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Explaining Fitz's astounding success in openers

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Pat Fitzgerald is undefeated in season openers. But how does this success compare to the rest of the Big Ten?

Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports

Wildcats fans have plenty of reasons to be confident about Saturday's season opener against California: Cal went 1-11 last year, the game is in Evanston and NU is favored by double digits, to name a few. But perhaps the most encouraging fact about the matchup is Pat Fitzgerald's coaching record in season openers.

Fitzgerald is 8-0 as a head coach in season openers. In the Big Ten, only Urban Meyer has a longer current winning streak. (Meyer is 12-0 all-time in openers.)

Since Fitz took over for Randy Walker in 2006, only three other teams in the Big TenOhio State, Wisconsin and Nebraskahave gone undefeated in season openers.

Why have the Cats been so successful in season openers? As much as I'd like to credit Fitz and his staff, the answer is not offseason preparation. Rather, it's strength of opening game opponent.

Of the eight teams Northwestern has beaten to start the season since 2006, only one of them (Syracuse2008) finished the year with a winning record (8-5). The other seven teams combined for a win-loss record of 20-62. One of them was Northeastern, which doesn't even have a football program anymore.

Other Big Ten teams have faced stiffer competition in season openers since 2006. As shown in the table below, eight Big Ten teams have lost at least one season opener since 2006. But none of these teams fell to an opponent that finished the season with a losing record.

Team

Losses in season openers since 2006

Northwestern

None

Ohio State

None

Wisconsin

None

Nebraska

None

Michigan State

Cal (2008, finished 9-4)

Iowa

Northern Illinois (2013, 12-2)

Penn State

Ohio (2012, 9-4)

Indiana

Ball State (2011, 6-6)

Minnesota

Bowling Green (2007, 8-5), at USC (2011, 10-2)

Purdue

Notre Dame (2010, 8-5), Cincinnati (2013, 9-4)

Michigan

Appalachian State (2007, 13-2), Utah (2008, 13-0), Alabama (2012, 13-1)

Illinois

Missouri (2007, 12-2), Missouri (2008, 10-4), Missouri (2009, 8-5), Missouri (2010, 10-3)

Weaker opponents do not completely discredit Fitz's streak. Every victory is important in college football, especially the first one. If anything the streak proves the Cats consistently beat the teams they should. Fortunately for Northwestern fans, Cal is one of those teams.