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A look back on preseason predictions: Where did we go right, and where did we go wrong?

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The Wildcats exceeded all expectations, but some bold predictions held true.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Back-to-back 5-7 seasons and a general perception that the program was on the decline. A new quarterback. The loss of a safety to the NFL, a four-year starter at center and two top wide receivers.

That's just a short list of what Northwestern faced heading into what has turned into an absolutely magical season.

But before the Wildcats touched the turf at Ryan Field to open the season against Stanford, we as a staff made both record predictions and bold predictions. While the record predictions -- much like everyone else's -- were far from accurate, some writers nailed their bold predictions. Here's where we went right -- and wrong -- when we predicted Northwestern's season.

1. Season predictions

No one on the staff picked Northwestern to be better than 7-5, but no one predicted the Wildcats to be any worse than 5-7. We cited an inexperienced quarterback, overall youth on the offense and lack of eye-catching players at skill positions, and of course a daunting opener as reasons why the Wildcats wouldn't finish too far from .500. Seven wins was optimistic-- a sign of progress in the program, especially considering the factors just listed.

Perhaps the best and most appropriate prediction came from commenter nufandan:

could end up anywhere between 2-10 and 10-2
i'll give you a final prediction in November

In all honesty, that's how this season could have gone. The Wildcats went an unprecedented 8-0 in games decided by 10 points or fewer, including five straight wins of that variety to end the season. On the whole, the team only outscored its FBS opponents by 10 points. A play here or there separated Northwestern from a season we expected and the season the team actually had. As it turned out, the offense was even worse than imagined while the defense was much, much better. And although there weren't a ton of points scored, the offense came through in many clutch situations -- note the wins over Duke, Ball State, Nebraska, Penn State and even Purdue.

When it came down to it, though, those few plays were simply ones that hadn't gone Northwestern's way in years past. Undoubtedly the team got lucky at times, but it is said that luck is the combination of preparation and opportunity. Perhaps this year, Pat Fitzgerald's troops were more prepared to take advantage of the opportunities they had to win games in crunch time. While you all as fans may have grown some gray hairs -- and perhaps lost them-- while rooting for this team, that's what's made this season so special.

2. Bold predictions

We did a little better here, but we still weren't perfect.

I predicted Dan Vitale would lead the team in receptions, reception yards, and receiving touchdowns. Count one for yours truly. I've loved Vitale ever since I first saw him play. Everyone lauds him for his versatility, but what's under-appreciated about him is that he's really, really good at all the positions he plays. He's a willing blocker who has shown soft hands and good ability after the catch as well. I thought he'd be a safety valve for Thorson, but he also stretched the field on several occasions this season. Thanks for making me look smart, Dan.

Henry Bushnell also nailed his prediction, saying that Northwestern would rank in the Top 20 nationally in scoring defense. It came in seventh. This defense was fantastic. It rarely gave up big plays in the passing game, was solid against the run and finished 12th in the country in red zone defense. The team's ability to buckle down and keep opponents off the board was huge for what proved to be a very inconsistent offense.

Ian McCafferty said Northwestern would be ranked at least once in 2015. The Wildcats took care of that by Week 2.

We had some misses, too. But that's to be expected. They are bold predictions after all, right?

Josh Burton thought Garrett Dickerson would develop as the second-best receiver on the team, and lots of people pegged this to be the true sophomore's breakout year. But with Vitale playing so many positions, Dickerson didn't see a ton of snaps, and when he did, it was often on run plays. He flashed some ability in the passing game, but will have to wait for Vitale to graduate to become a major threat in that area.

Thanks to a guy named Desmond King, Iowa led the Big Ten in interceptions, meaning Michael Odom's pick was proven wrong. The Wildcats' 12 picks tied for fifth in the conference, though, and their 228 return yards ranked second.

Finally, Josh Rosenblat went with perhaps the boldest prediction: Justin Jackson out-rushing Ezekiel Elliott. Northwestern's favorite ball-carrier gave the Ohio State standout a run for his money, but ultimately came in second by a decent margin. Nevertheless, Jackson had an outstanding campaign, and by several metrics was one of the best backs in the country.

Overall, it was a season few could have predicted. Thanks to a dominant defense, timely offense, and usually-solid (and sometimes spectacular thanks to Solomon Vault) special teams, the Wildcats have a chance to make this season the best in program history and continue to prove all of us wrong.