Note – This is the 2012 information. Please check the 2013 Northwestern page for a look at this season.
Wildcats Still Seeking Elusive First Bowl Victory
Pat Fitzgerald has worked his tail off to improve the Northwestern program. His predecessors – Gary Barnett and the late Randy Walker – built the program from nothing. Barnett even pulled off a miracle and took the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl during the 1995 season. Ever since then, Northwestern has consistently made it to bowl games – although no major bowls. The days of Northwestern being a perennial bottom feeder are over thanks to great coaching, which now includes Fitzgerald.
Northwestern is a tough place to recruit. It’s an academics first school. The players Fitzgerald recruit come to Northwestern to get a great education first and play football second. Very few top recruits have the same mentality. It’s not easy to get into Northwestern. They take academics very serious and don’t make the same kind of exceptions for athletes that other schools do. This leaves Northwestern at a serious disadvantage playing in a major conference.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Northwestern was completely irrelevant in the Big-10 and nationally. Somehow, despite the academic restrictions, their coaches have been able to build a respectable program. Fitzgerald doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done at Northwestern. The former Northwestern All-American linebacker took over for Randy Walker after his tragic death. In 6 years, Fitzgerald has a 40-36 record. That would be unimpressive just about anywhere other than Northwestern. No matter how hard Fitzgerald works and how well he coaches his players up, the Wildcats will never contend for a Big-10 title without having a miraculous season like they did in 1995.
There’s just one thing Fitzgerald has yet to accomplish – win a bowl game. The Wildcats program has never won a bowl game. They’ve come close many times, but have yet to pull one off. To most programs, winning a bowl game has lost its meaning in recent years. To Northwestern, it’s like winning a National Title. In fact, a bowl victory would be a National Title to Northwestern. Eventually, Pat Fitzgerald is going to lead the Wildcats to a bowl victory. It just won’t be this year.
Northwestern will never consistently suffer through 2-3 win seasons under Fitzgerald. But they might have to suffer through one this year. The Wildcats face a difficult schedule in a year they lose many key players. If Northwestern is somehow able to manage to get to 6-6 this year, Fitzgerald deserves to win National Coach of the Year. It’s going to take more than a miracle just to pull that off. Don’t expect Northwestern to win many games this year, but don’t be surprised if they’re competitive in many of their losses. Fitzgerald can coach with the best of ‘em.
Finding a Replacement For Dan Persa
Dan Persa had one of the best career’s in Northwestern history. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t healthy last year. He missed the first 3 games with a leg injury and was never the same. The good that came out of his injury was backup Kain Colter gained some valuable experience. And he made the most of his opportunity. Coulter is a dual-threat quarterback that’s an even better runner than Persa. He rushed for 654 yards and also caught 43 passes for 466 yards.
Colter gives Fitzgerald some options. The Wildcats offense can run different types of plays with him. They need to utilize his talents as much as possible because there really aren’t any other threats on the offensive side of the ball. Colter has the potential to be an All-Conference performer if he has enough help from his supporting cast. He might have to carry this team to victory.
Breaking Down the Rest of the Wildcat Roster
Unfortunately, for Northwestern fans (both of them), Kain Colter won’t have much support. The roster isn’t filled with much talent. The passing game took a big hit with the departures of WR Jeremy Ebert (1,060 yards receiving) and TE Drake Dunsmore (522 yards receiving). Northwestern’s leading returning receiver is – oddly enough – Kain Colter. If they can’t find some reliable replacements early in the season, Northwestern is going to start the season off with a disastrous record.
Northwestern returns just 5 starters on each side of the ball and lost most of their best players. One possible area of strength is the defensive line. Only 1 starter returns on that unit, but there are a few potentially effective players. DE Tyler Scott, DE Quentin Williams, and DT Brian Arnfelt have some experience and proven talent. Expect Northwestern’s D-line to cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks. The back-7 of this defense, on the other hand, will have some issues.
The secondary is a major concern for Fitzgerald and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. The Wildcats are replacing All-Conference safety Brian Peters and both starting cornerbacks. Daniel Jones did start at corner in the bowl game (his first career start) and Nick VanHoose has great athleticism, but neither are proven playmakers. Northwestern ranked 71st last year in the nation against the pass. We’d be surprised if they can even achieve that mediocre ranking this year.
2012 Northwestern Football Schedule: Our Predictions
Northwestern’s season will hinge on how well they perform in the non-conference. Their first 3 games are against similar types of programs and teams. It’s a difficult non-conference schedule that could either go well or really bad. Starting out 0-3 isn’t an unlikely scenario. The conference schedule is even more difficult. The first 3 games – Indiana, Penn State, and Minnesota – are winnable, but it’s going to be hard for the Wildcats to pick up many (if any at all) wins in their final 5 games.
For Northwestern to get back to a bowl game, they’re going to need some breaks in the first few weeks. They’ll need to find an immediate answer for their key losses at wide receiver/tight end and Colter is going to have to play out of his mind the entire season. We don’t project Northwestern to win many games or be favored more than a couple of times all season. But we do have a lot of respect for Pat Fitzgerald at coach, so you just never know.
Sept 1 at Syracuse – LOSS
Sept 8 vs Vanderbilt – LOSS
Sept 15 vs Boston College – LOSS
Sept 22 vs South Dakota – WIN
Sept 29 vs Indiana – WIN<
Oct 6 at Penn State – LOSS
Oct 13 at Minnesota – LOSS
Oct 20 vs Nebraska – LOSS
Oct 27 vs Iowa – LOSS
Nov 10 at Michigan – LOSS
Nov 17 at Michigan State – LOSS
Nov 24 vs Illinois – LOSS
Overall Record: (2-10)
Conference Record: (1-7)
Games Favored: 2
Games Underdog: 10
Northwestern Wildcats: Final Analysis
Pat Fitzgerald has done an amazing job at Northwestern. Whether or not the Wildcats have a disastrous season in 2012 won’t change that. Northwestern is the type of team you have to root for. They’re always an underdog. They always seem to outperform their talent. We just don’t think they’ll be able to do that this year. They suffered too many key losses at key positions. Kain Colter is definitely a threat in the passing and running game, but he won’t be enough to lead Northwestern to many victories.