Every year I've run Sippin' on Purple, the month of December has been almost exclusively devoted to bowl game coverage. Luckily for us, we don't have to do that this year! Which means we have more time to discuss what was incontrovertibly the worst sports season I have ever been a fan for.
At 5-7, it didn't have the worst record of any season I've been a fan for -- guys, I'm a Knicks fan -- but the combination of heightened expectations, comically distressing losses, and an eventually depressing finish without a bowl game made it the least enjoyable year I've ever been a part of. I'm sorry my posting dropped off as the season went on. It's not that I'm a fairweather fan, as anybody who watched in the NYC studios with me could attest, but rather a combination of business and the fact that... well, I just couldn't. I couldn't, you know?
We'll dissect all the insidious, terrible crap that happened at great length; after all, we have damn near a year to do so. But on a Monday, I have two semi-optimistic things to say about Northwestern football. (By no means does this mean I am pleased with Northwestern football, but after a few weeks of wallowing, it's time for some silver linings.)
This can just be a blip if recruiting happens
The good thing about Northwestern football in 2013 was momentum. Everything was going right -- excitable, awesome coach, great returning players, a shot at the conference title, record fan support, great recruiting.
Going 5-7 should have effectively slammed the brakes on most of that. That awesome coach showed his flaws this year. Many of those great returning players -- many of the ones we were most excited about, like Kain Colter -- are gone. NU didn't play for the B1G Championship, and they probably won't next year. Those fans we convinced to follow NU football because we were finally successful? They think we were crying wolf, and will remember this the next time NU is teetering on relevance.
But if Pat Fitzgerald can convince talented 17-year-olds to look past the putridness and buy into the bigger picture, we can continue trickling forward, instead of lurching back.
Northwestern landed a commitment from four-star tight end/defensive end Garrett Dickerson, who turned down offers from Vanderbilt, Wisconsin (!) Michigan (!!!) Stanford (!!!!) Florida State (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Ohio State (!!!!!!111!!!!1 1jespakjasdpoihadsg) and Alabama (SDJKLPASOI HEPOGIUHJDLIAHJSFOIHJREI1UY30982198037478903Y70T4DFIBADGIUADSHIADSGHIDASGHDSHJHDSJ ROLL TID EROLL TIDE ROLL TIDE) to choose the Wildcats after a 5-7 season.
Meanwhile, the only decommit thus far has been Dareian Watkins, who will now play for Wisconsin -- and you could say that his place in Northwestern's class has been filled by the arrival of Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler.
This year sucked, but recruiting matters, and Northwestern is still doing better at that than it ever has. As long as this bad year is just one bad year, we're okay.
There's no way in hell Northwestern could have won the Big Ten this year
The painful thing about 2012 for Northwestern was that the Wildcats very conceivably could have won the conference. If they hadn't allowed some combination of a) a Hail Mary to Michigan, b) a comeback against Penn State, c) Jeff Budzien hit a field goal against Nebraska, they could have played for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. There, they would have faced an 8-win Wisconsin team. That team pasted Nebraska, but perhaps things could have been different if NU had been there.
In 2013, we thought Northwestern had a chance at winning the Big Ten title, because the Legends Division seemed terrible. Between a directionless Michigan team, a defensively listless Nebraska team, and an offensively listless Michigan State team, it seemed like Northwestern could coast to a division title.
We could not have been more wrong. Michigan State was not just a good Big Ten team, they were one of the best damn teams in the country. They took a few weeks to find an offensive identity, earning a loss to Notre Dame that, in retrospect, keeps them from the national title game. But I don't think there's a team in the country that would be a prohibitive favorite against that monstrous defense. I said many mean things on the internet about that team, and I wish I could go back and delete them.
Northwestern -- even at full strength, even with a Pat Fitzgerald making smart coaching decisions, which he didn't do all year -- wasn't going to last 60 minutes on a field with the Spartans team in the second half of the season.
And I say that having seen Northwestern last 60 minutes against Ohio State, the team Michigan State supposedly upset on Saturday night. I can sleep easier at night knowing that the team that ended up going to Pasadena was the one that ground NU into a fine mesh rather than the one that squeaked by thanks to a blocked punt and a referee's spot that we're still not sure was correct.