'Cat2k Page


'Cat2K: The GoUPurple Review
of the 2000 Season
The 2000 season was among the most exciting in Wildcat history.  We witnessed NU beating two ranked opponents on the road (for the first time in at least 40 years), Wildcat scores of 52, 54, and 61 points, and the greatest comeback in school history.   What follows are excerpts from comments posted during the course of this thrilling season.  Except where cited, the posts were written by the Senior Editorial Staff of the GoUPurple Site (i.e., GoUPurple).

Just Six Weeks Until 'Cat2K [posted July 20]

Camp Kenosha is just a few weeks away, and Big Ten football isn't be far behind.  Most of the national college football gurus are expecting modest results from NU this year.  The 'Cats might not be playing for a conference title this fall, but look for them to surprise a lot of people very early into the season.

'Cat2K Nears... [posted August 6]

With 'Cat2k almost here, it seems that many fans are concerned about the rollover to the new 2000 season, and the possibility of the meddlesome "'Cat2k Bug."  Experts point to prophesies of doom and to last season's 3-8 record and predict the worst.  Gullible fans, in typical knee-jerk, run with the herd, group-think fashion, are stocking their basement survival shelters with canned goods, ammunition, bottled water, bottled beer, DSS hookups, and copies of Athlon and Street and Smith's.  Some even think that the lights won't work the night of the season opener-- the 'Cats will be playing in the dark, and returning to the Dark Ages.

This, of course, will not come to pass.  NU will do just fine, and everyone will breathe a big sigh of relief (and regret that they spent $500.00 on 300 cans of Chef Boyardee Chili-Mac and $4.99 on Lindy's Big Ten/Notre D*me Preview).  Sure, the Big Ten season will be tough, but there is no reason to expect that NU won't be a tough team as well.  Walker has had a year and a half to settle in, and the players also have had time to adjust.  The offensive line should be much improved, the receivers are all Big Ten-level and should be healthy, Damien Anderson is poised to carry on the success NU's running backs have had for much of the last decade, and Zak Kustok....  well, we shall see, but I expect Kustok to be a conference surprise.  Kustok could very well repeat what Kurt Kittner achieved Downstate last season.

The defense was ready last year, and it (and its potential) remains ready this season.  Once NU's time of possession improves (as it undoubtedly will), the defense's potential will be realized.  Aside from its time on the field last year and the problems this caused the defense, are there other opportunities for improvement?  Of course, but the needed improvements are a fine-tuning, not a major overhaul.  Fans complained about the number of blown, near interceptions.  What hasn't been as widely discussed is that NU shattered its season record for passes broken up (60 PBU's last season, breaking the record of 44).  Blackmon now already holds NU's career record for PBU's.  All it will take is a little less time on the field, a few more errant balls caught, a few more turnover battles won, and-- watch out.

The experts believe 'Cat2k will bring mediocrity; they ask, "why believe otherwise?"  There is a mountain of reasons to believe otherwise.  The bigger question is, do the players believe otherwise?  Do the coaches believe in the team?  Do the players have the will and attitude of a Winner?  They have the tools; do they have the will and belief?  That is the true unknown on the eve of 'Cat2k.  My prediction is that the team won't be in a bunker this fall-- they'll be on the field as champions, and the gurus, experts, consultants, and pundits will be wrong.

It won't be the first time.

'Cats in Kenosha [posted August 13]

The NU football team left last week for The University of Wisconsin at Parkside's campus near Kenosha for pre-season practice.  This is the ninth season that the Wildcats have sweat it out at "Camp Keno-where," one of the many improvements to the program that came during the Barnett era  (NU was the first Big Ten team to institute an off-campus training program).  Some fans who wonder if Randy Walker's training style might be too rigorous should keep in mind what Barnett said about the Kenosha program: 

"The day we leave Kenosha is total jubilation for the players.  .  .  . We don't take our team pictures until after Kenosha, because I don't want anybody who didn't survive Kenosha in that picture."

Quotes About The Coming Season [posted August  13]

"Our number one goal is to make a bowl game.  We're going to be a lot more focused this year, a lot more disciplined, and at the end of the year we'll be playing somewhere warm." --Kevin Bentley, preseason All-American

"By experience alone, the Wildcats should be better this season. Randy Walker did an amazing job in his first season considering the low talent level and injuries that decimated units of his team. They worked hard to get stronger in the off-season, but every program does 
that. The key is to get solid play at quarterback as the running game and defense are good enough to keep them in most games.... Don't be surprised if they pull off an upset at home against Illinois or Purdue. A five win season is within reach but they have to stay healthy."  --College Football News

"...Another concern is that I hope there is enough room on the bandwagon to accompany...  all the naysayers when they jump on board for the ride as we head into the Big Ten with a 3-0 record."  --A Purple Reign poster (DaCat)

"Uh, are you gonna eat that last bear claw?"  --Barry Alvarez

"Northwestern will finish 86th in the nation."  --Sports Illustrated, which also ranked our schedule the seventh toughest.

"We've made great strides with our conditioning program.  The guys are taking it all to heart. We've improved physically. We're stronger, bigger and faster than we were last year.  Now we get the fun part. I love playing football. And we get to start playing football now. We've spent the last nine months preparing for the 11 weeks of the season. We're at that point now where we get to play the game we love." --Randy Walker

"Why can't we go to a bowl game? The sky's the limit for us."  --Damien Anderson

 Kenosha Concludes [posted August 20]

The ninth annual NU football practice at The University of Wisconsin at Parkside's campus near Kenosha concludes this Tuesday, August 22.  The team held its pre-season scrimmage on August 19 and, while early reports from camp were very positive, reports from Saturday's scrimmage described a less than glorious performance by the NU offense.  Zak Kustok went 3 of 9 and gained just 18 yards.

Kustok (and others) pointed out that the defense performed as most expected:  "I'm not going to say the defense had an advantage, but they had a good idea of what we were going to do," Kustok said afterwards.

Tony Stauss fared better (and played for one series with the first team offense) with 50% of his passes complete and 55 yards.  He was, however, picked off by Chasda Martin for the day's lone interception.

According to Kenosha County's sports reporter, Walker  has liked Stauss's recent performance.  "I think Tony's had a very good camp and he's moved himself into position to compete.  We wanted to give him a go (in practice) with the (starters) and he's earned that."

Damien Anderson was on the sidelines with a minor injury, as was a host of other Wildcats.  Jon Schweighardt, although not 100% healthy, did participate.   Schweighardt caught 5 passes for 40 yards, including the one TD pass of the day, thrown not by Kustok or Stauss, but by Matt Danielson.  However, the airborne assault we have been told to expect this Fall was not, by most accounts, present Saturday.  Has the 4 WR set slipped from the top of Walker's playbook?  Were the wide receivers simply not healthy enough Saturday to execute it?  Or are our offensive weapons now "in hiding," at least until next Thursday?  We'll find out in a matter of days.

Northern Illinois Preview [posted August 20]

The Wildcats lead this series four wins to none, with one tie.  NIU has had some rough luck during the off-season: two of their best running backs, William Andrews and Ivory Bryant, are gone because of academic problems. . . .

Pre-season mags predicted (before Andrews and Bryant departed) NIU 65th or higher, and 2nd in the MAC west.  They might still be correct-- NIU could very well finish with a winning season.  Their last winning season was 1990.  This is also the last year that the 'Cats played NIU.  Northwestern won, 24-7.

Will the Wildcats prevail this time?  The more important question heading to Saturday is: Will the United T-Shirt Gun finally have the thrust it needs to deliver into the cheap seats?

Last year, NIU coach Joe Novak said, " The time is now.  It is time.  You can't rebuild forever.  Hey, I'm not predicting a championship caliber football team.  I will say this: we can be competitive.  We have a chance every Saturday."

They will be competitive.  However, we play 'em on a Thursday. . .  No chance.

Prediction: NU 35, NIU 10.  NIU goes on to a 7-4 record.

 Wildcats Defeat Huskies 35-17 [posted August 31]

Northwestern got the season underway with an auspicious start, beating Northern Illinois 35-17 Thursday night at Ryan Field.  The NU score was the highest so far for the Walker era, and it was also the largest margin of victory for the era.  The Wildcats had a few problem areas (pass coverage, kickoffs, and occasional lapses in focus which resulted in penalties and problems at the end of the game), but they were eclipsed by the team's strengths-- there were plenty of strengths on display!

Zak Kustok seemed comfortable and in control.  His passes were accurate, and his underthrow problem from last year seems eliminated.  His deep passes looked well-thrown.  Kustok had no interceptions, and went 16 out of  27 for 176 yards, with two touchdown passes.  He  did, however, cough up the ball twice.  He recovered the first fumble.  The second went to the Huskies, who scored on the resulting drive at the end of the game.   Zak can run, and had several great rushing plays, gaining  33 yards on the ground.  The wide receivers looked good, especially Schweighardt and Foster.  Simmons was simply fantastic.  He looked All-World on several punt returns, with Musso-like speed and moves.  All of the running backs were solid, including true freshman Torri Stuckey, who really gutted it out to get some tough yards.

The defense was spotty, with occasional bursts of truly inspired play.  Particularly outstanding was the third quarter goal line stand, when the 'Cat D denied NIU a score after what seemed like 30 downs from within the NU 5. Missouri and Bentley looked  possessed.  Blackmon had a great game as well

Walker's game plan was varied, yet methodical.  Randy also showed that he can play as aggressive a game as anyone out there, going for it on 4th and 6 at mid-field (with a deep pass!).   The Wildcats are now 5-0-1 all-time against Northern Illinois, and  will meet them again (scheduled tentatively) in 2005.

Duke Preview [posted August 31]

Duke leads this series 7-3.  NU lost at home to the Devils in 1998 in one of the most miserable games in Wildcat history, then won last year in (NU’s first ever) overtime, 15-12, at Wallace Wade Stadium.  Duke has a second-year coach who went 3-8 last year, is depending heavily on the performance of its quarterback, is picked to finish near the bottom of its conference, and has the potential to improve to a surprising degree (sound familiar?).

Duke is young.  There are at least 19 red-shirt and true freshman listed as either backups or starters.

On offense, while Duke finished 36th in the nation in passing, the Blue Devils finished 111th in rushing. .  .  .

On defense: a unit that returns only three starters is already hurting.  6-8, 248-pound tackle Nate Krill has yet to return to practice following offseason surgery on both shoulders. . . 

Franks will get the job done at Duke, and the Airborne Assault will prevail, but it will take at least the first half of the season to ramp up.  Results might not be seen until 2001.

Prediction:  NU 17, Duke 10.  The game won’t be as close as the score might imply.

TCU Preview [posted Sept. 3]

11-0.  10-1.  TCU fans are predicting nothing short of a BCS bowl for the Frogs this year.  Anyone daring to forecast 9-2 or less is considered a heretic.  This is TCU's final year in the WAC, before they bolt for Conference USA.  Even if TCU runs the table this year, chances are that their WAC affiliation (and the Sister-Catherine's-School-for-the-Blind-easy schedule that comes with being in the WAC) will send the Frogs back to the Mo-Bile Bowl again, rather than to the BCS. 

Last year's meeting was the first between Northwestern and Texas Christian, and the 'Cats upset TCU 17-7.  Sam "Damn!" Simmons torched the Ryan Field sod with an 87 yard punt return for a touchdown, and Nick Kreinbrink turned in what was actually quite a good performance: 11 completions for 220 yards and no picks.  More importantly, NU shut down TCU's starting QB (Batteaux) and held Tailback LaDainian Tomlinson under 100 yards.

Tomlinson, a 2000 Heisman contender, will be back, and he and his amphibious playmates won't have forgotten what happened in Evanston.  Also returning from last year: no fewer than nine starters from the Frog defense.  Whether or not this is a good thing has yet to be seen (the defense gave up an average 18 points per game last year).  We'll know more when the Frogs take on-- and likely wax-- Nevada on Sept. 9.

The Wildcats will face a ranked opponent, tons of revenge-minded frogs, and a sun-drenched Carter Stadium.  Whether or not they face these triumphantly will depend on one thing: NU's pass defense.  Our offense will prevail, we will stop Tomlinson again, but what about QB Casey Printers?  Prediction: the objective prediction is TCU, 24-21.  However, what the hell good is a fan Web page if you're going to be objective? NU rallies in the heat of the fourth and pulls out that last-minute Kustok to Schweighardt jaw-popper.

It's NU over TCU, 28-24.

NU Overcomes Yellow Flags, Blue Devils [posted Sept. 10]

Northwestern beat Duke last Saturday, 38-5, a convincing and impressive win that told us a lot about this team and its character.  One thing is certain: as advertised, this team is improved from last year.

Positives from the Duke game include a fantastic performance by Damien Anderson (187 yards in 21 carries and touchdown runs of 56 and 66 yards).  Kustok also looked good, going 16-of-27 for 197 yards and two touchdowns.  Zak has yet to throw an interception this season.  Wide  receivers were also very good, especially freshman Roger Jordan, who played mission-focused ball and has potential to be a real star.  As for the defense, what more do you need to know than four interceptions and six sacks?  Bentley once again showed why he is a pre-season All American.

Another positive can be seen in how the team responded to the penalties in the first half (and there were a lot of penalties in the first half.  By the end of the day, NU had lost 135 yards in penalties).  Walker, apparently not the kind of guy to get all weepy and "Win one for the Gipper" at halftime, did something he had never done in 11 years as a head coach: he addressed the entire team at the half.  "I felt we needed to make a statement and it needed to come from me,"  Walker said, referring to his message to the troops regarding their focus.  It worked.

Negatives from the game?  Sure, there were some-- NU's play in the first quarter was surprisingly sloppy  and kickoff coverage remains an issue (despite Brian Huffman's outstanding debut-- he has incredible leg strength!).  However, the four biggest disappointments for me from this game did not even involve the team.  They were, in order:

#4: The Chicago Tribune.  Just a suggestion: when your local Big Ten team plays at home and routs a team, try to at least mention it on the front page teaser, mmmm-kay?  Thanks.

#3: The PA system.  Just so I have it straight: NU is a Big Ten team, and one that just spent umpteen million dollars to renovate its stadium, and it can't get a decent set of speakers?  This is the third season straight that the PA has screwed up during a game.  Benny's World of Wedding DJs  tests its speaker systems more extensively than does NU. 

#2: The  officiating.  Yes, NU was very undisciplined for a surprising amount of the game and suffered many legitimate penalties, but the crew for this game was just gawd-awful.  An ACC crew Duke brought with them, they didn't even try to behave like they weren't homers; that is, when they weren't totally confused and trying to find out where in the game they were.  And you have to love them picking up non-call flags, thrown in order to stunt NU's no-huddle offense ("Oops! Sorry!  hee-hee....").

and the #1 disappointment:  23,209 last Saturday (and just over 23,000 the week before).   There is no excuse.  None.

Wildcats Fall to TCU, 41-14 [posted Sept. 17]

OK, first the good news: NU did not suffer 135 yards in penalties again last Saturday.  The bad news: just about everything else.  TCU proved the better team and deserving of its #20 ranking as they waxed the Wildcats 41-14 in front of a surprisingly small crowd in Ft. Worth.  I say surprisingly small because of the draw of TCU tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, a Heisman Trophy candidate who showed more than enough power to back up the hype.  Tomlinson scorched the Texas earth and NU's D. for 243 yards.  Just a thought: 243 yards would place a Wildcat runner third, all-time, in NU's record book.

There were some 'Cats who had good performances Saturday, despite the outcome.  Napoleon Harris and Billy Silva looked very good.  Brian Huffman continued his end zone assaults on kickoffs.  And on offense, wide receivers Kunle Patrick, Sam "Damn!" Simmons, and Roger Jordan were all solid.

The Wildcats must work hard this week to ready for Wisconsin.  For the third week straight, kickoff coverage was weak.  The team and the coaches seemed to lack focus and did not seem prepared for TCU. . . .

So, what does one make of the Wildcats and their chances for 2000 after the TCU game?  Is TCU that good, is NU that bad, or was it just a day when nothing went right?  One quote to keep in mind:

"It just didn't seem possible that this could happen.  After all we'd been through... to get where we were, this was shattering.  It was so humiliating to lose that way.  I guess the best way to describe my feeling was 'traumatized.'"

Kustok?  Walker?  No, of course, the quote is from Barnett after the loss to Miami.  Is the TCU loss akin to our loss to Miami in '95 or Wake Forest in '96?  Or, is it more foreboding, like the '98 Duke game?  I believe it is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but closer to the former.  It is a game from which (assuming Walker is the coach we think he is) much can be learned.  More than any game in the last three years, lessons can come from this loss that will help the team through the rest of the season.

Wisconsin Preview [posted Sept. 17]

Ron "If you can beat 'em, eat 'em" Dayne is gone, and 26 players have been temporarily sidelined by the great shoe scandal of 2000 (they received unadvertised discounts at a shoe store), but Wisconsin is still a force to be reckoned with.  QB Brooks Bollinger is better than most people think, and Michael Bennett is taking his place as Dayne's successor as running back deluxe. . . .

Also spectacular in Wisconsin's 27-23 win was star cornerback Jamar Fletcher, with three interceptions.  However, fear not, 'Cat faithful: Fletcher will be riding pine and wearing regulation street shoes when the Badgers play NU. . . .

Keep this in mind, NU players: Fletcher got to choose which games to sit out (the NCAA never ceases to amaze!), and he chose to play Oregon and skip Cincinnati and NU.  "I just felt that Oregon was a tough team, especially on offense."  We'll see how wise that choice was very soon. 

Suspensions or not, Wisconsin has looked very flat so far.  They will play a game soon that will fire this team up; if NU happens to be that game, the 'Cats are in real trouble, and could be blown out.  However, if Wisconsin comes out flat again, and if NU is sufficiently angered over its performance last Saturday, there is an upset in the making.  Prediction: upset in the making-- NU 17, Wisc. 14.

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GRILLED CHEESE! NU StunsBadgers 47-44 [ posted Sept. 23]

The wait is over, the secret is out, and the shot has been heard around the country.  On Saturday Northwestern played with the attitude of true Wildcats, the hearts of warriors, and the savvy of a big-time football program, as the team shocked Wisconsin, edging them 47-44 in double overtime.  ESPN named Zak Kustok the player of the game before the game was decided; in fact, it appeared Wisconsin would pull the game out.  Kustok deserved the accolade-- his performance was a defining moment of the last three years of NU football.

'Cats Look Good Early
NU struck first, when Kustok kept the ball and ran 28 yards for a touchdown.  One would have thought that the Camp Randall announcer had just declared the reinstatement of prohibition-- 75,000 hostile screaming voices went wonderfully still.  Somewhere in the distance a dog barked and a brat began burning to a cinder on an unwatched grill.

Wisconsin claimed the next three scores, and the 'Cats trailed 16-7 at the half.  However, NU blew two additional scoring chances: after Michael Bennett ran 16 yards for a TD, the point after kick was blocked and was run back for what appeared to be a Wildcat two point conversion.  Unfortunately, the 'Cats were called for a block in the back on the run-back, and the play was declared dead.  Tim Long also missed a field goal that sailed wide right.  Even though it was a nine point game rather than just a four point deficit, there was definitely an electricity at halftime, a feeling that the other shoe was about to drop (as it were...) for the Badgers.

Tim Long: The Kick of His Career
Wisconsin appeared to have itself back on track at the start of the third quarter, and then Dwayne Missouri introduced himself to Brooks Bollinger and politely explained to him that the track went the other direction.  Missouri smacked Bollinger from the side, sending the ball into the eager and nurturing arms of Kevin Bentley.  NU was poised, two points from the lead.

After a Badger TD strike and a 22 yard FG by Long, NU entered the fourth quarter down 23-17.  Damien Anderson ran 69 yards into the endzone, and NU enjoyed a 24-23 lead.  The Anderson run was simply a perfect play.  The Wildcat O-line was textbook in its execution.   Just over a minute later, Bennett ran wild on our secondary, Wisconsin converted yet another third down, and-- a two point conversion later-- Wisconsin was up 31-24.

Northwestern answered with one of the most spectacular touchdown passes in recent memory.  Kustok found Derrick Thompson wide open in the endzone and connected for 28 yards.  The game became knotted at 31 each, and the Camp Randall faithful became uglier than Barry Alvarez after an eight-day doughnut bender.  With 51 seconds left, Wisconsin kicked what seemed to be a game winning 47 yard field goal.

Zak Kustok proceeded to show what a championship quarterback looks like.  Kustok remained calm and poised as he guided the 'Cats to two first downs and put them into field goal range with two seconds and no time outs left.  As the clock dribbled down, Tim Long kicked the ball from 46 yards.

Tim Long had never hit from 46 yards.  Never.  He has been the subject of relentless abuse from NU fans, who expected him to lose most of his kicking duties to the spectacular freshman Huffman. 

Tim Long hit from 46 yards.  Northwestern swapped TD's with Wisconsin in the first overtime and found itself a field goal down in the second overtime.  Damien Anderson then gave NU its biggest win in over three years, running 13 yards into a barely guarded Badger endzone.

Let the Fifth Quarter begin!

An Incredible Game! [posted Sept. 24]

Among the superlatives of the Wisconsin game: the last time NU scored 47 points against a Big Ten opponent was the 48-0 pounding of Illinois in 1970.  NU had never before scored so high against Wisconsin.  NU's 17 point explosion in the fourth quarter was the best output by the Wildcats in a fourth quarter since the 1997 Penn State game.

The game snapped Wisconsin's 11 game winning streak and effectively ended their dreams of a Rose Bowl three-peat.

This was NU's first double overtime game, and its second overtime game ever.  NU is now 2-0 in games that move past regulation.

Kudos in this game go to just about every single player, and to the entire coaching staff.  Anderson was truly special, and had 174 yards.  Roger Jordan, Sam Simmons, and Teddy Johnson got the job done.  Bentley, Harris, Silva, Missouri, Covington, Huffman and Long were fantastic.  Zak Kustok had 76 yards... rushing.  Kustok had 278 yards passing and no picks. 

Finally, what can you say about Randy Walker and his staff?  His game plan was brilliant, an incredible feat considering the previous week's plan and execution.  Walker, Wilson, and Brown were cool, collected, and methodical all day.  Walker is on his way to taking his place alongside Thistlethwaite, Waldorf, Voigts, Parseghian, and Barnett. . . . 

Michigan State Preview [posted Sept. 24]

Michigan State might just be as hard to fathom as NU is for its Big Ten opponents.  The Spartans are undefeated, but did not look terribly impressive in their first wins of the season, against Marshall and Missouri.  They made several critical errors against Notre Dame, but managed a last minute victory. . . .

. . . [Bobby Williams] is 4-0 as head coach, and Michigan State has won nine consecutive games at home.  Prediction:  MSU should extend that streak to 10 games in a very close match.  MSU 34, NU 31.  However, I'm less confident of predicting this game than any other this season.  MSU could very well come into this game riding high from the Notre Dame win and looking past NU.  A quick NU lead might completely deflate the Spartans.   If the first quarter ends with NU having even a one point lead, then my prediction is moot, and NU will win

37-17! Wildcats Dominate the Spartans [posted Oct. 2]

So, what are the excuses now?  What, no cries of "fluke" in overtime?  No suspensions to hold up the lion's share of blame and disappointment?  No "their gimmicky offense took us by surprise"?  What are the excuses for not believing NU is for real?

Again: the secret is out, and the excuses are wilting like roses in Madison.

Northwestern showed Saturday that they can now play anytime, with anyone.  That includes playing on the road for the third straight week.  That includes playing in the middle of the Big Ten season.  And that includes playing another ranked, undefeated opponent.   In a display of dominance, the Wildcats took Spartan freshman QB Smoker and near-freshman coach Williams and hazed them brutally into the Big Ten as NU cruised to a 37-17 win.  For Smoker, it was a long day that would not end.  His one week-long status as BMOC and Irish killer ended quickly, however.  For Williams, 4-0 coming into the game, it was a nasty Big Ten debut. 

'Cats Never Trailed
Northwestern looked good from the beginning, with Kustok scrambling for first downs and Anderson moving the 'Cats into field goal range.  NU and M.S.U. swapped field goals and touchdowns in the first quarter.  With the score at the end of the first quarter knotted at 10 each, the same electricity that charged the air at halftime in Madison fired up the air again Saturday-- there was a feeling that NU would win, again.  The Wildcats appeared confident and businesslike, while the Spartans spent much of the rest of the day frustrated and shaking off disbelief.

The feeling began to blossom into outright celebration in the second quarter as Anderson raced into the endzone for a 33 yard touchdown run, and the NU offense began piling on first downs.  Anderson went into the Spartan's zone again in the third quarter, after a spectacular 41 yard run.  Damien had a great day, racking up a career high 224 yards.

Another Incredible Game
Kustok also had another fantastic weekend and tore through the air for 160 yards.  He missed some long passes, but he hit them when it counted.  Overall, the NU offense piled up 504 yards, its second straight game gaining over 500 yards.

There are some clear opportunities for improvement.  Yet again, NU's kick coverage was poor.  This area is actually getting worse.  The only silver lining on the kick coverage is that it is at least coming after an NU score!  The Wildcat pass defense also has had some bumps in the road.

These problems are minuscule, however, compared to the stellar performances by almost everyone on the team.  While Anderson took breathers from blasting the Spartans into next Tuesday, Kevin Lawrence showed that he is a terrific rusher who can make plays.  The wide receivers and the offensive line were great, and the defensive line looked much better.  Missouri had another blinding hit that resulted in a fumble.  The linebacking corps were also very impressive. . . .  How great is it that Salem Simon is back at 100%?  Simon was dependable and gritty, and his fumble recovery helped to seal the deal versus M.S.U.

Yes, I wrote last week:

"MSU 34, NU 31.  However, I'm less confident of predicting this game than any other this season.  MSU could very well come into this game riding high from the Notre Dame win and looking past NU.  A quick NU lead might completely deflate the Spartans.   If the first quarter ends with NU having even a one point lead, then my prediction is moot, and NU will win."

Thank God my prognostication ability is awful.  This was the first week I predicted the 'Cats to lose, and it just might be the last. . . .

Northwestern Ranked #22 in A.P. Poll;
'Cats Claim #24 Spot in Coaches' Poll [posted Oct. 2]Northwestern had lost a heartbreaking game to Wake Forest on September 6, 1997.  For the second season in a row, the 'Cats were upended by the upstart, underdog Deacons.  NU had lost more than the game, however: it also lost its #21 ranking, which it had built with a shutout versus Oklahoma two weeks earlier.  Northwestern remained unranked for over three seasons. . . until last Sunday.  For the fourth season in the "Expect Victory" era, NU has cracked the national polls. . . .

Indiana Preview [posted Oct. 2]

Remember what Dyche Stadium looks like?  It will have been four weeks since the Wildcats last took to their home field, and much has happened since then.  Northwestern comes into this game looking at the very real possibility of marching toward a bowl game for the first time in four seasons.  For Indiana, the 2000 season has had a rocky start, with heartbreaking losses to Kentucky and NC State. . . . 

The Hoosiers believe that they have turned the corner.  Their defense, mocked throughout most of last year, shut the Bearcats out in the second half and came up with the necessary stops against the Hawkeyes last Saturday.  However, the I.U. Defense allowed Iowa's QB, Beutjer, to post 380 yards in the air.   The Indiana D. will have fits when it confronts the balanced NU pass and ground attack.

Antwaan Randle El rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the sixth player in major college history to run for at least 2,000 yards and pass for 4,000.  El has hit his stride and will be a force to be reckoned with Saturday.

The Hoosiers have, in fact, turned the corner.  Unfortunately, they've turned it smack into a fired-up Wildcat team that will feast on the Cream and Crimson.  Prediction: Anderson is uncontained, Kustok is unstoppable, Bentley is unforgiving, and NU's Big Ten record remains unblemished: NU 42, Indiana 31.

Back in Black: 'Cats Poised to Pounce [posted Oct. 5]
This week, for the first time,  the bandwagon has crossed paths with the Pickle Boat.  Everyone, from the national media to (gasp!) Chicago's press, have taken notice of NU's team.  Among the quotes from around the country in the last few days:

From Sports Illustrated:
"The Wildcats, the country's only team with two road wins over ranked teams [!], look to continue their sudden success at home. . . . The Northwestern Wildcats might be surprising everyone else, but they're not surprising themselves. 'It's all about expectations, and when I looked at that schedule I expected us to be sitting 2-0 in the conference right now,' quarterback Zak Kustok said. 'If you look at those first games and think we're going to be lucky to win either of them, then you will be lucky to win either of them.'"

From The Sporting News:
"With all due respect to the people in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio, the best team in the Big Ten might just reside in Evanston, Ill., where the Hoosiers will play Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats are coming off upsets at Wisconsin and at Michigan State and, for the first time since facing Duke on Sept. 9, they are playing a game they should win.  . . .  This team is the real deal.  The Wildcats proved that the victory over Wisconsin wasn't a fluke by dismantling Michigan State, 37-17.  It was the second straight week the Wildcats went into a ranked team's home territory and pulled an upset.  The Wildcats are playing with incredible confidence on both sides of the ball."

From ESPN:
" [Our] coach of the week:  Northwestern's Randy Walker.  Gary who?  Walker's team is 4-1, including two consecutive Big Ten road victories against ranked teams, which is only slightly harder to do than splitting the atom. The Wildcats stuck then-No. 6 Wisconsin with 47 points and hung 37 on late, great No. 15 Michigan State. Walker's attitude and his spread offense is transforming Northwestern into a bowl team." 

From CBS:
"The Wildcats have walked into Wisconsin and Michigan State each of the past two weeks and ruined unbeaten seasons. They are believed to be the only I-A school in the country to beat two ranked teams on the road this season. That hasn't been done at Northwestern in at least 35 years, which is how far the program's records go back.  Walker has taken those players and molded them into the surprise of the Big Ten and the country. --Again."

From NBC:
"Armed with a national ranking after a stunning start to conference play, Northwestern tries to sustain its momentum at Dyche Stadium [MSNBC's wording, not mine!] in a Big Ten clash against Indiana.  [The] Wildcats have used their spread offense to perfection."

Can NU sustain the momentum?  There's no reason to think that they cannot.  As long as they remain focused and driven, they should continue to blaze a trail of destruction through the conference and a path of honor in the national spotlight.  They've shown, to us and to themselves, that they have the strength, talent, and vision to defeat anyone.

It is going to be incredibly difficult to maintain that focus and drive, however.  NU isn't exactly used to this position, 1995 and 1996 notwithstanding.  There is a possibility of a letdown.  One thing that might help prevent this is to make sure that the team has as much visible support as possible, at all times-- especially at home games.  Now is the time for every Wildcat fan who is capable, to come to Dyche and support the team.  The last four home games of 'Cat2K should be played with every seat occupied.

Wildcats on Top of the Big Ten After Routing Indiana [posted Oct 8]

This week, the numbers (almost) speak for themselves:

1.-- NU's place in the Big Ten:

1.  NORTHWESTERN 3-0 5-1
2. Ohio State 2-0 5-0
3. Michigan 2-1 4-2
4. Minnesota 2-1 4-2
5. Purdue 2-1 4-2
6. Indiana 1-1 2-3
7. Iowa 1-1 1-5
8. Penn State 1-2 2-5
9. Illinois 0-2 3-2
10. Michigan State 0-2 3-2
11. Dunkin' Donuts 0-3 3-3

2.-- It has been reported widely since the end of the Indiana game that Damien Anderson's back-to-back 200 yard games are the first consecutive 200 yard games by any NU player.  What has not yet been mentioned is that this is the first time an NU player has ever rushed for 200+ yards twice at all in a season. Up until now, the record has only been once, held by seven players, most recently (until 2000) by Darnell Autry (1996).  Until now, Autry held the NU career record for 200 yard games-- with two! 

6.-- Football players on ESPN's Heisman watch list.  Anderson is now on this list.

7.4-- Damien Anderson's season yards per carry so far.  The season record is held by (who else) Darnell Autry, with 5.2.  Anderson's productivity is staggering.

16.-- A school record number of penalties suffered during the IU game.  The 99 yards penalized, however, doesn't come close to the 144 yards NU lost in penalties vs. Iowa St. in 1953.

17.-- NU's spot this week on the AP Poll, ahead of Michigan, and up five spots.  NU is #18 on the CNN/Coaches' Poll, up six slots.  NU has now been ranked in both polls for two weeks.

24.-- Yards Damien Anderson was shy of NU's single game rushing record, vs. Indiana.  Anderson was removed from play early in the fourth quarter, when the game's outcome was certain.  Walker, when told during the game that Anderson was this close, is quoted to have said, "Well, he'll have to get it next week. . . You don't get records in the sixth game. . . We need him fresh."

1. Mike Adamle, '69 vs. Wisc. 316 yds.
2. Byron Sanders, '87 vs. Minn. 295 yds.
3. Damien Anderson, '00 vs. IU 292 yds.
4. Darnell Autry, '95 vs. Purdue 240 yds.
5. Bob Christian, '90 vs. Wisc. 227 yds.

33.-- Indiana's points Saturday, but the total is deceptive: 13 of those points came long after garbage time began.  NU's defense did exactly what it needed to: it contained Randle El enough to render him ineffective.  Randle El still passed for 165 yards, but he rushed for only 80, fumbled, and threw a pick (which Bentley played beautifully).

52.-- Most points scored by NU in a game since 1958.  So far, NU has rolled up 223 points, an average of 37 points per game.  At this rate, NU could finish the regular season with 409 points.  Compare this to the existing season record: 336 in 1996-- this includes the Citrus Bowl!

536.-- Yards, total NU offense last Saturday.  Simply incredible.

Purdue Preview [posted Oct. 8]

"After their shocking loss to Penn State last Saturday, the Boilermakers are struggling to reassess and regroup."  Well, it appears that Purdue has regrouped quite effectively.  After their last-minute victory over Michigan, they and Ohio State are the only two Big Ten teams that control their own Rose Bowl destinies.  Does Purdue still face problems?  They certainly do: their coach was booed for a questionable decision Saturday, their rushing game is sporadic (but seems to be improving), and their special teams are brutal (and also seem to be improving-- but how could they not?).

But their problems, as usual, are swept away by the Brees.  Brees swept Saturday to the tune of 286 yards, and will give NU's secondary nightmares for weeks to come.  However, Brees might just face three nightmares of his own: Missouri, Benley, and Harris know that their superior performance in this game will make noise throughout the football world.  NU's offense not only has produced during the first half of the season; it has gelled.  As long as they're up for the game, they will be a force.  Prediction: NU 37, Purdue 35.  Purdue came from 18 points down against Michigan.  This Saturday's game will not be over until the moment the Homecoming celebrants storm the Ryan Field sod. 

Celebrations on Hold; Wildcats Fall to Purdue 41-28; NU Still atop Big Ten Standings [Oct. 14]

The weather forecast, for the second week in a row, was wrong.  Predictions Friday called for rain showers; instead fans at the NU-Purdue match were treated to sunny, beautiful skies.  Unfortunately, that was all they were treated to, as predictions for a close game also proved miserably wrong.  Northwestern faced a superior team and stunk up the field in the process, receiving a 41-28 butt whipping from the red-hot Boilermakers.

Nearly every NU unit was off their game last Saturday, especially the defensive troops. . . .  Anticipated half-time adjustments never materialized; in fact, the third quarter all but doomed NU. 

However, perhaps the greatest disappointment in the game (besides the outcome) was NU's susceptibility to penalties.   For the past two weeks, Dyche Stadium has been refitted with artificial turf, made of yellow rayon. . . .

The Wildcats did show some strengths Saturday.  The wide receiving corps was fantastic, making circus catches and getting a lot of tough second effort yards.  Johnson, Patrick, Foster, Schweighardt, and Thompson all had a nice game.  Kustok went 18 for 28 and racked up 260 yards.  Matt Danielson, who played QB later in the fourth quarter after NU's fate had been sealed, continues to improve and impress.  And J.J. Standring and the NU punting unit did a great job.

A few other game notes: even though it was Homecoming and not a sellout, the stadium looked wonderful and the crowd was large and boisterous. . . .  The Purdue fans, usually a gracious bunch, were especially cordial and sporting.

Amazingly, even with the loss, NU remains atop the conference in a strange logjam with three other teams.  We have our next opponent, Minnesota, to thank for that...

Wildcats Prepare for Home Stretch [posted Oct. 22]

After a week away from the gridiron, Northwestern is getting ready for the final third of the 'Cat2K season.  Speculation is rife regarding the Big Ten's bowl destinies, the conference championship(s) and ranking, but one thing seems clear: we ain't seen nothin' yet. The last four games of the season promise to be some of the most entertaining football played by NU in the last four years.  With Ayeni back, Simmons returning (soon), the national media still keeping one eye on the Wildcats, and the offense playing great guns, NU has the makings of an engrossing epic.  Damien Anderson might have dropped off the media's radar screen, but the style of play defensively of all four of our final opponents ensures that DA2 will have quite a few additional highlights and broken records this year.  NU is also poised to break the team's record for points in a season.  The games vs. Michigan and Illinois, if not sellouts, will be packed.

Minnesota Preview [posted Oct. 22]

Is it surprising that Minnesota would knock off sixth ranked Ohio State in Columbus at OSU's homecoming, only to give up 51 points the next week in a flaming loss to lowly Indiana?  Well, it shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed the down-is-up, champion-is-doormat Big Ten this year.  Sure, I could ramble on about NU's defense being ready to step up, I could jabber about Minnesota's Tellis Redmon, who had 648 yards and five TDs coming into the Indiana game and who is a tailback that might leave Wildcat defenders in the dust (assuming they haven't vacuumed the Metrodome field), but why bother?  Why make an effort to preview this game?  After all, it's going to come down to the coin toss, or to the exchange rate of the German Mark, or to which team has the better grasp of chaos theory (a hurricane triggered by butterfly wings, and a BCS berth triggered God knows what).

The Gophers will be angry, will be at home, and will have a large homecoming crowd behind them.  They'll have Travis Cole at quarterback, who has thrown seven TDs and two interceptions so far.  As with NU's games against Indiana and Purdue, this game will come down to how productive our offense can be.  Indiana's defense, notorious for allowing big plays, twice held Minnesota to field goals from inside the Hoosiers' 10 as the Hoosiers took a 17-6 lead in the second quarter.  Indiana, remember, has the worst defense in the conference.  If the 'Cats D. can do what's expected of them and not give away too many big plays, it will be up to Zak, Damien, and company to shred up the Gophers and send NU to a bowl.  Prediction:  could be Minnesota over NU 2-0.  Could be NU over Minnesota 62-56.  I'll pull a guess out of a hat and say NU over Minnesota, 41-28.

VICTORY RIGHT! NU STUNS MINNESOTA; Greatest Comeback in NU History [posted Oct. 29]

Chaos theory continued to wreak all kinds of havoc on the college football world Saturday, and the "Chaos 'Cats" managed to wreck Minnesota's Homecoming, defeating the Gophers 41-35 in a game that redefined heart and determination.  NU went into the locker room at halftime down by 14, they continued their plunge in the third quarter, and then engineered a four-score mega drive sequence that climaxed on the last play of the game with "Victory Right," the playbook name for the 45 yard pass play that Kustok delivered (to Patrick, and then) to Simmons.

The Wildcats had real problems for three quarters, culminating with Minnesota's Abdul- Khaliq running the ball seven yards in for a touchdown that gave the rodents a 35-14 lead.  NU responded:

Simmons 13 pass from Kustok (Long kick) 
...in the third quarter, and:

Kustok 3 run (Long kick) 
Kustok 12 run (Long kick) 
Simmons 45 pass from Kustok
...in the fourth. 

You want chaos?  How about five fourth down conversions, out of five attempts?  How about four of those attempts resulting in touchdowns? 

The win is the greatest comeback in NU history, edging the 20 point comeback the 'Cats staged at Illinois in 1992.  Gone are any remaining doubts that a Walker-coached team can take any amount of pressure.  Several times this game reminded me of the infamous 1995 Miami game.  Fortunately, this time Walker was the coach in purple! 

Hero of the game:  Zak Kustok.  There are few Wildcats who have ever played with the degree of poise, drive, leadership, and will that Zak showed in the fourth quarter.

Hero of the game (honorable mention): the rest of the team.  Offense, defense, special teams, and coaches all attacked the final quarter with a refusal to die.  Stupefying. . . .

Michigan Preview [posted Oct. 29]

Michigan will come into Ryan Field at Dyche Stadium pumped from scoring back-to-back shutouts of Indiana and Michigan State, and rested from a bye week.  The Wolverines will be in the thick of a conference championship hunt and looking for a BCS bid.  Anthony Thomas has been red hot lately.  He rolled up 175 yards and two touchdowns against MSU, accounting for virtually all of Michigan's offensive effort for the day.

Michigan's last two games seem impressive, but let's take a closer look.  Sure, they scored 58 points against Indiana and shut the Hoosiers out, but that tells us little.  Naperville North High School could roll up over 40 points against Indiana at this stage, and if Randel El has a bad game, the Hoosiers do not score, period.

Michigan held Michigan State scoreless, but did not look all that impressive in the process.  The Spartans had their chances.  Michigan gave up 355 yards, and MSU drove to Michigan's 2, 28, 9 and 30 yard lines in the second half alone, but still couldn't score.  This says less about Michigan's steely defense than it does about MSU's ball management and coaching.

Michigan is vulnerable, especially on the road, where they have been downed by UCLA and Purdue.  Their road trip to Illinois also nearly ended in a loss, but the Wolverines got a little help from the ol' "twelfth man," as it were.  Look for Michigan to have more misery on the road and for their conference title and BCS bid hopes to evaporate.

NU Outguns Michigan 54-51; Kustok, Anderson, Simmons Provide Heroics [posted Nov. 5]

NU and Michigan combined for 105 points. There were 1,189 yards on 171 plays.  It's hard to believe there were just four quarters and not forty.  NU accounted for 654 of those yards, the most a team from the University of Michigan has ever given up in its 427 years of playing football (sure, there's some fuzzy math there, but this was a game of exaggerations.). 

Records?  Shattered, thank you.  The 2000 Wildcats have now broken the record for points scored in a single season (346 points, with two games to go in the regular season!).   NU is currently averaging over 38 points per game, well on pace to take down the current record (31.2 points, set in 1904).  The 'Cats set a new record for yards of total offense in a game (the previous record was 649 vs. Northern Illinois).  When the smoke clears from the chaos of the 2000 season, the Wildcats might not have broken as many records as the 1995 team (which matched or broke an almost comical 79 school records), but the books will have a lot of fresh ink, nonetheless. 

Not only did Michigan give up the most yards in its history, it came very close to giving up the most points as well.  The last time Michigan saw an opponent put up 54 or more points was 1958, when the Wolverines gave up 55 to... Northwestern.  The record, by the way, remains with Cornell, which scored 58 points against Michigan in '91.  That's 1891.

The game was a spectacle of offensive power.  Zak Kustok continues to defy description.  His poise was granite and cool, and his pass/run mix left all in attendance numbed.  Zak passed for 322 yards and had no interceptions.  Billy DeCorrevont, Otto Graham, Tom Myers, Maurie Daigneau, Len Williams, Steve Schnur-- meet Zak Kustok.  He's joining you shortly on NU's all-time great quarterbacks list.

This game really did come down to which team wanted it more.  Even after the refs called a questionable illegal man down field on NU, which nullified a fourth down touchdown and dragged NU farther from the endzone, there was a presence in the crowd and on the field, an electric manifestation of the Wildcat players' refusal to die.  That presence alone made this the most exciting game I have ever attended.

Negatives from the game?  Asking that is like taking a magnifying glass to a Rembrandt to hunt for errant strokes.  One must admit though that if Anthony Thomas didn't fumble with a minute and change left, if Michigan held on at the last instant, Northwestern's defense would be under heavy scrutiny.  That may not be fair, however, considering the offense it was trying to stop: Henson, Terrell, Walker, and "A-Train" will all be playing on Sundays.  And there were heroes on NU's D as well, to be sure.  Blackmon's breaking up the Michigan two point conversion attempt was critical.  Sean Wieber stripped the ball from Thomas and Raheem Covington pulled it in and took to it like it was one of his vital organs-- which, of course from our points of view, it was.

The biggest negative from the game (other than the performance of the officiating crew, which I'll leave for others to pick apart) was the season ticket holders who sold their tickets to Wolverine fans.  Their absence from this epic is, to my mind, a fitting punishment for what they did.  One wonders if the price they exacted for their ticket was worth it to them.  I'm guessing there are more than a few remorseful 'Cat fans out there.

Before the game, Walker said "you'll have to kill us to beat us."  These 'Cats still live, and so do their very high hopes.

NU Fails to Slow Rolling Hawkeyes [posted Nov. 12]

Against Michigan, Northwestern's problems on defense were overshadowed by the spectacular performance by its offense.  On Saturday against Iowa, NU's defensive woes had nothing to help mask them, as the 'Cat offense sputtered and the defense was left naked and shredded.  Iowa, reverberating from a wonderful and emotional win over Penn St., rolled into Kinnick Stadium and kept on rolling, whacking NU 27-17. . . . 

. . . [NU] couldn't capitalize off of the dramatic victory over Michigan . . .  but the season is not over yet.  This game is history, just as over as that Michigan game.  The slate is clear, and this Saturday the uniforms will be clean and black, and the opponent will be our most important of the year: Illinois

One Last, Good Shot [posted Nov. 12]

Purdue has handed NU a gift.  It should be over, NU should be getting ready to head to Texas (to San Antonio or El Paso), Purdue should be headed to Pasadena as the sole Big Ten Champion.  Last Saturday's loss to Iowa should have sealed the Wildcats' fate.

Instead, the Purple's fate is wonderfully unclear, the drama remains, and Purdue's gift will allow Northwestern one last, clear shot at a share of the Big Ten Championship.  Should NU beat Illinois-- no small feat, considering all we've seen this week-- the 'Cats will lock their eighth conference title, and they will share it with the winner of the Ohio State / Michigan game.  They'll also share it with Purdue, if the Boilers beat Indiana.

Now's the time for the Wildcats to fill with fury.  Now is the time to take up the mantle of the underdog, a uniform that has served the Wildcats well earlier this season.  Most importantly, it is time for the Wildcats to play like wildcats-- on the attack, with no fear.  It is time to play to win, not to avoid losing.  It is time to put everything on the field: the exuberance of Michigan, the sting of Iowa, the memories of Illini celebrations two years ago, everything.

One last shot.

NU Destroys Illinois 61-23; Share Title with Michigan and Purdue [posted Nov. 20]

Northwestern reloaded its offensive guns after its mistake in Iowa City, and Saturday the 'Cats aimed all barrels at Illinois, pasting the Illini 61-23.  The score was the most points in a game by NU in the post-war era.  The previous record was 55 points, scored against Michigan in 1958.  It is the highest point tally since NU edged DePauw 62-0 in 1944 (the all-time mark is 97 points, set in 1904).

With the win, NU has taken its eighth conference title, and its third in six seasons!

Heroes from this game: everyone.  The coaching staff successfully brought the team back from the depths of Iowa to a focused precision.  The offensive line played superbly.  Kustok started slow, then roared to life and probably could have taken Illinois into overtime single-handedly (although, I fear we might have lost in OT if we had only "mini-Zak" on the field).  Damien Anderson was his usual extraordinary self, but Kevin Lawrence and Torri Stuckey also ran magnificently.  NU's wideouts were great, and Jon Schweighardt and Roger Jordan had some spectacular moments.  The special teams got the job done, and JJ Standring's decision to bat the ball out of the endzone after a bad snap was a heads-up play that kept the Illini from a certain touchdown.  NU's defense also stepped up.  Seniors Dwayne Missouri and Conrad Emmerich had fantastic games.

NU TO INVADE THE ALAMO [posted Nov. 20]

Northwestern received a bid to its fourth-ever bowl game on Monday and will play in the eighth annual Alamo Bowl on December 30.  The Tribune, in classic "Dewey Defeats Truman" style, "officially" declared that NU was heading to the Outback Bowl, but jumped the gun.  While others sort out the Big Ten Bowl pieces, the central fact remains: the Wildcats are preparing to play a game with monumental importance to the history of the program, and they've arrived at this position by stunning the pre-season pundits, defying the ney-sayers, and playing their asses off.

Seeing this 'Cat team play in a great bowl against a worthy opponent in San Antonio should have EVERYONE ready to party until dawn. This is a fantastic achievement for this team, and we should get ready for an incredible game!

Walker told his team prior to the Illinois game to FINISH. Now it's time for everyone to finish: both the players and the fans. For the players, if they bring it all for this game, they will have done what NO OTHER team in Northwestern history has so far accomplished: they will have won a conference championship and a bowl championship. The 1948, 1995, and 1996 teams couldn't claim that.


For the fans, this is a defining moment. If we swarm San Antonio and cheer NU to victory, we set the stage for 2001 and the local fan base. How do you think the casual Chicago fan will react to seeing a local team, on prime time, in a MAJOR bowl, beating a quality opponent's ass, with THOUSANDS of Wildcat fans going nuts in a sea of purple?

The pump is ready to be primed. If we prime the pump, 2001 will see a fountain of local support, and NU will take one more step to truly expecting victory.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Big Ten Coach of the Year: Randy Walker [posted Nov. 30]

On Tuesday, the Big Ten named NU's Randy Walker its Coach of the Year.  Walker came back to NU during what seemed to be one of its bleaker moments: its conquering hero and boy wonder had squandered two seasons while flirting with other programs and had just abandoned the program, 48 hours after telling his players a lie that still hangs over the Roscoe Miller Campus.  Newspaper hacks  were quick to declare the NU football awakening over-- Walker was no Barnett, and the 'Cats were to be relegated again to the dark corners of the Big Ten basement.  Players transferred.  Season ticket holders left.  Walker's first year produced only three wins.  But the experts were again wrong: Walker had a plan.  He had reserves of courage few expected. He could adapt, evolve, and motivate.  And now he, and the players who had the faith to believe and trust, have championship rings.  We have Walker to thank that our "awakening" is proving instead to be a rebirth and an enduring renaissance.  Congratulations to Randy and his staff!