There is an oddness about this season.
Perhaps not for the players, but for the fans. What is Northwestern football without that defining desire for an elusive bowl victory? Suddenly, the Wildcats seem very much like any other successful team in college football — harboring September dreams of a conference championship.
In past years, regular season losses could be forgiven with the knowledge that a postseason victory would make up for any previous sins. Take last year, when blown leads to Michigan and Nebraska were erased by a Gator Bowl victory in Jacksonville. Any disappointment of a blown chance at a truly spectacular season — 11-1 or even 12-0 — was eased by the monkey that was lifted off the Wildcats’ backs.
This year will be different, of course, but there will be little time for philosophizing about what a post-Gator Bowl Northwestern will look like. The Wildcats will be tested right away, at Memorial Stadium, against a Golden Bears team that is rolling out the no-huddle offense.
Two very different scenarios could emerge for a prized Wildcats secondary. California’s no-huddle offense could stun them as Ryan Nassib and Syracuse did in last season’s opener with plenty of long throws down the field, throws Jared Goff is reportedly more than capable of making. Or the Wildcats’ secondary and their big playmaker in Ibraheim Campbell could make Goff’s college debut a living hell. Goff, unlike Nassib, is a true freshman, who despite his prior experience running the no-huddle in high school, could be in for some freshman mistakes against Northwestern.