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Northwestern Athletics: A New Beginning (Or So We Think)

USA TODAY Sports

Five consecutive losses have brought Northwestern back down to earth and left the Wildcats floundering in 10th place in the B1G, with hopes of an NIT bid all but thrown out the window.

Pessimistic NU fans will draw negative parallels between their basketball and football teams this season. After all, each program's surprisingly torrid but unrealistically maintainable start turned into something Northwestern fans have come to expect: crushing disappointment and another season spent watching the postseason instead of partaking in it.

But let's instead examine the parallels that lend confidence to the future. Most notably, each team possesses heralded head coaches whose respective pedigrees would seemingly indicate Northwestern is lucky to have each of them. Sure, Pat Fitzgerald punts a few too many times on 4th-and-2 inside opponent territory, and Chris Collins is still adjusting to the increased responsibility of being a first-time head coach without the luxury of leaning on star talent in times of strife. (Duke was fun, wasn't it, Coach Collins?)

But anyone following the B1G knows these are two of the most promising coaches in the conference. In fact, "promising" is perhaps the word that best fits each of Northwestern's two biggest programs as a whole. The main takeaway from these two talented coaches is not necessarily their proficiency at running their teams, but rather the recruits each of them have brought (and will be able to bring) to NU.

Examining Collins' recent recruiting class, the best in school history, is an excellent example of said promise. In bringing Vic Law, perhaps the school's best (and most important) recruit ever, to Evanston, Collins set a precedent for the rest of his tenure at Northwestern. The 'Cats will gain an extremely versatile forward who is more than capable of running the floor, but it's those who will come after Law who really make NU fans excited.

Then there's the supremely disappointing football team, one season removed from the school's first bowl game victory since 1948 but fresh off a season that included a seven-game losing streak, a streak that took place entirely during B1G play.

While Northwestern fans undoubtedly hoped for more, having a sense of context is important. If the 63-year bowl game drought wasn't enough, consider the fact that the 'Cats won three games and lost 62 (yes, you read that correctly) from 1976-81 while enduring 23 consecutive losing seasons from 1972-94. Does historical ineptitude let the 2013 football team off the hook? Absolutely not. But if a 5-7 record one season after winning 10 games can be construed as "bad," Northwestern football isn't in too bad of a place.

Switching gears again, the NU basketball team still has a few games left to leave its mark on the season. Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine the 'Cats salvaging their season at this point. In fact, it's almost statistically impossible. Northwestern will travel to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers on Saturday, Mar. 1, having already fallen to Nebraska at home earlier this season thanks to heroic performances from Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford. They'll follow that game up by traveling home to face Penn State, then finish up by facing Purdue away before the Big Ten Tournament.

Unless Northwestern can emulate its defensive wizardry from its 5-2 midseason stretch, the Wildcats have little prospect of going far in the all-important Big Ten tourny. But that doesn't mean this season hasn't been a success. Remember 'Cats fan, it's what will happen soon, not now, that matters most. For now, it's important to keep some perspective.

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