2010 Season
Review Page



Since 2003, Northwestern football has seemed to be pivoted on the fulcrum of success and failure, balanced near the six-win mark.  In 2010, the pivot swung on the achilles tendon of quarterback Dan Persa: when Persa suffered a season-ending injury at the conclusion of the Iowa game, Northwestern's season swiveled from a 7-3 campaign that appeared on track for another major bowl, to an embarrassing 0-3 finish.

The season began with a 5-0 run, similar to 2008's opening streak, and only the second time since 1962 that NU has begun with five wins.  The team then stumbled against Purdue and hung close with MSU before taking a nailbiting win at Indiana to achieve bowl eligibility for the fourth straight year.  However, NU's defense remained vulnerable, and Penn State demonstrated this when the Lions came back from a 21-point deficit to defeat NU at Beaver Stadium.

After Penn State, expectations were low when NU hosted Iowa, looking for its fifth win in the last six games with the Hawkeyes.  Persa and company, however, managed a 21-17 thrilling win.  The win was costly: on the final touchdown play, Persa went down.  The 'Cats limped into the Wrigley Field event with Illinois and were drubbed, 48 to 27.  A blowout loss to Wisconsin then set NU up for a trip to the TicketCity  Bowl, where the 'Cats lost their eighth straight postseason game.  NU remained at the end of 2010 in a very familiar position: balanced on its fulcrum of the last decade, and still looking for a bowl win.

What follows are excerpts from some of the comments I posted on this site during the course of the 2010 season.  Please note that the comments posted below are only ones written by me, and this year I did not provide game previews or postgame commentary.  As with last year, the bulk of articles on HailToPurple.com in 2010 came from jhodges and the other contributors.  For their 2010 commentary and analysis, please check out the pages for jhodges, the Waterboy and the Lowes Line.

Heater: the Ultimate Analysis [posted Jan. 9, 2010]

Guest commentator JGCat gives us the truth!!!

A Look at NU's Recruiting Competitors [posted Jan. 18, 2010]

As Northwestern nears the 2010 football recruit signing day, it has at least 16 verbal commitments from prospective players across the country.  The prospective 'Cats have been wooed by, and sport offers from, schools throughout the NCAA.  So who are NU's main competitors for football recruits?  Of course, the athletic department has a keen understanding of the group with whom they compete for new players.  But from the perspective of the casual fan, and without using insider information, what can we discern?

One way of judging what schools comprise NU's competitive set is to look at schools that made offers to NU recruits who eventually committed to NU.  Of course, we could also look at all students to whom NU made an offer, and then examine all of the other offers that set of students received, regardless of where they eventually went.  However, it seems to me to be more pertinent to limit the view only to those players who actually did come to NU.  Who else were interested in these players to the extent that they were offered a scholarship? 

There is a drawback to this view, of course: a school could over-represent itself by extending offers to many more players than it expects to accept.  However, this strategy would eventually backfire so badly that it would be eliminated.

For this analysis, I looked at NU's recruiting classes for the last nine years.  Using information from Rivals.com, Scout.com, and ESPN, I've collected some (but not all) of the other offers that these Wildcats received (let's term them NU recruit cross-offers, or NURCOs).  I only looked at offers from other Div. I-A schools.  So, what schools in the last decade have produced the most NURCOs?  Here is the (somewhat surprising) list of the top 20:

Rank School NURCOs, 2002-'10
1 Indiana 21
2 Vanderbilt 15
3 Stanford 14
4 Northern Illinois 13
5 Illinois 12
6t Duke 8
6t Kansas 8
6t Toledo 8
9t Akron 7
9t Colorado 7
9t Eastern Mich. 7
9t Michigan State 7
9t Syracuse 7
9t Utah 7
9t Wake Forest 7
16t Cincinnati 6
16t Notre Dame 6
16t Pittsburgh 6
16t Purdue 6
16t Wisconsin 6

Vanderbilt and Stanford certainly aren't surprises, and no one should be shocked at seeing in-state rival Illinois in the top five, but Indiana's dominating presence at the top of the list is a little strange.  As we'll see below, one season in particular accounts for the Hoosiers' tight competitive showing.  NIU also seems strange to see so close to the top; the geographic proximity explains much of it, however, since NIU extended offers to many of the regional recruits that NU eventually took.

Rank Conference NURCOs, 2002-'10
1 Big Ten 59
2 MAC 57
3 ACC 39
4t Big 12 35
4t Big East 35
6 Pac-10 30
7 Mountain West 23
8 Conf. USA 19
9 SEC 18
10 Indep. I-A 13
11 WAC 7
12 Sun Belt 2

Looking at the NURCOs by conference, it also is not surprising to see the Big Ten at the top, as NU battled with most of the conference for the best regional recruits, and the conference is, nearly from top to bottom, an academically sound group of schools.  Given its geography and ties to some of the NU staff, it is also not surprising to see the MAC at #2, although I'm a little surprised that it nearly tied the Big Ten.  Since the ACC has both Duke and Wake Forest, it takes the #3 spot (the top three schools that just missed the cut for the top 20 in NURCOs-- Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia-- are all ACC and gave the conference 15 additional NURCOs).

When we look at the NURCOs by year, we see that some teams compete cyclically with NU for recruits, like Vanderbilt:

The 2005 NU class included four players who received offers from Vandy.  In fact, that class had a lot of offers from some of NU's closest competitors.  For some reason, Indiana had extended offers to the bulk of that class, which is why Indy is so far ahead of all the other teams:

While Stanford had also offered a couple of NU's 2005 recruits, the cross-over with Stanford is now much more pronounced, and getting stronger:

...while Illinois has been fairly consistent.

It is interesting to note that for two years after 2001, when Illinois went to a BCS bowl and NU fell apart midway through the season, NU was not able to land a commit who also had an Illinois offer, but that improved after the 2003 turnaround season.

As noted earlier, it would at first appear that NU is competing with Northern Illinois for the regional players (again look at the surge in offers given to NU's 2005 recruits):

...until you compare the NIU commits that had offers from Northwestern.  Since 2002, NIU has only been able to land three recruits that NU had offered-- none since '04.  Adding the NIU take-aways (in purple) to this graph, we see this:

While NIU has targeted a lot of players who eventually choose Northwestern, the converse is not true.  Contrast this to the Stanford cross-offer graph, when we add to it the Stanford commits who had offers from NU:

There are 14 NU recruits during this period that had offers from Stanford; however, there are 29 Stanford commits that had NU offers!  The number of losses to Stanford has been consistently high since 2006.  Given this disparity and the increase in NU recruits with Stanford offers, Stanford remains one of the most serious threats to Northwestern's recruiting base.

Keep in mind that NU opens the 2010 season by playing Vandy, and plays the Commodores through 2014, the very same season that the 'Cats recommence their series with... Stanford.  The next five to six years will see NU's recruiting efforts being driven by the action on the field and by NU's performance vs. key competitors more than they have in nearly two decades.

NU and Illinois Have Wrigley Field Deal [posted Jan. 29, 2010]

There are reports that NU has reached a tentative agreement with Illinois to play their 2010 game at Wrigley field, "if – they can work out the financial and operational questions."  The information comes from Loren Tate, a reporter for the Champaign, Illinois News-Gazette.

Tate's column adds to the previous reports that NU athletic director Jim Phillips was still very interested in moving an NU home game (either this year or in 2011) to Wrigley Field, and the potential opponents could be Illinois, Iowa, Michigan or Rice.  Two weeks ago NU and Wrigley Field announced that the field and stadium dimensions would allow for an NCAA-sanctioned football game (a matter which had been in doubt).  However, the News-Gazette's report is the first time that it has been made clear that Illinois would be the opponent.

However, ESPN's Adam Rittenberg writes that Tate's column is not correct: Illinois is not yet the confirmed opponent for an NU game at Wrigley.  According to Rittenberg, ". . . Phillips told me in a text message that Illinois hasn't been selected as the opponent and NU will explore all possible options for a November game."

The move of one of NU's home games to Wrigley Field is a potential marketing boost at a time when the Wildcat football program dearly needs one, and it will hit the area where NU needs it most: right at home, in the Chicago area.  However, NU would take a tremendous gamble by selecting Illinois for this game.  If NU chooses nearly any other college for this game, the local media will focus on two things: the cool novelty of football at Wrigley Field, and Northwestern.  Only two potential opponents would change that focus: Notre Dame and Illinois.  If NU does choose the Illini, the media focus will likely be: football at Wrigley Field and how cool this is for all the Chicago-area Illinois fans (oh, and the Illini will play NU). 

Attendance at an event like this really doesn't matter, as long as it isn't embarrassingly low.  If there are more Illinois fans than NU fans, that really isn't a big deal.  What is a big deal is the local print and broadcast media, and they will likely focus solely on the Blue and Orange in the community.

Hopefully, this will not the be the case, and NU will get a lot of local buzz from this.  Rittenberg certainly thinks this; he argues that Illinois makes the most sense.

Again, picking the Illini is a big gamble, and NU would effectively give away a home game to Illinois in order to place this bet.  Would the Illini have done the same?

NU Signs Its 2010 Recruiting Class [posted Feb. 7, 2010]

Northwestern last Wednesday announced its recruiting class for 2010, consisting of 17 incoming students.  The class is balanced between defense (eight players) and offense (nine), with four wide receivers.

Only one recruit in the class is from Illinois (last year NU had five recruits from in-state).  NU continues to focus on Ohio and Florida this year, with three recruits each.

Among the recruiting standouts is Brandon Vitabile, a center from New Jersey.  Rivals has ranked him the sixth best center in the current national class.  Quarterback Trevor Siemian has also been ranked highly by Rivals.  However, both received three stars from Rivals.

Neither Rivals nor Scout has scored any of NU's class with four stars.  As of February 7 Rivals ranks NU's class 77th, plunging from 70th two weeks ago.  This is perplexing, since NU's average star rating increased to 2.94, which is as good as, or better than, the 28 schools ranked directly above NU, and better than quite a few ranked even higher than that.  Of course, Rivals and Scout also consider class "fit" into their rankings, which apparently means how well the fan base of the schools "fit" into their subscription revenue streams.

Scout puts the class at 57th (the "Heinz Line," with which HTP readers should be very familiar), up from 61st two weeks ago.  ESPN, which used to compile its own recruiting info, now relies heavily on Scout (though ESPN's individual star ratings do differ from Scout's) and does not rank NU.  The Rivals ranking is down from last year, while the Scout ranking is up from where they put last year's class.

The following table shows the list of recruits announced on NUSports.com.  The comments are compiled from material taken from Rivals.com, Scout.com, and ESPN. 

Please note that HailToPurple.com does not closely follow recruiting efforts, nor do I have any interest in the recruiting process, crucial though it is-- for more detailed info and analysis, be sure to check out Lou V.'s work at Rivals and Scout.com/FoxSport's efforts on PurpleReign.

Congratulations and good luck to this promising group of soon-to-be Wildcats!

Are Northwestern Stripes Returning? [posted March 28, 2010]

Is Northwestern about to make the first major change to its uniform in seven years?  The fan blog SpreadFarTheFame.com speculated last week that NU might indeed make a change, and the site showed an illustration that might be the new unis.

Since SFTF posted its initial scoop, several HTP readers have also responded, stating that they, too have either heard about or seen the new duds.  The details in each of these reports are very consistent.

The new uniforms (which are reported not to be final: they are under consideration) apparently feature a purple jersey, and-- for the first time since November 1996-- they will have northwestern striping on the sleeve.  The uniform look that Northwestern popularized in 1928 became synonymous with the 'Cats and even became named after the school.  The rumored new jersey will drop the USC-style shoulder sections (which have been in use since 2003) and will drop the N-Cat logo (which NU developed in 1984, and which has been on the jersey, in some form, since 1995).  Reportedly, NU could go back to using purple pants for some games, but will also use black pants and white pants occasionally.  There are also reports that NU is considering a return to black jerseys, possibly for limited use in 2011. 

Northwestern Makes It Official: NU-Illinois Game at Wrigley [posted April 23, 2010]

As purple banners flew high over the stadium scoreboard, Northwestern and the Chicago Cubs held a press conference at Wrigley Field on Friday and announced that the Wildcats will host the University of Illinois at Wrigley Field this year.  The game will be held on the morning of Saturday, November 20 and will be broadcast on one of the ESPN channels.

NU Athletic Director Jim Phillips reiterated that safety was a chief concern, asking "could we safely... put a football field in Wrigley Field?"  He described the investigation that followed, which concluded that Wrigley Field could, indeed, be made safe for college football.  Phillips called the Wrigley Field event a chance to "showcase a world-class institution.  This is another way to bring people to the front porch of Northwestern."  He also mentioned that the game is a way to increase season tickets, despite the fact that the game will NOT be included in season ticket packages (see below).

Coach Fitzgerald tied the game into Chicago tradition, and of seeing "another player who wore #51," Dick Butkus, play at Wrigley Field for the Bears.

Notably absent from today's announcement was any sign of the Illini.  No one from Illinois was present for the announcement, and Wrigley was decked out in purple, with nary a shred of blue or orange visible.  Clearly, the Cubs and NU are setting the tone that this will be a Northwestern home game, set at Wrigley Field.

The game will mark the first off-campus home game for NU since the 'Cats hosted Oklahoma at Soldier Field for the 1997 Pigskin Classic.  It is the first football game at Wrigley field since the Bears left the venue in 1970, and it is the first time NU has hosted a football game at Wrigley since NU hosted Illinois and Red Grange there on October 27, 1923.

According to the Q&A session regarding the event, now posted at NUSports.com, "In order to purchase a ticket for the November 20 game, fans must purchase season tickets for Northwestern's five home games at Ryan Field....  Northwestern Football at Wrigley Field is NOT included in your season ticket package. However, only season ticket holders have the opportunity to purchase tickets for Northwestern Football at Wrigley Field."  While requiring season tickets for a Wrigley game purchase might drive up season ticket sales, it remains to be seen how keeping the Wrigley tickets separate from the season tickets could potentially affect NU fan attendance at the Wrigley event.

NU Concludes Spring Session with Scrimmage [posted April 25, 2010]

An injury-free, defense-filled public scrimmage marked the end of Northwestern's 2010 spring practice period, and it sets the stage for the rest of the Wildcats' preseason, which will culminate with their Kenosha scrimmage on August 21.

Sandwiched between rain showers, the spring scrimmage featured both NU's quarterbacks, Dan Persa and Evan Watkins, as they showed off some nice passing (not all of which managed to be caught by NU's vast array of wideouts).  As with most spring sessions, the defense seemed a step ahead of the offense, and this should even out in the August session.

A few tidbits mentioned, or overheard, during the spring event:
  • NU has signed Fitz to an additional seven years.  The persona of Northwestern Football is solidly at the helm.
  • Adidas has not produced the final version of this fall's uniforms.  The prototypes we've seen on the Web so far are just that: prototypes.  Changes are still being made.
  • The running game was particularly difficult to judge, since Arby Fields is currently playing on the baseball team.

Video highlights of NU's Spring Scrimmage
(Audio replaced due to YouTube legal wranglings...)

Nebraska to the Big Ten [posted June 10, 2010]

The conference realignment rumors, swirling for weeks, erupted last Wednesday evening when reports, later confirmed by ESPN and other sources, indicated that Nebraska had been offered a spot in the Big Ten and had tentatively accepted.  The reports touched off a cascade of response actions and rumors across college football, with the biggest salvo coming from the Pac 10, which is reported to have fired off six invites to remaining Big XII teams.   Since then, Colorado has accepted the Pac's invite, and Texas is mulling its options

Not much is certain right now, but one thing is a nearly sure bet:  the Big XII conference is gone, and its surviving members are beginning to scramble for a new home.  A Pac-16 Super Conference is a possibility, one that might lobby for two BCS spots.  If that happens, it is unlikely that the Big Ten's appetite will be sated with Nebraska.

There are, in fact, indications that the magic number for the Big Ten might be 14.  MSU president Lou Anna Simon told the Detroit Free Press that-- with the addition of Nebraska-- the Big Ten is "one-third of the way through" the expansion goals.

And what of Notre Dame?  The Irish, and the Big Ten, are mum.  It's possible that, as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said on Friday, the conference will "hit pause" on expansion, for a while.

We'll see.

Nebraska will start playing Big Ten football in 2011.  And, yes, the conference will be split into divisions.  According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Delany has stated that the conference is currently working on how to split the Big Ten in '11.  Conference officials are looking at competitiveness of the divisions, traditional rivalries, and geography.

So, what to make of the Nebraska addition?  What indeed?  For the Big Ten, the move is understandable: it brings in a huge fanbase, and the money that a twelfth team and a conference championship game will bring is compelling.  For NU (the Northwestern NU, not the UNL NU), the positives are a little more difficult to fathom.  Regardless, this is who we are, and the new reality of the Big Ten will begin now, with rampant change, division alignment strategies, and the ever-lurking specter of another interloper, possibly even one slouching from South Bend.

How Might a Lakefront Stadium Look? [posted Aug. 12, 2010]

Recent discussions, both on Rivals and at Lake The Posts, have posed the always-lurking question: what to do with Ryan Field?  Northwestern's stadium now lags far behind all the other Big Ten sites, in terms of facilities and investment.  Should Ryan Field be renovated once again (it would be the fifth major renovation to the stadium since its construction in 1926)?  Should it be torn down, and a new stadium built?  And, if a new stadium were to be built, should it be constructed on Central Street, site of NU football since 1905?

While I certainly don't propose that NU should build a new stadium, and build it on a new location, I think the idea is interesting, at least from the standpoint of a thought experiment.  What would a new stadium possibly look like, if NU brought football back to the lakefront, for the first time since 1904? 

The following scenario is not possible, of course, for several reasons.  First, the cost would be comically high.  To revamp the lakefront campus and Central Street would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Second, Northwestern has already unveiled its plans for the Miller Campus (that is, the Evanston lakefront campus) for the next 50 years, and the plans look nothing like this scenario.  Finally, the City of Evanston would certainly nix any such proposal out of hand.  Still, let's assume that a lakefront stadium might actually be a good thing (and that's not a given, by any stretch).  Let's also assume money is no object, and Evanston agrees to the plan.  Here then is one possible layout for a new stadium...

The Current Map

The current footprint of Ryan Field is almost exactly the same size as the current Thomas Athletic Complex.  What if they were swapped?  The Central Street athletic complex would still include the athletic offices, as well as Welsh-Ryan Arena and nearly all non-football sports.

If a stadium were placed on the site currently filled with the Thomas Complex, what would NU do with traffic?  Parking?  Tailgating?

Here is one possibility.

The Experimental Map

In this scenario, traffic is maintained along Sheridan Road, both from the north and south.  The south campus garage (typically under-used during NU home games) would be expanded to three levels and would handle much of the traffic from the south.  The walkway leading from the south garage to the lakefill could be expanded (and could become the new Randy Walker Way), leading directly to the stadium.

The main corridor coming into the stadium from Sheridan Road, however, would become Lincoln Street.  Lincoln would be expanded into a three-lane plaza-like thoroughfare, allowing for two lanes of incoming traffic into the stadium (and two lanes outbound when games conclude).  The north campus / SPAC parking lot would be dug out, to make a two-level garage with a lower level partially underground. 

While the lakefill would not need to expand to hold the stadium, NU could expand the north beach, to allow for an additional area to host game-day related activities.  Wildcat Alley would become a made-for-TV beach bash.

The stadium itself would be a 40,000 seat stadium (I've used Boston College's stadium in these images), ringed by killer views of the campus to the west, the lagoon to the south, the Otto Graham plaza and the beach to the north, and-- of course-- Lake Michigan just yards away to the east.

NU would still provide shuttle buses to Central Street, where there would be additional parking, and a lot more room to stretch out for the more hardcore tailgaters.

Impractical?  Cost-prohibitive?  Borderline insane?  Sure, but just take a second to imagine walking into the lakefront stadium and taking in that view.  Attendance would take care of itself.

Media 2010 Previews and Predictions [posted June 7 and updated Aug. 22, 2010]

. . . 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 [ranking NU always at #57 in the preseason] 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 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 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: 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 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).

Ed. note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the media's preseason predictions.  As for 2010's previews and predictions, most were surprisingly accurate.  Many of the media tabbed NU to finish seventh in the conference, including CBS's Dennis Dodd and Phil Steele.  Several others also predicted that the 'Cats would finish in 7th, but listed the QB position as a weakness; instead, Dan Persa had a monster year.  However, for the second straight season, the award for the most accurate pick goes to Athlon Magazine.  Athlon not only predicted a seventh-place finish, it predicted that NU would go 7-5 in the regular season and 3-5 in the conference.

The picks were so uniformly accurate that there was no "dog" pick in 2010-- no major media source guessed that badly.  Perhaps The Sporting News was a little too optimistic with its prediction that NU would come in fifth in the Big Ten.

'Cats Cap Camp Kenosha XIX
With Public Scrimmage [posted Aug. 22, 2010]

Northwestern held its annual preseason scrimmage last Saturday, and fans were treated to a hot day and even hotter performances by some of the program's rookies.

With the scrimmage open to the public (and it was NU's only open practice; even Monday's event at Great Lakes is closed, except to program guests and media), and with the rash of recent injuries to the team, NU's coaches chose to rest most of their starters.  The day, for the most part, belonged to the new guys. 

And the new guys did not disappoint.  Freshman wideout Venric Mark had a fantastic practice, blasting through NU's coverage on kick returns.  Incoming quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Coulter also looked terrific, as did freshman running back Adonis Smith.

Of course, there's not much to learn from an open scrimmage-- this is typically just a day to soak in NU football after a long, parching drought.  The Great Lakes event should be more telling, and then there's that scrimmage in Nashville in a couple of weeks...

Northwestern Concludes Preseason
With Practice at Great Lakes [posted Aug. 22, 2010]

When NU holds its final 2010 preseason practice tomorrow at Ross Field at the Naval Station Great Lakes, it will signify a new era in the relationship between the base and NU football, a relationship that had close ties during the two world wars, but has been dormant since.  It is hoped that the 2010 scrimmage will begin a partnership, and that the servicemen and women stationed at Great Lakes will root for NU, not just as Chicago's team, but as Great Lakes's adopted team as well.

Great Lakes had itself once been a tremendous power in college football.  During the 1918 season, as military recruits poured in from college campuses across the midwest, Great Lakes became the most talented football team in the country.  Among the new players for Great Lakes was Paddy Driscoll, Northwestern's star player on the fantastic 1916 Purple team.  Driscoll played alongside future Chicago Bears founder George Halas, and the pair helped to rip apart the naval base's collegiate competition.  Great Lakes opened the 1918 season by shutting out good Iowa and Illinois teams, before hosting a showdown with Northwestern on October 26.  Driscoll faced many of his former teammates on a muddy field at the base, and the two teams slugged their way to a 0-0 tie.   It was the only time (until 2010) that Northwestern would travel to the base, and it was the highlight of NU's season.

Great Lakes would also tie Notre Dame in 1918 before winning its next three games.  The Great Lakes regular season concluded with a match against Purdue, which Great Lakes hosted at-- of all places-- Northwestern Field in Evanston!  Great Lakes would go on to defeat the Mare Island Marines on January 1 in the Rose Bowl, for perhaps the base's greatest-ever football triumph.

In addition to Driscoll, the 1918 Great Lakes team had another NU connection: its center, Charlie Bachman, would follow up his performance as a player in the Rose Bowl by becoming, in 1919, head coach for Northwestern.

Great Lakes fielded its next major football teams during World War II, and played college schedules during the 1942 through 1945 seasons.  Great Lakes played NU for three of those seasons, from 1942 through '44. 

The Bluejackets caught NU in the midst of a drought of talent in 1942, since most of the Wildcats' players had been siphoned off to other campuses for the war effort.  So it was no surprise when the powerful Great Lakes team swamped NU at Dyche Stadium, 48 to 0.

However, Northwestern became the recipient of several key military transfers before the 1943 season, and the restocked 'Cats also benefited from star Otto Graham, who was in his final year at NU.  Graham and the 'Cats (see photo feature, below) handed Great Lakes one of its two losses that year.  Great Lakes would end the season with a 10-2 record by whipping Notre Dame at Soldier Field (the only loss for the Irish in 1943).

In Great Lakes's final meeting with the Wildcats, on October 7, 1944, Great Lakes waxed the 'Cats 25-0.  Again, the outcome was not too surprising: Great Lakes was en route to a 9-2 record.  Among the 1944 Bluejackets that NU faced was a former Wildcat.  Richard Eggers had recently transferred to Great Lakes for training.  Also on the '44 Great Lakes team was an unheralded back named Ara Parseghian.  Mr. Parseghian, of course, would have further adventures at Dyche Stadium in another decade.

...For preview and post-game content from the first half of the 2010 season, be sure to check out Jonathan Hodges' commentary.

NU Begins New Tradition this Saturday [posted Oct. 8, 2010]

Northwestern has announced that it is taking a page from Vanderbilt's tradition book and will have the university's freshmen run onto the football field before this Saturday's Purdue game.

The Vanderbilt tradition was created by E. Gordon Gee (once and current head of Ohio State; at the time, he was Vandy's chancellor) after the 2003 season, in order to increase school spirit and each class's sense of investment in the school's athletic program.  According to the Daily Northwestern article that announced NU's decision to start its own version of the run, NU President Morton Schapiro made the decision to start the run at NU after his wife and Pat Ryan's wife witnessed the Commodore run at the NU-Vandy season opener, and persuaded him to copy it.

Unlike the Vandy version, in which the freshmen make the run before the first home game of the season, NU's will take place before homecoming, since many freshmen aren't yet on campus for the first NU home game.

Along with the new player entrance tunnel and fireworks, the Great Lakes preseason practice, and the fourth quarter "put your hands in the air," the NU freshman run is another on the growing list of new traditions being injected into Wildcat football during the reimaging of the program under the Schapiro-Phillips-Fitz era (there are a bunch that now need to be added to the Traditions List).  And, as with many of the other changes, it is aimed at increasing the attendance of a key group of fans.  It should pay dividends, and we'll see that start of it this Saturday.

The Week of Ara and Otto [posted Oct. 20, 2010]

During the next seven days, two NU legends will be honored in very public, and different, ways.  First, this Saturday former Wildcat head coach Ara Parseghian will make his return to Evanston for the first time in roughly a quarter century.  Northwestern has named Coach Parseghian honorary captain for the homecoming game against Michigan State. 

Honoring Parseghian and the "Era of Ara" is a long time coming.  Parseghian guided the Wildcats out of their mid-1950s slump and into a period of greatness from 1958 through 1963.  During those seasons-- Ara's glory years at NU-- the 'Cats were ranked in the AP top ten for at least some point every season except '61.  Of course, the 'Cats were ranked #1 in 1962, the last time NU topped the poll. 

Parseghian's final months at NU were not the happiest.  The administration was not entirely accommodating to Parseghian's wishes for the program, and Ara would utter his famous line, "I'm restive" when asked about his desire to stay at NU.   Time, apparently, has healed some wounds, and Coach Parseghian will be welcomed back to Wildcat Nation.

Wildcat Nation's most famous son, the late Otto Graham, will get his due on Tuesday, when the Big Ten Network airs its next installment of Big Ten Icons, unveiling Graham as 14th on its list of the greatest athletic icons in Big Ten history.  It now appears that only Graham and Coach Pat Fitzgerald (who had been previously announced) will represent Northwestern on the list.  While I believe that NU should have been deserving of at least two more names on that list, and Graham should have been at least four spots higher on it, it is still a great honor to have Graham celebrated. . .

NU 2010 Attendance Set to Break Record [posted Oct. 31, 2010]

We knew that the great marketing push begun by Northwestern athletics this year would pay dividends.  The only questions were just how much would it succeed, and how soon.  We're finding out that the payoff is immediate and significant.

With the recent announcement by Northwestern that its last two home games (against Iowa at Ryan Field and against Illinois at Wrigley Field) have sold out, we can now estimate the average home attendance for the year.  If the Wrigley Field game is included in NU's total home games, the estimated average home attendance this year is 36,466. 

That is the highest average home attendance since 1998, Gary Barnett's last season as head coach (a season just one year removed from the back-to-back championship seasons).  More importantly, however, 2010's estimated attendance is a whopping 51% higher than last year's average.  The estimated increase per game of 12,276 versus last year-- if it holds, once we have the final attendance numbers from the Iowa and Illinois games-- would be the largest jump in per-game attendance in Northwestern history.  It breaks the record previously set in 1959, when Ara Parseghian's team was ranked #2 in the nation for much of the season.
This is a fantastic achievement and a great start on the road to make NU football again a competitive venue.  It demonstrates not only the success of the current marketing effort by Jim Phillips and his team, but of the work Coach Fitzgerald and his team have made to keep the Wildcats strong.

Welcome to Glorious Chaos... [posted Nov. 19, 2010]

So now it is Friday evening, and the smoke is clearing from the Shot (to the Foot) Heard Around the World.

Northwestern is the sports headline across the country today, for better or worse, as the One Goal Wrigley story spreads and spirals.  No one in his right mind could have predicted the wild coverage this game had as of Thursday night, and no one, given even the grandest piles of street drugs, could have guessed the turn that coverage would take today.

There will be recriminations and accusations, and jokes, and more, but let's look forward: this game is going to be a once in a lifetime circus, a date that will truly live in infamy, and we are going to be a part of it.  As you might have guessed by now, I love to study the history of the game, and particularly the history of this team.  This is the kind of thing that makes me ready to dance.  Think about it: in a hundred years from now, Northwestern fans will be talking about this crazy game.  We will be dead, gone and long forgotten, but NU historians and football fans will be bringing this up, along with the re-constituted digital holography of the game itself.  This is, nutty as it seems, history.

This is going to be. . . fun.

Really, really fun.  Disco Demolition Night fun.  Woodstock brown acid fun.  ESPNU?  Welcome to the highest-rated program that network has ever had.  And, to top it off, if the Wildcats come out utterly jacked and focused, in the midst of chaos, they have the opportunity to wrest control of the stage and make the night and the conference their own.  For all the wild media that seems out of control, NU football is actually in the driver's seat, and has a great chance to steer wherever they want (hopefully due west, repeatedly!).

Make this moment your own, guys.  Take control.  Have fun, and write the next chapter of Chicago sports history in your own wild, bizarre and talented way. 

A Complete List of NU's Off-Campus Games [posted Nov. 19, 2010]

As Northwestern prepares for its off-campus home game at Wrigley Field against Illinois, let's review all of the Wildcats' previous regular season football games that were not played on a college campus.  This list includes home games (taken from the Home Sites list on this site) in purple as well as away games in red.

  • November 27, 1890.  NU beat Wisconsin, 22-10.  Played in Milwaukee, this was a Wisconsin home game, and the first game between the Purple and the Badgers.  The game was a huge spectacle for NU: fans took a special train to Milwaukee to watch the festivities (which included a shooting contest before the game), and the game began a tradition of playing Wisconsin on Thanksgiving that would last the decade.  Several of the next games with the Badgers took place in Milwaukee. [NU lists the date for this game as November 26]
  • October 17, 1891.  NU tied Lake Forest, 0-0.  Played at West Side Park, this was an NU home game, Northwestern's first off-campus home game.  This was the Cubs' home turf.  Not Wrigley Field: this site was two parks before Wrigley became the Cubs' venue.  1891 was the final year for the park, and it is believed that the NU game might have been among the last events held on the field.
  • October 31, 1891. NU tied Wisconsin, 0-0.  Another Wisconsin home game played in Milwaukee.
  • November 26, 1891.  NU lost to Wisconsin, 40-0.  The second Wisconsin home game played in Milwaukee that season; the Purple and Wisconsin had played in Milwaukee for both Halloween and Thanksgiving.  [NU lists the date for the game as November 29]
  • October 22, 1892.  NU tied Chicago, 0-0.  Played at South Side Park, this was a Chicago home game.  This was the second South Side Park, located at 35th Street in Chicago.  At the time of the Purple's game with Chicago, the park was the home of the Chicago Cubs, which had moved from the West Side Park in 1891.  The game marked the University of Chicago's intercollegiate football debut and the beginning of the NU-Chicago rivalry that would last for just 35 years.
  • October 29, 1892.  NU beat Michigan, 10-8.  Played at the 25th Street Grounds, Chicago, this was an NU home game.  Just one week after the off-campus game that began NU's series with Chicago, NU hosted Michigan for the very first time in a game played off-campus.  The win was the Purple's biggest victory to date.
  • November 24, 1892.  NU lost to Wisconsin, 20-6.  Played in Milwaukee, this was a Wisconsin home game, and it came just one week after the Badgers beat NU in Evanston.  Another Thanksgiving spectacle in Milwaukee.
  • October 4, 1893.  NU lost to the Denver Athletic Club, 8-0.  Played at the Chicago Stockyards, this was an NU home game, played in perhaps the oddest place ever played by NU.  The Purple hosted this game as part of the festivities surrounding the Chicago Columbian Exposition.  The field was constructed as part of the World's Fair Pavilion, and it was lit with gas and electric lighting.  Kickoff was 9:00 pm, making it likely the first night football game played in Chicago, and perhaps the midwest.  Paul Noyes, who had informally coached the team in 1892, made his formal coaching debut in the game, becoming the first of three NU head coaches to debut in an off-campus game (eventually joining Noyes would be Joe Flint in 1895 and Gary Barnett in 1992).
  • December 16, 1893.  NU lost to Chicago, 22-14.  Played at the Tattersall Riding Academy in Chicago, this was a Chicago home game, and it was the first-ever indoor football game played in Chicago.  Because of the size of the venue, the football playing field was truncated.
  • September 21, 1895.  NU lost to Wisconsin, 12-6.  Played in Milwaukee, this was a Wisconsin home game, and the final in the Milwaukee series.  Joe Flint made his debut as NU's head coach, just ten days before he made his exit as NU's head coach.
  • November 9, 1895.  NU lost to Missouri, 22-18.  Played in St. Louis, this was a Missouri home game.
  • October 9, 1897.  NU beat Beloit, 6-0.  Played in Rockford, this was a Beloit home game.
  • November 23, 1901.  NU lost to Minnesota, 16-0.  Played at Marshall Field, Chicago, this was an NU home game.  OK, so technically this game was not off-campus-- it just wasn't a campus belonging to either team!  Minnesota at the time was a very popular team, and to handle the overflow crowds for the game, NU moved this home game from Sheppard Field to Marshall, the home field for the University of Chicago.
  • November 14, 21, and 26, 1903.  NU tied Notre Dame and Wisconsin, then lost to Carlisle.  This was a three-week series of games played at the Sox Park (39th Street Grounds), and they were all NU home games.  NU was having a phenomenal season in 1903, and to handle the huge crowds at the end of the season, NU relocated its team to the home field of the Chicago White Sox.  This was the Sox's home before Comiskey.
  • November 19, 1904.  NU lost to Minnesota, 17-0.  Played at Marshall Field, this was an NU home game, the second and final played at Marshall against Minnesota.
  • October 30, 1920.  NU lost to Indiana, 10-7.  Played in Indianapolis, this was an Indiana home game.  In the early 1920s the Hoosiers moved several of their home games to the Washington Park Grounds in Indianapolis.

  • October 13, 1923.  NU lost to Indiana, 7-6.  Played in Indianapolis, this was an Indiana home game.
  • October 27, 1923.  NU lost to Illinois, 29-0.  Played at Wrigley Field, this was an NU home game.  This was, before 2010, the one time that Northwestern had played at Wrigley (at the time called Cubs Park).  The Bears (NU's nickname for that one, single season) hosted the Illini in front of over 32,000 fans, who got to watch Red Grange tear across the Friendly Confines at will.
  • November 22, 1924. NU lost to Notre Dame, 13-6.  Played at Soldier Field, this was an NU home game, and it was groundbreaking for a number of reasons.  First, it was the first-ever football game played in the new "Grant Park Bowl," construction of which was not yet completed.  NU had been christened the Wildcats after their close loss to Chicago the week before, and the match with Notre Dame in Chicago's new stadium was in a sense the Wildcats' debut.  And the 'Cats did not disappoint.  Notre Dame was by far the best team in the nation, and featured the legendary Four Horsemen.  The game was supposed to be a rout.  However, "Chief Wildcat" Moon Baker kept the Irish in check, and NU lost a close one, but gained momentum for its decade of dominance that would ramp up the following season.
  • October 24, 1925.  NU lost to Tulane, 18-7.  Played at Stagg Field, this was an NU home game.  Just like in 1903, NU was having a fantastic season in 1925, and Northwestern Field could not handle the ticket demand.  Initially, NU wanted to move this game to Soldier Field, but instead turned again to Marshall Field (retooled and renamed Stagg Field) at the University of Chicago. 
  • November 7, 1925.  NU beat Michigan, 3-2.  Played at Soldier Field, this was an NU home game, and it is one of the legendary moments in NU history.  Michigan had not let a team score all season, until NU's field goal.  NU's safety was intentional, and led to the very rules of football being changed (teams suffering a safety had been allowed to keep the ball).  The game followed a match at Northwestern Field against Indiana the week before.  With the Tulane game at Stagg Field in October, this marked the only time in NU history that the team played three straight home games, all played at different locations.
  • October 10, 1931.  NU tied Notre Dame, 0-0.  Played at Soldier Field, this was a Notre Dame home game, and it is the only time ever that NU played at Soldier Field as the visiting team.  As part of charitable depression relief efforts, the Irish moved their home game to Chicago.  The tie would not hinder NU from pursuing a possible national championship during the '31 season.
  • November 28, 1931.  NU lost to Purdue, 7-0.  Played at Soldier Field, the site was neutral.  Of all NU's games, this was the only one (other than bowl games, which I am not including on this list) for which the field was truly neutral: even the game programs were neutral.  LIke the Notre Dame home game at Soldier Field earlier in '31, this game was played for charities helping with efforts to combat the Great Depression.  However, this game had not even been scheduled at the beginning of the season.  It was tacked on as a Thanksgiving week exhibition.  Unfortunately, exhibition or not, it counted in the standings, and it cost Northwestern the national championship, though NU did get to share the Big Ten crown with Purdue.
  • September 30 and October 14, 1933.  NU lost to Iowa, 7-0 and tied Stanford, 0-0.  A pair of games played at Soldier Field, they were NU home games.  Just as it had with the 1893 World's Fair, NU participated in the festivities in the 1933 World's Fair, playing two games at Soldier Field for the spectators and representing the city of Chicago.
  • October 19, 1991.  NU lost to Ohio State, 34-3.  Played at Cleveland Stadium, this was (amazingly) an NU home game.  The low point for NU's off campus exploits, the 'Cats arranged this home game in Cleveland solely as a money-making venture.  73,830 mostly Buckeye fans showed up, making this the largest crowd for an NU home game in history.
  • September 5, 1992.  NU lost to Notre Dame, 42-7.  Played at Soldier Field, this was an NU home game.  Coach Barnett's debut was overshadowed by a firm beating at the hands of the Irish.
  • September 3, 1994.  NU lost to Notre Dame, 42-15.  Played at Soldier Field, this was an NU home game.  The Irish had only agreed to a four-game series with NU if the 'Cats moved their two home games to Soldier Field.  This game concluded NU's part of the bargain, but payment would not be exacted until a year later.  NU will not again schedule a series with Notre Dame until the Irish agree to come to Ryan Field.
  • August 23, 1997.  NU beat Oklahoma, 24-0.  Played at Soldier Field, this was an NU home game. This was also Pigskin Classic VIII, and it was the final time NU played at Soldier Field.  The Pigskin Classic used one team's field as the home field (as opposed to, say, the Kickoff Classic, which used truly neutral stadia).  NU chose to host in Chicago.  The 'Cats whipped a down-on-its-luck Oklahoma, but the big news was the loss of Dwayne Bates, who broke his leg.
  • October 19, 2007.  NU beat Eastern Michigan, 26-14.  Played at Detroit's Ford Field, this was an EMU home game.  This was the "anti Wrigley": little hype, and about 50 people on hand to see NU cruise to a win against Eastern Michigan.
  • November 20, 2010.  NU vs. Illinois.  Played at Wrigley Field, this will be NU's latest off-campus home game, its first in 13 years. . . .

'Cats Fall in the TicketCity Bowl [posted January 2, 2011]

Northwestern's postseason drought continues.  After sixty-two years, 661 games, and eight postseason efforts, the Wildcats' Grand Quest remains unfinished, as NU's rally against Texas Tech in the very first TicketCity Bowl was not sufficient.  The 'Cats, down by 22 points in the third quarter, launched a comeback bid driven by freshman Kain Colter's fumble recovery for a touchdown, boosted by two scores from Evan Watkins, and capped with Jordan Mabin's outstanding pick six with five and a half minutes to go.   The Red Raiders, nursing the seven points that remained of their lead, held on.

Of course, no one expected the game to be an easy one: the 'Cats had to do without Dan Persa, the team's injured quarterback and MVP.  Runningback Mike Trumpy also sat out with an injury.  NU was further hampered by a rough first half (the 'Cats were outgunned 24-6, and suffered a missed extra point for the fourth straight bowl game) and a subpar defensive performance (NU gave up 34 first downs and 552 yards, an average of over six and a half yards per play).

Mr. Colter, however, was a pleasant surprise, rushing (often in the same backfield as Watkins) for 105 yards and two touchdowns, including the heads-up recovery of his own fumble that began NU's comeback attempt.  He followed this with a pass to Josh Rooks for the two-point conversion that would (briefly) put NU just 14 points behind Texas Tech.  Colter also notched a nice 11-yard pass to Venric Mark and a  20-yard rifle shot to Jeremy Ebert.  But perhaps the best play was the gadget pass to Ebert, who passed back to Colter for a 32-yard scamper, setting up Watkins's first score.