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Northwestern's clean health bill in 2012 could mean bad news for 2013

The statistically intrepid Phil Steele conducted an interesting study on his blog last week that just so happens to bear special importance as it pertains to Northwestern’s upcoming season. Steele calculated the number of starts lost to injury for every FBS team in 2012, and split his accounting into two categories: offense and defense. You may not have recognized it in the midst of their 10-win season, but the Wildcats were atypically healthy last season. In fact, they were one of the five healthiest teams in the country, and the single healthiest team in the Big Ten, per Steele’s math. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg compiled a handy list of every Big Ten's team 2012 injury data.

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Over 13 games, the Wildcats lost just five total starts to injury, two on offense and three on defense. That number amounts to 1.75 percent of total starts, tied for the third lowest percentage in FBS. This development no doubt helped Northwestern on its path to double-digit wins and its first bowl victory in more than six decades, but what does it portend for 2013? You might not like the answer.

Injuries are random and mostly unpredictable occurrences, but according to Steele, there’s a clear correlation between the number of bodies lying on a given team’s training room tables and that team’s fortunes the following season. “My research has shown that teams that benefited from very few injuries, in this case 6 or less, usually have a weaker season the next year,” Steele writes.

Reading Steele’s informative study doesn’t inspire the utmost confidence in Northwestern’s ability to repeat or eclipse last season’s success. Likewise, the Wildcats are not doomed for a massive cliffdive just because a statistical trend indicates they’re more likely to regress than improve in 2013. It’s a bad omen, and a statistically-supported one at that – something to keep in mind as you look ahead to the coming season. I wouldn’t read into it too much: it could just as easily be interpreted as a rousing recommendation for Northwestern’s training staff.

In any case, if Steele’s numbers are to be believed, the Wildcats are bound to suffer more injuries in 2013. That’s, uh, not good.