Many expected Northwestern to be pretty mediocre in 2012. Instead, they were 9-3 and a couple of seconds away from being better, with a chance to win a bowl game.
In August, I tried to predict Northwestern's upcoming football season. Here's how I concluded my prediction:
So that leaves the Cats with a bunch of highly winnable, highly losable games. The smart money is on Northwestern to go 6-6, but it could easily be much better or much worse with a few lucky bounces or bad breaks here or there.
But for now, I'll pick NU to go 6-6 (3-5) with a trip to DETROIT, BABY. I can't wait for them to prove me wrong, starting Saturday.
You see, I'd gotten a bit fed up with Northwestern football. The Wildcats went from a nine-win team to my freshman year to an eight-win team my sophomore year to a seven-win team my junior year to a six-win team my senior year. And that six-win team was seemingly packed with vital, franchise-ish pieces: a scrappy, record-setting quarterback, his best receiver, etc. Without them, I figured NU was doomed for, at best, a middling campaign. I put 6-6 thinking that I was being optimistic.
I wasn't alone. In the poll in that post, only 13 of you said you
thought NU would go 9-3 in the regular season, less than people who thought this team could go 5-7 and way less than people who thought this team would win six or seven games. Northwestern was destined, most likely, for mediocrity.
Suffice it to say, we were wrong about Northwestern.
But after a surprisingly good year, I see a lot of y'all crying over the milk on the table instead of sippin' that purple stuff in your Solo. I'm hearing this shoulda-coulda-woulda argument - Northwestern was three plays away from being perfect!
In all fairness, that's true. But we're not depressed baristas, and this isn't the story of how we didn't hit the big time.
Let's look at some incontrovertible facts.
- Northwestern fans like to moan about how every year, their team loses a game they shouldn't to an awful opponent that ruined a season that could've been better. This year, Northwestern played nine teams that at the end of the year you can indisputably consider worse than Northwestern, and Northwestern won all nine games. The three games Northwestern did lose were against two teams tha finished the year ranked and a Penn State squad that might have if it were capable of being ranked.
- Northwestern did not lose a game convincingly. In fact, they had a lead in the fourth quarter of all 12 games, winning nine and losing three.
So yeah, Northwestern was a few moments away from having a better record. By the same token, they're a few freak turnovers and a last-minute drive against Syracuse and comically bad red zone offense by Michigan State away from being a much worse team. That argument you made up about Northwestern not being clutch is true, except only some of the time and even then pretty much completely by chance.
So let's take a moment to sip. We were expecting a bad team, and we're here complaining about how they won't be in the Rose Bowl because of a Hail Mary. Hell, let's take a peek at Adam Rittenberg's "best case" scenario for NU
from August (10-2, losses to Michigan and Michigan State, Capital One Bowl vs. South Carolina) and look at reality (9-3, losses to PSU, Nebraska, Michigan in OT, probably Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina). That was the best case, and the chain gang is coming out to see if we picked it up.
So, with the season over, props to Pat Fitzgerald and the football team. I underestimated. The second-best part is that this is a young, talented team that returns a lot of the key pieces next season, and some of those the year after that.
The best part is that they now have a chance to go out and win a bowl game for the first time in over 60 years. So let's put our unrealistic expectations on that and hope that, like this football season, it pans out.