Northwestern: A Path To Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis?
Northwestern football was a joke for decades. Cursed by multiple seasons of losing streaks, an academic reputation that proceeded football, and a student body that was indifferent at best to the team, Northwestern football lived in the shadows for a long time.
That began to change in 1995 when the Wildcats posted a 10-2 record that ended in a Rose Bowl loss against Keyshawn Johnson & USC. 1995 was the first winning season for the Wildcats since 1971, and the first 10-win season ever for the program.
The possibilities for the football program changed after the 1995 season. Since then, the Wildcats have won 3 conference titles, and 2 division titles since the Big Ten split into divisions. Northwestern has been bowl eligible for the last 5 years, winning 4 of their last 5 appearances against teams, including a win over Auburn in the 2021 Citrus Bowl.
Northwestern is the kind of team that can deliver magical seasons – but the ones where they don’t deliver, it reminds fans of the doldrum days – a rumble from the past that they wish could go away.
2021 was one of those years for Northwestern; they finished the season 3-9, and 1-8 in Big Ten conference play. So you see, you never know what you’re getting from Northwestern.
If Northwestern is going to have success in the upcoming season, it will be because of:
The Wildcats have a good draw in their divisional split of the Big Ten. The toughest strength opponents for the upcoming season (Ohio State and Penn State) are both in the opposite division, so the losses don’t hurt them as much in the divisional race.
They have Iowa on the road at Kinnick Stadium, who have lost starters from last year’s team and can struggle to produce consistent offense.
Northwestern has always been a team that laid the foundation for its strategy through a defense that doesn’t give up much and finds opportunistic moments for turnovers.
This year, the most years of experience in defense exists in the secondary. The defensive line had more success against the pass rush last year and will be looking to 3 defensive transfers from UMass, Stanford, and Indiana State to bolster their run-stopping effort, allowing their secondary to take advantage of inexperienced quarterbacks late in games.
Ball Control Offense
The strength of Northwestern’s offense will be in the run game, where they will look to control the ball with last year’s leading rusher Evan Hull, and will be returning Cam Porter from an ACL injury, who displayed some flashes in 2021.
Northwestern is off to a strong start to the season, winning their first international game against Nebraska; with 3 out of conference games that they SHOULD win; they could be sitting at 4-0 when they go to Happy Valley on October 1. If that happens, I’d take a look at those divisional future odds again – or wish I had picked it in the first place!
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