It was bound to happen at some point.
The offseason optimism train built off the Gator Bowl victory and the strong start to recruiting was bound to hit a derailment at some point as the cold, sober realities of the season began to approach. Those naysayers in the background were going to find a way to let their voices heard in the dark crevices of a long and quiet offseason.
The feel-good story of the Northwestern Wildcats 2013 offseason has filled this site with optimism. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian CAN complement each other and form a devastating 1-2 attack at quarterback. Venric Mark CAN follow up his breakout season with another All-Big Ten-caliber year out of the backfield. The secondary, with veterans like Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose leading it, CAN become better and stop those long passes that have bedeviled Northwestern the last three or so years (in other words, there is depth there now). The offensive line CAN mesh together despite losing much of its experience. The defensive line CAN come together again and create pressure up front.
These are all things that feel certain now but have hardly been guarantees in Northwestern’s football history (even recently). Even in years when Northwestern fans rightly had a feeling of optimism — see: 2010 or 2011 — things could quickly fall apart if the ball bounces the wrong way or the wrong player gets hurt. There are still a lot of variables that could go into a successful season in 2013.
Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but these warnings should not be completely ignored.
Dealing with success comes with its own problems, as LTP pointed out. Expectations create their own internal and external pressures which must be met. And sometimes the program is not ready to meet them.
If Northwestern has ever been ready to meet this higher level of expectations, it is now. The bowl win is in the back pocket and the recruiting is better than ever. As we have noted time and time again, maintaining is more difficult than getting to that level to begin with.
Excuse some for being skeptical, even after a fantastic 10-3 season last year.
Brad Edwards of ESPN.com used a statistic known as expected points added to see which teams were better or worse than their record indicated. Using those numbers, he extrapolates that Northwestern, because the team was statistically worse than its record, could be a team primed for a slide. For sure, this is a realistic look at the overly optimistic never-ending upward trend Northwestern fans are seeing. One that you will not typically get from inside the fan base and even from upcoming opponents.
But Edwards notes that Northwestern had a relatively easy schedule and did not rack up many wins against teams rated highly by EPA. The Wildcats will have a significantly tougher schedule this year with the Buckeyes and the Badgers rotating onto the schedule. Brian Bennett of ESPN.com thinks the “overrated” tag might have been a little unfair. This does put a little damper on the positive vibes.
This next link should not help matters much either.
Steven Goldstein of PurpleWildcats.com wrote last week a column entitled: “Time to slow our NU football optimsim.” That sound is the wind deflating slowly from our balloon. Goldstein writes:
Call it bad timing, call it preseason speculation, but Northwestern faces perhaps the toughest schedule in the Big Ten this fall, putting at least a slight damper on those lofty expectations. Right as realignment places them in the Western division, the Cats are slated to face every perennial powerhouse the conference has to offer, including aspiring national title team Ohio State.
Northwestern could chew out an 8-5 record just as easily as 10-3 or even 11-2.
That schedule issue again comes up. Northwestern definitely benefited from not having to play Ohio State or Wisconsin last year. And, considering Northwestern had three wins decided by six points or fewer, maybe Northwestern could have fallen to eight wins even last year. It might be getting too much in the hypothetical.
Like last year though, Northwestern still has the opportunity to win every game on their schedule. And what matters is not the statistics or the predictions, but lining up and scoring more points than the other team.
For now, let’s keep the optimism.