Northwestern ended its second straight season at 5-7 on Saturday with a disappointing 47-33 loss to Illinois in Evanston. The Wildcats were absolutely abysmal on offense in the first half, and the defense couldn't hold up in the second half. Here's a look at the three biggest reactions from this game.
1. Another missed bowl game ...*
Remember when Northwestern was a program on the rise and Pat Fitzgerald was a candidate for Michigan, Texas and everyone in between? Well, now the Wildcats have missed bowl games for two straight years and are once again the afterthought that they were in the mid-2000s. It's pretty crazy when you see the increase in talent, but NU simply hasn't been able to get it done.
While the Quick Lane or Zaxby's bowl wouldn't have brought a lot of prestige, going to a bowl game is important for a program. It gives you 15 extra practices to work with your young guys, and at the very least, it's extra practice for next season. For the second straight year, NU will be going without that, and the recruiting uptick we've seen probably isn't going to last. This program is in a pretty bad place. Now, what do they do about it?
*Yes, NU could technically make a bowl game at 5-7, but that seems very unlikely, since there should be enough 6-6 teams eligible.
2. What's the answer at quarterback?
While Trevor Siemian wasn't great this year, he was far better than Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti. That was true in practices all year, as well. Everyone has been clamoring to see Alviti since he was so highly rated coming out of high school, but he never developed, and now the Wildcats head into 2015 with a lot of uncertainty.
Clearly, at this point, Oliver and Alviti are not starting quality. The belief around the program and of most media members is that Clayton Thorson, who is redshirting, will get the nod next year. He's looked good in practice and was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. But what does that mean for QB depth, and will he really develop into a starter? There are a lot of questions, and while Thorson has looked the part, there can't be a ton of optimism surrounding NU heading into next season.
3. Wait and see on coaching changes
It seems that everyone wants to see coordinator changes this year, at least on offense, and there's certainly reason to suggest it might happen. That was the feeling around the program if NU didn't make a bowl game, and now that another postseason-less year is the reality, we'll have to wait and see if there will be any changes. Changes could bring some player turnover as well, and that won't be easy for this team to overcome, but at this point, changing something up almost feels like a necessity. We'll have to wait and see what happens.
- Yes, some starters were out in the secondary, but this was even an embarrassing game for the front seven. They couldn't defend a pitch play correctly and let the Illinois offensive line manhandle them. With the amount of talent available, that's just bad.
- With fourth-and-three from midfield, down 15 in the fourth quarter, Northwestern elected to punt. Why?
- Justin Jackson is a stud. He was probably Northwestern's best player this year, and certainly the offense's best player. Rough way for his year to end.