Media 2010 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats:
The End of "The Heinz Line"?

by GoUPurple

The annual college football magazines have appeared at the newsstands, offering their picks and predictions. 
The slate of previews typically begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes with the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its official front runner.

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, most of these previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring the biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings) is 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 Big Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.

For 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, has posted a recap page of what the larger 'Net and print publications predict for NU.  Here are the
2010 Wildcat predictions:
  • 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. 
  • Athlon, 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 Baylor.
  • Also placing NU just above the Heinz Line:  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, 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 nationally.
  • 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 Demos.
  • 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).