Every week, InsideNU writers Josh Rosenblat and Henry Bushnell will wrap up Northwestern game coverage with some final thoughts (we'll try to stay away from topics addressed in game columns), along with our big takeaways from the rest of the Big Ten. Following Northwestern's 47-33 loss to Illinois, here's the 2014 Week 14 and final edition of the Weekend Rewind:
Prevailing thoughts on Northwestern
What needs to change? Does McCall need to go?
With Northwestern's season over, the post-mortem begins. What went wrong? And perhaps most importantly, and how much of it will be corrected? Both Josh and I have already written about that possibility.
Now it's time to discuss what changes need to be made. The easiest scapegoats, naturally, are the coordinators - Pat Fitzgerald is probably still untouchable when it comes to job security. Many fans have called for Mick McCall to lose his job. Should he?
I do believe it's the first step. It's not the only step, but it's the first. McCall has had successful offenses at NU, but his units have been in constant decline since 2011. His failures to adapt to the talent at his disposal have been crippling, and his inability to adjust within a game has hurt too. It also seems as if his quarterback development has been subpar.
The changes need to go beyond a simple coordinator swap though. Pat Fitzgerald needs to look long and hard at his coaching philosophies. This offseason will give him a chance look at all the things for which he's been criticized over the past few years, and to revamp his approach. He and his staff need to innovate.
It's tough to give specifics, because we don't know the inner-workings of the program. But for one, Fitzgerald could be more aggressive in games. He could also better use advanced statistics and research to enhance his decisions. It also seemed like this year's preseason training camp preparations were a tad lenient; the players were too comfortable.
These are just observations from the outside though. We don't know many of the specific reasons that this Northwestern team went 5-7, thus we don't know what specific changes need to be made. But all the problems that were on display throughout this season need to be proactively dealt with.
- Henry Bushnell
A competitive offseason
If there was one thing Pat Fitzgerald wanted to make clear following Northwestern's loss to Illinois, it was that competition during spring practice would be at an all-time high. Starting at quarterback, Northwestern has to find a new leader and face. Sure, Justin Jackson was the team's best player as a freshman and will be even better as a sophomore (which is a fun and exciting thought in it of itself, if you want something to feel positive about), but it's the quarterback that is the face of the program and the leader the team needs to look to. The candidates have been well documented: Zack Oliver, Matt Alviti and Clayton Thorson. Right now, indications are that Thorson has the talent and the respect of his teammates and coaching staff to win the job as a redshirt freshman. But nothing is set in stone and it will easily be the most interesting storyline of winter and spring workouts.
Another important position group is at offensive line. Fitzgerald made it clear that he has been waiting for a younger group of linemen to step up and they haven't done so yet. Now, that starting spots have opened due to graduation, Fitzgerald is looking even closer at the younger guys up front to take over. He also said he was excited about the talent in the defensive backfield. He loves the athleticism that the younger crop of DBs gives Northwestern and that's an area that he and his staff have really focused on in recruiting. The increased competition should make for a fun offseason.
- Josh Rosenblat
Around the Big Ten
Why Ohio State will win the Big Ten Championship
After a win over Michigan, Ohio State will head to Indianapolis next Saturday riding high. Urban Meyer's squad has won 10 games on the trot, and has done so primarily in dominant fashion.
But as it did back in August, adversity has struck again. Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who had been tearing through the Big Ten with both his right arm and his legs, suffered a fractured ankle in Saturday's fourth quarter. Cardale Jones, who once famously proclaimed that he didn't "come to play school," will now lead the Buckeyes into Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Badgers.
However, for all Ohio State's flaws, they are still the best team in the conference. They are undoubtedly a weakened team without Barrett, but the offense is still menacing. There are still plenty of playmakers in the backfield and on the outside, and the offensive line is solid.
The problem will be stopping Melvin Gordon and the Badgers' rushing attack. But the Buckeyes have the athletes on the defensive line to combat Wisconsin's seemingly indomitable offensive line. And in actuality, the Badgers have themselves look quite vulnerable the past two weeks. It will be a close game, but Jones should be able to make just enough plays with his legs to put OSU in great position for the playoff.
- Henry Bushnell
Why Wisconsin will win the Big Ten Championship
When you and your dudes set the single game FBS rushing record in 3 quarters: pic.twitter.com/IPYviO9AvB— Luke Zimmermann (@lukezim) November 15, 2014
Is there anything else I really need to say? Wisconsin has Melvin Gordon. Seeing Gordon in person was a once-in-a-generation experience. His 259 yards against Northwestern were amazing not only because of the sheer combination of power and speed he possesses but because it was the quietest, most routine 259 yards I have ever seen. It would have been pretty fun to watch Gordon and Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett go at it, trying to match each other big play for big play. Unfortunately with Barrett's injury, that won't happen. Riding a seven-game win streak, I think Wisconsin will be able to match Ohio State's explosiveness with Gordon leading the way and the Badgers will eventually pull it out in the end.
- Josh Rosenblat
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Ohio State
3. Michigan State
12. Penn State