The past year has been like a dream for Northwestern fans. We went into 2012 expecting mediocrity. Instead, we got the first 10-win season since Pat Fitzgerald was a player, not a coach, and the first bowl win since THE DAMN TRUMAN ADMINISTRATION. (I know, we're not supposed to talk about the streak anymore, but, well, IT'S OVER AND WE'RE PROUD.)
But now, the weird thing: we're normally able to talk ourselves into thinking Northwestern is great. But this year, other people are talking about Northwestern as if they're great too. We're 22. We're ranked for the first time since 2001. People are saying NU is a dark horse Big Ten title competitor, and it's definitely not out of the realm of possibility.
Let's say the wave of good feelings, happiness, and purple pride doesn't stop this year. What's Northwestern's best-case scenario for 2013?
We asked SoP's writers, and the comments and poll at the bottom are for you.
Northwestern comes roaring out of the gate, winning all four non-conference games by at least 14. Against Ohio State, the defense shows that its improvement is for real as they hold the Buckeyes to 17 points in a win. The strong start looks like it is in jeopardy as Wisconsin takes advantage of Northwestern's mistakes to drop the Cats to 5-1, but that is the only Northwestern loss of the regular season. The conference championship game allows Northwestern to pick up their second win of the year over Ohio State and return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1995.
Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Best case scenario means we have good answers for the following questions: Can OL stay steady after losing 2 veteran players? Can the DL create enough havoc and get to the QB? Will our secondary be like the lockdown unit we saw in the Gator Bowl, or the Sonoma-Williams collander that got abused by Ryan Nassib against 'Cuse?
In turn, this also assumes that McCall continues to channel his inner Tiesto with Colter/Siemian; Venric Mark has a darkhorse Heisman campaign, and our Special Teams continue to give us an edge in field position and closing out drives with points.
If all of those come together, which is within reach given the impressive depth of this squad, and with some luck (i.e. the opposite of the last play of last year's Michigan game) then the 'Cats are takin' a bus to Indianapolis and will finish 11-1, 1st in division. (Loss is probably to either Nebraska or OSU, but I think Nebraska will stumble twice giving us the inside track to Indy.) We end up at the Rose Bowl or other BCS.
NU storms out of the gate winning against Cal so easily that Fitz sends the starters home after halftime so that they can get to bed at a normal hour. After taking care of business against Syracuse, W. Michigan and Maine, our 4-0 Wildcats meet up in a much-ballyhooed match against the also-undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes.
The entire Buckeyes team has been suspended for violations of NCAA regulations, such as giving out tattoos in exchange for OSU gear because they're too poor to buy their own gear, but Urban Meyer, who can recite the NCAA manual from cover to cover, uses a series of successful appeals to keep all his players eligible for this big game. Nevertheless, NU wins, as the Ryan Field tarp is lifted to reveal 15 high school marching bands, whose rousing rendition of Go U Northwestern prompts the Buckeyes to fumble six times and throw eight interceptions.
NU then travels to Wisconsin, wearing the same all-white uniforms from the Cal game, since nobody got any grass stains on them, and whups the Badgers. Easy wins against also-rans Minnesota and Iowa are next, followed by a rousing win at Nebraska. Despite being 9-0, our Wildcats have somehow dropped out of the polls, behind the entire SEC and 3-6 Notre Dame. Fitz uses this as motivation, and the team romps over Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois, the last game by a 63-0 score when Kain Colter scores touchdowns by receiving, rushing and passing, and also drop kicks an extra point.
After the Wildcats win the Big Ten championship over Purdue, the national championship game pits 13-0 NU against 8-5 Alabama, who are No. 1 in the BCS standings due to strength of schedule and human polls, despite finishing 3rd in the SEC West. Your guess is as good as mine on how this game ends up.
NU record: 13-0
Division standing: 1st
Bowl: BCS National Championship
I can't predict Northwestern going undefeated. I can't do it.
This Wildcats team is talented enough to win every single game on its schedule. We learned that last year. But I don't foresee them actually doing so. Whether it be Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, or, well, somebody we should beat, Northwestern will lose at least one game in 2013. I know this better than I have ever known anything.
That doesn't mean Northwestern won't win the Big Ten, though. Let's say it drops one, or even both, of its games against cross-conference opponents. Going 7-1 or 6-2 with wins over UM/MSU/UNL gets the team to Indianapolis, I think
And from there? Well, everything is gravy. Sure, NU COULD win the Big Ten Championship game, and could win the Rose Bowl after that, but I think if NU makes it to Indy, this year is a resounding success. I've seen people say "BCS National Championship Game" as a not-joke, but that is legitimately not happening, perhaps even if NU does run the table.
Record: 11-1 (7-1)
Big Ten Championship Game (and who knows what else)
What's Northwestern's best-case scenario, y'all?
More from Sippin' On Purple:
- Venric Mark, Northwestern Wildcats football, No. 5
- Your Northwestern Wildcats football 2013 primer
- Northwestern football: Wildcats open season vs. Cal
- Northwestern depth chart: Collin Ellis, Chance Carter starters vs. Cal
- MONDAY OF GAME WEEK SIPS, ft. Northwestern's captains and an update from me
- 'Only at Northwestern:' An Excerpt from John U. Bacon's 'Fourth and Long'