Summer Snapshot '11: Northwestern Wildcats

Pat Fitzgerald

JUST Northwestern? We talkin’ bout just Northwestern. We ain’t even talking about the game.

The Past Few Seasons…

Pat Fitzgerald took over the Northwestern Wildcats in 2006 and hasn’t looked back, riding a 34-29 record (0-3 bowl record) to two handsome contract extensions in the past three years. His latest will take him through the 2020 season in Evanston. Why would a coach who’s record is barely above .500 and who has never won a bowl game get a ridiculous contract at a school with a mediocre football program? Potential, and not the Lane Kiffin kind. Fitzgerald is a young, energetic coach who averaged five wins in his first two seasons at Northwestern and eight per season in his last three. Even though he has a ripe contract extension and probably-pretty-high buyout clause, Fitzgerald is always a favorite when playing the “Who will replace Joe Paterno?” game.

Northwestern’s recent past is up and down. A heartbreaking loss in triple-overtime against Auburn in the Outback Bowl after the 2009 season set the stage for a mediocre 2010. The Wildcats went 7-5 in the regular season including going 3-5 in the Big Ten. One of those wins, though, was over then-No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes. If you’re prone to analogies in proper form, Penn State : Iowa :: Iowa : Northwestern. Unfortunately, that lone bright spot wasn’t good enough for the fans of Northwestern. Another tough defeat in a bowl game, this time to Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl, and 2010 is one to quickly forget for most Wildcat fans. For a program that made just one bowl appearance prior to 1996, though, this team has now made three postseason appearances in four years. Watch out, ladies and gentlemen. These ‘cats can play.

What to Look For in 2011…

Answer: Dan Persa, Dan Persa, and Dan Persa. Question: Who were Northwestern’s leading QB, second-leading rusher, and 18th-leading wide receiver in 2010? Seriously, this guy does it all. He’s also the most accurate quarterback in the conference, smashing the previous completion record (Darrell Bevell’s 67.8% in ’93) with 73.5% in 2010. Eight other starters return on offense to help Persa this year, with no major stars lost. Mike Trumpy was the “leading” rusher, with 530 yards, but Northwestern finally has a set running back going into the season. With the receivers like Jeremy Ebert and offensive line returning four of five starters, the offense should be really good.

Unfortunately for Northwestern, football is a two-sided game. Northwestern blog Sippin’ on Purple had this to say when interviewed by a Boston College blog:

SOP: If Boston College thinks they can throw the ball, it will work, but not as efficiently as the run game will….

Dan Persa

Run, pass, kick, amble, mosey, or even saunter past this defense at will, 2011 opponents. DE Vincent Browne appears to be a bright spot for the Wildcat D, but once that is figured out and double- and triple-teams are deployed, there doesn’t seem to be much meat on their defense. Anything short of an inept offense should make this a high scoring game, and holding Persa to human-like stats should mean a victorious day for an opponent. Except Iowa.

The 2011 Wildcat schedule includes OOC powers Boston College (a page taken from the Tim Curley School of Scheduling), Army, Eastern Illinois, and Rice. If the defense can do anything at all, the Cats can keep it close against the Eagles. But a win there would be very unlikely unless it’s a shootout. So 3-1 out of conference is the scenario the betting folk would go with. In conference, Northwestern plays in the North West Legends Division, so they get Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Nebraska. This season, that’s not a bad slate, as all of those teams but Nebraska are beatable by this NW team. Out of division foes include Penn State, and their cross-protected rival, Illinois. Getting to seven wins should be the goal. That would mean at least three true upsets this year. And while these Wildcats have surprised before, that endeavor might be a difficult one.

09-03-2011Boston CollegeChestnut Hill, MA
09-10-2011Eastern Illinois (FCS)Evanston, IL
09-17-2011ArmyWest Point, NY
10-01-2011IllinoisChampaign, IL
10-08-2011MichiganEvanston, IL
10-15-2011IowaIowa City, IA
10-22-2011Penn StateEvanston, IL
10-29-2011IndianaBloomington, IN
11-05-2011NebraskaEvanston, IL
11-12-2011RiceEvanston, IL
11-19-2011MinnesotaEvanston, IL
11-26-2011Michigan StateEvanston, IL
Indianapolis, INB1G Championship Game
Season Totals

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