Why Are We Playing Cal, Again?


Why are we doing this again?

Aside from games scheduled for reasons of geographic proximity (and FCS schools), Northwestern has taken the admirable approach of playing similarly situated schools during the non-conference slate. I really respect this concept. As everyone knows (whether they want to admit or not), we have substantial and reasonable barriers preventing us from pursuing the same “student athletes” that end up at Florida State, Ohio State and Alabama. We’re certainly in the minority there, but we’re not alone. Stanford, Duke and Rice all have these exact same issues and, to a lesser degree, so do Notre Dame, Boston College and Vanderbilt.

On the surface, this Cal game seems like the perfect battle between similarly situated schools. We all know Northwestern’s academic record and Cal is probably the preeminent public higher education institution in this country. But, for whatever reason, Cal’s administration has allowed their football team to run a completely rogue operation for well over a decade now. There is probably no high profile NCAA program whose educational track record deviates more egregiously from the rest of the school than Cal and its football team. Sure, Florida State’s and Alabama’s football teams disgrace the concept of “student athlete”, but nobody in their right mind is trying to pretend that either school is on par with Cal as an academic institution.

Let’s crunch some numbers to further prove my point:

Removing FCS opponents and those scheduled due to geographic proximity (primarily MAC opponents), here’s the list of non-conference (excluding bowl games) opponents Northwestern will play from 2008-2018 and their 5 year football APR and Graduation Rate averages:

School (# of Games) 5 Year APR Average 5 Year Graduation Rate Average (%)
Northwestern 992.2 95
Duke (5) 987.8 93.2
Rice (4) 982 91.8
Stanford (2) 978.4 89
Boston College (2) 975.6 92.4
Vanderbilt (2) 975.4 86.6
Notre Dame (2) 972.8 95.8
Army 969.8 87.2
Syracuse (4) 953.2 77.6
Cal (2) 945.4 55

There’s not too much to debate here. Cal is in their own league of pathetic academic standards as it pertains to their football program. Hell, that APR ranks below most of the NCAA and that graduation rate is just downright laughable.

It should come as no surprise that when Tedford got the boot, the Cal athletic department looked for such an esteemed academic champion like Sonny Dykes to run the show. In the three years Dykes was head coach of Louisiana Tech, the program had a 946 average APR to hang their hats on. That’s eight tenths of a point higher than Cal’s 5 year average above. Apparently Sonny really is an upgrade!

So, this begs the question, why are we playing this team again?

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