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Where are we Wednesday: Unfamiliar territory

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It means something that ‘Cats fans expect more from this team

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

One win, 31 losses and one tie.

No, that was not Hue Jackson’s record with the Cleveland Browns (though it’s not too far off). That is the record of Rick Venturi during his tenure as Northwestern’s head football coach from 1978-1980. Major shout out to 1979 Wyoming for participating in the ‘Cats’ lone victory in that era.

When you see that record, you should think, “that’s terrible.” But here’s the thing: To Northwestern fans in 1980 that wasn’t terrible, that was Northwestern. NU is currently 1-6, which for Venturi would have been above his average. But in 2019, 1-6 is not “just Northwestern”. It’s a disaster, and Wildcat fans can find some comfort in that.

I’m not telling you to apologize for complaining about the team this season or yelling at you to remember how Fitz, Randy Walker and Gary Barnett have helped this program rise from the ashes. I’m not telling you to stop bemoaning the anemic offense and Fitzgerald’s tendency to deflect the issue in press conferences. You should. That’s part of what comes with being a good college football program.

When you have a terrible season, you can’t just shrug your shoulders like you’re Rutgers or Kansas. You have to give your fans an explanation and respond the next season. More importantly, you can’t let the terrible season happen two years in a row. It has to be an outlier that fans try to forget, not the start of a downward spiral.

The five remaining games on the schedule for Northwestern are at Indiana, Purdue, UMass, Minnesota and at Illinois. Prior to the season, many NU fans would have reasonably predicted a 5-0 finish. I sure know I did.

Now? Indiana is 6-2 and could easily be ranked. Minnesota is 8-0 and will actually make the playoff should they improbably win out. Illinois being “a program on the rise” has gone from a hilarious Twitter joke to an actual trend. Purdue is 2-5, but Jeff Brohm is a well respected coach that opponents always take seriously.

UMass, on the other hand, ranks 130th out of 130 teams in the total SP+ ratings as of last week, and just lost by 21 to UConn, the 126th team in the SP+ ratings (Northeast college football everybody!).

It’s sad to say that Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois are likely losses, and Purdue is a toss-up. The best case scenario might be 3-9, and honestly, I feel like a 2-10 finish for the ‘Cats is more likely. (Note: Should Northwestern somehow lose to the Massachusetts MinuteMen, every one of the coaches on Northwestern’s staff, including Fitz, should be fired immediately after the game, and the team should be relegated to the MAC at the very least).

2-10 stinks. It would be the program’s worst season ever under Fitz, and more importantly, the only truly wretched year of his tenure. Sure, they’ve had four losing seasons in his tenure, but the worst of those was 4-8 in his first year on the job, and the combined record of those other three years is 16-21.

This is a place this program hasn’t been since the ‘80s and early ‘90s, so hopefully 2019 is just a catastrophic season that happens to almost everyone in the wild sport of college football.

On the other hand, Northwestern isn’t too far off from traditionally larger Big Ten programs like Michigan State and Iowa. They too have these kinds of years. Michigan State went 3-9 in 2016 and Iowa went 4-8 in 2014. Until 2019, Northwestern never had a team this decade that was as bad as those squads.

So yes, this team is bad, and you as a fan of course have every right to tell everyone you know that this team is bad. Just remember that your team, the college program that you follow and read about on websites like Inside NU, has earned the right for you to be mad at them. It’s hard to be mad at a perennial door-mat. After all, what did you expect them to do?

For 21st century Northwestern, though, we’ve come to expect maybe not a Big Ten title winner, but at the very least a 6-6 or 7-5 team that plays teams close and garners the respect of the country.

We’re all hoping and expecting Northwestern to get back to their usual form in 2020, and over the last 25 years, the “usual form” of Northwestern is good. That’s not something a whole lot of teams can say, and that’s something it’s important to remember in times like this.