Ed note: We're starting this "discussion point" feature to generate good discussion about thought-provoking issues surrounding Northwestern sports. The point of these posts is not to give my opinion — rather, it's about engaging with our community to find the answers to questions I genuinely want to hear your opinions on. If you have discussion point topics, shoot me an email, or if you want to create your own, feel free to write a FanPost.
Last week, I wrote an article detailing why Northwestern was underrated this year, pointing to the fact that people are judging more on last year's record and less on other factors that can be more predictive of future success. That generated an interesting comment from InsideNU user vaudvillain:
There's another thing that characterized the ‘Cardiac Cats of old: we could be relied on for one stunning upset and one stunning defeat (usually OOC) each season. Those have largely disappeared. Our record is much closer to chalk now - we beat the teams we're supposed to beat, we lose to the teams we're supposed to lose to, and we have a bunch of toss-up games against teams that are close to our level (unfortunately, we lost all of the toss-up games last year, which is frustrating). On one hand, chalk results are indicative of a more consistent team, and consistency is good. On the other hand, a stunning upset brings a lot of goodwill from fans, and helps them forget an otherwise mediocre season.
While there are exceptions, there are two general trends in Northwestern football over the past two years:
- The talent has gotten a lot better. There is no disputing that.
- The coaching and the gameplans have gotten more conservative.
This has caused a shift away from the "Cardiac Cats" years, when NU would use creative scheming and risk-taking to beat great opponents, but also lose games it shouldn't lose, to a more predictable era. That isn't to say there are no longer close games, but that NU's talent is now closer to the level of teams like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, and that close games are expected.
Generally, NU's talent level is still a bit below those teams, so the Wildcats tend to lose — Michigan and Iowa in 2011, and Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State in 2012 are all examples of that (a fluky 2013 displayed that, too, but there were more complicated issues than conservative play in 2013). However, NU rarely loses to teams it shouldn't lose to, and it's hardly ever blown out anymore.
That represents and increase in talent, but a decrease in risk-taking, and possibly a decrease in fun. So my question for the fans is which you prefer. Would you rather the Wildcats take more risks with its increasing talent to turn an 8-4 season into 9-3 or 10-2 (or 7-5 or 6-6), or keep slowly increasing talent and hope predictability eventually leads to more wins in the conference? Do you want Cardiac Cats or a slow "process" toward becoming a player in the Big Ten?