The Weight of Expectations
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.