Northwestern football kicked off the new year with a bang, defeating the Auburn Tigers 35-19 to win the first Citrus Bowl in program history. With their historic season coming to a close, here’s a list of 10 resolutions for Northwestern fans and athletics to (hopefully) adopt to make 2021 its best year yet.
1. Win the Big Ten West again
The Citrus Bowl victory was the cherry on top of a season that should give Northwestern fans a lot of hope and excitement about the program’s future. Losing defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is a big blow, but as long as Fitz remains at the helm and there’s some clarity at quarterback, the ‘Cats should contend for the West once again in 2021. The players talked about how close they came to winning the Big Ten this year, and they’ll long for another shot at it in Indy.
2. Repeat as women’s Big Ten basketball champs
The most recent loss to a not-so-good Nebraska team hurt, but this team isn’t quite the same as last year’s. Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton once again look like two of the best guards in the country, while the players around them are more than capable of holding their own in the Big Ten. Let’s ride.
3. Keep Pat Fitzgerald in Evanston
It’s been reported that several NFL teams want to interview Fitz for head-coaching positions, with the potential opening of the nearby Chicago Bears job generating a lot of noise within the media. However, postgame in Orlando, Fitz sounded like he was ready to build upon this season, telling media, “We’ll see you in spring ball.” That being said, you just never know. As any Wildcat fan knows, losing the beloved head coach and Wildcat legend would be a big, big loss for the program. Northwestern football starts and ends with Fitz.
4. See Wildcat alumni make it to the professional level
While it hurts to see them go, it’s a great feeling to see Wildcats find success at the next level. Right now it seems likely Rashawn Slater will be the first Northwestern football player taken in the first three rounds of the draft for the first time since 2005, and with Greg Newsome and Paddy Fisher, the ‘Cats could have three players drafted for the first time since 2010.
On the hardwood, Lindsey Pulliam could become the third Northwestern player ever drafted into the WNBA with mock drafts currently projecting her to be a second-round selection.
5. Preserve the stability with the next athletic department
The search for Northwestern’s next AD holds major significance. It’s imperative the search committee takes its time with the selection process in order to find someone who embodies the school’s values and will continue to aim for excellence in all varsity programs, much like Phillips did during his 12-year tenure.
6. Have both men’s and women’s basketball teams ranked at the end of the regular season
Two weeks ago, this resolution might have seemed akin to those who dedicate oneself to going to the gym every day or promise to live a stress-free life. But since then, the men’s team has jumped out to a blistering 3-1 start in league play while the women’s team has essentially picked up where they left off from its dominant 2019-20 campaign.
This goal will not be an easy feat to accomplish, especially for the men’s team, as it will require an unbelievable level of play against a Big Ten schedule in which all but five games are against opponents in KenPom’s top 25. But, following such a historically bad year, why not aim for a historically good one?
7. Show up to games (eventually)
Let’s hold out hope that we’ll have the privilege of showing up to Ryan Field at 11 a.m. on a bleak and rainy Saturday next fall.
8. Play all spring and fall sports
As spectators, we’ve been blessed to have been able to witness a sort of successfully completed (albeit modified) football season amidst a global pandemic, with basketball games now chugging along. However, the other student-athletes at Northwestern and around the country have not had the same competitive opportunities. They continue to lift and practice in this elongated offseason without clarity on when they’ll play games. Some of NU’s best programs have yet to take the field yet this academic year.
9. Hire the next Mike Hankwitz
Along with Phillips, the task of replacing the longtime defensive coordinator is an important one. As we’ve seen with Northwestern football in 2019 and 2020, a coordinator’s job belies the utmost importance in college football and their performance has the potential to make or break a season. Whether it’s an internal hire (defensive backs and linebackers coaches Matt MacPherson and Tim McGarigle jump to mind) or someone not currently affiliated with the program, Hankwitz’s successor will have big shoes to fill. You’d think Fitz would have had some names lined up for a while now knowing Hank retiring was a possibility at any point over the last few years.
10. Stay thankful for what we’ve got
Despite a year most of us would like to forget about as soon as possible, the end of 2020 was a high point for Northwestern sports. We witnessed football’s best season of the century, men’s basketball’s first win against a top-five opponent since 1979, and the football team and both basketball teams simultaneously ranked in their respective top-25 polls for the first time ever.
Adding on, Coach Hank got his 400th win, Fitz won the Dodd Coach of the Year Award and his program recorded just two positive COVID-19 cases through the entire season, per head athletic trainer Kevin Kikugawa. No matter what happens in 2021, the Wildcat faithful experienced a lot of highs in recent months that will not be soon forgotten.