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Northwestern needed this bye week

There is no Northwestern game this weekend, and that’s probably a good thing for the Wildcats. It’s not so much that Northwestern is on a five-game losing streak, devoid of any trace of positive momentum and in serious danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2007. It’s that the Wildcats – victims of what seems like the most rotten injury luck of any Big Ten team – might not be able to find enough healthy players to field a team.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald read off a list of players Monday that, were Northwestern scheduled to play a game, would be considered “out” or “limited.”

Out: Defensive linemen Will Hampton, Tyler Scott, Dean Lowry and Sean McEvilly, defensive backs Nick VanHoose and Jimmy Hall, linebacker Collin Ellis, receiver Tony Jones and running backs Mike Trumpy, Stephen Buckley, Warren Long, Treyvon Green and Venric Mark.

Limited: Offensive linemen Jack Konopka and Brandon Vitabile, Defensive backs Ibraheim Campbell and Traveon Henry, tailback Tim Hanrahan and defensive linemen Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson.

Did you count up all the names? There are 20 (13 out and 7 limited)…which is kind of insane.

The good news for Northwestern is that it’s not playing this weekend. The Wildcats can use the bye week to rest, work with the medical staff and hopefully, for their sake, trim these lists to more reasonable numbers.

Some of these names probably don’t surprise you. Stephen Buckley and Venric Mark, for example, are unlikely to play again this season, and cornerback Nick VanHoose left Saturday’s game with what appeared to be a concussion. Others, like Tyler Scott and Jimmy Hall, are more surprising.

So in case you weren’t convinced the bye week couldn’t come at a better time for the Wildcats – and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, considering the tailspin Northwestern is enduring right now – surely you are now. The Wildcats were the healthiest team in the Big Ten last year. Now? If they played a game this weekend, they’d barely resemble the team that arrived in Evanston this summer for preseason camp.

Blaming Northwestern’s five-game losing streak on injuries misses the point – the Wildcats haven’t played their best football since the third quarter of the Ohio State game ended. At full-strength or not, there are plays the Wildcats didn’t make, missteps they committed, that help explain why this season has gone far worse than most expected it would.

Injuries may be one issue. They are not the only one.