Tempering Expectations… or Letting Them Run Wild

Fitz ponders

We are t-minus 10 days away from Northwestern’s opener against Syracuse. Hard to believe that it is coming up that fast. But September 1 is right around the corner. I hope the Orange are getting scared/ready.

Until that first kickoff, everyone wants to know and predict how the season is going to go. Is Kain Colter ready to be the starting/full-time quarterback? Is Kyle Prater going to make a big impact on the offense? Did the secondary fix their communication issues? Will the defensive line be able to generate any pressure?

These are big questions that Northwestern will have to answer immediately when the team travels to upstate New York to face Syracuse. That game is going to be a big challenge and Northwestern will need to be ready.

Let’s worry more about the Orange next week (GAME WEEK!). This week we are still in the fantasy land of preseason predictions and expectations.

Northwestern fans have a building excitement for every year. As LTP always points out, you never know what year will be 1995 part 2 (or 3 or 4). That is the power of unbridled optimism.

Those outside Northwestern? They are not as gung-ho on the Purple as we.

Our brightest predictions might have Northwestern solidly winning seven or eight games and making a bowl game. Those outside the program may be thinking at a much more precarious situation — possibly five wins or eking into a bowl game with six — for Northwestern. Maybe that is looking at the youth at quarterback and all the weapons NU has to replace on offense and the questions on defense. These are legitimate concerns.

We have our preseason answers to them, for sure. Kain Colter is hardly an inexperienced quarterback thanks to all the playing time he got last year. The secondary cannot be any worse than it was last year (right?). And Kyle Prater, because he seems to be the answer to everything.

Let’s take a step back and examine some of the predictions the non-Northwestern media are posting for our digestion.

The logical place to start is with optimistically pessimistic Northwestern alumnus and ESPN blogger Adam Rittenberg. Rittenberg had admitted in his writing that he is done raising his hopes up for Northwestern. We have all been there. And we will all still jump on the bandwagon when hopes get raised.

Rittenberg is on the low end of predictions for Northwestern. He and Brian Bennett set the over/under for Northwestern at 6.5 wins, and that seems to be the consensus for the over/under. Rittenberg picked the under (predictably, but we still love you Adam) as he wrote he was torn between 6-6 and 7-5. He picked 6-6. Here is hoping the team can give Rittenberg a reason to believe this year (seriously, you are still the man, Adam).

Brian took the over and has Northwestern going 7-5 with the typical upsets Northwestern has every year (one for, one against) and a strong offense with Colter and the receivers.

For many, seven wins seems to be the ceiling for Northwestern. Maybe the most optimistic of us see eight wins. Six is the precarious position of possibly out of a bowl game, especially with the Big Ten thinking of raising their floor to seven wins for bowl eligibility. With the Wildcats having those three tough non-conference games, the Cats are going to have to perform in the Big Ten to get where they want this year — back to a bowl game and back in the win column at the end of the year.

So other predictions…

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples has Northwestern at 6-6 and 3-5 in the conference, a copy of last year’s record. That seems to be the sinking suspicion for where this team might fall. Staples has Illinois going 9-3, so take that for what it is worth.

Back over at my old blog network, Bloguin, College Football Zealots talked to The Saturday Edge for their predictions on the Big Ten. Their writers have Northwestern running the gamut. One has NU surprisingly finishing last in the Legends Division (seems unlikely) and does not trust the team can replace all the players the team lost. Another has NU doing its normal work in going 7-5/6-6 with the requisite upset and disappointment. Another believes the Wildcats could be the dark horse in the division and challenge for the title. Here is what The Saturday Edge writes:

 

Northwestern has a chance in 2012 because of the setup of the schedule. The Wildcats start Big Ten play with Indiana and then take road trips to Penn State and Minnesota. There is a decent chance that when Northwestern welcomes Nebraska to Evanston in late October that the Cats will be sporting a 3-0 conference mark. Wins over the Huskers and the following week on homecoming against Iowa, could send Northwestern in the home stretch need just a win at either Michigan or Michigan State to have a chance at the title. Dual threat quarterback Kain Colter is back but he will need help. Colter is the leading returner in passing, rushing, and receiving yards. If he stays healthy and coach Pat Fitzgerald patches together a defense, Northwestern could have a say in this division come November.

 

Certainly an interesting thought.

The consensus though from the peanut gallery feels like this is a team destined to squeak into a bowl game at 7-5 or 6-6. That has been the life of Northwestern the last two years. At that appears to be NU’s destiny and expectations from outside the program this year.

That is where I suspect Northwestern will end up, 7-5. There you have my prediction… until I decide they go 8-4 tomorrow. No, seriously, 7-5.

Please draw your own conclusions and feel free to remain optimistic. Just NINE MORE DAYS!

Swimming Nets Top Recruit

In non-football news, Northwestern’s women’s swimming team received a commitment from a top-20 recruit. Braden Keith of Swim Swam reports Lacey Locke of Carmel High in Indiana has committed to Northwestern.

Locke is rated by collegeswimming.com as the top swimming recruit in Indiana and among the top-20 in the country. Locke is already an extremely skilled backstroker. She posted Olympic qualifying times in both the 100 and 200 backstroke. Swim Swam also reports Locke could be an IMer in the future too.

Northwestern finished seventh in the Big Ten last year, so her presence for the 2013-14 season will be a nice boost. And Locke is not used to losing. Carmel has won the state championship in Indiana 26 straight times(!).

This is a really great get for coach Jimmy Tierney. The future looks bright for Northwestern’s swimmers. Maybe Locke and Matt Grevers will have a backstroke sweep in Rio? Is that putting too much expectation on her? Maybe.

  • dar0628

    Andy Staples has B1G teams combining for a 49-47 conference record, so that shows you how much thought he put into his prediction.

    I haven’t been too high on this year’s team so I’ve predicted 6-6 with losses to Vanderbilt, @ PSU, Nebraska, @ Michigan, @ MSU and Illinois.

    I really think we’re going to be a lot better in 2013 and 2014 so my reaction to this season would be:
    - 5-7 or worse: disappointing not only because we’ll break our bowl streak, but we’ll also continue our downward trend over the last 4 years. Momentum killer from a team and recruiting standpoint.
    - 6-6: content because we’ll have bucked the downward trend. Winning a bowl game would be great.
    - 7-5 or better: Great for this season. Not an easy schedule with the OOC and harder division. And this means we’re on the upward trend and poised for a great couple years and beyond.

  • Catfam5

    For all of you 6-6 ers out there, I have a question for you. Name for me a game last season where you sat back and said- “Yikes- we are totally over matched here. They are just WAY better than us”. Admittedly, I have said that in past years, where Penn State or OSU or UM was just on another level. Last year was the first time in a LONG time where we had a real legitimate shot at winning every game. No joke, no rose colored glasses, the honest truth. Every game, we could have won. The losses dar0628 has listed- only have issue with three, and those are PSU, Michigan and Illinois.

    PSU- I think they will be a much softer team this year, with all that is going on with that program.

    Michigan- We all know Michigan played way above their talent level and lived off of take aways last season. We had what, 3 TO’s in the second half last year? You remove that, and huge number of UM defensive starters and you have more than a shot at winning in the big house.

    Illinois is…well…Illinois- we get them at the end of the year- which if it plays out like it did last year will be a huge advantage. They are trying to implement a new offense with a new coaching staff; its a home game and even though our defense was porous we only lost by three…lots of room for optimism.
    If we stay healthy, I think we are looking at 9 wins…

    • pfoley

      Uh… Wisconsin?

      • http://twitter.com/RevDJEsq Chad

        Fortunately, Wisconsin is not on our schedule….at the present moment.

        If we end up playing Wisconsin, it will be in Indianapolis, which means we did SIGNIFICANTLY better than 6-6, or 7-5, or even 8-4.

        And to answer your question — I don’t think Wisconsin would kill us this year. Michigan State, maybe (that defense is fierce, and they’ll get enough offense to win a lot of games), but no one else terrifies me in the B1G.

        • pfoley

          Maybe, but he asked about /last/ year. Last year, there was no doubt about a Wisconsin beatdown.

          • GreenLantern

            that was two years ago. That was his point, some beatdowns in 2010 but really none in 2011. Season could go anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3 because of this factor.

    • Estif

      I think PSU is going to surprise people this year…they’ll be the most motivated team in college football. 2013 and beyond I think they’ll be on a downward trend, but I am definitely not looking at this as the year we beat Penn State.

    • Buffalo_Joe

      But the 2011 team is not playing the 2012 schedule, nor is the 2012 team playing the opponent’s 2011 teams. And even last year, how many games could a Northwestern fan say, “They are totally overmatched here. We are are just WAY better than them”? Eastern Illinois, Indiana, and Rice? What about this year? South Dakota and Indiana?
      The team is making strides but being competitive does not necessarily equate to more wins than losses. The depth is improving, but is still no more than middle of the Big Ten pack, and outside of maybe receiver and linebacker, there would be a decent dropoff if a key contributor at another position goes down. With the loss of talent from last year’s team, this looks pretty close to a 6-6 team unless many of the first and second year players immediately produce at a Big Ten average or better level.

      • wcgrad

        The B1G lacks any truly elite teams (at least based on last years performance MSU/Wisc lose significant players, OSU is ineligible, Michigan/Nebraska won’t be as good as the best of the SEC/Pac12) but I don’t see how this year’s talent is that much better than last years. Maybe on the 2-deep we have some guys better than the 2nd guys last year, but is there anyone who is going to effectively replace guys like Ebert, Persa, Maybin, Netter, Peters, Dunsmore?Retaining the same number of wins after the loss of talent from last year would be a pretty impressive accomplishment in and of itself. Maybe the depth will help us play better in the fourth quarter of games. In the second half/4th quarter against PSU/Michigan/MSU/Illinois/Iowa, we totally failed to adjust, started to look overmatched as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/prossmanreich Philip Rossman-Reich

      That is a really good point. Northwestern is not overmatched by any team on their schedule and have a chance to win every game. Of course, having that chance and seizing that opportunity. That is the next step.

  • JM

    7+ wins would be a pretty decent season given the personnel losses and expectations. Six is meh. Fewer than six wins (ie. a fourth consecutive year of declining win totals) is a crisis,

  • http://www.facebook.com/roy.lamberton Roy Lamberton

    Remember that most of these guys are just cranking out their “annual preseason prediction,” based on what they remember from the Spring game, and what they’ve heard hanging around the summer practices. I never played that game when I writing Purple Reign, and basically take the position that I’ll have lots to say about 11 PM on Saturday night.

    Go Cats! Even RW got tired of 6-6 finishes.

  • Jimgocats93

    I am not worried about our offense, though the O line might be a concern. I believe if we improve our defense we improve our record. What say you to this barometer – a 50% increase in sacks and we are 8-4. So 26/27 sacks and we have given our secondary a chance. Also those sacks would indicate we forced passing down and distance situations.
    20 sacks = 6-6
    > 20 sacks no bowl
    < 25 sacks 8-4
    < 30 sacks win a bowl

    Gocatsgo

    • wcgrad

      Are the sacks you’re referring to sacks given up or sacks earned by our defense? Or maybe I need to invert the “greater than” – ‘>’ symbol and “less than” – ‘<' symbol when I read this…?

    • Jimgocats93

      The math symbols appear reversed and these numbers are our defense sacking the opposition
      20 sacks 6-6
      sacks 25 = 8-4
      sacks > 30 win a bowl
      I could have said simply: better D = better record, but hopefully the sacks provide a metric.
      Math gives me a headache – GoCatsGo!

  • TheRealNU26

    I think NU could be any were from 7-5 to 8-4 i’m very optimistic. Go Cats!!!

  • cece

    go get Missy Franklin!

    • DT

      C-
      Can she get to the QB from Defensive End? Nothing sexist about that comment, I promise!!! :-)

  • ncrmd

    Is that the same Sports Illustrated that predicted that the White Sox would win 67 games this year?

  • chartmoose

    OK, I’ll play.
    Using the scientific method (predictions from the Jeff Sagarin computer rankings based on last year’s team), we’ll go 7-5, 4-4 in the conference. We don’t have much margin for error: the Sagarin system gives us more close wins (Iowa by 2 points, Illinois by 3 points) than close losses, so 6-6 is a pretty likely result as well.

    I know, I know. The Sagarin system is based on last year’s team.

    Subjectively, I determined we should be about as good as last year. Here is the subjective breakdown by position group:
    Better: Defensive line — good signs from the spring game, Tyler Scott
    Better: Linebackers: A perceived strength entering this season (compare to last season!)
    Better: Special teams: Another year of experience & no losses of key talent
    Better: Youth movement / young talent (Vitabile and Green and Campbell contributed unexpectedly last year; expect to have even more stories this year)
    Worse: Superback (lose Dunsmore & have no experience)
    Worse: Secondary (sorry — we were bad last year and we lost Mabin and Peters. I am hopeful, but rationally it’s hard to predict an uptick…)
    Worse: Offensive Line (Michigan State & Texas A&M and the spring game made our offensive line look silly, AND we lost Netter)
    Similar: QB: Lost my hero Persa, but he wasn’t at his best last year. I think a lot of Colter and Siemian, and I’m intrigued by Oliver… (Oliver this year perhaps as good as Siemian last year?)
    Similar: WR: Lost Ebert, but everyone agrees we are *stacked* at this position
    Similar: Running Back: I hope Mark does good things. Green will be better than last year, but hard to expect Trumpy to be at 100%, and Tyris is unproven. Let’s not pin all our hopes on the young guys. Malin Jones or Jordan Perkins might surprise us, but let’s not count on it.
    Similar: Coaching: Expect some questionable in-game coaching decisions by our beloved coaching staff. Expect fans to call them out. Expect Fitz to remind us that “fan” is short for “fanatic”. Sigh… The good news is, it won’t be any worse than last year…

    • DT

      @34c2137be8e26c73dc4bdb4123d32e58:disqus-
      Truly, I’m impressed with your objectivity on this analysis… Minimal Koolaid consumption in advance of your narrative seemingly…
      Be that as it may, to my way of thinking, that all says NU is a 5-7 team, with some possible upside to play .500 ball and eek into a bowl game and have Fitz roll out his stuffed monkey… Talk about fanatic… Man…
      Go Cats!

  • NorCalCat

    Like everyone else I’m going to go out on a limb and pick us for 7-5, with our upset being Michigan in the Big House. I think they take a small step back this year and I think Denard and his jump ball passing style is vulnerable to turnovers.

    Wins: @Cuse, BC, SD, Indy, @Minny, @Mich, Ill

    Losses: Vandy, @PSU, UNL, Io_a, @MSU

    I’m hopefully optimistic for this year and think we could get to 9 wins (but also wouldn’t be shocked if we ended up with only 4). I think after some early struggles our secondary will be improved over last year in large part because of an improved pass rush. It doesn’t matter how good your secondary is when the opposing QB has 4 or 5 seconds to throw every down. I have a feeling Tyler Scott is going to break out this year and be an absolute beast. I was at the Mich game last year with a friend from Florida and having never seen an NU game was picking out Scott as our best defensive player. In all I think the defense will be slightly better this year than last.

    On offense I think we’ll continue the trend of increasing scoring each year. Persa is one of my all-time favorite NU players and his loss will hurt but he wasn’t himself last year even when he was in. I think Colter makes strides with his passing and I’m excited for the option combo with him and Venric. (It looked good last year and I never understood why we would run the option with Jacob Schmidt. Schmidt did some things well, but the option was not one of them.)

  • CatInTheHat

    I’m sticking with my prediction of 8-4. Wins: Vanderbilt, BC, Iowa, Illinois, Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota
    I’m getting married September 2, so a big W over the Fat Citrus would sure make for a happy start to wedding weekend and could push us to 9-3 when all is said and done. Whaddaya say, Fitz?

    • DT

      @disqus_I3b4JuoSA2:disqus-
      Hey, Cat In The Hat-
      Congrats on your pending nuptials… Maybe, Fitz and Company get you that W after all…
      Cheers!

      • CatInTheHat

        Thanks, my friend! Hope you’re right…

  • Dale Walther

    I like your shared thought with LTP that this may be ’95 part II.
    Despite what we fan(atics) and bloggers may be predicting, I certainly
    hope the coaches and players have the team pegged for 12-0. If the
    coaches and players are shooting for anything less then we will be lucky
    to get to 6-6. By the way, I am puzzled by the suggestion that 6-6
    would put a bowl bid in jeopardy this year because of some talk about 7
    win floor by the Conference honcho(s). If anything, even a 5-7 record
    under the new academic tie-breaker guidelines would seem to favor NU for
    bowl placement. With OSU and Penn State out of post season contention
    it is hard to imagine any Big Ten team that ends with a 6-6 record
    having to stay home for the holidays this year.

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Minnesota2000
Nebraska2000
Iowa2000
Illinois2000
Purdue1100
Wisconsin1100
Northwestern 0200

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Rutgers2000
Penn State2000
Maryland2000
Indiana1000
Ohio State1100
Michigan State1100
Michigan1100