It's been a while since it's been this fun to be a Northwestern Wildcats fan. 10 wins last year for only the third time in program history, a bowl win for the first time since 1949, and everybody has the Cats ranked headed into the upcoming year. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a lot. Sure, NU was almost undefeated last year, but they also played a weak schedule and had some nail-biting wins. Not to mention that the last time NU was ranked coming into a season was 2001, when the team went 4-7 a year after tying for a Big Ten Championship.
With an amped up schedule, this year won't be a cakewalk for NU. What's the worst end result for this team?
We asked our writers, and you can have your say in the comments and poll.
Northwestern struggles to deal with the time difference in the opener, dropping a shootout to Cal. The Cats right the ship by winning their next three games, but Ohio State and Wisconsin both roll, taking advantage of a secondary that has shown little improvement and a defensive line that can't hold up against the run. Minnesota and Iowa are both wins, but a three game slide against Nebraska and the Michigan schools leaves NU needing a win against Illinois just to go to a bowl. Northwestern takes out their frustration on the Illini, scoring 50 for the second year in a row, but 2013 still joins 2001 in discussions of disappointing seasons.
Record: 6-6 (3-5)
The OL is a sieve, which means we have to stay more 1-dimensional running team to keep our QB's upright - or that TS comes "back to earth" (in terms of conventional wisdom (and isn't as effective in short bursts); Mark gets injured and can't get it going; Special Teams becomes less special; DL play can't get to QB or stuff run lanes; and the kids in the secondary don't step up.
This could show up as a opening game stumble against Cal, and then snowball into a loss against 'Cuse at home. We could rally back to 2-2, but then get pasted by Meyer's marauders and then that leads to a faltering campaign where we're 6-6, and passed up for a bowl. I'm gonna guess 4-4 in the division in this darkest timeline.
The Wildcats are extremely jetlagged in their opener against Cal and lose, as the curse of the SailGate strikes again. NU recovers to beat Syracuse, W. Michigan and Maine, but having dropped out of the polls after the Cal loss, ESPN Game Day shuns the NU-OSU game, and Ryan Field is overrun by Buckeyes fans, who have somehow snuck into Ryan Field and replaced the purple tarp with a scarlet and gray one. Humiliated by the Buckeyes, our Wildcats then lose at Wisconsin, despite debuting new Under Armour uniforms that are neon purple and blinding.
At 3-3, our Wildcats barely muster up the enthusiasm to squeak by Minnesota, and then lose to archrival Iowa. From there, the season spirals out of control. A loss at Nebraska is followed up by home losses to Michigan and Michigan State. But in the finale, NU beats Illinois to retain the Lincoln Trophy when Tim Beckman gets called for a referee interference on 4th and goal with no time remaining in a tie game, allowing the Wildcats to run another play and score a touchdown on a fake Jeff Budzien field goal. Ironically, this fake costs Budzien the Groza Trophy, as he finishes with one FG fewer than the eventual winner.
NU record: 5-7
Division standing: 6th
Bowl: none :(
There are two big things that scares me about Northwestern's transition from 2012 to 2013: nobody got injured last year. Nobody. Northwestern lost five starts due to injury out of a potential 286. At some positions, Northwestern can handle losses, at others, they don't have the depth, as we saw when Nick VanHoose's injury basically cost Northwestern two games last year. Phil Steele's numbers show that teams that lose six or less starts improve their record the next year just 30 percent of the time.
And last year, Northwestern handled its business. Honestly, when was the last time a Northwestern team didn't lose a game it should have won before last year? Even the 1995 team lost to Miami (Ohio), man!
Throw in an injury -- I won't bring curses onto my by speculating as to who -- and an already tough schedule, and things could get bad. To be fair, most of Northwestern's team could die of the whooping cough and Northwestern would still net a few wins: Western Michigan, Maine, and Illinois. Since Cal and Syracuse are early in the year and should be wins, it's unlikely injury effects those a great deal, so let's pencil those in as very likely wins.
Let's imagine Northwestern wins all those games, but loses one out of Iowa and Minnesota, both of whom are worse than Northwestern, but turn into unreasonable college football losses. The other six games, on the other hand, are very reasonable college football losses. That said, I don't see a scenario where NU drops all six, so let's pencil in the worst case scenario for even .500.
Bowl: Logistically, probably Heart of Dallas, but for full suck let's say Little Caesar's.
What's the worst you think Northwestern could do in 2013?
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'