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2016 Predictions and Previews: Northwestern Wildcats Football

The Wildcats did well last year. Can they do the same this year?

Northwestern v Wisconsin
Please pass the ball better!
Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images

2015 was an excellent season for the Northwestern Wildcats. The ‘Cats doubled the win total of the past two years and appeared in a New Years Day bowl! However, games against Iowa and Michigan got out of hand, and the bowl game against Tennessee didn’t help either. Can the ‘Cats build on last season?

I. Case History/Opening Statement

A. Case History

Pat Fitzgerald, the second longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten at the young age of 41 is the winningest coach in school history with a 70–56 overall record. However, Fitzy has a 36–44 conference record. Part of the problem is doing well in September and November, but faltering a little in October. I’d love to see Fitz have a winning conference record, and a strong October is just the ticket. However, the only winnable game in that month is Indiana, and even that will be tough.

B. Opening Statement

LPW: Last year’s 10 win campaign was fun to watch, except for two saturdays against Iowa and Michigan. We’ve come a long way, doubling our win totals from 2013 and 2014, but there’s still work to do.

Justin Jackson had another stellar season, and he’s well on his way to catching Darnell Autry, Venric Mark, Tyrell Sutton and Damien Anderson in the Northwestern record books. Redshirt Freshman Clayton Thorson’s was a little shaky with his reads, and his passes, but he managed to win games due to Jackson and excellent punting.

The defense was almost 1995-like, with stellar performances from Anthony Walker Jr and Matthew Harris, amongst others. I’ve been sitting in the stands since 2001, and this is seriously the best defense I’ve had the pleasure to watch. In some previous seasons, our spread offense would score points and our defense would be run ragged by other offenses. As much as I like shootouts, I like the confidence that a good defense can rest our offense, and an offense that can run the ball and pass the ball well. I hated it a few years ago when everyone knew that Trevor Siemian was our passing QB and Kain Colter was our running QB. You don’t need to give defenses a big hint like that. Last year’s a good start, because we have Thorson for three more seasons and Jackson for two, unless he goes pro.

II. Discovery

A. What We’ve Written About Northwestern in the Offseason

MNW: Holy shit, we really write a lot about Northwestern. I’m so sorry, everyone.

B. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture

Learn something, you idiots.

C. Schedule of Events

Date Opponent
9/3 Western Michigan
9/10 Illinois State
9/17 Duke
9/24 Nebraska
10/1 @ Iowa
10/15 @ Michigan State
10/22 Indiana (Homecoming)
10/29 @ Ohio State
11/5 Wisconsin
11/12 @ Purdue
11/19 @ Minnesota
11/26 Illinois

III. Emotional Plea

LPW: Mick McCall, can you please get a little more creative on offense this year?!? As much as it works, you can’t just rely on Justin Jackson THE BALLCARIER® and some artisanal punting to set up Mike Hankwitz’s stellar defense. Clayton Thorson, I hope an additional offseason and summer camp has led to some improvements in your reads, footwork, and confidence after your freshman season. Just pass the ball better please and make our offense multi-dimensional. Wide Receivers, put stick-em or something in your gloves so you can catch Thorson’s passes. I hate seeing our offense in the statistical toilet.

Defense, keep kicking ass. I expect Anthony Walker Jr to be a monster and the nightmare of several quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.

MNW: You know, I wanted to go back and see what I’d predicted about Northwestern last year. Enjoy:

Teams know Jackson is coming [they did], Mackton Thorvitiver will probably struggle to gain traction against a hungry Stanford defense [he kinda did], and the team's bowl eligibility may come down to winning on the road at Duke [lol]. DUKE! If you ever would have told me I'd write that last sentence, I'd have laughed in your face.

And so I stand before you a broken man but a changed man. I thought Northwestern had broken me as a student, what with Hails Mary (yeah, we have to make it plural) and last-second field goals and Outback Bowls and any other kind of heartache. But how spoiled I was. How spoiled, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I was to not realize the wealth of riches that was five consecutive bowl berths for my Northwestern Wildcats. How spoiled I was to think that a 10-win season and a bowl victory meant anything more than a program trending in the right direction.

I predicted 7-5 (4-4) last year. LPW somehow came the closest, picking 8-4 (4-4), including calling the win over Stanford—the only writer to do so. The takeaway? I don’t know. No one knows.

So I’m hoping Northwestern is merely trending in the right direction. What does that look like?

An offense approaching competence.

A defense that still plays lock-down, hard-nosed football and forces the vaunted Wisconsin Badgers to run for negative yards (by the way: you know when that last happened? The 2006 Capital One Bowl, when Arkansas held them to -5 yards).

Special teams that aren’t a miserable embarrassment unless Jack Mitchell is kicking field goals in the fourth quarter or Solomon Vault is returning kicks.

I started writing this at 2:05pm. I was super pessimistic and thought "Well, 9-3 this year was probably too optimistic, MNW."

It’s now 2:21pm. I look at the schedule. I look at Nebraska and think "Tommy Armstrong will throw 5 picks and we’ll level the series." I look at Iowa and think "clownfraud trash." I look at Michigan State and say "Rebuilding." I look at Indiana and say "Still no defense." I look at Ohio State and say "Sure, can’t win ‘em all." I look at Wisconsin and think "Not only is this in Evanston, but the Badger quasi-reign of terror and inevitable choking is over." I look at Purdue and laugh. I look at Minnesota and, true to form, count them as a win while their fans count us as a win. (Seriously. Every. Year.)

Ooh, now I want lutefisk.

And some Schell’s Chimney Sweep. Yum.

Sorry, forgot about Illinois. Fuck you, Illinois. Fuck Lovie. HAT will stay in Evanston.

In conclusion, I see the men with the butterfly nets are coming for me, so I’ll sign off by saying vote MNWildcat for Intergalatic Emperor of Off Tackle Empire, and vote Northwestern Football for Big Ten West Champion. Think of it this way, Big Ten East Champion fans: more seats for you in Indy!

IV. The Verdict

'Writer' Overall Wins Overall Losses Conference Wins Conference Losses
MNWildcat 9 3 6 3
WhiteSpeedReceiver 9 3 6 3
StewMonkey13 6 6 5 4
Brian Gillis 7 5 4 5
Aaron Yorke 8 4 5 4
Andrew Kraszewski 8 4 5 4
DJ Carver 8 4 5 4
MrAlnamiasIV 8 4 5 4
Candystripes for Breakfast 7 5 4 5
Graham Filler 8 4 5 4
babaoreally 5 7 3 6
Jesse Collins 8 4 5 4
ZuzuRU 7 5 4 5
87Townie 6 6 4 5
LincolnParkWildcat 9 3 6 3
Thumpasaurus 7 5 5 4
Thomas Speth 8 4 6 3
GoForThree 7 5 5 4
AVG Wins AVG Losses AVG B1G Wins AVG B1G Losses
7.5 4.5 4.9 4.1