result of the previous years’ bowl games that went down to the wire and the fact that it’s NU. Northwestern plays aggressively and with no mistakes. The ‘Cats win the game convincingly, finally breaking a bowl losing streak dating back to 1949. The final poll for the 2011 season puts them in the Top Five.

The Bad (Really bad…)

Northwestern finishes between 2-19 to 5-7 and are relegated to the bottom tier of the Big Ten - counting both divisions No bowl game and no answers to questions about whether or not the Wildcats are truly forever out of the Dark Ages. The haters come out of the shadows and start questioning why Coach Fitz was signed until 2020.

The major factor - lack of improvement. Persa’s Achilles pops again; he goes down early and finishes the season dejectedly on the bench. The backup QBs don’t get the job done. The defense gets gassed early and often, which means that the fans see scores reminiscent of the last three 2010 Big Ten games - only this trend starts around game #3, vice game #11.

Other contributors - other critical players get injured, this is multiplied by the second/third team not stepping up. No running game reduces NU’s offensive options greatly. The O and D lines get burned over and over. Losses to Boston College and Army kill NU’s momentum going into the Big Ten conference games. Minnesota defeats NU. Even worse in its own way, Io_a becomes Iowa after getting their “w” back. The season ends with questions about the program’s future. The faithful are rattled - especially given that 2011 was seen as being “high tide” for the next few years.

The Probable

The Wildcats finish between 6-7 to 9-4, gaining a bowl game for the fourth year in a row - another program first. The fans are reasonably happy (make it very happy if NU gains 9 wins and/or wins their bowl game) and the team gets some respectable press at the end of the regular season. Once again, my friends from other Big Ten schools note that NU is no longer an automatic win. My Minnesota friends wish they were Northwestern fans.

The team shows some inconsistency early on, possibly entering Big Ten play 1-2. They drop a Big Ten game they shouldn’t lose (Minnesota or Indiana), but pick up an upset win (maybe Io_a again or Michigan?). The team loses people to injuries, but the ‘Cats bounce back with varying results. The running game is better than last year (much better if they want to win 9 games). And the feeling of “success” or “failure” for the 2011 season comes down to the outcome of the bowl game - “moral victories” and “valiant efforts” are no longer enough. 6-7 (bowl game loss) has people grumbling. 8-5 with a bowl win has Wildcat fans happy in the offseason.

Other Things

I’ll get to the Boston College opener in the next few days. They are favored, but that could change if they continue to lose players to a variety of reasons.

I’ll also look at this year’s version of The Conference Shuffle - Texas A&M goes to the SEC, who also grabs another team from some other conference, the Big 12 goes shopping for enough teams to stay alive while the ACC and Big East consider how to stay afloat. The MAC, WAC, Mountain West, C-USA, and Sun Belt conferences eye one another warily - many members secretly wanting to join the “Big Boys” (BCS AQs) while screaming at anyone else who eyes the exit too closely. And the SEC, Pac-12, and Big Ten watch the carnage that they helped initiate.

I haven’t given up on the Big Ten expanding into Canada. I think the University of Toronto Varsity Blues would be a great addition.

Oh yeah, I’ll also discuss the NCAA cesspool (violations) situation and the recent move to increase the standing of academics among the members.

Go Cats!

BJ Mitchell (Former NUMB Spirit Leader)
Twitter: #nuspiritleader.


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