Stacking Up The Stats – Clip ‘N Save Edition

I’d like to send out a special thanks to Max Kaplan, our fearless researcher, who put together some great stats on our Big Ten “when it was 11 teams” conference which I thought might be of interest.  We’ve broken down each school’s record over five, ten and sixteen (using 1995 as the starting point – of course!) year increments. We’ve done so to illustrate conference records, overall records, bowl appearances and essentially everything you need to know to equip yourself with ammo in the inevitable defense of our fair name.

The bottom line is that as a program, we’ve been on a whole, the epitome of average.  Granted, we all know that there have been extreme peaks (three Big Ten titles) and valleys (see: end of Barnett era and early 2000s not named 2000) that are a much rockier road than our overall mediocre average.  Plus, the Cardiac ‘Cats stats are missing, which, if we weren’t as good in close games, would paint a much worse picture.  Several of you sent me this SB Nation stat geek fest post which addresses this point. Candidly, I shyed away from it because I didn’t completely understand all of the metrics. Let’s get on with the stat-heavy post.


This is conveniently the “Fitz era” snapshot which many of you can recite chapter and verse.  While we know Fitz’s overall record is 34-29, many don’t know his Big Ten record is a sub .500 18-22.  We all are compassionate enough to have an asterisk next to 2006 since the 4-8 season was an absolute shell shock in the picking up the pieces triage in the wake of Randy Walker’s tragic death.  Let’s take a look at the programs and their overall ranking during this time period, along with some interesting notes that will likely go a long way to either reinforcing general program perceptions and/or offer some actual facts to bring to light some misperceptions (it’s a bad day for your Illini colleagues!).

Big Ten Overall Records Since 2006 - aka - The Fitz Era

I’m not sure if Northwestern’s 34-29 record coming in 7th was a surprise or not to you. I thought we’d be fifth or sixth. Michigan jumped out as a bit of a surprise because of how extremely down they’ve been the past few years, but then you realize the same overall record RichRod had last year (7-6) ended in termination, while Fitz (7-6) was able to earn a 10-year contract. Obviously that is completely out of context, but you get the point.  Despite the apocalyptic past few years at Michigan, they still outperformed NU in the Fitz era thanks to Lloyd Carr’s final seasons carrying the way. The above records look like the annual preseason prognostications of late, almost to a tee, if you move Michigan down below Northwestern.  The most alarming stat to me was the horrible Top 25 performances by so many teams, but most notably Michigan State at 3-14 during this span. I was equally surprised by a 6-10 mark by Wisconsin.  Northwestern’s Top 25 record is nothing to brag about (4-10), but there is one piece of fun Wildcataganda – “During the Fitz era, Northwestern has won as many Top 25 games as Purdue & Illinois combined (insert Minnesota OR Indiana in place of Purdue depending upon fan you are talking to). You can swap out Illinois for Michigan State in this equation as well.

Big Ten Conference Only Records Since 2006

Big Ten Conference Only Records Since 2006 - aka The Fitz Era

Have you started to realize how much Ohio State is truly in a league of their own? Geesh. Just look at that. The 18-22 mark by Northwestern in Big Ten play in the Fitz era is nothing to pound the chest about, but the logjam between 4-7 in the above is what was most noticeable to me.  Only three losses separate Michigan State and Iowa from Northwestern.  Illinois and Purdue’s marks, only two behind NU in the W-L column also somewhat stunned me. I had both of them pegged for worse records during this stanza.

Big Ten Overall Records for Past 10 Years (Since 2001):

Big Ten Overall Records Over Past 10 Seasons (Since 2001)

Whenever you play Wildcataganda, it always is more fun to pin it to five year intervals that are decade starters/finishers. “Since 1995…Since 2000…Since 2005…” are much better than “the past 10 seasons” at this point. However, to be fair, I thought it was worth a look.  You and I know that if we had added 2000 then NU would be exactly 68-67 since the start of this century, but that’s for another day. In the above rankings since 2001, I was somewhat surprised by Penn State cracking the top four teams as the early 2000s were none to kind to the JoePas. I also was somewhat surprised by how close Iowa and Wisconsin are for bridesmaids honors in the Big Ten back-up band to Ohio State. I was most surprised by Michigan falling to number five over this long of a stretch which just goes to show you how quickly a couple of seasons can really sandbag a generation’s worth of work. Again, the poor Top 25 play by Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin really stood out. It stings to see NU below .500 in this ranking.

Big Ten Conference Only Over Past 10 Seasons:

Big Ten Conference Only Records Over Past 10 Seasons (Since '01)

I’m not sure what I expected here from NU but the 10-game under .500 total conference mark isn’t pretty. One thing of note was the fact our non-conference record during this decade-long span of games was 25-18, which to me, was surprisingly bad. Of course, we were 0-5 in bowl games, so the actual regular season non-conference mark was 25-13 which seemed more accurate in terms of what I expected.  Of course, then I tried to instantly reel off the non-conference losses – Arizona State, TCU, Nevada, Duke…then I stopped. Why endure the pain? The most painful point here is that we are one of only four teams to not claim a share of a Big Ten title during the ten year stretch. Ugh.

Big Ten Overall Since 1995

Big Ten Overall Records Since 1995

The moral of this story is that not even the two Big Ten back-to-back champion seasons can catapult a 16-year span. It’s great to see a longevity stat that has NU on the right side of average, but I again expected us to have more distance between the W/L totals.  No secret here that our atrocious bowl record is sandbagging us as we’ve gone 10 games OVER .500 in regular season play since 1995 (98-88).  I was shocked by Sparty’s nearly similar bowl ineptitude (had no idea).  And this is the telltale stat for the Illini fans. I always scream that they don’t get the cellar treatment we got for so many years and yet they are 46 games UNDER .500 since 1995 – 46!!!!!!!!!

Big Ten Conference Only Since 1995

Big Ten Conference Records Only Since 1995

Yes, NU has put up a plus .500 record in Big Ten play over the past three seasons (13-11), but the above stat box really does have Wildcataganda all over it.  Consider that 15 of the 60 wins came in 1995 and 1996 and the 45-67 since then isn’t nearly as rosy a picture.  However, we did earn them and they count just as much now as they did then, but this is the one category – Big Ten record over a substantial time – that will be the perception driver.  As you can see, getting over 50% in this category and you are essentially an upper tier program. It also has the most oomph when you say it.  Team X is ranked Y in the Big Ten in conference record over the past Z years.  No non-conference “X” factor, you’ve got to be solid for a long time to crack the upper tier here. To me, this is the one that is the true barometer of success for the program. Of course, AFTER we finally end that damn bowl drought. 

So, what sticks out to you on this stat-filled day?

LTP Tickets – Purple Pledge

Kudos to GTom for pushing a new Wildcat parent to lock and load on four season tickets.  We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re THIS close to eclipsing the 10% to goal mark.  We set a goal of 500 NEW season tickets through the friends of LTP and we’re not quite yet at 50. We’ve got a ton of ground to make up and we’re closing in on t-minus 90 days to kickoff, so let’s start cranking it up folks!

Army To Big East?

As we keep an eye on our 2011 opponents, this post by’s Brian Bennett caught my eye Army and Navy are rumored to be potential expansion targets for Big East football as the quest to quilt a hodge-podge completely-different-football-from-basketball-league continues.  The push is to get a 12 team conference to retain BCS status and generate  more TV revenue and of course the cherry-on-top of a championship game.  Army is a 2011 Wildcat opponent and will venture to Ryan Field in 2015.

Small Makes Ohio State Transgressions Big Again

For the love of God, can someone please make the Ohio State drama stop.  Above you see a generation of rarified mastery in Big Ten play as the Buckeyes are so far out in front of the rest of the pack they’ve become the default brand of the Big Ten in our on-field reputation battles. Now, we’re all collectively hoping to bury them.  The latest national headline grabber is former WR Ray Small (2006-2010) offering up a tellall to the Buckeyes’ student newspaper.  As you can see in this report Small makes no secret about the car deals and the players’ decisions to take advantage of the love they were given.  This is heading down an ugly path quickly.

Big Ten Doings

  • Gene Wojciechwoski goes to bat for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany who recently took the stand that the cost of living adjustment gap for student-athletes needs to be adjusted.  It equates to an annual $3000 proposed stipend – $8.22 per day (year-round) to address the growing “actual sticker price” difference of going to college on a “full ride”. 
  • Michigan freshman WR DJ Williamson has decided to transfer adding to the list of players leaving with the regime change.
  • Wisconsin is still very much in the hunt for the services of NC State QB transfer Russell Wilson who is also considering Auburn.

Dillo Day Means Lacrosse Final Four

Northwestern’s infamous Dillo Day is this Saturday, an annual rite of passage at the Evanston campus.  While students let loose on the lakefront with a slew of bands and brew, the women’s lacrosse team will be vying for a sixth national title.  The Final Four action begins tomorrow afternoon in Stony Brook, NY as NU faces North Carolina in the national semifinal.  BW3 in Evanston will be hosting an official “Watch Party” for the weekend’s games starting with the ‘Cats game at 6:30 pm ct tomorrow. Here is the official release from Northwestern and Buffalo Wild Wings:

“This weekend, Buffalo Wild Wings will be your host for the official Northwestern Lacrosse NCAA Championship watch party.  Join fellow Wildcat lacrosse fans at Buffalo Wild Wings in Evanston this Friday to watch the Wildcats take on North Carolina in the National Semifinals.  The semifinal match will be shown on the big screen Friday at 6:30 p.m.  Should the Wildcats win on Friday, you can come back to Buffalo Wild Wings to see them play in the National Championship at 3 p.m. on Sunday.  Come down and support the ‘Cats as they go for their sixth National Championship.”

Buffalo Wild Wings is located at 1741 Maple Avenue in downtown Evanston.

  • David Waymire

    Hey, a .500 record is Nirvana to those of us who survived the late 70s/early 80s! I watched a lot of ugly losses from the stands in those days.
    David Waymire
    Medill 1978

  • Mark

    Things heating up here in Ohio for Tressel. People are starting to contact the OSU Board of Trustees and pressure is mounting to change the earlier blind support of Tressel.

  • DT

    Very sobering stat with only one team in the Big Ten (Ohio State) having a winning record against Top 25 Teams in the so called, “Fitz Era” since 2006. Should be some type wake up call for the regionally myopic on just how much College Football has changed since the 85 Scholarship Rule was implemented…

    Also, with apologies to the Purple Kool Aid Drinkers who post here, the new contract for Fitz with an 18-24 Big Ten record to date–would not happen anywhere in BCS/AQ Conference football sans NU… More power to him for negotiating that deal…

  • DT

    In the interest of accuracy… 18-22 Big Ten Record…
    My Bad…

  • cece

    nice that the BTN will show the semi, even if on tape delay, and that they will show the final, albeit not from the beginning if the baseball goes long. NU Lax should be at the top of everyone’s thought list right now. to be in the final 4, 7 times, to play for the national championship 6 straight times, to win 5 straight times, is an awesome example for all the rest of the purple to replicate. prayers and love and thoughts to the awesome women who play lax for NU!!!!

  • GTom


    Please enlighten us mere purple Kool-Aid drinkers…

    – Who would you rather see coaching this team (has to be somebody who would actually accept a position at NU)?
    – How succsessful would they need to be for you to retain them?
    – How long would they have in order to achieve that success?
    – If they are that successful, how would you keep them from going somewhere else (ala Barnett)?

    I may understand an objection with regard to the 10 year length, but if memory serves me right, you’re in the win next year or you’re done camp, in which case I think you need to answer the above questions before throwing stones. Even at 10 years, any new coach is probably going to get a five year contract, so basically you’re trading Fitz for two potential bites at what is behind door number two, and hope that one works out and stays. I’ll take my chances with Fitz.

    As for Top 25 victories, there are 120 teams in college football, of which only 25 are ranked. If you do the math, that means that 88% of football games involving a ranked team are likely to pit a ranked versus an unranked opponent. So, in 88% of the games, the unranked squad would need to win 50% of the time to achieve breakeven – a huge number of upsets. The figure says nothing about college football, or 85 scholarships, or anything else, other than you are probably really, really good if you have a winning record versus the top 25.

  • wildcat6


    Count me in as another unenlightened purple Kool-aid drinker. Well said.

  • Smolmania

    Ranked best in BCS in APR progress and second only to Penn? And we’re purple Kool-Aid drinkers?

    You’re correct, this contract could not have happened anywhere else. That’s why we are different. Our teams wreak havoc with the myth that smart players can’t compete in the big kids’ sports of football and basketball. And we do that because of the people we have in charge of those teams. So, give me teams that compete with the best on the field, and absolutely kick their asses in terms of academics and contributions to the community off the field. Give me Fitz and Carmody any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. And give me some hot sauce to go with that Kool-Aid!

  • DT

    @ Smolmania.
    We no doubt agree that Fitz would not have gotten a contract of the nature he did at any other BCS affiliated institution. I also agree, that any guy mixing apples and oranges about being “Ranked best in BCS in APR progress” is a Purple Kool Aid Drinker. For my nickel, as a football fan, I want to see NU in The Top 25 of the BCS for on-field performance. Where the hell does Penn, as an FCS member even come into the comparison? Are we back in the 80’s again, comparing NU’s so called elite academics with The Ivy League for justification and self esteem per a mediocre showing over the last 5 years on field? I won’t even touch our basketball situation. The names, Duke, Stanford, and Vanderbilt should be enough…
    @ GTom…
    Don’t agree with your Byzantine analysis on the Top 25. Plain and simple, The Ten has seemingly not done well out of conference in recent years against quality programs. Further, if you don’t see the fact that the 85 Scholarship rule has enabled more and different programs to be in that Top 25, you don’t see the forest for the trees, or drink the Big Ten Kool Aid as well. Consider this… I’d say, Northwestern would have been the #5 most successful program in The WAC over the last five years… Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State all have much more to show for their efforts, including BOWL WINS… In terms of your question, “Who would I rather see coaching NU”, let’s just say, I’d be quite comfortable with Chris Peterson, June Jones/Greg McMackin, Chris Ault, or Pat Hill tangibly bringing experience, track record and expertise, we all hope Pat Fitzgerald acquires in the life of his ten year guaranteed employment contract…

    Purple Kool Aid for all!

  • GTom

    Oh DT,

    I love that you take exception to my “Byzantine analysis”, which is just how the numbers mathematically work out and has no subjectivity tied to it whatsoever. The vaunted SEC has only one team (Auburn) over the last five years with a winning top 25 record at 13-10 (Florida and LSU are each at .500 at 12-12). I’m just saying that the stat you highlighted doesn’t mean what you think it does. Conference vs. conference performance is a different story (and please note that vs. top 25 includes in-conference games – you can eat your own and it doesn’t say anything about how you would do versus other conferences).

    It’s not even worth arguing with you about the WAC. You have absolutely nothing that you can present that would prove that point and I don’t think you would be open to an objective argument, anyway. I also love how you list one of the most sought after coaches in Peterson, and assume that he would be willing to come to NU. Fitz is 1-1 in his first two seasons against Chris Ault at Nevada during Fitz’s first two years, with the first loss less than three months after taking over the program (and in case you didn’t realize, Ault and Hill are getting up there in years).

    I’ll stop drinking the Kool-Aid if you stop trying to add the hemlock.

  • Smolmania

    June Jones? June freaking Jones? Great, let’s bring in some jucos and academic non-qualifiers and win a bowl game. That’s what’s important in life.

    I guess you’d want somebody like Jim Harrick to coach the basketball team. After all, he’s a proven “winner” isn’t he? Well, maybe his teams won some basketball games, but he sat across a desk from his boss, the athletic director, and lied to his face about his outlaw tactics and patent violations of the rules, and caused one of his assistant coaches to get blackballed from the profession because he refused to lie for him.

    There’s no one on this blog who wants to see us win more than I do. But I want to do it the right way, with the right people leading this young men. Give me Fitz’s integrity and class and love for this place — that I share — over any of your candidates any day.

  • Smolmania

    “these” not “this” young men

  • PBRCat

    The Ohio State University football scandals are beginning to boil over again. Hey, whatever it takes to win, right?

    Pat Fitzgerald may not be perfect, but he is probably the best person to coach Northwestern at present and for the foreseeable future. On occasion, I question his “in game” decisions, but he is improving. He is also an excellent spokesman for the football program and the university. Fitz is constantly promoting the football team. Northwestern and Minnesota are unique as the only two teams in the conference that have to compete against professional football teams in their markets.

    Fitzgerald may still be coaching the Wildcats after the Buckeyes throw the scandal tainted Jim Tressel overboard.

    If the National Football League does not resolve its labor/management difficulties in time to start the regular season, I think many Chicagoans are going to be following the Wildcats more closely this Fall.

    As someone who remembers the dismal seasons before 1995 and the consecutive game losing streak, Northwestern has made significant progress. The football program has not achieved everything that its fans could hope for, but things have improved and there is reason for cautious optimism about the future.

  • Mark

    Pass the purple kool aid laced with hemlock – my last thoughts will be happy at least. I won’t be embarrassed or ashamed of something I support avidly. I won’t have my last thoughts worrying about what happens to young men who come in and are used solely for some mistaken idea of “success” and knowing they’ll struggle for the rest of their lives because they made the wrong decision as a teenager. I’ll go out knowing that the young men in the program will graduate and be able to support their family – most likely with integrity and a sense of community.

  • DT

    Whose to say ANY of those coaches in the WAC or many others elsewhere who could do a quality job as Head Football Coach at NU, would want or take the gig… In your rush to judgment you incorrectly assume I’m advocating those guys in lieu of Fitz… I’m not… What I am saying, is that you, and many like you champion this ten year deal for a young man with a losing conference record in his first five years going ofer 3 bowl games as well… I’d hope you would be objective enough to acknowledge that in the case of Peterson, Ault, Jones/McMackin and Hill, all those guys have established track record, experience, and expertise. Fitz, is a work in progress at best, and while he is indeed a great spokesman for the program and unique fit (for the many reasons often pointed out on this blog) he is certainly not the only coach who could succeed. To my original point, Pat would be hard pressed to get the contract he did given his body of work to date at any other BCS affiliated insitution and should consider himself fortunate. Good point on The SEC vs. Top 25 by the way… Hey, at least they got a couple at .500!

    Yes, June Freeking Jones… The best offensive mind in the college football game today… I’d bet the ranch, Jones would have NU winning the Big Ten in 3 years, and in a BCS bowl in 4-5… That said, we will never know with him locked up at SMU and Fitz here for life… We need to score points and his teams get it done… Further, if Juco player works hard, gets his grades up, and shows a commitment to an NU education, sure, let him in… The American Way…

  • vIowa and vWisconsin?

    LtP, what are our trends versus particular opponents? Bragging that we’re better than Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana in the Fitz era doesn’t really do much for us (though I know not to take it for granted given the pre-’95 status quo) — but I know we’ve had some success against Iowa and Wisconsin (other than last season) in recent years, right?

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