The Northwestern Wildcats have played three games against FBS teams this season.
The Wildcats enter the season opener as eight-point favorites, because they are playing a Cal team that went 1-11 the year before. They lose by seven.
Despite the disappointing result, the Wildcats are still favored by a touchdown against a MAC squad, Northern Illinois. They lose by eight.
Vegas has caught on to the fact that Northwestern is not very good at football and makes Penn State 10.5 point favorites. The Wildcats whoop them by 23 points.
These things do not compute. They only make sense in the skewed world of Northwestern Wildcats football, where the thing you don't expect to happen happens.
I should have learned this my freshman year. Northwestern started strong but lost to an Indiana team that had started their Big Ten campaign 0-4, and lost starting QB CJ Bacher and starting RB Tyrell Sutton in the process. Next up was a ranked Minnesota team. I have never been so sure a team would lose a game.
Instead, backup Mike Kafka ran for 217 yards and NU won on a late pick-6 by Brendan Smith. The Wildcats won nine games and I presumed that with increased recruiting they'd do better the next year.
They did not. They won eight games, but I presumed with increased recruiting they'd do better the next year.
They did not. They won seven games, but I presumed with increased recruiting they'd do better the next year.
They did not. They won six games. I noticed a pattern, and it wasn't a good one. Northwestern had slid, and was losing the best players from teams that weren't very good. I hoped NU would qualify for a bowl the next season, but had my doubts about whether they could.
That team won nine games and the first bowl in 60 years. The fanbase was ecstatic. We have never experienced combined euphoria than after coming off a 10-win season and starting 4-0 the next year. We expected greatness, and saw the opportunity for it.
You know the story. Everything crumbled. Northwestern lost to Ohio State, and in turn everybody else they could possibly lose to. They also started the ensuing season 0-2. I came to dread Northwestern football, because my expectation was for disappointment.
Of course, I should never expect anything. As the Wildcats' lead grew and grew on Saturday against Penn State, I became increasingly convinced they would allow the Nittany Lions to storm back. It never happened. For the first time in two years, the Wildcats convincingly won a conference game, and it happened at the exact moment I refused to believe it was possible.
The Wildcats have shown themselves to be bad enough at football to go 1-7, and they've shown themselves to be good enough at football to romp over one of their strongest opponents.
On the one hand, it's possible, if not probable, that Northwestern will have a losing season. There are eight games left in the season. The Wildcats need to win four to break even. But they're not crappy games: they come against seven Big Ten opponents and a still-undefeated Notre Dame squad. It would be surprising if NU went from losses to a seemingly bad Pac-12 team and a MAC team to a winning conference record, but they need that to merely break even.
On the other hand, the Wildcats can win the damn Big Ten. Look at this excremental heap we call a conference! This is supposed to inspire fear?
Here are teams Northwestern has to play: Purdue, a sorry sack of sadness that will almost certainly finish 0-8 in conference; Illinois, who got into shootouts with Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, and Texas State, and will probably once again be prevented from finishing 0-8 in conference by the grace of Purdue's presence on their schedule; Michigan, a team coached by a bloated, squeaky-voiced failurebot who is so bad at coaching that people have generally stopped talking about how bad at coaching he is to focus on the fact that he blatantly disregarded the health of a player, and who only maintains a job because his athletic director is a pizza vendor-turned-blithering PR tire fire; Iowa, a team as effective at offense is as my dog is at opening doors; and Minnesota, who were dumped into a flaming crater by TCU.
I did not mention Wisconsin. After all, Northwestern should not beat Wisconsin. The Badgers opened as 9.5-point favorites against the Wildcats. If I expected things, I would expect Northwestern to lose.
However, if you've read this, you know that I've learned to stop expecting. Being a Northwestern fan is about riding an wave that decided physics could suck it and started ebbing and bobbing in places it wasn't supposed to. We'll hope for the best, because the best is possible, but then again, so is literally everything.