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Hoegher's 2014 Previews: justNORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

Happy Memorial Day everybody!

NOTE: All of the numbers and figures that follow are based on my ratings system, which is derived from scoring data going back to 1930. For more explanation, see my primer here: [LINK]

Data gathered from the wonderful resources provided by Sports-Reference, James Howell, cfbstats.com, and Phil Steele.

PAST PERFORMANCES OF VARYING QUALITY

Northwestern - Historical Overall Ratings

Northwestern - Historical Offense & Defense

Northwestern - Historical Win% & "Luck"

Question: what would your opinion be of Gary Barnett if Northwestern didn't have that 1995 Rose Bowl run? Like, they lost to Michigan and John Cooper didn't go all John Cooper over everything?

"BEST" and "WORST" (since 1930, 9953 total teams)

Rk Year Team Adj Rk Res Rk Conf Record Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk Luck Yr Rk SOS Yr Rk N.C.
102 1930 Northwestern 100 198 West 7-1 3.17 5 0.40 22 1% 46 0.90 4
373 1940 Northwestern 257 873 West 6-2 2.31 6 0.46 17 -2% 72 0.83 5
613 1995 Northwestern 949 245 B10 10-2 1.28 16 0.52 3 8% 15 0.38 2
743 1931 Northwestern 975 468 West 7-1-1 1.88 20 0.43 21 10% 17 0.67 14
775 1948 Northwestern 864 698 West 8-2 1.37 29 0.35 4 12% 11 0.61 8

image via LakeThePosts

1930 Northwestern (Coach - Dick Hanley)

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
West 7-1 +0.1 46 3.17 5 0.40 22 0.89 7 2.77 5
Total Teams Rating rk Opp-O rk Opp-D rk SOS rk Variance rk
107 2.16 5 1.65 4 0.62 3 0.90 4 2.00 101
Gm Wk Date H/V Opponent FCS Record Opp Rk Off Rk Def Rk PF PA OT W/L W-Lk
1 4 Oct-04 H Tulane ~ 8-1 9 13 7 14 0 ~ W 79%
2 5 Oct-11 H OhioState ~ 5-2-1 23 27 23 19 2 ~ W 91%
3 6 Oct-18 V Illinois ~ 3-5 51 49 56 32 0 ~ W 96%
4 7 Oct-25 H Centre Y ~ ~95 ~ ~ 45 7 ~ W 99%
5 8 Nov-01 V Minnesota ~ 3-4-1 44 50 35 27 6 ~ W 93%
6 9 Nov-08 V Indiana ~ 2-5-1 77 93 47 25 0 ~ W 99%
7 10 Nov-15 H Wisconsin ~ 6-2-1 28 24 29 20 7 ~ W 92%
8 11 Nov-22 H NotreDame ~ 10-0 2 2 16 0 14 ~ L 41%

Despite the general consensus that Northwestern football did not exist prior to 1995, there were some quality teams that populate their history books. The 1930's and 40's as a whole were largely successful for Chicago's Big Ten Western Team - it's just the following 45 years kind of overshadowed that success.

And while my early years rankings can be kind of screwy, I think that I'm under-rating Northwestern here, if anything. This team has basically two "blemishes" of note:

1 - a 45-7 win over Centre College, which is only a blemish in that they gave up any points at all.

2 - a 0-14 loss against Notre Dame, which went undefeated and won the national title.

Those are pretty minor blemishes, as far as those go.

I don't think Northwestern was in line for the national title if they prevailed over Notre Dame (Alabama may have something to say about that, and probably claims a championship somewhere anyway). But before we get to poking fun at a half-century of losing, it's worth remembering that there was a time where Northwestern was rightfully considered an overlord of the Big Ten. I mean, in football, that is. Obviously, they retain that status in other areas (GO LACROSSE).

Rk Year Team Adj Rk Res Rk Conf Record Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk Luck Yr Rk SOS Yr Rk N.C.
9593 1979 Northwestern 9646 9328 B10 1-10 0.54 132 1.54 133 1% 58 0.19 37
9680 1955 Northwestern 9670 9643 B10 0-8-1 0.50 106 1.80 107 -3% 67 0.14 45
9749 1980 Northwestern 9679 9785 B10 0-11 0.73 114 1.85 137 -6% 104 0.14 51
9839 1978 Northwestern 9874 9618 B10 0-10-1 0.49 138 1.69 137 -4% 98 0.08 50
9927 1981 Northwestern 9949 9504 B10 0-11 0.35 138 1.92 138 -2% 77 0.19 37

image via northwestern.edu

1981 Northwestern (Coach - Dennis Green)

Conf Record Luck (wins) rk Adj Off rk Adj Def rk Adj Eff rk Adj Marg rk
B10 0-11 -0.2 77 0.35 138 1.92 138 0.15 138 -1.57 138
Total Teams Rating rk Opp-O rk Opp-D rk SOS rk Variance rk
138 -1.48 138 1.12 27 0.92 48 0.19 37 0.29 15
Gm Wk Date H/V Opponent FCS Record Opp Rk Off Rk Def Rk PF PA OT W/L W-Lk
1 2 Sep-12 H Indiana ~ 3-8 117 113 111 20 21 ~ L 10%
2 3 Sep-19 V Arkansas ~ 8-4 21 15 50 7 38 ~ L 1%
3 4 Sep-26 H Utah ~ 8-2-1 39 59 32 0 42 ~ L 1%
4 5 Oct-03 H Iowa ~ 8-4 35 70 19 0 64 ~ L 1%
5 6 Oct-10 V Minnesota ~ 6-5 90 57 109 23 35 ~ L 1%
6 7 Oct-17 H Purdue ~ 5-6 70 66 68 0 35 ~ L 1%
7 8 Oct-24 V Michigan ~ 9-3 12 17 18 0 38 ~ L 1%
8 9 Oct-31 V Wisconsin ~ 7-5 50 64 48 0 52 ~ L 1%
9 10 Nov-07 H MichiganState ~ 5-6 77 49 90 14 61 ~ L 1%
10 11 Nov-14 V OhioState ~ 9-3 29 14 76 6 70 ~ L 1%
11 12 Nov-21 H Illinois ~ 7-4 68 30 104 12 49 ~ L 1%

Not going to lie, 1981 Northwestern is pretty much the entire reason I began tracking these "worst" lists. They are, in my opinion, the single worst college football team ever. You might make a case for a crappy mid-major here or there (1964 Pacific is actually the worst rated team in my database, and New Mexico State has several strong contenders), but that's boring. No one is surprised when a team like Massachusetts plays poorly, because they are hardly expected to have the resources to compete at a high level. It's the major conference teams that get our scorn, because they manage to be terrible despite their inherent advantages.So let's count the ways that Northwestern sets the standard for awful football play:

- They ranked dead last (138th) in both offense and defense according to my rankings. In terms of pts/game, they managed to improve all the way to second-to-last on offense.

- They got shut-out five times, including a 0-35 home game against a 5-6 Purdue team that ranked 88th in pts/gm on defen6se. Scoring 6 pts against Ohio State, while giving up 70 pts indicates it could have been worse.

- According to my win likelihoods, they were near-guaranteed losers in every single game on their schedule, save the first game: home against a 3-8 Indiana team. That game ended a 1 pt decision, which is exceedingly cruel in retrospect.

- In terms of five-year average performance, 1981 Northwestern caps an era that ranks 12 worst ever (according to my ratings), and easily the worst major conference team. The next four major conference contenders: 1978-82 Northwestern, 1979-83 Northwestern, 1980-84 Northwestern, 1962-66 Kansas State.

- Above all else, 1981 Northwestern employed Dennis Green as their head football coach, a man I consider actually-good at coaching, giving fans of awful teams with first-year coaches everywhere false hope for eternity. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

FUTURE PROJECTIONS OF SUSPECT VALIDITY

Northwestern Proj Rk - 51 (out of 129)

Off Ret St - 9 (0 QB)

Def Ret St - 8

Conf Prj Rec Conf Adj Off rk Adj Def rk SOS rk C-SOS rk
B10 6-6 4-4 1.08 55 0.90 51 0.12 48 0.24 55

Gm Wk Date H/V Opponent Prj Rk Prj Off Prj Def W-Lk
1 1 Aug-30 H California 81 59 103 83%
2 2 Sep-06 H NorthernIllinois 57 22 93 64%
3 4 Sep-20 H WesternIllinois 126 ~ ~ 99%
4 5 Sep-27 V PennState 32 57 11 22%
5 6 Oct-04 H Wisconsin 12 16 20 23%
6 7 Oct-11 V Minnesota 73 99 44 60%
7 8 Oct-18 H Nebraska 39 36 38 45%
8 10 Nov-01 V Iowa 41 61 22 29%
9 11 Nov-08 H Michigan 23 21 32 34%
10 12 Nov-15 V NotreDame 33 47 21 23%
11 13 Nov-22 V Purdue 101 101 98 80%
12 14 Nov-29 H Illinois 68 75 60 73%

Northwestern 2014 Profile (old projections)

Hoegher's Biased Perspective

Northwestern has always held sort of an odd place in the Big Ten, from my perspective. They are a founding member of the conference, and yet the only private institution of the bunch. Their enrollment lags far behind all the other members of the conference. They wear purple (this is a good color).

That odd dichotomy extends to their level of football play as well. By any objective and holistic measure, Northwestern is an average-to-above-average football team in recent history (since 1995, obviously). They will likely be an average-to-above-average football team for the foreseeable future. I think Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best coaches in the conference - someone who recognizes his disadvantages and adapts to them well. I don't expect Northwestern to regularly contend for conference titles, but I expect them to regularly qualify for a bowl.

And yet, as the title states, they are justNorthwestern. No matter their level of success, no matter how much I can objectively look at their team and say "this team should be feared," ultimately I expect to win and feel that something is drastically wrong if we lose. That February basketball loss feels like it's from another dimension (granted, that is the objective viewpoint of that game). There really isn't another Big Ten team that I feel that way about (well, probably Indiana).

Is that unfair? Almost certainly. And I expect to pay for my hubris come October. But I don't think I'm along in that mindset.

Also, I expect Northwestern to probably overshoot these projections by a game or two, because their injuries were pretty bad last year. Just don't beat Wisconsin, kay?

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