The past is the past. Yes, it is a cliché, but so is “the future is bright,” which Northwestern fans have said the last couple years.
Here is the deal, people. NU’s lofty expectations, which we all fell for a few weeks ago, are long gone.
We, the fans and media, are back in a familiar place. Northwestern is .500, has lost some close battles and is fighting for bowl eligibility. It is not the glorious circumstance we thought we would be in, but we are here. If anything, the Iowa loss only makes NU fandom easier, or at least nerve-wracking since the stakes are so much lower. It allows us to accept the reality of Northwestern’s new expectations.
Would you believe me if I told you Northwestern is about to enter the most exciting stretch of the season?
Maybe you would have in August if I pointed out the Nebraska-Michigan-Michigan State stretch. This was supposed to be the period of the schedule that decided the division among the four teams. Instead, Northwestern is 0-4 in Big Ten play and Legends Division title dreams have been laughable for two weeks (not to mention Nebraska and Michigan have surprising Big Ten losses to Minnesota and Penn State, respectively).
In college football, the season is never “lost” until a team cannot win six games. Northwestern still has four chances to win two games. No, the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl or an at-large bowl bid does not sound as juicy as it did say, ten years ago (NU played in the 2003 Motor City Bowl), but they are still postseason opportunities to keep the program active for a month longer.
Bury the Rose Bowl hatchet and forget the Ohio State game (remember College GameDay because that was awesome). Do not make excuses. Northwestern has a new goal: make a bowl game. It is not going to be as fun of a final month as we expected, but it is what it is.
Take it or leave it.
Northwestern gets a shaky Nebraska team coming off a loss at Minnesota next week. The Cornhuskers and Wildcats have already played two classics since Nebraska joined the conference in 2011. It should be another grind in Lincoln next week.
After Nebraska, NU gets Michigan and Michigan State at home, and Illinois on the road. NU nearly won in Ann Arbor last season in the game that shall never be spoken of again, and the ‘Cats should keep up with the possibly overrated Wolverines (Wouldn’t it just be sweet to beat Michigan again?). Despite Michigan State’s stingy defense, Northwestern is coming off a 2012 victory in East Lansing and should compete with the current Legends Division leader. NU finishes in Champaign against an Illinois team it defeated by 36 points last season.
Northwestern lost four games. That was not fun. But there is still a reason to watch.
And don’t say, “Northwestern sucks.” In Big Ten play, the ‘Cats lost two games by one possession, and figuratively lost the Ohio State game by one possession.
Nobody is still calling Northwestern the cream of the Big Ten crop, as they did in September, but no one is calling this team a joke. The Wildcats are still very capable of going 7-5 or 6-6 (or 8-4 for you eternal optimists), which would earn a bid to a low-tier Big Ten bowl. The Heart of Dallas Bowl may not have been the goal in August, but at this point, it would be a heck of a way to end the season.
Wipe away your tears and unclench your fists. Northwestern is not going to have the program-defining year we hoped it would. Accept it. Earning two wins in four games is on the line for the 2013 Wildcats. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Besides, the future is bright. At least, that is what we all should keep telling ourselves.