Through Rose [Bowl] Colored Glasses: Northwestern

A pain in the ass. That's what Northwestern football has been to the Badgers. And maybe the rest of the Big Ten, too.

Before all you go out and write our roadie to Northwestern in as a victory, think again.

King Barry went 7-7 against Northwestern. Think about that. In 1992 the 'Cats denied Barry his first bowl game with a late November 27-25 win. In '95 Gary Barnett's squad DESTROYED us, 35-0. Are you freakin' kidding me!?! (they went to the Rose Bowl that year, we went 4-5-2). In '96 Ron Dayne fumbled away a 2nd and 2 with under a minute to play (for the record, we couldn't have simply run out the clock), and the 'Cats converted a touchdown for the improbable 34-30 win at Camp Randall. In 2000, the 'Cats survived a late 4th and 8 while down by a touchdown, then down 3 with under 10 seconds to play converted a 3rd down from about the 50 to get into field goal range, force overtime, and win 47-44 in the second OT, again at the Camp. In 2003, the sub-.500 Wildcats dealt Wisconsin a 16-7 loss. Then in 2005, in a game that ultimately may have prevented Barry's last team from a BCS Bowl (though in hindsight I'm happy with the win over Auburn), Northwestern exploded for 27 points in the 3rd quarter and hung on for a 51-48 win -- Wisconsin's first loss of the season.

Moreover, the 'Cats gave heavily favored Missouri all they could handle in last season's Alamo Bowl mostly due to a solid defense coached by former Badger coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Have I mentioned our road record under Bielema? In fact, this looks like our second or third toughest road game of the season (Minnesota is the other; I concede our road schedule doesn't look that tough). That said, the 'Cats will bring a whole new cast of skill players to their offense, so there is hope.

In preparation for all this, and admittedly still struggling to get my head around taking Northwestern seriously, I sent the world's best Northwestern football blog, Lake the Posts, an inquiry about what to expect next year, below is their response:

Shhh!! We're Not Just a Bunch of Nerds

(1) The stereotype is that Northwestern is good when its brainy quarterbacks have two to three years of starting experience. That description doesn't fit 2009. How much confidence do you have in this year's offense and the whole new set of skill players? What's the story on the o-line?

I spend way too much time trying to dispell the brainiac stereotype. This year's offense is exactly the inverse of last year at this time. A year ago we were loaded with veterans at every skill position and the very youthful O-line was the question mark. This year, the 0-line is the strength as nearly everyone returns, with essentially only Doug Bartels at G as the newbie. They're still relatively young, but tons of experience. Yes Sutton is gone. Yes Bacher is gone. Yes Peterman, Lane and Ward are gone. However, most forget that senior QB Mike Kafka actually started back in 2006 before getting injured and had key experience last year in relief when CJ was injured in the All he did in his first start last year was set the Big Ten rushing record for a QB with 217 yards. He is a true dual threat and his arm is underrated. Andrew Brewer headlines the quad of spread receivers that includes Sidney Stewart who got several reps last year, but sophomore Jeremy Ebert started as a frosh last year and will be, along with Brewer, Kafka's primary target. The giant question mark is at RB where heading into Camp Kenosha the three-man race is wide open.

(2) Best Northwestern defense ever? (ed. note: this was a reference I saw in some preview somewhere on the web.) If that works out for you, can we have our defensive coordinator back? No, really. Would if help if I said please? Seriously, tell me what I should know about the Northwestern defense. How are the injured lineman coming, and how is the depth behind them?

Best defense ever? Hmmm...not yet. That role still belongs to the 1995 Pat Fitzgerald-led team, but the expectations are this is the best "D" SINCE 1995. Thank you very much for letting go of Mr. Hankwitz - we could not believe how fortunate we were to get him, but not even the most optimistic purple faithful (me!) could've envisioned the 1-year turnaround. Both DEs Corey Wootton and Vince Browne are expected to be back and at full strength and word is Wootton has more than returned to his All Big Ten status, but until he gets back on the field and we see it there is a tad of anxiety. Our secondary may truly be the best I can ever remember and that includes 1995. Sherrick McManis and Jordan Mabin (Sporting News Freshman All-American) are back at CB and seniors Brendan Smith and Brad Phillips have so much chemistry at the safety slot that I expect most offenses to try and exploit the weakest link of a very strong unit - the LBs. Fitz has been able to really up the athleticism of our players and while their is definite room for growth at LB (they're young), they have talent. Most believe our "D" will keep us in just about every game. There is a ton of depth in the secondary, but we're thin at LB.

(3) I want to take Northwestern seriously, and I know I should; the Badgers are only one game above .500 against the Cats in the Alvarez era (ed. note: 8-7, with the '06 win under Bielema), including an embarrassing loss in 1995, and heartbreakers in '96, '00, and '05. So what's the problem, what's holding me (and lots of other folks back) from taking Northwestern seriously?
I use one stat to try and underscore this conception - three Big Ten titles since 1995 only Michigan and Ohio State have more. During that same timeframe, NU is 5-5 vs the Badgers since 1995. See, much like Wisconsin which would like to forget a nice chunk of its history in the 80s, it is all about referencing the starting point of being good again. Wisconsin uses 1993 as the "since..." starting point. We use 1995. (Ed. note: I don't mean to nitpick, but since 1993, Wisconsin is 4th in the Big Ten in in-conference winning percentage behind Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State; since 1995, Northwestern is 7th.) We actually relish the fact most STILL don't take NU seriously. We still suffer from the small alumni base and private school in a pro sports town fan base that painfully makes our attendance and media attention incomparable to a state school in a college town. A couple more years of Fitz winning and I think we'll have changed perception at least among those under 30. Old perceptions die hard.

(4) What's the biggest misconception about Northwestern football?
That we had one good year in 1995. NU has been to six bowls since 1995 (96 Rose, 97 Citrus, '00 Alamo, '03 Motor City, '05 Sun, '08 Alamo) yet the "average" fan doesn't even remember we won back-to-back in 1995 and 1996, let alone the bowl games this decade. NU has had only 3 seasons this decade with less than 6 wins. The passion around NU football is building it is just frustratingly slow after the fall-off post Barnett.

(5) Really, purple!?!
Yup. Proud of it.

(6) What campus legend, little known fact, or other random piece of information should everyone know about Northwestern?
There are plenty. Many don't know about defending "The Rock" which is a fixture in main campus. Nearly every night of the year a different campus group camps out to paint the rock for its organization for group of friends. You claim it at daylight and must retain a foot in the base throughout the day to keep the rights. The first Final Four was hosted on the Evanston campus but we don't like to go there since we've NEVER made the NCAA Tournament.

1 comment:

Fight For Iowa said...

These are good posts. And yes, Northwestern beating Iowa is a pain in the ass too. A huge pain in the ass and unfortunately it has happened too often lately. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading your Iowa rose colored glasses preview (assuming you will do one). If you have an Iowa related questions feel free to email me at