Covering college sports in the offseason tends to turn into an exercise in creative frustration. When there’s nothing going on in the real world – on the field or court, where real people engage in real interscholastic competition – we like to talk about conceptual or speculative things, things grounded in analytical thought or reaction. We’re opening up our window of our collective offseason stream of consciousness with a new little feature called “offseason musings.” Original, right? You probably don’t need further explanation, but the crux of the idea is for yours truly to relay a random Northwestern-related thought, question or conversation tidbit in extended form.
Any particularly compelling NU-sports related subject is fair game here, and want to hear from you, too: if you have anything you’d like addressed, feel free to tip us on Twitter (@Insidenu) or head on over to the contact page and shoot us (or your writer of choice) an email. This is a purely fun and spontaneous endeavor, and the topics could get wacky from time to time, but hey, what else is year-round Northwestern sports coverage if not diffusely entertaining? Consider this an official invitation into our offseason thought box.
The excitement of a double-digit victories and a bowl win stoked the preseason hype machine. A quick review of roster departures, depth chart solidity and Big Ten competition made everyone wonder. An offseason of rapid recruiting success like none other under Pat Fitzgerald pushed the noise to deafening levels. Northwestern has a lot of momentum entering the 2013 season. I ran off some of the obvious reasons, and any of those developments would have any fan base excited about their favorite team. I just have one concern: is the vision being skewed? Are we looking too much at the outside noise, and less at the signal?
Everything is pointed up for Northwestern football right now, and those questions are merely precautionary, borne of a slow if measured realization of the far-reaching scope of the Wildcats’ momentous offseason. A better question to ask, in light of the developments described above, is what the meaning of a successful 2013 Northwestern season is, how to define it, or even begin approaching the subject without taking into consideration the program’s boomingly positive trajectory, and whether that could tweak, or even vastly overshoot, otherwise realistic and more accurate projections. Whew, that’s a mouthful. Anyway, what I’m getting at is this: What is a successful season for Northwestern in 2013?
There is no more important, and more mercilessly crude (coaches know this), measure of success in college football than wins and losses. They substantiate anything and everything that happens off the field (recruiting, facilities refurbishments, coaching changes, and the like). They quantify the unquantifiable, the gritty emotional stuff coaches preach about all the time, that stat geeks loathe and wish never existed. You can have your five-star recruits, your multi-million dollar weight megalopolis, your wing-streaked, lime-strewn Nike power ranger costumes. Wins transcend all of that. Wins are what they are, and that’s all you need to know, no questions asked, no deeper analysis required – all ands, ifs and buts sold separately.
For the first time in a very long time – 1995, to be exact – Northwestern won 10 games last season. Most preseason expectations pegged the Wildcats to finish up anywhere between 5-7 and 9-3. My personal prediction was seven wins, and I didn’t really think much of it at the time, other than the unavoidable fact – after each win brought Northwestern closer and closer to blowing my conservative conjecture through the roof – that I was wrong. I underestimated what Northwestern could do. Most reasonable purveyors of Wildcats football had the very same emotional takeaway from last season. Northwestern was better than most of us gave it credit for in the preseason. Wrong prediction humbly accepted. Closed book. Good.
I’m afraid the circumstances are entirely different as we turn the page to 2013, because what was last year’s glut of unflattering preseason predictions (relative to actual 10-win results), could just as easily go the other way this season. Ten wins is 10 wins, and no matter what false starts or toe stubs or shocking upset losses afflict Northwestern next season, a dip below the double-digit mark will, by definition, fail to impress. It’s part of the cold calculus of unexpected success, captured in wins, and nothing more. Many will expect Northwestern to win the same number of games next season, without actually digging in, or analyzing matchups and schedule humps and anything else that goes into the fraught science of preseason forecasts.
It’s perfectly fine to expect the Wildcats to meet, or even eclipse, last season’s total, and I haven’t even begun to think about my own prediction, but if you do go that route, if you see this team, see it’s measurably treacherous schedule, see Wisconsin on the road and Ohio State at home, and think 10 wins, make that pick for the right reasons. Hold the Wildcats to that standard because this team, in this season, can win 10 games. The rest – the recruiting, the facilities, last season’s win total – are awfully difficult to fend off when, even if subliminally, any considerations of Northwestern’s football program right now are impossible to disentangle from the surrounding optimism.
Pick Northwestern to win 10 games because their 2013 roster is capable of getting there, and not because of anything else – unless one of those weird reverse-jinx-transitive-property-logic games is part of your annual preseason Northwestern football routine. In that case, great. 10 wins, by all means.