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Fact-checking Fitz: Northwestern vs. Preseason Expectations

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Does the Big Ten media actually exhibit some sort of consistent anti-Wildcat bias?

NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Days Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

At last week’s Big Ten Media Days, Pat Fitzgerald ended his morning press conference with a challenge for media outlets that cover Northwestern football. Responding to a question about the lack of media buzz surrounding the defending Big Ten West champs, Fitz had this to say:

“Maybe a better study from one of the students that cover us would be how we have exceeded expectations in the preseason...”

Preseason polls don’t mean a whole lot, but we thought it still might be interesting to take a look at how the Wildcats have fared in recent seasons compared to where they’ve been projected to finish.

Since 2011, cleveland.com has conducted a preseason poll of various Big Ten beat writers, so we mainly used that as reference to judge whether the Wildcats have truly “exceeded expectations” in recent years under Fitz. As it turns out, despite last year’s unexpected success, the media’s projections of Northwestern, at least in comparison to their divisional foes, have been largely accurate.

Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of how NU has performed in comparison to their placement in that poll:

2011 (6-7, 3-5 B1G)

Preseason Prediction: 5th in Legends Division

Final Standings: 5th

Expectations: Met

Media: 1, Fitz: 0

2012 (10-3, 5-3)

Preseason Prediction: 5th in Legends Division

Final Standings: 3rd

Expectations: Exceeded

Media: 1, Fitz: 1

2013 (5-7, 1-7)

Preseason Prediction: 4th in Legends Division

Final Standings: bad

Expectations: Unmet

Media: 2, Fitz: 1

2014 (5-7, 3-5)

Preseason Prediction: 4th in West

Final Standings: 6th

Expectations: Unmet

Media: 3, Fitz: 1

2015 (10-3, 6-2)

Preseason Prediction: 5th in West

Final Standings: 2nd

Expectations: Exceeded

Media: 3, Fitz: 2

2016 (7-6, 5-4)

Preseason Prediction: 4th in West

Final Standings: 5th

Expectations: Unmet

Media: 4, Fitz: 2

2017 (10-3, 7-2)

Preseason Prediction: 2nd in the West

Final Standings: 2nd

Expectations: Met

Media: 5, Fitz: 2

2018 (9-5, 8-1)

Preseason Prediction: 3rd in the West

Final Standings: CHAAMPPSSSS

Expectations: Exceeded

Media: 5, Fitz: 3


Conclusion:

This brief analysis actually shows that the media (or at least those local members voting in the cleveland.com poll) have been pretty successful in projecting the Wildcats since the Big Ten put divisions into place and (simultaneously) this method of preseason measurement was adopted.

In the eight seasons of the poll, the group of writers has accurately predicted NU’s final divisional standing twice (2011, 2017). The Wildcats have exceeded the poll’s expectations thrice (2012, 2015, 2018), but have also underperformed according to the poll three times (2013, 2014, 2016).

That being said, it’s worthwhile to question the low placement of the reigning divisional champs, especially given that Northwestern has won 15 of their 16 most recent conference matchups. The 2019 preseason poll has the Wildcats projected to finish 4th in the West, although one writer did have NU winning the entire conference.

Luckily, because it’s just a largely irrelevant preseason poll, none of this matters anyways!