Northwestern Preview 2016: After a great ten-win season, can the Wildcats prove it wasn’t a fluke?
Is that sustainable? Is it remotely possible to be that bad offensively, that tight defensively, and get every possible break – or more to what happened last season, create every possible break?
It’s Northwestern, so it’ll never get the top-shelf talent and it’ll never put together a long run of high-end winning seasons since it needs the right mix of things to happen to be a success.
It might have taken a bad call and a slew of Badger mistakes to get by Wisconsin late in the season, but the Cats stopped eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford cold, shutout Minnesota, got by Nebraska on the road and Penn State at home, and found a way to get to ten wins for the second time in four seasons.
But those two double-digit win campaigns were wrapped around two 5-7 seasons. When you score 254 points in a season, and when you win five games by a touchdown or less, it’s way too easy for things to swing the other way.
But that’s Northwestern football. It’s going to have to manufacture ways to win, and last year it did it with one of the least-efficient passing games in the country, and one of the most effective defenses in America. Even more than that, it was one of the most physical teams yet under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, and it was tight doing a fantastic job at not making a slew of mistakes and always seeming to force the big turnover.
Except when the team was exposed for what it was.
Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee were the three losses, beating the Cats by a combined score of 123 to 16. When you play the way Northwestern did, you’re going to catch a beating once in a while.
But ten wins for Northwestern are ten wins, and as much as Fitzgerald wants to make the world believe the program can win a Big Ten title, last year was as good a year as the program can have.
This season, the passing game will try coming up with more downfield passes, will rely on fantastic back Justin Jackson, and needs to hope the line can be patched up a bit.
The defensive front needs some key players to step up and shine, but the linebacking corps is going to be loaded and a difference-maker again. The secondary will be excellent again, too, if there’s a pass rush.
Will it be 5-7, or will it be 10-3? The schedule isn’t bad, the experienced team knows what it has to do to win, and Fitzgerald has proved that double-digit wins aren’t a fluke.
Maybe, just maybe, last season was for real, and this year’s team might prove it.