Yesterday we gave you six reasons to be optimistic about the future of Northwestern Football. Now it's time to embody our true Northwestern selves and temper expectations for the football team before the season even starts. We implored you to come out of your doomsday shelters for a bit, but today, batten down the hatches and make sure you have enough canned food because Northwestern Football is coming.
Here are six reasons to be pessimistic about the program this year and beyond:
1. Tim Beckman...
Is no longer the coach at Illinois. That is horrible news for Northwestern. Now, there's actually an outside chance that Illinois gets better at football and starts beating NU to some top in-state recruits. Neither of those things were happening under Beckman (although Beckman claims they were).
Getting a brand new shiny quarterback sure is great, but it can also be a double-edged sword. The offense is now young, and that also means it's inexperienced. Thorson may be a good quarterback from the get go, but there still will be some growing pains. Redshirting last year should at least mean that he knows the offense, but he hasn't seen real game action in almost two years. There will be a little rust.
And even on the other side of the ball, as excited as we are about Godwin Igwebuike, Anthony Walker and others, and as many standout moments as they had last year, they were somewhat inconsistent. All these highly-touted recruits could — perhaps even should — be really good. But they're not necessarily there yet, and there could be growing pains.
3. The momentum from 2012 is gone
After the Gator Bowl win in January of 2013, Northwestern football was on the up and up. A double-digit win season, a bowl game win, and finally a legit shot at big name recruits. Two of the results of that success are currently starting at both quarterback and running back. Northwestern had "made it", they were in the national conscience and were even ranked to start the 2013 season. But ever since that fateful night in Evanston against Ohio State, the Wildcats are 6-14, and have been thoroughly disappointing all around.
Northwestern is no longer an up-and-coming program, but one that needs results quick if it wants to hold on to any of the momentum it had. As much as it's painful to say, the 2012 season is starting to look a lot more like an aberration than a leap for the program. If the Wildcats are to have any hope of being competitive in the future, they need a turnaround to happen soon, before the recruiting pool dries back up.
4. The Schedule
Can the schedule be a source of strength for this team? Sure, but it can just as easily be its undoing. As mentioned yesterday, there are four games that Northwestern should absolutely win (EIU, Ball State, Purdue, Illinois). So let's say they lose at least one of those. Then they get Harbaughed in Ann Arbor, blown out in Madison and Hackenberg cements his Heisman candidacy in Evanston. Lose a couple close games to Minnesota and Nebraska and suddenly you're once again staring down the barrel of a 5-7 season.
Outside of Ohio State and Michigan State, the Big Ten is in a weird state of flux heading into the 2015 season. Pretty much everybody in the middle tier of the conference could finish with anywhere between 6 and 10 wins and it wouldn't be overly surprising. Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State could be anywhere from the third to eighth or ninth best team in the conference. If everything breaks right, Northwestern might be playing an easier than expected schedule. When it doesn't, they'll be stuck with some tough road games and not an exceptionally easy slate at home either.
5. The entire coaching staff is back
Stability within a coaching staff isn't necessarily a bad thing. Recruits get to play for the guys that recruited them, and coaches can do some things they normally wouldn't be able to if they were on the hot seat. However, coaching stability isn't exactly recommended if that staff is 10-14 in their last two seasons. You want your coaches to be comfortable in their positions, but at what point does that comfort turn to complacency and affect the team? Fitzgerald had a chance to light a fire under the staff by making some moves in the offseason, and decided to keep everybody.
The obvious target here is offensive coordinator Mick McCall. Now that's not exactly fair to single out only one guy and McCall has shown he can run a decent offense from time to time, but it's hard to argue for him when the offense was 108th (in S&P+) in the nation last year. The spread can be great if executed correctly, but it was not exactly executed successfully the last couple of years. The fear here is that McCall's play calling stifles the natural ability of Clayton Thorson and the offense is bad once again. Just look what McCall managed to do to poor Matt Alivti last season.
6. It's Northwestern
They got the nickname "Cardiac Cats" for a reason. As we all know, Northwestern has a supernatural ability to lose close games and crush the hopes and dreams of fans. Remember this? Or this? How about this? And who could forget this? You get the point. At some point, it's just not worth the emotional scarring to get hyped for Northwestern football. Sometimes it's better to be pleasantly surprised than brutally disappointed.