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Northwestern Football 2016 Postmortem

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Start off terrible, end with a bowl win?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Northwestern v Pittsburgh Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The Recap

LPW: Northwestern ended the 2015 campaign at 10-3, with a conference record of 6-2 in the West and an Outback Bowl loss to Tennessee. A high point included a win over Stanford in the opening of the season.

MNWildcat and I were optimistically calling for a 9-3 regular season, but reality was closer to the predictions by your entire motley crew of volunteer sportswriters: 7-6.

MNW: I stand by my prediction. 8-4 still looks like a reasonable call, because the offense that showed up at the end of the year (like, a basic, competent offense) beats Western Michigan and puts Illinois State to bed. So my 9-3 trended toward Homersota, but not by as much as the 9-3/6-6 divide makes it look like.

The Highlights

LPW:

  • We won our third bowl game ever!
  • Northwestern continued its mastery over Illinois and retained the Land of Lincoln Trophy.
HAT HAT HAT HAT HAT HAT HAT
LPW
  • Ending a three game losing streak to Iowa.
  • Curbstomping Michigan State 54-40.

MNW:

  • The emergence of Austin Carr as a goddamn stud. That’s a Northwestern student-athleteI’m really proud to cheer for. Here’s to you doing great things at the next level, in society, and probably in politics too, Austin.
  • Justin. Jackson. The Motherfucking. Ball Carrier.
  • A makeshift Northwestern secondary, having lost Matthew Harris and Keith Watkins II, coming together to hold Pitt’s offense in check.
  • Ifeadi Odenigbo in the pass rush. Right, CJ Beathard?
  • Godwin Igwebuike sticking around for his senior season.
  • Chapeau.
  • Pat Fitzgerald is now the all-time winningest coach in Northwestern bowl game history.

The Lowlights

LPW:

HOW IN THE NAME OF OTTO GRAHAM DO YOU LOSE A GAME TO ILLINOIS STATE?!?!?

My colleague MNWildcat missed that game while in western wisconsin at a cabin for a bachelor party. Here’s what happened when he heard the bad news:

I walked back to the (mostly-empty) cabin, silently walked to the fridge, and pulled three Miller High Life cans from the back of the fridge.

I walked out behind the empty garage and took a deep breath.

BANG.

BANG.

BANG.

Each one of those fucking cans made a goddamn satisfying explosion against the fucking wall.

This reminded me of the 2006 game when Northwestern lost to FCS (née 1-AA) New Hampshire. Then again, no one expected great things out of a grief-stricken team and a rookie head coach. This year we only had a team coming off of ten wins! WTF!

  • HOW THE FUCK DO OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MICK MCCALL AND OL COACH ADAM CUSHING STILL HAVE JOBS?!?
  • Losing to PJ Fleck’s Western Michigan team.
  • Taking #6 Ohio State to the wall and falling short.
  • Losing to Nebraska at home.
  • Losing to the Vile Gopher Menace.

MNW:

  • Yeah, I did that. And I don’t regret it.
  • Clayton Thorson’s continued spotty and inconsistent play, especially turning the ball over at the worst times.
  • Anthony Walker Jr is headed to the NFL, leaving us with a depleted LB corps.
  • The offense for 50% of the season.
  • Mick McCall’s continued employment.
  • Pat Fitzgerald is now the all-time winningest coach in Northwestern bowl game history. With two.

2017 Outlook

LPW: I’d like to see some more wins. And another bowl win. And some better offensive line play and playcalling.

MNW: While I don’t know if I can be as Baja Blast Bold as my colleague, I would like Northwestern to stabilize just a tiny bit toward the 7-5 team most fans think they can and should be. Losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State are inexcusable. Performances like the one at Minnesota are positives awful.

Is firing Mick McCall the answer? I think it would have been a start, but Pat Fitzgerald weathered two 5-7 seasons without changing his staff in the slightest, so a 7-6 campaign with the program’s third bowl win is not going to bring about anything. So we’re going to continue riding Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier and hoping that Clayton Thorson develops into a more consistent passer while getting less than a second to pass every down.

Looking at the schedule, this looks like a Northwestern team that could and probably should emerge from the non-conference 3-0. After that, while this is one of the easier crossover schedules the ‘Cats will get in the current five-year plan, that’s a tough start to the conference. With returners at offensive skill positions, I’m currently penciling the ‘Cats in at 7-5 in 2017.