The Weight of Expectations

Aerial of Kain handoff to Venric

What an exciting day. LTP here fresh off a phenomenal night with more than 150 Wildcat fans who kicked off the 2013 season with our inaugural LTP NU Season Kickoff Party. Former Wildcat quarterbacks Dan Persa, Zak Kustok and Steve Schnur knocked it out of the park with fantastic stories, a great sense of humor and an appreciation of the night that exceeded my expectations. The early returns on our night at Howells & Hood have been tremendous and I was thrilled to meet so many of you and share a few minutes of great stories and excitement. If last night is any indication of the enthusisam and expectations, well, they are sky high.

I’m also thrilled to announce that several readers have stepped up and agreed to help the LTP cause with our growing community. Kevin Vedder, a contributor to HailToPurple, was one of the first readers to respond to my call for help for writers.  Kevin’s first post explores the weight of expectations, with an LTP-esque historical context. Please help me in welcoming Kevin to LTP!!!!

The Weight of Expectations

Most  Northwestern fans will tell you they tend to love when the Cats are the underdog, especially in big games, the idea being that coming into a game with low expectations is a license to play with one less thing to worry about, and that somehow they feel it allows the team to play more loosely.

After the excitement of only the third 10-win season in school history, the breaking of the elusive bowl futility streak, a strong returning squad, and the stir being caused by some leaps forward on the recruiting front, that mentality needs to change. Preseason expectations are indeed higher in Evanston, probably as high as they have been since 2001, which at the time was following the Cats’ third conference title in six years.

Over the past dozen years, NU has not fared all too well in conference games after being ranked.  A few examples:

2012:

  • Ranked 24th (AP) after a 5-0 start.  Lost the next week at Penn State
  • Ranked 21st (Coaches) after 7-2 start.  Lost the next week at Michigan

2008:

  • Ranked 21st (AP) after a 6-1 start.  Lost the next week at Indiana
  • Ranked 24th (BCS) after 7-2 start.  Lost the next week at home to Ohio State

2005:

  • Ranked 21st (AP) after a 5-2 start.  Lost the next week at home to Michigan
  • Ranked 25th (AP) after a 6-3 start.  Lost the next week at Ohio State

2001:

  • Ranked 14th (AP) after a 3-0 start.  Lost the next week at Ohio State
  • Ranked 22nd (AP) after a 4-1 start.  Lost the next week at home to Penn State (Yes, the Zack Mills game)

Turning the clock back a little further, and although not a conference game, one of the toughest of these to take was the season opener in 1996.  In the first game since the Rose Bowl, and with Fitz’s broken leg fully healed, NU took a No. 13 ranking to Wake Forest and came up short, leaving many shaking their heads thinking the magic of 1995 was a nothing but an anomaly.

Fortunately, the team rebounded and backed up their conference title with another.

Indiana v NorthwesternWhy has NU not kept it together after being ranked? Getting too comfortable? Bad luck/coincidence in scheduling?

Ranked or not, and to give credit where due, the ‘Cats have done a pretty good job recently of beating the teams they are “supposed” to beat, a hallmark of a good team. With raised expectations, they are simply “supposed” to beat more of them. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves this season, but it is more than realistic to think NU could again be ranked when they open the conference schedule at home against Ohio State.

What will the expectations be, and what should they be, as NU enters the eighth year with Coach Fitz at the helm?

With members of the media calling for an average of nine wins, they are as high as ever, which is good, and another step forward in Northwestern’s progression towards being a championship squad.

Considering that during my undergrad years (1989-1992) NU totaled eight victories, it is almost laughable to think that an 8-4 season for the ‘Cats will leave most fans underwhelmed. But I will take it, and I like the direction we are headed.

  • Mark

    Re the A&M thing: I’ll take our “2” any time. And to pick a Texan I’d take “5.” Go Cats!

  • cebpd

    you forgot 2010, Purdue, night game. 5-0. purdue depleted roster. we were ranked 25th.

    L

    • Kevin Vedder

      Thanks for pointing that out. Believe we were also # 25 in the Coaches poll that year after beating Iowa, and right before the Wrigley debacle against Illinois.

      • Mark

        We’ll act like that doesn’t count since we lost Persa.

    • Chasmo

      Ouch. I was at that game. Painful memory.
      The Cats have never been very good when ranked. Let’s hope that changes this year.

  • Mark

    Re the Cal game. 3 of NU’s starters (Offense and Defense) were highly touted or very highly touted recruits according to Phil Steele. 16 of Cal’s projected starters are such. Of course the Cats’ DNA is to rise above the ratings, play as a team, play smart, and be improved by the coaching staff. But I don’t understand why people think Cal won’t be a good team, including Phil Steele who has them last in the North Division of the PAC 12. Worry is not preparation, however, so I’m optimistic. Go Cats!

    • David

      They were a 3-9 football team last year. They have a QB who has never taken a college snap. The have a new coach, implementing a new system that takes a few years to acclimate to. That offense achieved success against the bottom feeders of the WAC. Sonny Dykes made the defense worse when he arrived at LA Tech. Ultimately, they were the worst defense in the nation last season. NU is a solid FB team in all three phases. We have the playmakers from a 10-3 team coming back. Our defense is stout against the run and far more athletic in the secondary. Colter/Mark is the most dynamic backfield in the nation.

      Those are a couple of reasons why we should beat Cal handily.

  • DR

    OK, I’m staying up later, sleeping in, taking a power nap at noon, then about 30 minutes worth at the cocktail hour, which is quite difficult. As I live in Louisville, on the western most edge of the eastern time zone my plans to stay up for the 10:30 kickoff are confusing. If I could call one of my old stats profs I would, the math calculations on sleep cycles and the probability of staying up for the whole damn game are daunting. Go Cats!

  • Henry in Rose Bowl Country

    I think the difference this year is that (hopefully) we finally have a defense that can stop somebody. Lack of athletes on defense and lack of depth overall has always been what burst our bubble. I think that the offense can do the job and it appears that our defensive secondary is finally a strength instead of a weakness. Cal will probably put a lot of pressure on the defense so we should learn pretty quick what we really have.

  • Nate

    As mentioned ad nauseum since last year, I’m really interested in seeing if they can put the nails in the coffin when the opportunity presents itself. We saw it in the Michigan St. and Mississippi St. games last year that the passing game contributed to those wins as much as draining the clock on the ground did. Striking that perfect balance of pass and run with the lead late will be something to watch. Sure, there will be instances when the opposing defense out-preforms the offense in a given series, but I would love to do less pacing and nail-biting in the 4th quarter hoping the defense can come up with another stop following 3 runs up the middle.

  • WildCatAuD

    Great article Kevin!

    • Kevin Vedder

      Thanks! Appreciate the kind words and support, and happy to be a part of the team.

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Nebraska5010
Minnesota4110
Iowa4110
Northwestern2210
Wisconsin3100
Illinois3201
Purdue2301

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Maryland4110
Ohio State3100
Michigan State3100
Penn State4111
Rutgers4101
Indiana2201
Michigan2301