This is the latest piece in our discussion point series, in which we ask you to help us ponder some of the larger issues surrounding Northwestern athletics.
Back in 2011, after Iowa struggled to yet another 7-5 season, I remember a Hawkeyes writer telling fans to chill out. His rationale: Iowa is an 8-4 program that will sometimes be better and sometimes be worse. While Iowa fans might disagree, that actually makes a lot of sense. Since 2001, Iowa has averaged exactly eight wins per year.
But that got me thinking: What is Northwestern?
That year, I would have said NU is a 7-win program. You could generally count on the Wildcats to beat teams they should and lose to teams with more talent. There are some exceptions, but the program has started becoming more predictable in recent years.
After the upturn in 2012, I would have called the Wildcats a 7.5-win program. They'll have their down years and they're still a little less talented than Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, etc., but it would have been fair to assume they would average somewhere between seven and eight wins per season.
But after this season, I have no idea.
Of course, this kind of evaluation isn't supposed to change so rapidly. It's supposed to understand that college football is cyclical and determine what NU is when you consider both the good years and the bad years. When you consider the recruiting uptick and the fact that NU is almost always in games against its Big Ten West foes, it's perfectly reasonable to expect this program to average 7.5 wins per year.
On the other hand, if Northwestern isn't going to play to its players' strengths, it's not going to be a 7.5-win program. And rather than follow a cyclical pattern with peaks and valleys, the Wildcats' win totals have basically trended downward since 2008, from 9 wins, to 8, to 7, to 6, to 10, to 5. A lot of that is due to the fact that NU was incredibly lucky earlier in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure and has been incredibly unlucky in recent years, but that makes gauging NU's program potential even more difficult.
With all this in mind — even after the last season and the start of this one — I'm going to say NU is, on average, a 7-win program. Maybe it's 6.5, maybe it's 7.5. There's an argument for both of those. But when you combine the recruiting uptick with how the Wildcats have generally played against the Big Ten, an average of 7-5 sounds about right. Now it's your turn ... what kind of program is NU?