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Roundtable: What is a successful 2020 season for Northwestern?

The Wildcats are up against a virus, eight known opponents and one to be determined later.

After a stunning 2018 that featured a Big Ten West title, expectations were high heading into 2019. Then the Wildcats went 3-9, a pandemic hit, and here we are doing this fun exercise again! Despite the down year, program standards have been raised under Fitz. Now that Northwestern has shown that it is not only capable of being a consistent bowl team, but of both winning bowl games and and consistently competing for the division, the expectations have again shifted. But in a season that’s been turned on its head in just about every way, conventional wisdom is so 2019. So, what’s “good” in 2020?

Here’s what our writers had to say:

Eli Karp: Five wins and no cancellations

I can’t say a bowl game this year, but in a normal world that would have been the reasonable goal after a 3-9 season. I believe this regular season schedule is conducive to at least four wins, but five or more (which would likely mean a win over Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa) should make fans content. Deal with the Champions Week and bowl games later, and let’s hope the Big Ten’s stringent policies can help avoid many of the problems the other P5 leagues are encountering.

Lia Assimakopoulos: A complete season and five wins

After watching the chaos that has happened down south with the SEC this past week, I will feel that this Northwestern season is a success if the Big Ten can complete the year without having to cancel midway. From a playing perspective and based on NU’s manageable schedule, I will consider this season a success if they win the must-wins (Maryland, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State) and can find a victory against either Iowa, Wisconsin or Minnesota, so five total wins.

Colin Kruse: Health and safety of everyone AND four wins

The continued health and safety of players, coaches, staff, family members, etc., amid this tumultuous time is probably more important than wins and losses. On the football side of things, winning a decent number of games will be massive in instilling confidence in a program still reeling from last season’s 3-9 debacle. I think the ‘Cats are more than capable of going 4-4, with the chance for a Champions Week and/or bowl game wins.

Daniel Olinger: Winning games they’re supposed to and another HAT

Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota should all be somewhere from solid to surprisingly frisky vs. Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. While an NU win over any one of them would be appreciated, it’s not expected. The five other teams on the schedule are beatable or just flat out worse than the ‘Cats, especially that blue and orange team the got dismembered by the Andrew Marty read option last fall.

Mac Stone: 5-3 with zero COVID cases

As Daniel said before, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota are going to be tough teams to beat. Those are the losses I would be okay with having. Both Maryland and Michigan State will struggle this year. Illinois is, well, the loser of five straight HATs, so you get the idea. Even more importantly, however, is the health and safety of the players and coaches. Zero COVID cases across the season might be unlikely, but would be an absolute win. At the end of the day, I’m just excited football is back.

William Karmin: Six Wins

“Successful season” is a vague term. Five wins or worse against this schedule means Northwestern will lose at least one of the games it is supposed to win (Nebraska, Maryland, Illinois, Purdue) or go worse than 2-2 against Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin. It isn’t a travesty if either one of the aforementioned situations occurs, but it becomes tough to deem it successful. NU needs to split with the heavyweights and beat the teams they should. That is a successful season and puts the team in a spot to be playing a top three East division team on Champions Week.

Ben Chasen: A winning regular season record and Champions Week victory

Given their weak schedule and combined returning and incoming production (lookin’ at you, Peyton Ramsey), there’s no reason the ‘Cats can’t finish the regular season above .500. Suppose such a record is good for a third-place Big Ten West finish; the Wildcats would then likely face Michigan or Penn State. Wins against either of those big-name programs on Champions Week’s national stage would provide Northwestern with a more notable win than it’s had in years.

Lucio Vainesman: .500 and 0

Winning half of the games on the field and dominating the battle in player health off the field. The latter of which being significantly more important. If Northwestern football is able to finish the season with 0 COVID cases like the NBA was able to accomplish, then it will be the biggest possible accomplishment of the season.

Jacob Brown: The quarterback that starts against Maryland remains QB1 all season

For one, this means that unlike last year the coaching staff has a solid decision going into the season and can stick to it. Second, it would also imply that the new offense has some amount of success, or at least enough to avoid a benching.

Didi Jin: Two upset wins

The most memorable NU season in recent memory wasn’t marked by conventionality. In 2018, poor early season losses to Duke and Akr*n were overridden by the comeback versus Nebraska, the dominant win against Wisconsin and Skowronek’s catch at Iowa. If Northwestern can reclaim some of that magic this year, regardless of whether or not they drop a winnable game or two, then that’s success in my book.

Andrew Katz: Keeping COVID-19 cases to a minimum and at least a .500 record

COVID-19 already delayed the season by two months, but if teams aren’t smart the season could once again be derailed. The NFL and many college teams have already had games postponed, and keeping case numbers low will help the Wildcats stay on the field. As for the on-field performance, a four-win season should be considered a success. With their favorable schedule, the Wildcats shouldn’t be hard-pressed to get over the .500 mark.

Evan Bergen Epstein: A statement victory and a HAT

What does football provide us as a society, really? The answer is undeniably entertainment. What would be entertaining for Northwestern this year? First, an upset. Knocking off one of Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa would turn a few heads toward Evanston. Second, no season is truly successful without a HAT. These two wins will scratch the football itch for another year.

Liam Warin: .500 and an upset

Rebounding from a 3-9 season, all Northwestern fans can reasonably hope for is a mediocre record. But a “successful” season? That’s an unexpected win against either Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa — a win that should induct Northwestern freshmen and sophomores into the winning tradition that the ‘Cats have previously exhibited to current upperclassmen.

Josh Miller: Beat three Big Ten West teams

There’s no sugarcoating that last year’s team was historically bad, but the ‘Cats cannot remain the Big Ten’s doormat for a second straight season. Beating three Big Ten West teams will help the program earn some national credibility and get back on track.