A Few Fun Facts to Kick of the 2017 Season

Northwestern has the longest winning streak (2) in the B1G

You heard that right. Given the B1G’s abysmal showing during bowl season (3-7) and the other two bowl game winners (Wisconsin and Minnesota) each losing their previous game (Minny to Wisco and Wisco to PSU in the B1G Championship) the ‘Cats hold the outright win streak lead with a whopping 2 wins. Let’s see if we can hold on to that for a few more weeks, eh?

ESPN favors NU in 10 of 12 games

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Does this mean NU is projected to win 10 games? Absolutely not. But still, pretty exciting to be favored in the majority of our contests. Also take this with a grain of salt, as this is certainly bound to change as the season goes on. By my math, this predicts NU to win 8.35 games… not bad.

Pat Fitzgerald’s unbeaten streak against James Franklin is at risk

Despite Penn State’s preseason ranking (6), the Nittany Lions ought to be a little weary of their trip to Evanston this season. Why? Because James Franklin has never beaten Pat Fitzgerald (in 4 attempts). He’s lost both contests as PSU’s head coach as well as two while at the helm at Vanderbilt. Vandy also dropped NU from the schedule in 2013-2014 due to “scheduling conflicts,” however, some speculated James was simply afraid of the ‘Cats.

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A Refresher On An Improbable 10 Win Season

Northwestern returns a host of exciting players with a chance to improve on an improbable 10 win campaign in 2015

Northwestern returns a host of exciting players from last season with a chance to improve on an improbable 10 win campaign in 2015

Week 1: NU 16 – Stanford 6

I’m sure everyone remembers this game, but maybe you didn’t realize at the time just how incredible the result was. Here are some interesting stats:

Stanford Points Scored: 6

In the other 13 contests they played, Stanford averaged 40.2 points per game. Their lowest scoring total (other than against NU) was 30 points. To say this data point is an outlier is an understatement.

Christian McCaffrey Rushing Yards: 66

Other than one play where McCaffrey broke off for 27 yards, the ‘Cats dominated Stanford’s run game, holding them to a measly 85 yards on the ground for the game. McCaffrey averaged 150.2 yards per game against teams not named Northwestern.

Week 2: NU 41 – Eastern Illinois 0

Nothing spectacular here. Northwestern got the job done against the lone FCS opponent on its schedule. The highlight was a 71 yard pick-6 by Matt Harris in the 3rd quarter.

Week 3: NU 19 – Duke 10

Northwestern’s offense was outright awful in this game, and we again managed to hold on by a thread as our defense came up huge yet again. Want to see something disgusting? Check out Clayton Thorson’s passing stats from his first road game as the starter:

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Northwestern managed just 57 yards of offense in the first half, and it looked as though our only opportunity to score a touchdown would be a defensive touchdown. However, the first Wildcat touchdown actually came from the 3rd phase in the form of a 97 yard kickoff return by Solomon Vault (oh, and of course the PAT was blocked). Other than a Warren Long 55 yard TD run, the offense looked totally incompetent for the entirety of the game.

Week 4: NU 24 – Ball State 19

Clayton threw a career high 3 TDs this game. Fun fact, he only threw 7 total TDs last year, meaning in the remaining 12 contests he only threw 4 TDs. For those counting at home, that’s a third of a touchdown per game. #ThatsNotALot

Week 5: NU 27 – Minnesota 0

This game was freaking awesome. Our offense wasn’t stellar, but it wasn’t painful to watch either. Clayton got robbed on an overturned TD pass and we held a B1G offense (albeit a bad one) to zero points and 193 yards. Needless to say, spirits were pretty high after this one.

Week 6:  Michigan 38 – Northwestern 0

Boy this was brutal. The game was over before the first play from scrimmage, after Jehu Chesson returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. NU blew it’s only chance to score by missing a 42 yard FG attempt. Michigan outplayed and outcoached us, and it broke my heart, just as Week 6 has done many times in the past.

Week 7:  Iowa 40 – Northwestern 10

Well, at least we scored in this one. Despite the awful scoreline, this one wasn’t a total blowout until sometime in the second half (it was 16 -10 at half). The offense just couldn’t get anything going and our defense ran out of gas after being on the field for way too long for a second week in a row.

Week 8:  Northwestern 30 – Nebraska 28

This game had a number of ups (Nick VanHoose pick-6, Clayton Thorson 68 run which set up a TD) as well as some downs (Safety on the first play of a drive, a lot of punts) but the ‘Cats came out with a W.

Week 10:  Northwestern 23 – Penn State 21

What a terrible game to watch. After a flurry of offense in the second quarter which lead to three touchdowns, a 13 point lead, and of course a missed XP, the game seemed all but over. That was, until we didn’t score again until there were 8 seconds left in the game. The missed XP almost cost NU the game, but Jack Mitchell was able to redeem himself with a 35 yard FG.

Week 11:  Northwestern 21 – Purdue 14

Nothing to see here. Zach Oliver saw some action as the ‘Cats managed to eek past the worst team in the B1G.

Week 12:  Northwestern 13 – Wisconsin 7

In what was one of the wildest and weirdest endings to a football game, Northwestern managed to somehow come out on top. I’ve never felt so strange and disappointed after a win. Wisconsin had a game tying TD overturned twice, then there was a sack which appeared to end the game, then there was a spike, then a long pause while the refs figured everything out, then Wisconsin’s backup QB came in to finally lose the game for them. Our defense was spectacular as always, however.

Week 13:  Northwestern 24 – Illinois 14

A few highlights here and there, but again, nothing special beating a team that was pretty darn bad. Roger got kicked out of the game, however (unjustly I might add).

Bowl Game: Tennessee 45 – Northwestern 6

Embarrassing. That’s all I’ll say. Mick McCall needs to figure out how to get this offense moving this year.

All in all, a pretty wild and exciting season despite the fact that our offense was generally unbearable to watch. Our defense on the other hand was unreal, and I can’t wait to see what they can do in 2016. Look for more content as the ‘Cats wrap up camp and the season rapidly approaches! Go ‘Cats!

 

What Is It About Week 6?

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Michigan ran over our dreams with a stunning 38-0 win over Northwestern

After an unexpected and exciting start to the season, the Wildcats had found themselves in the top 15 of the AP poll and in discussions as a dark horse for the College Football Playoff. The Wildcat faithful were riding high, the B1G West was looking soft, and we we’re thinking surely this could be a special season.

Then we played football (sort of) on Saturday. We had all of our flaws exposed, and many of our dreams were dashed. And while it was only one game, and there still is plenty of opportunity to bounce back and “accomplish our goals” as Fitz loves to say, I find myself thinking “here we go again.”

But what is it about Week 6 that seems to take the wind our of sails? In seasons past  it has made us go from dreams of Big Ten Titles to big time empty bowl stadiums somewhere in Texas. It’s taken us from hopes of rebuilding to hopes of the season being over. Since 2008, Northwestern is 1-7 in its sixth game of the season. The lone win comes in 2009, against an abysmal Miami (OH) team which finished 1-11 (and the ‘Cats squeaked out a sloppy 16-6 win).

Let’s take a look at some of the heartbreaks that have come after a loss in Week 6:

2008 – NU Loses to #23 Michigan State 37-20

While this wasn’t totally unexpected or devastating, our shot at a Big Ten Championship essentially vanished. Believe it or not, had the ‘Cats won that game (and managed to not lose to an awful Indiana team) NU would have tied for a share of the B1G title.

2010 – NU Loses to Purdue 20-17

This one really stung. Northwestern was 5-0, riding high after a huge 29-28 win at Minnesota the week before. Aspirations of a B1G Title were beginning to brew and a win over Purdue seemed almost assured (Purdue went 4-8 that season). Instead, the Wildcats looked terrible and missed a last second field goal which could have sent this one to overtime. Makes you wonder what could have happened that year if we pull this one out (and Persa doesn’t get hurt against Iowa).

2012 – NU loses at Penn State 39-28

Yet again, the Wildcats remained undefeated after 5 weeks. We headed to Happy Valley with a chance to prove we were for real and came up short. NU blew a 28-17 4th quarter lead by allowing 22 unanswered by the Nittany Lions, and yet again hearts were crushed.

2013 – NU loses to Wisconsin 35-6

A week after what appeared to be the biggest game in recent memory, the Wildcats headed to Wisconsin with hopes to bounce back and continue its quest for a Rose Bowl birth. Instead, NU got completely waxed by a good Wisconsin team and this loss set the tone for the rest of the season (NU finished 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2007).

2014 – NU loses to Minnesota 24-17

The start of the 2014 season was a fairly disastrous one, and after loses to Cal and Northern Illinois most people had written this team off. However, the ‘Cats came back and won back-to-back B1G games against Penn State and Wisconsin and people started thinking maybe this team had done some serious growing up in the past few weeks. However, a kickoff return right after NU tied the game at 17-17 in the fourth quarter cost the ‘Cats, and broke our hearts yet again.

2015 – NU loses to Michigan 38-0

You guys all know what happened here, so I wont rehash it.

Long story short – it looks like its time to start bringing back a Miami (OH) for Week 6. Let’s at least let our dreams remain intact going into the second half of the season. But enough about Week 6 – let’s beat Iowa next week, and hopefully start to bring back hope of a B1G West Title.

Pat Fitzgerald’s Top 10 Losses as Northwestern’s Head Coach

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As promised yesterday, we kick off Pat Fitzgerald’s 10th season by looking back at the best – and now worst – of his head coaching career. For those of you who missed it, here are Pat Fitzgerald’s Top 10 Wins as Northwestern’s Head Coach. Without further ado, the worst of the worst (and highlights for games we could find):

Honorable Mentions: Nevada 2006, Michigan 2014

#10 – NU vs Penn State 2010

This wasn’t a bad Penn State team, and certainly 2010 wasn’t Fitz’s best squad, but the way they lost this game is a perfect example of a classic Fitz (and McCall) blown lead where we can’t keep our foot on the pedal. NU was up 21-0 and let PSU score 35 unanswered points to lose 35-21. Oh, and JoePa won his 400th game (which has presumably been vacated).

#9 – NU vs Indiana 2008

This was a baaaaad Indiana team. The finished the season a mere 3-9, including a loss to beat down from Ball State. This game had no business even being close, but our offense only mustered a mere 19 points to lose 21-19.

#8 – NU vs Iowa 2014

I almost feel like this should be put higher, but here it is at number 8. Our team completely forgot we were playing football on this given Saturday and that is 100% on the coaching staff. After handing Iowa 28 points in the first quarter alone, the Wildcats continued to flounder the rest of the game and eventually lose 48-7. (The video for this game is great)

#7 – NU vs Army 2011

This was a bad one that almost lead to the ‘Cats missing out on the postseason. Army went 3-9 that year including losses to some BAD teams. NU was simply out-coached here.

#6 – NU vs Purdue 2010

This was a bad loss to a bad Purdue team who went 4-8 that year. NU only mustered 17 points in the loss, and featured a classic last second missed field goal by Stefan Demos which could have forced overtime. Shouts to Stefan!

#5 – NU vs Syracuse 2009

This is loss that could have taken the 2009 season from good to great (though there was also a bowl loss that could have done the same thing). Syracuse went 4-8 that year and was featuring Greg Paulus at QB.

#4 – NU vs New Hampshire 2006

It’s hard to pick on Fitz in his first season as head coach but we’re gonna do it here and we’re going to do it again in a minute here. I don’t really care the situation – there is now excuse for losing to an FCS squad. And I think it’s fair to point out that NU didn’t just lose – they got pounded 34-17.

#3 NU vs Nebraska 2013

I think it’s the way this loss happened that earns it the bronze. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just watch the video below. This loss also could have pushed NU to 6-6 and a bid in the [Insert shittiest bowl game sponsor] Bowl.

#2 NU vs Michigan State 2006

Again, it was Fitzy’s first season – which is probably what keeps this game out of the number one spot. But our friends at MSU set the record for largest comeback ever in FBS history. NU allowed 38 unanswered points in the 2nd half and completed one of the largest meltdowns in college history (perhaps the Choke at Doak earns the top spot since, you know, we’re Northwestern).

#1 NU vs Duke 2007

NU had 4 tries from 1st and Goal to put away arguably the worst FBS team in the history of time. Had they won, Duke would have finished the season 0-12 and have overtaken NU for the longest losing streak in D1 Football history. However, the ‘Cats couldn’t muster the 9 yards they needed and found themselves missing out on a bowl at 6-6. This record may never have a shot at being broken ever again. God dammit.

That’s all for now folks. It’s almost gameday!

Pat Fitzgerald’s Top 10 Wins as Northwestern’s Head Coach

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Pat Fitzgerald is entering his 10th season as Northwestern’s Head Football Coach. During the first 9 years of his tenure there have been many ups, and certainly many downs as well. Despite current sentiment of the Warriors’ (which ranges somewhere between neutral to negative) of Fitz – we will focus on the positives from his career to date.

#10 – NU vs Iowa 2008

Iowa sort of gave this one to us, but it was a solid road win against a solid team (which beat South Carolina in their bowl game and ended up #20 in the final AP Poll).

#9 – NU vs Vanderbilt 2010

Despite the fact that this was a bad Vanderbilt team (they went 2-10 that year), a season opener in SEC territory is never easy. It was Dan Persa’s first game as the starter which helped sneak this one on the list.

#8 – NU vs Indiana 2009

In one of the wildest NU games I’ve ever seen, Northwestern rallied to come back from a 28-3 deficit (at which point the entire student section left save myself and Patrick Grayhack) to win 29-28. They held Indiana scoreless for the entire second half to pull off the win.

#7 – NU vs Minnesota 2007

Speaking of comebacks – NU rallied from a 35-14 deficit in the 2nd half to win 49-48 in double overtime. A stopped two point conversion sealed the win for the ‘Cats.

#6 – NU vs #10 Nebraska 2011

A near must-win game for the ‘Cats as they fought for bowl eligibility, the ‘Cats came out victorious in their first trip to Lincoln. The game featured a great second half performance from Kain Colter in place of an injured Dan Persa.

#5 – NU vs #13 Iowa 2010

A win that might be higher had it not lead to the end of Dan Persa’s season (and effectively Northwestern’s season), NU won in dramatic fashion with a late minute TD grab by Demetrius Fields.

#4 – NU vs #18 Notre Dame 2014

In a game we had all but written off, Trevor Seimian and the ‘Cats beat the Fighting Irish in dramatic fashion, recovering a fumble and forcing overtime with a last second Jack Mitchell field goal. Were the rest of this season not a total disaster, this could have been even higher.

#3 – NU vs #13 Minnesota 2008

This game had one of the craziest finishes in program history. Kafka gets his first start in 2 years replacing an injured CJ Bacher and runs all over Minnesota for a big win.

#2 – NU vs #16 Wisconsin

In one of my favorite seasons in Northwestern history, the ‘Cats held their ground at home against a strong Wisconsin team to propel them to an Outback Bowl bid.

#1 – NU vs Mississippi State 2012

Obviously getting the first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl was kind of a big deal. The ‘Cats beat a solid SEC team to finally get the monkey off their back. Ironically, the ‘Cats haven’t been back to a bowl since.

Look for another post tomorrow with Pat Fitzgerald’s Top 10 Worst Losses.

The Wild, Wild B1G West

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Well I feel a little unoriginal since this same headline has probably been written about 27 times this week. But whatevs, it’s a way in.

I’ve been analyzing the schedules for Minny, Iowa, Wisco, Braska and the ‘Cats – in my mind the contenders in the B1G West at this point.

I’ve been looking at Probable Wins (PW) for each team – basically it’s games against the three clear worst teams in the Big Ten – Michigan, Illinois and Purdue. I tend to think Indiana is an ok team, so I didn’t include them in this category. With the strength (or lack thereof) of the conference this year though, nothing is a guarantee.

Also looking at Games Against the Contenders (GAC) – that’s games against the other four contenders in the West. In my mind these games are toss-ups, but even more important in the division race since a win for one team means a loss for another contender.

Minnesota –
Remaining Games: 7
PW: 2 (@ Purdue, home for Illinois)
GAC: 4 (Northwestern, Iowa, @Nebraska, @Wisco)
Others: @ OSU (likely loss)

Northwestern –
Remaining Games: 7
PW: 3 (home for Michigan, @Purdue, home for Illinois)
GAC: 3 (@Minny, Nebraska, @Iowa)
Others: @ND (likely loss but non-con – could affect tiebreakers though)

Braska –
Remaining Games:6
PW: 1 (home for Purdue)
GAC: 4 (@therealNU, @Wisco, Minny, @Iowa)
Others: Home against Rutgers (probable win, but who knows)

Wisconsin –
Remaining Games: 7
PW: 2 (home for Illinois, @Purdue)
GAC: 3 (Nebraska, @Iowa, Minny)
Others: Home for Maryland, at Rutgers (probably 1-1 or 2-0 for those games)

IOWA –
Remaining Games: 7
PW: 1 (@Illinois)
GAC: 4 (NU, @Minny, Wisco, Nebraska)
Others: Home against Indiana this weekend, At Maryland (My guess is 1-1 for those two games)

It’s nice to see everything laid out, but the only real conclusion to be drawn here is that things are still wide open. A lot can change with seven games remaining for most of these teams. The good news is that Northwestern has the most “probable wins” remaining, and in my mind the easiest schedule of the B1G West contenders. A win against Minny this weekend puts us in the driver seat, and would set up an enormous Homecoming match-up against Nebraska that could decide who goes to Indianapolis.

Come to Ped State!

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A few weeks back – amidst the Ray Rice scandal and the chaos that engulfed the NFL – the NCAA quietly announced that Penn State’s sanctions had been lifted. No more bowl ban. No more scholarship reductions. Time had been served and reparations paid.

There are plenty of conspiracy (perhaps legitimate) theories out there as to why the NCAA decided to lift Penn State’s sanctions when they did. Regardless of why it happened, all you need to know is that it happened. Penn State is free to continue with business as usual… and that’s alarming.

When the sanctions were levied several years ago, there was a vocal minority who suggested that the NCAA was overstepping their boundaries and unfairly punishing current “student athletes” who had absolutely nothing to do with the situation. After all, if Penn State swiftly removed anyone who had any part of the heinous crimes and subsequent cover up, why should they be punished? Right?

WRONG!

That line of logic is exactly what is wrong with college athletics today and it shows a complete inability to see the forest for the trees. From the NCAA’s perspective, the real issue at hand should have been bigger than Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier or any other person associated with the crimes. The issue is one of culture. The football program at Penn State had become (and still is) bigger than the school itself. That culture still exists today regardless of whether the criminals who were a part of the past remain. Culture is bigger than any one individual and absolutely nothing has suggested that the culture at Penn State has changed one iota since the NCAA levied “strict” sanctions. This was blatantly apparent with the jubilant celebrations that ensued in State College several weeks ago when the announcement was made that Penn State’s football program was free.

The fact of the matter is the only way to change the culture at a place like Penn State, and I mean THE ONLY WAY, is to completely do away with the football program. Only then will people realize that Penn State isn’t about a football team. It’s a state university that serves first and foremost to educate young people.

I’ll be the first to tell you how much I enjoy reveling in the pageantry of Saturdays in the fall… particularly in the West Lot. It may not seem like it at times, but I’m fully aware that the livelihood of my alma mater, Northwestern University, does not hang in the balance with the result of our team’s games every Saturday. Unfortunately, I don’t think the same can be said at a place like Penn State, Ohio State, Alabama, etc. Saturday results define those universities.

At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be playing Penn State this weekend. Nobody should be playing Penn State this weekend. They shouldn’t have a team right now. Only then would the NCAA truly have addressed the issue at hand.