Media 2010 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats:
The End of "The Heinz Line"?
The annual college football magazines have appeared at the
offering their picks and predictions. The slate of previews
begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes
the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its
In part due to the economic crisis, and partially due to the shift from
print to online media, there are fewer preview magazines for college
football than there have been in other years. Athlon and Lindy's are
still around to inaugurate the preview season, and Phil Steele's
publication remains the most popular, but others have closed shop
or moved entirely to the Internet.
Typically, the print prognosticators do not favor NU. Of course,
previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring
biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings)
a profitable strategy. However, NU has occasionally bucked that trend
and the conventional
thinking: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a
Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.
the past few years, however, most media typically placed NU at ninth
place in the conference, ahead of Indiana and one school from the group
of Illinois, Michigan State or Minnesota. There is also what I
call the "Heinz Line" at the 57 spot nationally: if a previewer favors
NU, it will place the 'Cats just above the 57th spot among the ranked
Division I-A teams; a bad prognostication consigns NU to a lower
rank. If the sportswriter has no overly optimistic or pessimistic
feel for the team, he will invariably rank NU at 57.
However, NU is riding back-to-back bowl seasons with nine and eight
wins, respectively. For the first time in nearly a decade, the
media could break the Heinz Line rule and propel the 'Cats higher in
the national preseason rankings and picks. Reader expectations or
no, most of these publications are likely tired of being burned by
constantly under-picking the 'Cats.
The Recap of the 2009 Predictions
As for last year's previews and predictions, the most accurate was from Athlon Magazine.
Athlon predicted a sixth-place finish for NU in the Big Ten, the
highest pick among the major media, and ranked NU 39th
nationally. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg gets an honorable mention for predicting between six and nine wins for NU in 2009.
The dog pick, however, also came from ESPN: Mark Schlabach called NU one of the
teams most likely to "freefall" in 2009 vs. 2008 and predicted no bowl
game for the 'Cats. Phil Steele came close to getting the 2009 dog pick: he slotted NU ninth in the conference, 70th nationally.
The 2010 List
Every summer since 2000, HailToPurple.com has posted a recap page
of what the larger 'Net and print publications predict for NU. Here are the 2010
- Let's start with one of the earliest preseason rankings, The Sporting News
and its May 2010 preseason top 100. TSN ranked NU #40 nationally,
and sixth in the Big Ten. As the summer progressed, TSN kept
getting more optimistic for NU. By August, TSN tabbed the
Wildcats to finish fifth in the conference. This is a surprising
pick, to say the
least, by TSN, which nearly always picks NU tenth (or worse) in the
conference and is always among the media sources that offers up the
lowest pick for the 'Cats. TSN's preseason rankings are full of
surprises: Purdue is ranked above the 'Cats, while Michigan State is
lower. Not a surprise: TSN tabs Ohio State second
nationally. TSN singles out Adonis Smith as a key Wildcat in the
fall, and predicts that NU will wind up in the Gator Bowl.
one of the remaining print annuals, slots NU at 49th in the division,
seventh in the conference. Among the players Athon is picking for
a big year: Quentin Davie, Drake Dunsmore, and Al Netter.
Athlon foresees a 7-5 record for the 'Cats (3-5 in the conference), and
a trip to the Texas Bowl to play Oklahoma State.
- Another big print annual, Lindy's,
puts NU closer to the old Heinz Line, at 55th (seventh in the Big
Ten). Lindy's ranks Michigan over the 'Cats, but has NU just over
Purdue in the picks.
- The always-anticipated Phil Steele
ranks NU 54th in the FBS list, seventh in the conference, again just
below Michigan. Steele predicts the Texas Bowl for NU, playing
- Also placing NU just above the Heinz Line: CollegeFootballNews.com.
In its preseason rankings, CFN has NU in 53rd, below Michigan and
Purdue. CFN predicts that NU will go 7-5 in 2010, and calls out
the weaknesses at QB and running back.
- Tom Dienhart, writing for Rivals.com,
revives the Heinz Line, ranking the 'Cats 57th. NU is placed into
the seventh slot in the Big Ten, over Purdue and the Minny-Illini-Indy
bloc, and behind MSU. Rivals mentions the usual suspects for
strengths (offensive line, the linebackers, Dunsmore, Davie, Mabin,
Browne, Bryant, and Demos). Strangely, he lists Persa as a
"weakness," and the running game as something to "keep an eye on,"
reversing the positions most other writers use for them.
- Internet statistician and ranking mogul James Howell
has been offering his rankings and game predictions for many
years. For the 2010 preseason he also slots NU close to the usual
place, at 55th, sandwitched between Notre Dame and UCLA. However,
Howell ranks NU sixth in the conference: he puts Michigan at 61st
- Blue Ribbon Yearbook
used to be all over the newsstands; now it is only available by phone
or Internet order. BRY is fairly optimistic for the 'Cats,
putting them in sixth place in the conference, ahead of the
Wolverines. Blue Ribbon singles out Drake Dunsmore and Stefan
- ESPN's Adam Rittenberg picks NU sixth in the Big Ten. Rittenberg likes frontrunner Ohio State to take the conference title.
- Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel
is optimistic for the 'Cats and has NU and Michigan State tied for
fifth place in the Big Ten, predicting 4-4 records for each in
conference play, and 8-4 overall. S.I. calls Coach Fitz the Big Ten's
"coach on the rise," pointing out that Fitz's 17 wins in the past two
seasons are NU's most since 1995-'96.
- CBS's Dennis Dodd
goes with the consensus pick and tabs Ohio State as the best in the Big
Ten. He slots NU in seventh place, ahead of Purdue and just
behind Penn State and Michigan. Dodd has MSU in fourth, as the
Big Ten's surprise team.
- The final preseason polls
are out: NU, unranked in both, received two points in the Coaches'
Poll, and no points in the AP Poll (NU's opponent, Central Michigan,
did pick up two points in the AP Poll).