Now that spring practice has wound down, we have hit the dead period in the sports season for Northwestern. All that is left is to finish the quarter, watch some lacrosse (and softball and golf!) and wait for the new year.
Northwestern football has plenty of reason to be excited coming off that elusive bowl win. The sense at practice was a level of focus and confidence that may not make for great storytelling, but certainly makes for greater expectations for next season. The feeling was that Northwestern had work to do and that spring practice was a no-frills, workmanlike task to complete on the way to bigger goals.
For once, Pat Fitzgerald is saying his team can win the Big Ten and everyone is believing him.
Coach speech has given way to actual outside expectation. That is something Fitzgerald and his team will not pay attention to. But in the never-ending battle for Northwestern to fight perception, it is something we as fans care about and keep track of.
Tom Dienhart, BTN: [T]here’s no team in the division that is markedly better than the Wildcats. In fact, this looks like Pat Fitzgerald’s best team yet since taking over his alma mater’s program in 2006. The offense is loaded with skill-position talent. And the defense has more speed, athletic ability and depth than perhaps ever before. Yes, this NU team could be a preseason Top 25 team and the school’s best squad since the 1995 edition that Fitz helped lead to the Rose Bowl. Expectations are soaring in Evanston. I can’t wait for 2013.
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN: The schedule is definitely a factor, but if Northwestern can split its first two Big Ten contests, it should be right in the mix for the Legends Division title. The Wildcats host the Michigan schools, and although they visit Nebraska, they won in Lincoln with an inferior team in 2011. Some still don’t take Northwestern seriously because they can’t shed the perception created in the program’s dark days. Those days are over, the talent is much better and most of it returns. Northwestern is a contender.
The schedule — particularly the two crossover games against Ohio State and Wisconsin, do have those on the Northwestern bandwagon worried. The Wildcats have raised our expectations only to disappoint us plenty of times before. There is a sense though that the team is about to hit that tipping point.
They broke through and won that bowl game, after all.
So with the media optimistic about Northwestern in 2013, we get to ruminate on the season as we wait for it to finally begin.