Hoegher's 2012 Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

NOTE: This is coming up later than usual because I had a final today, and so spent all of the past week studying/procrastinating on OTE. As such, this may be a bit shorter/less in depth than other posts. Sorry, but graduating takes a bit higher spot on the priority scale right now than Northwestern football.

Northwestern: I hate you guys. Now, now, don't get defensive. It's not that I have any animosity towards you (unlike Iowa [LINKY]), it's just that you always, ALWAYS, manage to get more wins than you should. Yes Chadnudj: I'm disagreeing with you on Northwestern just being a bit away from super-stardom. And I'm not the only one to notice this. [LINKY] Far and away, Northwestern has been the luckiest school in the nation in terms of winning more than they should. Don't get me wrong, it gives us some great games. I enjoy the upsets when they occur (EXCEPT 2009, GO EAT A BAG OF SPOILED SPINACH FOR THAT), but it makes my numbers look worse. Except come bowl season. Y'all suck at the bowls.*

*In all honesty, Northwestern has gotten a rough bowl slot the last few years. Texas A&M wasn't a 6-6 team in quality last year.

Hovering at the Edges of Mediocrity (Northwestern Performance 2005-2011)

Figure 1: Northwestern Yearly FBS Rank (2005-2011)

Figure 2: Northwestern Yearly Adj Off, Def Rank (2005-2011)

Figure 3: Northwestern Yearly Win % and Luck (2005-2011)

Like I said: y'all is lucky as all get. (though it should be noted that Northwestern wasn't "lucky" last year, primarily because they lost to ARMY) Call it coaching, call it whatever, but Northwestern has been pulling wins out of their asses since forever. (this is also evident in the consistently better Resume ranking vs Adj Eff, Marg rankings - except 2011, oddly enough)

Obviously, offense has been a "strength" relative to defense for the most part (though I wouldn't say it's necessarily been "good"). And I guess I should apologize in advance for the rest of this. I like Northwestern, I think Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach for them, but I have honestly no idea how they managed five straight years of bowl eligibility. Maybe because of people like me dismissing them out of hand...

Another Year, Another Bowl Loss (Northwestern 2011 Season)

Lost Meinke Car Care Bowl of Texas Texas Bowl vs Texas A&M (22-33)

Fvck that name, it's the Texas Bowl. (which Northwestern lost, but like death and taxes...)

Anyway, I really wish that Dan Persa was healthy all year, because Northwestern had a pretty good offense and what it could have been is a nice fantasy (also, Wisconsin didn't play them). As they say on MGoBlog: Chart? Chart.

Rel Off in Blue, Rel Def in Red.

Rel Off > 1 = "good," Rel Def

Dan Persa was out for the first three weeks of the season. Notice that jump from Week 3 to Week 5? (Week 4 was a BYE) That ridiculous. Especially considering that Northwestern played absolute crap opponents those first three weeks. Guaranteed, they beat Army if Persa is in and healthy).

As for the defense... it was as bad as the offense was good. It wasn't Indiana bad (TIRE FIRE), but it was still pretty bad. Additionally, the defensive ranking is probably boosted by an uncharacteristically good outing against Rice (Week 11). So it might, in fact, be edging on Indiana bad (though, it wasn't the defense's fault they lost to Army. DAN PERSA WE MISS YOU). That four game losing streak to start Big Ten play last year was definitely not "Heisman candidate" Dan Persa's responsibility - it was the atrocious defense. Though (and there always have to be qualifiers with Northwestern, fergoshsakes), their worst defensive effort of the season came in a win against Indiana. I'm throwing out the TIRE FIRE on principle, though. Get better on defense, Wildcats.

Here's Hoping for Kain Colter Magic (Northwestern 2012 Preview and Projections)

NOTE: The numbers below each opponent indicate the projected score differential. Numbers in parentheses are negative (as indicated), other numbers are positive (as indicated)

Avg Opp Rank: 55.4 (Avg Non-Con: 76.5, Avg Conf: 45.0 )

Final Record: 4-8 (2-6), Avg MOV: -3.3 pts, Bowl Prediction: [no bowl]

So... this doesn't look good. And this isn't really considering Dan Persa's impact!

Like I said before, this isn't going to be kind on Northwestern. The numbers don't bear out your record, no matter how much I try (I really haven't tried).

Good news! On offense, Northwestern has Kain Colter and Mike Trumpy returning, as well as a slew of wide receivers (or so I've heard, CFBStats doesn't back that up as much). Kain Colter (albeit in his limited action) had 6 TD and 1 INT passing, at a 8.3 YPA clip. That's pretty good. Mike Trumpy was the best of the tailbacks at 5.20 YPC, it's a shame he got injured (really, Northwestern's offense should have been awesome as opposed to pretty decent).

The bad news? Northwestern graduates 6 of their top 10 tacklers on defense. And that was with a bad defense. Yeesh... (though, maybe that's good, because they sure can't get a lot worse). If Northwestern wants some improvement this year, they have to get better on defense, especially as Colter will still be going through some growing pains (even though he's had some experience, he obviously won't be the same playmaker Dan Persa was).

The schedule starts out easily enough, though. I think James Franklin is a good coach, but Vandy is Vandy, whatever the success last year brought. Boston College is Boston College, and Kain Colter has beaten them in the past, so I'd hope he can come through again (especially with both at home).

The Big Ten schedule is a bit trickier. Most of those are not predicted to be close games of the losses, and Minnesota should be improved and at TCF Bank (which I need to see at some point). I guess the semi-benefit is that Northwestern gets the most formidable teams on the road (Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State). That's a benefit, because it means that the Wildcats will get their most beatable foes in the most conducive environment to do so. (insert obligatory Northwestern fans-in-the-stands here, I guess)

Best case for Northwestern: There are four toss-up losses for Northwestern here (Vandy, BC, Iowa, and Illinois). They are all at home. Add those to the win column (and add in a perplexing win as per custom. Bo Pelini, step on up!), and that's a 9-5 9-3 (5-3) (EDIT: this is what happens when you're tired from exams, you forget how to add and subtract) record for the Wildcats. Optimistic? Sure, but this is Northwestern. I won't put anything past the Wiz-gerald.

Worst case for Northwestern: Luck finally (FINALLY) catches up to the Potato Master, and Northwestern not only loses those games predicted, but also both of Syracuse and Minnesota (toss-ups on the road, and both who should be improved come fall). That's a shameful 2-10 (1-7) record, and one that I think fans would actually be justified in asking questions about the coach.

Conclusion: Pat Fitzgerald will probably over-achieve to face an underachieving team in a lower bowl, which they will lose. It's the curse of coaching (when your team isn't that good to start). Death and taxes, etc.

Glossary and Explanation of Terms!

For a more in-depth explanation of everything see my primer here. Otherwise, the below should serve as a quick reference.

For the purposes of this section, I will refer to Average State University (ASU). ASU scores 25 pts/game on offense, gives up 25 pts/game on defense, and has an Adj Off, Def of 1.00 and 1.00, respectively.

Adj Off - a measure of a team's scoring offense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Off of 2.00 would be expected to score 50 pts on ASU. A team with an Adj Off of 0.50 would be expected to score 12-13 pts on ASU.

Adj Def - a measure of a team's scoring defense, adjusted for schedule. A team with an Adj Def of 2.00 would be expected to give up 50 pts to ASU. A team with and Adj Def of 0.50 would be expected to hold ASU to 12-13 pts.

Adj Eff - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjEff = AdjOff/(AdjOff + AdjDef). A perfect rating would be 1.00, a perfectly bad rating would be 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.50. This rating tends to reward teams with good defenses more than good offenses.

Adj Marg - a measure of a team's overall strength, AdjMarg = AdjOff - AdjDef. A good rating would be > 0.00, a bad rating would be < 0.00, a perfectly average rating would be 0.00. This rating tends to reward teams with good offenses more than good defenses.

(NOTE: While I list both Adj Eff and Adj Marg as measures of overall team strength, the "official" rankings are Adj Marg, as I find it tends (usually) to be a slightly better predictor of game results than Adj Eff.)

Opp Rat - the average rating of a team's opponents, as determined by Adj Marg. A relatively difficult schedule will have OppRat > 0.00, a relatively easy schedule will have OppRat < 0.00, a perfectly average schedule will have OppRat = 0.00.

Luck - the difference between a team's expected winning percentage (based on schedule and expected scores) and their actual winning percentage. Luck > 0.00 indicates that a team won more games than they were expected, Luck < 0.00 means that a team won less games than they were expected.

Projected Scores - these are based on a team's Adj Off, Def and their opponent's Adj Off, Def. I won't bore you with the math or reasoning, but suffice to say that expected scores align uniformly with the Adj Marg rankings. The expected score differential is proportional to the Adj Marg differential.

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