Yesterday I touched on how bad our out-of-conference opponents this year are. I mentioned how none had winning records last year, and how all have new head coaches, who have never been college head coaches before.
That doesn't even capture how bad they are. I didn't really realize how horrible the teams we play this year are, as a group, and I gathered some stats here, just so we can get this straight: all four games are must win. We have to win them. If we can't beat them, I'm not sure who we can beat.
- It was noted that none of our opponents had winning records. But these teams didn't just go 5-7 - every team on our out-of-conference schedule finished last in their respective division. Towson's 1-7 record was last in the CAA Southern division, EMU's 2-6 was tied for last in the MAC West with Toledo, Syracuse's 1-7 record was good for last in the Big East, and Miami (OH) 1-7 was last in the MAC East. That's some shameful stuff right there.
- NU, with our no returning starting skill players, is a beacon of stability compared to these guys Each school, as noted, has a new head coach with no head coaching experience. To add to that, Towson and Syracuse each have new starting quarterbacks, one of whom, as you may have heard, is good at basketball.
- NU won nine games last year. Our four out-of-conference opponents last year won 11, combined, an average of 2.75 per team. Sound horrible? It gets worse when you add context. Let's recap every victory one of those four schools had last year.
September 6: Towson, 21, Morgan State, 16.
September 13: Miami (OH) 38, Charleston Southern, 27. Unlike the College of Charleston or, um, Coastal Carolina, I have never heard of Charleston Southern, and, like Morgan State, I have no jokes about it.
September 20: Syracuse, 30, Northeastern, 21. You might remember Northeastern from that Tyrell Sutton highlight video I posted, a 27-0 victory two years back, and when people ask you "oh, Northwestern, that's in Boston, right?"
September 27: Towson, 31, Columbia, 24. Little known fact: back when PS2 was still popular, I tried to make Columbia national champions on NCAA Football. They had a perfect conference slate and road wins at USC, Texas, Ohio State, and Florida, but, if I remember correctly, they ended the season ranked, like, 23rd in the country. It was a waste of two days of my video game playing life.)
October 4: Eastern Michigan, 24, Bowling Green, 21. And with a squeaker on the road against Bowling Green, NU's 2009 out-of-conference opponents scored their first victory against a FBS opponent. Previously, they had been 0-12.
October 11: Towson, 37, Rhode Island, 32. The Fighting Cuttino Mobleys provided Towson with their only conference victory of the season, and, sadly, their last victory of the season.
October 18: Miami (OH) 27, Bowling Green, 20. Miami's second and final victory on the year came on the road against BGSU, and it's good to see NU's future opponents taking out vengeance on the Falcons for the 2003 Motor City Bowl. Surprisingly, Bowling Green wasn't too bad, finishing 6-6 on the season. I'd guess they'd like one of these two games back and a trip to a sub-par bowl.
November 1: Syracuse, 28, Louisville, 21. Hey, respectable. Sure, Louisville was 1-7 in conference, but you take what you can get.
November 22: Syracuse, 24, Notre Dame, 23. The Orange beat some school in Indiana by scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns, on the road. In 1963, this would have been on some sort of predecessor to ESPN Classic.
November 29: Eastern Michigan, 56, Central Michigan, 52: A directional school shootout to end the season ended up with EMU taking home their third W of the year.
- So let's sort out the carnage: the teams we will play were 11-37 last year. Unfortunately, six of those wins were against Division I-AA, so against I-A opponents, they were 5-29. (The flipside of this reveals a 6-9 record against I-AA opponents, but all nine losses came from Towson.) Against Division I-A teams that aren't Bowling Green, they were 3-29. Against BCS opponents, they were 1-13, with the sole win Syracuse's victory over Louisville.
- The three teams we'll play at home, Towson, EMU, and Miami (OH), combined to go 2-17 on the road last season, with both victories coming against Bowling Green. To take that stat to its obvious conclusion, the three teams were a combined 0-17 at road games not in the Greater Bowling Green Metropolitan Area.
- Towson hasn't played a BCS school in so long I can't find it in ESPN's schedule database, and their loss against Navy last season was the only game against an FBS opponent I could find. Miami hasn't beaten a BCS opponent since beating Cincinnati in 2005, and EMU hasn't beaten one since beating UCF in 2003.
- The last one of these schools to boast a winning record was Towson, who went 7-4 in 2006.
- Northwestern is good at football, and these schools aren't.
So look: we all know we're Northwestern, the school with the terrible football history, and who really shouldn't be taking any game for granted. That being said, these are four games which we have every right to believe we should win. We'll even be favored by the oddsmakers, most likely. Now: if we lose one of these games, don't hit the panic button. I hate panic buttons, and, what's more, I hate sports fans who hit them. (I also hate jinxing things, so, I'm not saying WE'RE DEFINITELY GOING TO WIN.) We could still salvage the season and make a bowl.
But here's my point: we shouldn't have to. We're too good. We should win all four games, and anything other than that would be, well, surprising.