2012 Season
Review Page


The 2012 season will be remembered across the Big Ten as a time of turbulence.  Penn State began its first year of penance, Ohio State served its one-year exile from the postseason, Rutgers and Maryland incongruously joined the B1G, and the conference embarrassed itself in non-conference play-- with the exception of one team.

For Northwestern, however, 2012 was a year of monumental achievement.  The team recorded ten wins, the third time ever for NU.  It finished the postseason ranked for the first time since 1996.  Pat Fitzgerald won his 50th game as head coach, breaking by one game the Northwestern coaching record held by Pappy Waldorf.  The team, for the first time, beat two SEC opponents in a single season. NU welcomed its first All-American since 2005.  It continued its academic and graduation leadership streaks.

Did I miss anything?

Oh, yeah: there was the bowl game.

Northwestern's emotional 34-20 victory over Mississippi State mercifully ended NU's run of tough postseason losses and fundamentally changed the tone of NU's media coverage. 

As the dust settled around the chaotic Big Ten, NU found itself one of only two teams to win their bowls (along with Michigan State), and the highest-ranked B1G team in the Coaches' Poll (#16).  The program had, just a week before, announced that it had raised $55 million toward facilities construction and improvement, including a lakefront practice facility that the media immediately labeled a "game changer" for NU's football recruiting.

There truly has not been, ever, a time of more optimism surrounding this team.  2012 was a fantastic season.  NU enters 2013 having won its most recent three games-- the first time it can claim that since 1971.  It enters 2013 nearly guaranteed a spot in the preseason rankings, for the first time since 2001.  It will begin 2013 with its winningest coach, the bulk of its 2012 starters, a well-ranked recruiting class, and-- more than ever, and amid the maelstrom of the Big Ten-- high hopes.

What follows are excerpts from some of the comments I posted on this site during the course of the 2012 season.  Please note that the comments posted below are only ones written by me, and I did not provide game previews or much postgame commentary.  As with last couple of years, the bulk of articles on HailToPurple.com in 2012 came from jhodges and the other contributors.  For their 2012 commentary and analysis, please check out their pages in the Guest Section.

NU Announces 2012 Recruiting Class [posted Feb. 1]

Northwestern has welcomed 21 new Wildcats, announcing its 2012 recruiting class on Wednesday morning.  Coach Fitzgerald said, "There are some tremendous young men from great families and great high school programs who, we believe, fit all our needs and will help us take the next step in becoming a championship program."

The slate of recruits is fairly balanced between offense and defense (with several recruits having potential on both sides of the ball), with a slight lean toward offense and roughly six recruits that can play on the offensive line.  The class has no quarterback and no kicker (the third straight year with no new punter or kicker). 
Northwestern has apparently struck gold in the Keystone State, snagging five recruits from Pennsylvania.  NU had signed five recruits from Illinois last year; this year they signed four.  The 'Cats also signed four from Ohio (the same number as last year), including star defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo.  The remainder of the class is spread across the country.

Both Rivals and Scout rated Odenigbo at four stars.  Rivals also gave four stars to defensive tackle Greg Kuhar, while Scout offered a fourth star to offensive guard Adam DePietro.  Like last year, Rivals no longer provides a national team ranking for schools not in the top 50, and Rivals does not put NU in the top 50 teams for recruiting this year.  However, they do rank NU 9th in the Big Ten (ranked ahead of Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota, up from 11th last year). 

Kyle Prater Transfers to NU

Jan. 28-- In addition to the 21 incoming recruits listed below, Northwestern will also welcome a five-star transfer from USC.  Wideout Kyle Prater chose NU over Wisconsin as his new home.  Prater's 2010 recruiting status (the top recruit in the state of Illinois) would have put him in an elite group of recruits in the history of NU, including Bill DeCorrevont, who played for the 'Cats in the 1940s.

Pater said, according the the NUSports release, "This Northwestern degree will take me far and help me become a better person. The dynamics of the school and the team have shown me a lot and I'm just happy to be a Wildcat."
Scout, however, has taken a slightly more positive view of NU's class, ranking it (as of signing day) 45th in the nation-- down eight spots, however, from just two weeks ago.  Scout ranks NU's class fifth in the Big Ten, behind Michigan Ohio State, MSU and Iowa, and just ahead of Penn State.  Scout had earlier ranked the Wildcats' class third in the conference.

The following table shows the list of recruits who have committed to Northwestern.  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 great work at Rivals, LakeThePosts, and Scout.com/FoxSport's efforts on PurpleReign.

Congratulations and good luck to this promising group of soon-to-be Wildcats!
DB Terrance Brown
Los Alamitos, CA
Rivals 3-Star. 
RB Stephen Buckley
Forney, TX
7 offers, including Kansas State, Air Force, Navy and Wash. St..
OL Adam DePietro Lancaster, PA
Scout 4-Star. Rivals and ESPN 3-Star.  Rivals 17th ranked in state. Scout ranked #10 OG. 11 offers, incl. BC, Cincy, Illinois, MSU, NC St., Pitt, Vandy, and W. Vir.
OL/LS Chris Fitzpatrick
Lawrenceburg, KY
Scout ranked #3 long snapper; ESPN ranked #6 LS.
DB Traveon Henry
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Rivals 28th ranked safety. 16 offers, incl. BC, FSU, GA Tech, Harvard, Illinois, Maryland, NC St., and Vandy.
DB Joseph Jones  Plano, IL
Scout 3-Star. Multi-position player.
RB Malin Jones Naperville, IL
  Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Rivals 10th ranked in state. BC, Illinois, Iowa, L'ville, Notre Dame, Toledo offered.
DT Greg Kuhar Concord Tnshp, OH
Rivals 4-Star. Scout and ESPN 3-Star. Rivals ranked #21 DT; #18 in state.  BC, Iowa, Michigan, 'Cuse, Toledo, Vandy, W. Vir. offered.
DE Dean Lowry Rockford, IL
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 17th ranked in state.  10 offers, incl. Iowa, Minny, Purdue, and Vandy.
DT/OL Connor Mahoney
Malvern, PA
  Scout and ESPN 3-Star.  Missouri, Harvard, Princeton, Tulane, 'Nova, Yale offered.
WR Mike McHugh Kirkwood, MO
Rivals 3-Star.  Rivals 16th ranked in state. 4 offers.
LB Ifeadi Odenigbo
Centerville, OH
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 4-Star.  Rivals ranked #9 at DE, #4 in state, #109 national.  Scout ranked #5 at DE. ESPN ranked #4 DE. 20 offers, incl. Alabama, BC, Cal, Cincy, GA Tech, Illinois, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, UCLA, USC, and Stanford.
OL Eric Olson
Sudbury, MA
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 3-Star. Rivals ranked #5 in state.  8 offers, incl. BC, Duke, Michigan, and VA.
OL Ian Park
Pittsburgh, PA
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 3-Star.  8 offers, incl. Cincy, Maryland, Pitt, 'Cuse, Vandy and W. Vir.
OL Kenton Playko Lewis Ctr., OH
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 3-Star.  10 offers, incl. Cincy, Indy, and W. Vir.
LB Jaylen Prater
Hamden, OH
Cincy, Indy, Ohio, Toledo offered.
WR Andrew Scanlan
Royersford, PA
Scout 3-Star. Akron, Deleware, NIU offered.
TE/SB Jack Schwaba Upper St. Clair, PA
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 3-Star.  Rutgers, 'Cuse, Toledo offered.
SB Dan Vitale
Wheaton, IL
Central Mich. offered.
DB Dwight White
Cypress, TX
Rivals 3-Star.  SW Louisiana offered.
LB Eric Wilson
Redford, MI
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 3-Star.  Rivals ranked #20 in state. Army, Central Mich., Toledo, W. Vir. offered.

NU Holds Spring Exhibition [posted April 13]

Northwestern will conclude its 90th annual spring practice tomorrow by hosting the Spring Exhibition, a chance for fans to meet players, see the team during its final practice session, and have some fun at Ryan Field.

The official schedule can be found on NUSports.com.   Among the activities:

  • 7:00 am, Saturday: parking lots open for tailgating.
  • 10:30: Ryan Field opens.
  • Noon: Spring Exhibition practice
  • <>15 minutes after Spring Exhibition: "Cool Down with the 'Cats." This event recently replaced the traditional pre-game "Stretch with the 'Cats."  Young fans are invited to cool down with the players, get pictures and autographs.

Flashback to NU's 1935 spring practice.

2012 Media Previews and Predictions [initially posted June 10; last updated Aug. 10]

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

In part due to the economic situation, and partially due to the shift from print to online media, there are fewer preview magazines for college football than there have been in other years.  Athlon and Lindy's are still around to inaugurate the preview season, and Phil Steele's publication remains the most popular, but others have closed shop or moved entirely to the Internet.

Typically, the print prognosticators do not favor NU.  Of course, most of these previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring the biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings) is a profitable strategy.  However, NU has occasionally bucked that trend and the conventional thinking: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a Big Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.

For the past few years, however, most media have typically placed NU at ninth place in the conference, ahead of Indiana and one school from the pair of Illinois or Minnesota.  After Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the picks for NU are typically split between ninth and tenth in the conference.  There is also what I call the "Heinz Line" at the 57 spot nationally: if a previewer favors NU, he will place the 'Cats just above the 57th spot among the ranked Division I-A teams; a bad prognostication consigns NU to a lower rank.  If the sportswriter has no overly optimistic or pessimistic feel for the team, he will invariably rank NU at 57.

NU is riding four straight bowl seasons, with a host of returning talent.  Last year, for the first time in a decade, the media broke the Heinz Line rule and picked the 'Cats higher in the national preseason rankings and picks.  Will they again put NU above the fabled 57 line?

The 2012 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
2012 Wildcat predictions:
  • Since it has the crown for the most accurate pick three years running, let's start with Athlon.  Athlon ranks NU 49th nationally (just above Iowa), set to finish 2012 with a second-straight 3-5 conference record.  Athlon predicts that this will be good for a fourth-place finish in the Legends, tying with Iowa and beating out Minnesota.  Athlon predicts that NU will sweep the non-conference, finish 7-5, and vault into the Insight Bowl.  "[NU is] capable of winning eight games in 2012.  New quarterback Kain Colter is a dynamic playmaker and there are plenty of options at receiver.  Fixing a leaky defense is coach Pat Fitzgerald's top priority."
  • Lindy's predicts another .500 finish for NU in 2012, good enough for 55th in the nation and 8th in the Big Ten (which means that four conference teams are tabbed to finish worse than 55th, which is unusual).  Lindy's notes NU's receiver corps, praising its size, speed and depth.  It names the defensive line as a key weakness, points out the young secondary, and describes special teams as below average.  Lindy's makes a point of mentioning that the incoming group of players is the best in Fitz's tenure; it is particularly impressed with Greg Kuhar and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
  • CollegeFootballNews.com released its early summer predictions, and CFN sees NU finishing 6-6 again in 2012, ranking the 'Cats #50 in the country.  CFN puts NU at #9 in the conference, just behind Penn State, and above Purdue, Indiana and Minny.  It predicts a return to the Meineke Bowl.
  • Internet statistician and ranking mogul James Howell has been offering his rankings and game predictions for many years.  For the 2012 preseason his power rankings take a very low view of NU, ranking the 'Cats 63rd (down even from Howell's 2011 61st ranking).  Howell tabs NU ninth in the conference (he ranks Indiana a humiliating #108 nationally).
  • Writer Dan Vasta has submitted Bleacher Report's early predictions; he ranks NU #43, one of the highest picks so far.  Bleacher Report tabs NU to finish 7-5, eighth in the Big Ten, just behind Penn State and ahead of Purdue, Illinois, Minny and Indy.  The site's contributor, Scott Polacek, however, has a different take, slotting NU ninth in the Big Ten: "If Northwestern couldn’t finish in the rankings when it was under the direction of Dan Persa, who set the NCAA record for all-time completion percentage, it’s a safe bet to say it will probably not finish ranked in its first season without him."
  • Always the most anticipated college print annual, Phil Steele's College Football Review is now on newsstands.  Steele typically releases two preseason national polls: his standard preseason poll (which shows his prediction of how each FBS team will finish the season) and the power poll (how strong each team is, regardless of its 2012 schedule).  NU is unranked in Steele's top-50 standard poll. The 'Cats come very close to hitting the Heinz Line in Steele's Power Poll, however, clocking in at #58.  And what team does Steele slot at #57?  Illinois.  As for NU in the conference, Steele follows most predictions this year, placing NU at fifth in the Legends Division, ahead of Minnesota.  Steele gives the 'Cats a 4/9 chance of making a bowl, with Detroit (vs. Ohio U.) being the most likely destination.
  • One of the more pessimistic predictions comes from Patrick Schmidt, at the blog getrealfootball.com.  Schmidt forecasts a 4-8 season for NU, with too many spots to fill on the roster.
  • A recent entry in the magazine annuals comes from USA Today.  Its print version does not give full rankings for FBS teams; it just gives the top 25.  Unsurprisingly, the 'Cats are not ranked.  USA Today predicts a fifth place finish in the Legends Divison (ahead of Minny), with a 3-5 Big Ten finish and 6-6 overall.  The publication cautions, however, that NU could wind up with as low as four wins.
  • Paul Myerberg, at the college football blog Pre Snap Read, ranks NU #59, just two spots below the Heinz Line.  Pre Snap Read places NU eighth in the conference, ahead of usual suspects Indiana (a sad 109th), Purdue and Minnesota, and also ahead of Illinois (#64).
  • Want the most optimistic pick for 2012?  Look to none other than ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.  Kiper named Northwestern as one of the most underrated teams in 2012, and said that the 'Cats deserve a spot in the top 25.
  • CBS Sports and its college football analyst, Tom Fornelli, place NU in the familiar fifth position in the Legends Division, ahead of Minnesota.  Fornelli notes that NU's defensive performance will be key this season.
  • NationalChamps.net only ranks the top 50 teams.  NU is not among them, although Illinois is (at #44).
  • Mike Huguenin at Yahoo thinks that "the Wildcats seem to have plateaued," making bowls the past four years, but seeing their win totals decrease by one each year.  Yahoo puts the 'Cats at #50 nationally and eighth in the Big Ten, just below Iowa (#43).
Ed. note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the media's preseason predictions.  Before the 2012 season, most of the media-- as is typical-- underestimated the 'Cats.  By far the most accurate prediction for 2012 came from ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., the only major media commentator to predict that NU should be ranked.

This year's Dog Pick goes to both getrealfootball.com (for its 4-8 prediction) and to the increasingly inaccurate Phil Steele.  Steele earns a share of the 2012 Dog because he not only ranked NU below the Heinz Line, he picked Illinois over the 'Cats.  Well played.

NU Reveals New Under Armour Uniforms [posted July 26]

Northwestern became Under Armour's first Big Ten school in 2012, and the new Under Armour uniforms were a carefully planned mixture of tradition and modern design.  The result: a fantastic team identity that is progressive, yet retro, and uniquely Northwestern.

All Northwestern athletic teams have a consistent style, with each sport having unique elements.  "19 sports; one team."  UA's approach to the uniform design is "500 / 50 / 5": there are aspects to the uniforms identifiable at 500 feet, 50 feet, and details recognizable only close-up (five feet). 

The design team seems to have taken a lot from campus architecture, particularly from Deering Library.  Gothic arches play into the new design, as does neo-gothic stonework.  There was earlier mention of ivy patterns  and the modified old-English script on NU's building signs, but those have not yet made their appearance. 

JERSEY: The 2012 home jersey is purple, as it has been since 2003.  However, Under Armour changed the shade of purple and, in a titanic improvement, made sure that the purple jersey matched the purple helmet, even when seen on TV (has that ever before been the case?)  Among the jersey details:
  • The Northwestern stripe is the dominant feature, appearing across the chest and back of the jerseys.  The chest stripe is reminiscent of the 1909 NU jersey design, a look Northwestern pioneered.  Under Armour and NU's offseason slogan, "reclaim the stripe!" is manifest in the new uniforms.  The Northwestern stripe has become the team identifier, even making its debut in the field end zone design for 2012.
  • The sleeve stripes appear not on the jersey itself, but on the base layer (the compression shirt).
  • The stripes are a single color, for the first time since 1977.  The stripe is all purple on the white jerseys and (for the first time ever) all black on the purple jersey.
  • For the first time ever, NU's uniforms have a word ("NORTHWESTERN") across the chest of the jersey.  The font, by the way, appears to be Morgan Poster Avec.
  • The numbers and the "NORTHWESTERN" logo are sewn on.  For the purple jerseys, the numbers are white with a black outline.  For the white jerseys, the numbers are black, with a white outline (except for the shoulder numbers, which are purple, with a black outline).  The numbers are patterned, or embellished, with a brickwork design, similar to the campus building brickwork.
  • The jerseys, for the first time since 1994, have shoulder, or TV, numbers.
  • There is no N-Cat logo on the uniform.  Northwestern appears to be moving away from using the N-Cat logo on most apparel.
  • All Big Ten teams are now required to wear the "B1G" logo on their jerseys.

Prater Ruled Eligible to Play in 2012 [posted July 31]

Northwestern announced on Tuesday that Kyle Prater, the star wide receiver transfer from USC, will indeed be eligible to play for the Wildcats this fall.  There was a possibility that Prater would have to wait a year to joint the team.  Instead, the NCAA granted a residence waiver to Prater, allowing him to play this season and giving him three full years of eligibility with NU.

"It's been a long road so first and foremost I want to thank God for the chance to play football and do what I love," Prater said. "I feel blessed for the opportunities I've found at Northwestern and am excited to get back on the field this fall. My family is very important to me so it means a lot for them to be nearby while I play football and earn my degree at Northwestern. I'm thankful for this decision from the NCAA and am ready to be on the field with my teammates when this season begins."

Prater was a five-star recruit for USC in 2010, a standout from Hillside, Illinois's Proviso West High School.  Rivals rated him the top wide receiver prospect nationwide in 2010 and the third-highest ranked player at any position.  At the time Rivals' Barry Every wrote, "[Prater] is the type of wideout that does not have to be open to make a catch and will be a threat to score from any point on the field.  He has possibly the best hands and body control of any receiver in the country."

Camp Kenosha XXI Begins [posted Aug. 13]

The Wildcats have begun Camp Kenosha XXI.  The team traveled last Saturday to the UW-Parkside campus for the second leg of its 2012 preseason practices, having wrapped up initial practices in Evanston.  On Monday morning, the 'Cats are holding their first Kenosha practice.

The team apparently is in good shape heading into Kenosha.  Coach Fitzgerald, quoted in the Sun-Times, commented on the 'Cats' condition: “We had a lot of retention from spring physically.  You kind of go one of two places in the summer. You either go through and do your voluntary 7-on-7s and position-specific stuff and you either create a lot of bad habits and get rusty or you take steps forward. And this group almost across the board took really positive steps forward fundamentally over the summer."

Like last season, all of the Kenosha practices, including the August 18 team scrimmage, will be closed to the general public.

Kenosha Concludes; 'Cats Prepare for Opener [posted Aug. 19]

Northwestern wrapped up its twenty-first annual practice sessions in Kenosha with a scrimmage on Saturday, a day after the Wildcats joined several Navy SEALs for a special practice on the Lake Michigan shore. 

The good news from Cheddarland: the team suffered no serious injuries.  Most of the key returning starters did not play in the Saturday scrimmage, and the second string had an efficient, productive practice.

The Friday session with the SEALs continued the 'Cats' recent tradition of having at least one practice tied into the US military.  In 2010 NU began staging a post-Kenosha practice at the Great Lakes Naval Station, and the team had planned as recently as this spring to continue that tradition at Great Lakes this summer.  However, the NCAA has enforced a rule prohibiting teams from staging preseason practices at more than one off-campus site, and NU's Kenosha practices now prevent the team from following up at Great Lakes.  Instead, this year the team will visit Great Lakes and meet with the troops, but won't practice there.

Another team that included the military in its preseason practices is Northwestern's first opponent of 2012, the Syracuse Orange.  Syracuse staged part of its August practice schedule at nearby Fort Drum, with the help of several members of the 10th Mountain Division.  While NU's work with the SEALs included an intense workout, the Orange engaged in a paintball tournament.

Last season, Northwestern endured a five-game losing streak midseason, before rebounding to qualify for the Texas Bowl.  Syracuse, however, finished 2011 with a five-game losing skid, sputtering to a 5-7 finish.  Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib returns for 2012, and he brings along school records for TD passes, completions and passing yards in a season.  He also returns, however, with only four other offensive starters from last year.  Nassib will likely be helped by Syracuse's version of Kain Colter: Ashton Broyld, a capable quarterback / receiver / runningback.  Against Northwestern's improved (but still untested) defense, Broyld could find his groove, or he could be ground up.

The Syracuse defense has lost some key talent on the defensive line, with one starter moving early to the NFL, one dropping out of school, and another suffering a season-ending injury.  NU's offensive line should win the battle in the trench, but the Orange defensive secondary should be strong.  The 'Cats will get an early test and a good opportunity to find out just where they are.

NU Prepares Ryan Field for 2012 [posted Aug. 19]

Gone is last year's "44-Foot Fitz."  In its place on Ryan Field's southwest tower is a new banner, featuring the UnderArmour logo and the Northwestern stripe and helmet.  NU has also updated the hanging banners across the exterior of the stadium, as you can see in the photos below:

Chi Chi Bang Bang!  NU Edges 'Cuse 42-41 [posted Sept. 1]

Touched off by an 82-yard explosive punt return for touchdown by Venric Mark, Northwestern built a 35-13 lead against Syracuse, only to fall behind late in the fourth quarter.  The NU defense, absolutely riddled by the Orange air assault and pass interference, gave up 470 passing yards, but also picked up two crucial turnovers-- both by Chi Chi Ariguzo-- that led to scores.

With Kain Colter injured on the sidelines, Trevor Siemian led the final drive to regain the lead for good with under a minute left. . .

Stingin' In The Rain: NU Beats Vandy 23-13 [posted Sept. 9]

With doubts lingering from last week's performance against Syracuse, the Northwestern defense stepped onto Ryan Field Saturday night and delivered a defining statement against SEC foe Vanderbilt, en route to a 23-13 win. . .

. . . The defense held Vandy to 318 total yards and forced two critical fumbles.  While the offense appeared stymied for much of the first three quarters, it roared back in the fourth, with Siemian and Colter taking turns at stunning the Commodores in the last ten minutes.

NU Honors 1962 Team: 50th Anniversary of #1 'Cats [posted Oct. 26]

On Thursday, Northwestern celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the 1962 Wildcats, one of the greatest teams in NU history.  Returning to campus were team captain Jay Robertson, quarterback Tom Myers, wide receiver Paul Flatley, and other members of the team.  Coach Ara Parseghian had been invited to return, but unfortunately had an obligation elsewhere this week.  In addition to attending the fiftieth celebration on Thursday, Flatley will attend this Saturday's homecoming game against Iowa as the Wildcats' honorary captain.

The 1962 team was the culmination of Coach Parseghian's rebuilding of the Wildcat program.  Parseghian came to NU from Miami, Ohio, in 1956, just after NU had suffered its first winless season in decades.  Parseghian brought with him an intensity unmatched among college coaches and an uncanny ability to recruit.  His recruiting efforts began to bear fruit in 1958, when the 'Cats reached #4 in the nation after knocking off two top-ten teams (#10 Washington State and #5 Ohio State).  A year later, the 'Cats famously took down #2 Oklahoma en route to their own #2 ranking. 

During Thursday's celebration, athletic director Jim Phillips held a panel discussion with Robertson, Flatley and Myers, and each described Parseghian's recruiting abilities.  Flatley recalled being impressed with Parseghian's passion-- "how could you not be impressed?"  For Myers, the key impression was the one that Parseghian made on his mother, who was swept away by Parseghian's energy and charm.  Myers, who is from Ohio, had also been recruited by Woody Hayes.  Hayes complemented Myers' athleticism "as a pole vaulter," but had little use for a passer in the "three yards and a cloud of dust" Big Ten of the early 1960s.  Parseghian, however, was far more creative and adaptable. 

NU was, at the time, also a ground-based team, but Ara saw in Myers the opportunity to open up the air game, and he crafted his offense around his new weapon.  1962 was Myers' first season as a varsity player, and it would open up the Wildcat's passing game as never before.  Parseghian took Flatley, a 190-pound fullback, and moved him to wideout, and the fireworks began.

The 1962 team began by beating South Carolina, a game during which-- as recalled by Flatley-- Myers completed 20 straight passes.  The Chicago Tribune wrote afterward, "Yesterday, a sophomore quarterback playing his first collegiate game had fans whispering his name in the same breath with (Otto) Graham's."

Wins against Illinois and Minnesota set up a blockbuster game against the Buckeyes in Columbus.  NU was ranked #8; OSU was #6.  Myers and Flatley recalled the nightmarish way the game began: Ohio State returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, held NU's first drive to a three-and-out, then drove in for another touchdown.  Despite being down 14-0 within minutes of the game's start, "no one on our side seemed concerned," Myers recalled, "and Ohio State would not score again."  The game ended in an 18-14 Wildcat victory.

All three alumni described the reception the team received by students upon their return from Columbus.  A large group of students met the team at the airport, and students continued the party throughout the weekend.  The win propelled the team to a #3 ranking, and the 'Cats were fired up for their homecoming tilt against Notre Dame, a team that NU had beaten three straight times.

Flatley's catch vs. Notre Dame
[NU Archives]

The NU - Notre Dame game became a legendary moment in Wildcat football (and ranks #7 on HailToPurple.com's list of the greatest games in NU history).  Northwestern swamped the Irish 35-6, taking advantage of the Myers-to-Flatley aerial circus that was powering the 'Cats.  Flatley's one-handed grab during the game has become an iconic image of NU football, and Myers' account of that play was quite funny: "I'm not a fan of that play, because that great catch meant it was a terrible throw!"  Flatley recounted how he had applied stickem to his hands before the game ("It was legal back then!  It was legal!"), leading Myers to quip, "I didn't want to touch the ball afterwards.  I was afraid it wouldn't leave my hands on the next throw."

The win over the Irish led to Northwestern taking the #1 spot in the AP Poll for the first time since 1936, and NU would hold the top spot for just two weeks.  A 26-21 win over a strong Indiana team the following week allowed the 'Cats to keep their #1 ranking, but the win proved costly, and NU found itself riddled with injuries and lacking the needed depth to maintain.  NU lost to #8 Wisconsin a week later.

The team wrapped up the season by beating the Miami Hurricaines for its seventh win, giving NU one of its finest seasons.

Athletic Director Phillips (left) and NU Trustee Dan Jones (far right) present Jay Robertson,
Paul Flatley and Tom Myers with new Northwestern jerseys.

In addition to celebrating the 1962 team, Thursday's event also highlighted the recent efforts to restore and preserve Northwestern's trove of historic game films.  NU has one of the largest, most comprehensive archives of football film in the country.  Obviously, this material is a gold mine for team historians, former players and their families.  Some of the material that has already been preserved and digitized can be viewed here

The Northwestern Archives is conducting this effort, and it is daunting.  Readers of HailToPurple.com know the rich history and compelling story of Northwestern Football, and here is our chance to help preserve that history.  Donors can become part of the Northwestern Game-Savers Team, funding the preservation of one of the greatest football archives in America. . . .

Signature Win! 'Cats Beat MSU; Fitz One Win From Pappy [posted Nov. 18]

Storming into East Lansing, the Wildcats stood and delivered: they claimed their eighth win of the season, a feat that the program has accomplished just five other times during the Expect Victory era.  The 'Cats delivered their first win over Michigan State-- a team that NU used to devil-- since the wild overtime thriller in 2007.  They delivered one more piece-- perhaps the keystone-- to a bridge leading directly to Florida and a January 1 bowl.  Most importantly, however, NU delivered a win that was a season signature, the defining win of the regular season.  The wins over Vanderbilt and Iowa were important, but this was Michigan State, preseason conference favorite, a team that has recently had NU's number, hosting the Wildcats during a year when the 'Cats had fallen in close games to other teams that were or are the conference favorites.

In a series with so many recent offensive bonanzas, this game surprisingly began as a defensive battle.  NU charged out of the gate and drove quickly to the red zone, thanks to a nice shovel pass from Kain Colter to Dan Vitale and the usual scrambling heroics by Colter.  However, the Spartan defense, arguably the best in the Legends, shut down the drive at the Spartan seven-yard line, and NU had to rely on Jeff Budzien to grab the first score.

Budzien went on to have his usual sterling performance, providing the 'Cats with their only other score of the first half (a 43-yarder with 41 seconds to go) and the game-winner in the middle of the fourth quarter.

By the end of the first quarter, the Wildcat offense had been stymied by the MSU defense and by the loss (totally ignored by the ESPN announcing crew) of Venric Mark.  Mark had sustained "an extreme upper body injury," as an NU spokesperson would phrase it later.  NU's offense would take another hit later in the game, when Colter departed and Trevor Siemian assumed command.  After the game, Coach Fitzgerald speculated that both Mark and Siemian had sustained minor injuries and would be available for the season finale.

The NU defense made sure, however, that the highlight reel would not be clogged by the team in green.  Quentin Williams's TFL and Tyler Scott's PBU derailed Michigan State's opening drive.  MSU's second drive ended in near disaster, with a fumble recovered by Sean McEvilly at the NU 2-yard line.  It was to be the first of four MSU turnovers forced by the NU defense, including another fumble and two interceptions that bookended the third quarter (a pick six by David Nwabuisi caused by Ibraheim Campbell's quarterback assault and a pick by Jared Carpenter). 

Those four forced turnovers, however, don't include one of the most important turnovers of the game: MSU's turnover on downs.  By the second quarter, MSU led Northwestern by the improbable score of 5-3 (the Spartans had sacked Colter a couple of plays after the fumble recovery near the NU goal) and had driven to the NU 8-yard line for a first and goal.  Campbell, with help from Chance Carter, Damien Proby and Drew Smith, orchestrated a goal line stand for the ages.

Both offenses, however, began to open up in the second half.  With the score knotted at 13, Colter and Siemian paired up for a TD drive that included two first-down passes to Vitale.  Vitale would end the day with 110 receiving yards, leading all 'Cats and demonstrating that he is the team's go-to superback.

Budzien's last field goal, which gave NU its fragile 23-20 lead, came with just over seven minutes to go, and it set up the usual fourth quarter lead drama that 'Cat fans now dread.  This time, however, with a signature win on the line, Northwestern would fight like hell to claim it, and would not suffer the heartbreaking single play that has plagued both NU and MSU this year.  As the Spartans attempted their last gasp in the final minute of the game, Campbell, Demetrius Dugar, Carpenter, and the rest of the Wildcat defense slammed the door, silenced Spartan Stadium, and signed their names to the best win of eight so far in 2012.

[posted Nov. 20]

As his seventh season as head coach of the Wildcats concludes, Pat Fitzgerald stands at the threshold of winning more games at Northwestern than any coach before him.  When he wins his fiftieth game, either with a long-sought January 1 bowl victory or a non-conference win early next season, he will pass Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf for the record.  Doing so, Fitzgerald will break one final streak of frustration, bad luck and heartbreak that remains from Northwestern’s football challenges in recent decades: Fitzgerald will have stayed at NU long enough to have passed Pappy, long enough to have contributed to a stable and enduring football program with a long-tenured coach.  Great coaches have appeared in Evanston between the terms of these two men—Voigts, Parseghian, Agase, Barnett, and Walker among them—but none stayed, or could stay, long enough to make it to 50 victories. 

It is not a groundbreaking mark only for Fitzgerald.  As we will see, it is a landmark for the school and the program as well.


The man whom Fitzgerald will pass, Lynn Waldorf, had a successful coaching career before he came to Northwestern and an even more famous one after his departure from Evanston.   Like Fitzgerald, Waldorf was a two-time All American as a player (for Syracuse), and like Fitz, Waldorf became a head coach at a very young age.

Waldorf made his head coaching debut in 1925, at age 23, at Oklahoma City University.  He coached there for four seasons, turning around the fortunes of that small school’s team and earning a conference championship.

Waldorf entered coaching at the major college level in 1929 at Oklahoma State.  He was a stunning success, powering the Cowboys to three Missouri Valley Conference championships during his five seasons in Stillwater.   From there, Pappy made a one-season stop at Kansas State, coaching the other Wildcats to a Big Eight Conference title.

Noting Waldorf’s reputation as an up and coming coach, NU athletic director Tug Wilson began to work to replace Northwestern’s coach, Dick Hanley, with Waldorf.  Hanley had coached the ‘Cats to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1930 and ’31, but his team was in a brief slump, and Hanley had lost support of the NU administration. 

Even during this period in Northwestern’s football history, a period festooned with conference titles and near misses at national titles, a problem was beginning to crop up between the football head coach and the school’s administration and athletic director.  At a school with such recruiting, admissions, and academic restrictions as Northwestern, it can become very difficult to achieve and maintain a balance between providing its football coach with the support he needs, jeopardizing the school standards, or undercutting support for its coach—through negligence, indifference, or even hostility.  With Hanley, it had become a hostile withdrawal of support.  And so, after eight seasons, NU’s winningest coach, the only coach to date with multiple Big Ten titles, was essentially forced out, and Waldorf was in.

Pappy prowls the sideline in California   [HTP Photo Archive]

Waldorf, as he had in each of his previous schools, struck immediate gold.  During his first season he led the ‘Cats to a seismic upset of Notre Dame, in South Bend, just one week after the Irish had beaten Ohio State in the original “game of the century.”  The game is famous for a twist that Waldorf, along with assistant coach Litz Rusness, developed: the shifting defense.  Before the ’35  game with the Irish, most defenses lined up in the same formation the entire game.  Instead, Waldorf’s ‘Cats paid attention to the offensive formation, then shifted from a 5-3 formation into a formation more suitable to defend the offense as set.  The result was a 14-7 upending of the Irish.  The win allowed Waldorf to claim the very first national coach of the year award at the end of the ’35 season.

The following year NU would lose to Notre Dame, which might seem a bit of a letdown, until one realizes that the 1936 NU – Notre Dame game was to determine the national championship.  Northwestern, in Pappy’s second season, had beaten Minnesota, snapping the Gophers’ 28-game unbeaten streak and earning itself the #1 national ranking in the AP Poll’s first year.  The ‘Cats would lose out on the national championship (which Minnesota would ultimately claim, though it did not win its own conference), but would win the unshared Big Ten title.

Waldorf was winning games, and he was doing so by bringing in top flight talent, including Bob Voigts and Bernie Jefferson (both of whom had key roles in the ’36 title season), Bill DeCorrevont (the national #1 recruiting pick and to this day NU’s top-rated recruit), and of course halfback Otto Graham. 

Graham had come to NU on a basketball scholarship and was a music major; his place on the Dyche Stadium grass was supposed to be as a French horn player for NUMB.  However, Graham was also a skilled baseball player and a versatile football player, and during his freshman year he guided his fraternity’s intramural football team to the IM championship.  Waldorf watched, and he made his move, recruiting Graham for the Wildcat football team. 

Pappy’s observation  paid off.  Graham’s 1941 football debut was a stunner.  He helped to dismantle Waldorf’s old school, Kansas State, 51 to 3 in the season opener.  Graham was set to begin a three-year campaign to tear apart the Big Ten’s passing records en route to All American honors and a place as one of NU’s greatest athletes.  By 1943 Graham was a commanding figure in the conference, and Pappy had surpassed Hanley’s win record, taking the title of the all-time winningest coach at NU.

The following three seasons, however, were somewhat disappointing, and by the end of the 1946 season, Pappy had become frustrated with the school and its restrictions.  When asked at one point about the relatively small number of players NU had on its roster compared to other Big Ten teams, Waldorf had complained, “Overall, things were uneven at Northwestern.  We were never able to offer as much financial aid as we were allowed to under the rules.”1

When the University of California’s athletic director offered Waldorf that school’s head coaching position—and a sizable raise—Waldorf countered by requesting control over his staff and that he would report to the president of the university2, shaking off the restrictions that had encumbered him at NU.  And so, in early 1947, with 49 wins after 12 seasons as the Wildcats’ coach, Pappy Waldorf left for Cal.

While head coach of the Bears, Waldorf enjoyed a string of three straight Pacific Coast Conference titles and three straight Rose Bowl appearances.  The first Rose Bowl for Pappy was, of course, the 1949 Rose Bowl against his former team and his former student, Northwestern, coached by Bob Voigts.


Voigts, another very young head coach, resembled Fitzgerald even more than Pappy did.  Voigts was an NU alumnus, who as a Wildcat player was named All American.  He, like Fitz, was 31 years old when he took the reins at NU.  He was a former assistant coach, but had no experience as a coordinator or head coach.

When Voigts in his second year led the ‘Cats to the famed Rose Bowl win over Pappy’s Cal Bears, it seemed that Voigts was the perfect fit for Northwestern.  But that fit was not to last.  As with Hanley and Waldorf, Voigts found his team in a rut a few years after stellar success.  And as it had with Hanley, the administration decided to cut itself free of its coach.  Voigts found alumni and administration support evaporating toward the end of the 1954 season, and he left, essentially forced out as Hanley had been.

Voigts’s successor, Lou Saban, did not work out, but the next coach, Ara Parseghian, certainly did.  Parseghian rebuilt the team, recruited top-flight talent, and by 1958 had the Wildcats poised to make a series of runs at the conference.  While NU did not win a title under Parseghian, it came close several times, and it remained very competitive.  By the end of his eighth season at NU, however, Parseghian had also become as frustrated as his predecessors.

Northwestern would not budge on its academic restrictions, which was OK, but it also did not give its football coach the level of control and resources that other Big Ten schools afforded their programs.  “I’m restive,” Parseghian famously uttered when asked about his possible plans to leave Evanston.  Eventually, he did, for a school that promised more resources, and had the tradition to back it up: Notre Dame.   The “Era of Ara” ended after the 1963 season, and Ara had 36 wins and one game over a .500 record.  He would be the last coach to leave Evanston with a winning record.

One of Parseghian’s assistants, Alex Agase, took the helm in 1964, struggled for a few seasons, and then hit gold in 1970, taking the ‘Cats to the brink of a title and a Rose Bowl bid two years in a row.  During his nine seasons, Agase notched 32 wins.  However, he also became unhappy with the support he had received from the Northwestern administration.

Ara: the Coach Who Would Be King
[HTP Photo Archive]

Agase had even more reason to complain: in 1970 Robert Strotz became the president of Northwestern, and Strotz was not one to increase money and resources for athletics.  Again, Northwestern had a solid coach.  Again, the coach grew disappointed with the resources available to his program.  And again, he was denied what he needed to succeed.  Agase left for Purdue before the 1973 season.

So began the Dark Ages.  Coaches Pont, Venturi, Green, and Peay had no realistic hope of claiming win #50 at Northwestern.  Green, realizing the futility of hoping for what he needed to succeed at NU, bolted for Stanford.  Pont, who was by 1977 also the athletic director, removed himself from command after five seasons.  Venturi and Peay were let go.  But NU’s next president, Arnold Weber, was setting the stage for the end of the Dark Ages, and the next coach would again have a shot at passing Pappy.

Gary Barnett’s first few years at NU and fantastic run through the Big Ten in 1995 and 1996 put him half way to 50 wins.  However, Barnett often looked for another home, and by 1998 his search had picked up.  Part of this was Barnett’s own wanderlust; however, a significant reason for Barnett’s resume blizzard was the same old problem that had plagued the football program for nearly 70 years.  Barnett, holder of two Big Ten football titles, NU’s first since Pappy, was being paid less than incoming basketball coach Kevin O’Neill.  Athletic director Rick Taylor had shown Barnett a surprising level of disrespect, and when Barnett made a fairly reasonable plea for more resources, the response was much the same as it had always been.  And so, Barnett took the opportunity to return to Colorado, after winning 35 games at NU, one shy of Dick Hanley.

When Taylor announced Randy Walker as Barnett’s successor, the first piece was in place at having a coach who would stay the distance and build an enduring program at NU.  The second piece was Taylor’s own replacement four years later.  Mark Murphy was a director who understood the vital importance of keeping his good coaches, and he was determined to keep Walker, who was at that point three years removed from the 2000 Big Ten title and had placed the program back on stable ground.  In the spring of 2006, Murphy signed Walker to a contract extension through 2011.  The extension would have meant Walker would have been at Northwestern for 13 seasons, one longer than Waldorf.  Walker was ecstatic, and the pattern of frustration, disappointment, and erosion with Northwestern’s football coaching position was at last at an end.  It seemed Walker was destined to pass Waldorf and surpass 50 wins.

Nothing, sadly, is what it seems.  The pattern indeed, had ended, but it would take the next coach to reach the milestone.  The Wildcat nation lost Walker, but Fitzgerald is just as committed.  Murphy moved on, but his successor has shown an even more passionate commitment to the program and to its longevity.  And so a new milestone is to be set.  And never in our lifetimes will we see the coach who will eventually pass Fitz.

1-2: Cameron and Greenburg, Pappy, The Gentle Bear, 2000.
Other references: Paulison, The Tale of the Wildcats, 1951.
LaTourette, Northwestern Wildcat Football, 2005.

NINE IS FINE!  NU Mauls Illini 50-14;
Fitz Ties Pappy for Wins; 'Cats Close Jan. 1 Bowl Bid [posted Nov. 25]

More than a few Wildcat fans had the same reaction last week to the news that Northwestern was a 19-point favorite vs. Illinois: uh-oh.  Would this, the final game of the regular season, be NU's "trap game," the one game the 'Cats should win that they do not?  Would this be like last year's Army game?

Fans needn't have worried.  This was not like last year's Army game, nor the trap games of previous recent seasons.  This time, there would be no letting off the gas, no playing "not to lose" until the job was truly done.

Last Saturday, the job was truly done midway through the third quarter as Northwestern took a 48 to 14 lead over woeful Illinois, en route to a righteous 50 to 14 destruction of the Illini.  Fueled by the humiliation at Wrigley Field in 2010 and last year's depressingly close loss in Champaign, Northwestern's killer instinct kicked in, and the 'Cats poured out an offensive and defensive spectacle early in the second half.

The first half, however, began sluggishly.  Northwestern's defense had problems stopping Illinois early, allowing a methodical opening drive to give Champaign County's Big Ten team a 7-0 lead.  Colter and Mark responded by driving into Illini territory, but got no further than the 27-yard line.  From there, Jeff Budzien kept his nearly flawless season at its stellar level by drilling a 44-yard field goal (That Budzien is not being considered for the Lou Groza Award this season is borderline criminal.  Among the finalists is a Tulane kicker who has missed an extra point and a Florida kicker who is 20 for 24 for FGs.). 

On the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats rocked returner Justin Green, popping the ball directly into the arms of Cameron Dickerson.  Colter took advantage of the turnover by streaking into the end zone in two plays, putting the 'Cats into the lead for good.

Illinois's next drive was shut down, in part due to one of several personal fouls that the Illini would commit during an exquisitely sloppy performance by the Orange and Blue.  Colter then sought to extend the Wildcats' lead, but was injured at midfield.  Trevor Siemian's first throw was picked off, but the favor was returned on the very next play by David Nwabuisi.  Nwabuisi's monster game on Saturday climaxed with his pick at the Illinois 38-yard line, which was brought closer to the Illinois goal thanks to a bizarre Illinois coaching sideline interference penalty.  Coach Beckman ended up suffering through two sideline penalties. . . .

. . .  A Colter pass to Tony Jones gave NU a brief 10-point lead.  However, Illinois was not yet done.  The Illini burned through a four-minute drive, mixing up passing and ground attacks, to score and come within three.  The Wildcat defense was playing some of its worst ball of the season.  Within minutes, however, the defense would turn itself around dramatically, going from flat to fabulous, playing some of its best ball of the season.

The offense also stepped up, as Colter, Mark, and superback Tim Riley churned out a ground-based assault for a touchdown and a return to a double digit lead.  Within minutes of the beginning of the third quarter, NU's lead stretched to 20 with a Colter air strike to Tyris Jones, and the rout was officially underway.  Illinois's next drive ended with the highlight of the game, an Ibraheim Campbell interception during which Campbell shook off the intended receiver and broke loose for a 40-yard return.  The following play was a wild one: a grouped formation leading to a spread, and Colter throwing a touchdown lob to a wide-open Paul Jorgensen.  Colter's three passing touchdowns for the day were a personal best for #2.

Another Illinois interception led to Northwestern's final scoring drive of the day, coming with more than two minutes to go in the third quarter.  The Wildcat defense slammed the door shut on Illinois, which raised the white flag when it punted to begin the fourth quarter.

And so began NU's drive to kill the quarter, an eleven minute and ten second drive that could very well be the longest single drive in NU's entire history.  The drive included two fourth downs that NU converted to keep possession.  At the end, the 'Cats had a first down at the Illinois three-yard line.  What to do?

What to do, indeed!  Coach Fitzgerald put in defensive lineman, punt team blocker nonpareil Bo Cisek to serve as tailback!  While some saw the move as an insult to Illinois, nothing could be further from the truth.  The 'Cats did not want to crack the 50-point mark, kicking a field goal would have been ridiculous, and Bo Cisek-- a senior-- had not seen the field: Northwestern had not, and would not, punt against Illinois.  So Bo ran two rushing plays, fumbling on the second one, and giving the ball to Illinois.  And two plays later, NU cracked the 50-point mark, despite efforts to avoid it, when Max Chapman took down Dami Ayoola in the end zone for a safety. 

Forty seconds later, Coach Fitzgerald received his second Gatorade bath as NU's head coach.  The first time his players had given him the Gatorade treatment had been in 2008, when the 'Cats defeated Illinois in the final Sweet Sioux game that gave NU nine wins for the first time since 1996.  Saturday's win against Illinois also gave NU nine wins, for the first time since the 2008 season.  However, it also gave Fitzgerald his 49th win, tying Pappy Waldorf for the most wins in NU history. 

Congratulations to Coach Fitzgerald, this year's seniors, and the rest of the Wildcats.  Enjoy #9, enjoy the LOL Hat, and brace yourself for the challenge that awaits you in Florida this January.

Attendance Update [posted Nov. 25]

Saturday's game vs. Illinois was NU's final home game of the season, and 32,415 fans were in attendance, less than September's Boston College game.  However, the Illinois game was held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (with few students on campus), and against a suffering opponent with no local buzz.  Still, the average attendance for 2012 at Ryan Field came to 35,697, nearly 7% better than last year.  Taken with 2010's huge boost in attendance, the last three seasons represent the best attendance for Dyche / Ryan since the last three years of Gary Barnett's tenure.  NU's on-field performance, taken with the new and effective marketing efforts by the school, will continue to reap benefits.

[Posted Dec. 1]

Brace for Gator!  NU Accepts Gator Bowl Bid [posted Dec. 2]

Northwestern will make its first-ever trip to the Gator Bowl on January 1, 2013 and will play the Mississippi State Bulldogs.  It will be the first meeting between NU and MSU.

The B1G will be considered the "home" team this year in the Gator, meaning NU fans will sit on the east side of Everbank Field, and the team will be in either purple or black jerseys. . . .

NU's Bowl Ticket Sales Up 47% vs. Last Year [posted Dec. 13]

Posted Dec. 13-- In a Twitter message on December 12, the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein mentioned that Northwestern is not revealing exactly how many of its allotted tickets have been sold so far.  However, the school did tell Greenstein that sales are up 47% vs. this time last year (when NU was headed for the Texas Bowl).  ESPN's Adam Rittenberg also cited NU's statement that sales are up 47%.

At this point last year, NU officials had also declined to give an exact number, but they did reveal that the sales were double what the school had sold in 2010 for the TicketCity Bowl.  By December 29 last year, NU gave the first tally, stating that it had sold 10,000 of its 12,000 tickets, which put NU above the conference average for percent of allotment sold.  NU would eventually sell out its Texas Bowl allotment, as it had also sold out the TicketCity Bowl allotment.

It should be noted that, although local Florida media sources put NU's Gator Bowl allotment at 12,750 (see post below), Rittenberg today posted the allotment at 15,000, which would be a huge number for a bowl outside of the BCS.  Even the Cap One has a school allotment at "only" 12,500.  Nebraska, by the way, has sold only 4,000 of its Cap One allotment.  I'm sure the Cap One Bowl is elated at having been forced by the Big Ten Conference leadership to select Nebraska over NU.

Mark Named All-American [posted Dec. 14]

The Football Writers Association of America has named Venric Mark to its All-American first-team , the only B1G player to be named All-American this season by the FWAA.  Mark received the honor as a punt returner.

While Mark had been named to other All-American lists, the FWAA list is one of the "official" All-American selections, and it should secure Mark a place on the Otto Graham Honor Roll, the list of All-Americans fixed to the west side of Ryan Field.  The last such Wildcat to receive this honor was Zach Strief in 2005.

Congratulations to Mark for this outstanding honor!

List of NU football All-Americans:

  • 1898: Alton Johnson*
  • 1925: Tim Lowry
  • 1926: Moon Baker
  • 1926: Bob Johnson
  • 1929: Hank Anderson
  • 1930: Frank Baker
  • 1930: Reb Russell
  • 1930: Wade Woodworth
  • 1931: Dallas Marvil
  • 1931: Pug Rentner
  • 1931: Jack Riley
  • 1933: Eggs Manske
  • 1935: Paul Tangora
  • 1936: Steve Reid
  • 1938: Bob Voigts
  • 1939: John Haman
  • 1940: Alf Bauman
  • 1943: Otto Graham
  • 1943: Herb Hein
  • 1945: Max Morris
  • 1948: Art Murakowski
  • 1948: Alex Sarkisian
  • 1950: Don Stonesifer
  • 1952: Joe Collier
  • 1958: Andy Cvercko
  • 1959: James Andreotti
  • 1959: Ron Burton
  • 1961: Larry Onesti
  • 1962: Jack Cvercko
  • 1962: Tom Myers
  • 1970: Mike Adamle
  • 1971: Eric Hutchinson
  • 1982: Chris Hinton
  • 1983: John Kidd
  • 1995: Pat Fitzgerald
  • 1995: Sam Valenzisi
  • 1996: Pat Fitzgerald
  • 2000: Damien Anderson
  • 2005: Zach Strief
  • 2012: Venric Mark
*Johnson's All-Amercan selection is not officially recognized by NU.  Johnson was named All-American by Casper Whitney for Colliers.  Whitney was, at the time, one of the two recognized sources for All-American selection, along with Walter Camp.

Mississippi State: Scouting Report [posted Dec. 16]

. . . [As] Northwestern began its Gator Bowl prep last week, so too did the Bulldogs.  MSU began its practices earlier than NU, with first and second-team players engaged in vigorous practices early in the week; NU's first practice came on Saturday.

MSU practiced without the help of backup running back Nick Griffin, who will be out of the bowl with a knee injury.  Starting running back LaDarius Perkins, however, will be good to go, and will be NU's number one priority.

Slightly less certain is starting quarterback Tyler Russell.  Russell got hurt at the end of the regular season, but was expected to be at 100% for the Gator Bowl.  However, Russell was seen at practice this weekend with a boot on his right foot, and only participated in drills "that involve minimal mobility," according to the Columbus (MS) Dispatch.  The Bulldog staff still expects Russell to practice at full speed as practice unfolds this week.

Initial reports by local media indicated that MSU's offensive and defensive lines, as well as its linebacking corps, look good and are having a productive prep session.  MSU Coach Dan Mullen is sufficiently comfortable with his starters that he has been rotating his redshirt freshmen into the prep quite a bit, in order to give the group additional experience for next season.

As is standard in any game prep, Mullen has had his team brush up on its opponent.  The team has started to watch NU game film, and at least one Bulldog is not impressed with what he has seen.  When asked about Venric Mark, NU's newest All-American (and the only Big Ten player named to the NWAA's All-American list), cornerback Corey Broomfield was blunt: "He [Mark] don't look like a Big Ten player.  When a guy is fast in the Big Ten he stands out. . . If he was in SEC he would be just another player."  Broomfield also assessed NU's chances of giving the Big Ten a rare bowl win vs. the SEC: "Look at the past.  Look at the track record and whatever conclusion you come to, that's what you can make."

Game Preview: Mississippi State [posted Dec. 23]

At this point, what is left to say about the context of this year's bowl game for Northwestern, that hasn't already been covered from every possible viewpoint?  Win, and Northwestern snags its tenth win in a season, for the third time ever.  NU finishes the season ranked in the standard polls for the first time since the 1996 season, and will likely be ranked next year in the preseason polls, for the first time since 2001.  Lose, and we get to hear the same threadbare stories of the three-generation postseason drought.  At least this guy hasn't yet popped up:

Coach Fitzgerald has now coached the 'Cats through five bowl games, all against heavy favorites, and he now has found a zen in preparation, balancing fun and work.  “I’m more comfortable in the (bowl) routine,” Fitzgerald said last week. “Like a lot of things, the first time you do it, you look back and think: 'What the heck was I doing?' We’ve definitely tweaked our plan."

Against Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, Northwestern is now a two-point underdog, the closest odds NU has had in a bowl game since Fitz took over, and the closest odds of any B1G team the season (all are, of course, underdogs in the wake of the conference's annus horribilis).  The 'Cats should be ready, and it goes without saying that they will be motivated.

Will proper preparation and high-gear motivation be enough against another SEC foe?  Mississippi State is a well-coached, highly talented team with one of the longest bowl winning streaks in the nation.  The Bulldogs took a 7-0 run into the middle of the season, and were a top-ten team.  Things haven't been quite as happy since the end of October, when Miss. State lost to then-#1 Alabama, and have dropped three of four since that loss.

Make no mistake: the Bulldogs' four late-season losses aren't indicative of MSU's current position.  The losses came either against highly-ranked talent or-- in the case of the regular season-ending Egg Bowl-- in a rivalry game.  MSU should by rights still be a ranked team.  They have a balanced offense, strong defense with outstanding linebackers, and solid special teams.  And they will give Northwestern just as much a challenge as any of the 'Cats' previous SEC and Big Twelve bowl opponents.

MSU's quarterback, junior Tyler Russell, has come into his own this season, scoring 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions.  Russell sprained his right ankle in the regular season finale against Ole Miss, and he wore a leg boot as recently as last week during practices.  However, according to reports coming out of Starkville this week, Russell has recovered.  "I think, come the bowl game, I'll be 100%," Russell said on Wednesday.  If he is, indeed fully recovered, he will test NU's secondary as much as any quarterback the 'Cats have faced so far.

Along with Russell, the rest of the Bulldogs look to be practicing at 100% going into the home stretch before the bowl.  MSU head coach Dan Mullen has seemed pleased with his team's practices throughout the prep period: “Pretty solid practices,” Mullen said, “I like the transition back into game prep and it’s always a great week. We’re trying to get ready to play a game like it’s (this) Saturday. Our guys have done that, had the good focus, good preparation. We have to clean up some things out there tomorrow before we leave but hopefully we’re ready to play the game. Then you get the confidence builder when you get to the bowl of reviewing the whole practice week again.”

Northwestern's All-American punt returner, Venric Mark, will be tested by a strong Bulldog defense when he lines up on offense, and he has a special teams mirror in MSU's kick returner, Jameon Lewis.  Lewis, who averages over 28 yards on kickoff returns, leads the SEC.  One imagines a possible MSU attack similar to what NU fans witnessed in 2001 with the other MSU: Northwestern scoring late, kicking off, and watching as that kick is rocketed back for an immediate answering score.  The 'Cats kick coverage needs to be laser-focused on Lewis.

Of course, MSU will need to be just as focused when it punts against Mark.  Mark earned his All-American honor by averaging over 20 yards on punt returns, giving NU a 17.5 punt return average, third best in the nation.

When NU is on offense, Mark and quarterback Kain Colter will need to keep the attack balanced.  While NU's running game has been the feature of 2012, MSU has had problems defending the pass.  If the Wildcats can get enough momentum in the air to rattle the Bulldogs, NU should be able to open its running game.  It might be tough, however, to find success with the ground game initially, because MSU is built for such an attack.

MSU will possibly have the same plan.  The Bulldogs know full well how NU played in its three losses in 2012: the 'Cats led all three in the second half, and were just a few plays away from winning.  The 'Cats never faced a steep deficit, and going down big, early, might break the 'Cats.  Look for MSU to try to open an early lead through the air, with Russell focusing on wideout Chad Bumphis.  Bumphis will aim for the corners, and NU's corners will be keyed on during the first couple of Bulldog drives.

So, whose early strike will succeed?  Will MSU's attempt to lead early put the bowl out of reach for NU, or will the 'Cats unleash a balanced air and ground assault that will toll the cowbell for the Bulldogs' bowl winning streak?  Two things play into Northwestern's favor.  First, it's true that NU has not faced a big deficit this year, but they have in the past, and we all know that NU thrives on coming back.  Even if Mississippi State manages to go up early, NU has enough offensive firepower to hang on.

Second, it is entirely possible that we have not seen all the pages in Mr. McCall's infamous 2012 playbook.  There is speculation that the Colter / Trevor Siemian combo may have permutations not yet witnessed by mortal eyes. 

Prepare to witness such unexpected things, and more.  If NU's play in such recent bowls as the Alamo and the Outback are any indication, 'Cat fans are in for an entertaining treat, and I suspect that this time, the ending will be just as much a treat as the journey.

Prediction: for the first time this season, Northwestern goes down big early.  And, having staged as thrilling a comeback as we've seen in the last ten years, the Wildcats wax their bowl curse and provide the B1G with one of its three bowl wins this year.  NU 38, Mississippi State 31.

NU Now Favored Vs. MSU [posted Dec. 28]

NU, which had begun the bowl season as a two-point underdog to Mississippi State, is now a one to one and a half-point favorite against the Bulldogs.  It is very rare for Northwestern to open as an underdog against an opponent and flip to favorite status.  In a bowl game, it's unheard of: the 'Cats have opened and remained underdogs in all their bowl games since 1995. 

However, in the 1949 Rose Bowl, the media and Vegas initially saw NU as an underdog vs. undefeated, fourth-ranked Cal.  All media continued to treat Northwestern as a heavy underdog, but Vegas had, by game time, set NU as a seven-point favorite against the Bears.  NU won by six.

[posted Jan. 2, 2013]

The very last brick in the rebuilding of Northwestern Football, a project begun 20 years ago, has finally been set in place.  Until January 1, 2013, Wildcat fans could rattle off a list of accomplishments by their team and their school, each with a nice purple check mark by it:
  • Renewed commitment by the school in its football program?  Checked in the late 1980s.
  • A coach that could begin the rebuilding process?  Checked in December 1991.
  • True rebuilding begun?  Checked in 1992.
  • Losing streaks vs. Notre Dame, Michigan, and Iowa eliminated?  Checked in 1995.
  • Big Ten title?  Checked in 1995.
  • Consistent program?  Checked, beginning in 2003.
  • Losing streak to Ohio State eliminated?  Checked in 2004.
  • Bowl success?
...No check mark after that last one, and its absence began to gnaw at the program, taking more of the media's attention, diverting focus from what the program had accomplished.  It went from an annoyance to a streak, a joke, a journalist's crutch, and finally a stuffed monkey-- a totem of futility carried by a team that was racking up more wins and accomplishments than any other group of Wildcats before them.  But few outside of the NU community cared much for those accomplishments: there was that monkey to discuss, and it's an easy story, after all.

By the afternoon of January 1, that lazy story was blown apart, as was the monkey: its shredded remains littered the Northwestern locker room at EverBank Field.  Northwestern completed its rebuilding mission, beating SEC-foe Mississippi State 34 to 20 in the 68th Gator Bowl.  The win was among the most emotional moments for Wildcat fans in recent memory, ranking alongside the invitation to the 1996 Rose Bowl for pure overwhelming joy.

That joy began almost immediately during the Gator Bowl game itself.  Within the first minute of play, Quentin Williams picked off Tyler Russell's third pass, racing it straight back for a pick six, a Northwestern lead, and a place in Wildcat history.  Williams' interception was the first of four for NU against the Bulldogs, tying a Northwestern bowl record-- the 'Cats also notched four picks against Cal in their Rose Bowl victory.

Mississippi State, dizzy from the quick Wildcat strike, attempted to even the score with a drive mixing rush and pass work.  The rushing succeeded against NU: MSU gained two first downs on the ground.  However, Russell's passing was... mixed.  A first down pass to Chris Smith put MSU at midfield.  However, as the Bulldogs neared the Wildcat red zone, Russell rifled off his second pick, this time to Ibraheim Campbell.

With the second Wildcat interception, NU's offense finally took the field.  Kain Colter combined clever scrambling with a couple of great short-gain passes to Dan Vitale and an 11-yard strike to Christian Jones to bring the ball to midfield.  A 24-yard pass to Vitale sent NU to the red zone, but the drive stalled.  Jeff Budzien's 34-yard field goal put NU up by ten, and sent the purple-clad into a frenzy.  Budzein's performance was as expected; slightly more surprising was the game plan focus on Vitale, who was simply outstanding.

The Wildcat defense slammed shut MSU's third possession, and NU sought to add to its double-digit lead.  Already NU was on somewhat rarely trodden ground: in their previous ten bowl games, the 'Cats enjoyed a double-digit lead in only two of them, the 2003 Motor City Bowl and the 2005 Sun Bowl.  The Wildcats' drive would also stall in the MSU red zone, but not before All-American Venric Mark broke loose for a 22-yard scamper into Bulldog territory.  With Budzein's second and final field goal, NU sported a 13-point lead, and MSU fans began to worry.

NU fans quickly joined them.  The second quarter was a sloppy mess, with the teams swapping interceptions within an 11-second span.  NU recovered from its pick when Chi Chi Ariguzo became the third Wildcat to catch a Russell pass.  However, MSU would go on to tack on a field goal and a touchdown before halftime, and NU took a tender three-point lead into the locker room.

The third quarter began just as gloomily as the second quarter had ended.  Colter threw an interception, and MSU made the 'Cats pay by drilling a 47-yard field goal to tie the game.  It was difficult not to wonder: would the streak continue?  Was NU going to add another disappointing page to this threadworn story? 

Not if Trevor Siemian could help it.  Siemian spelled Colter for the next drive and strung together three straight first-down passes-- to Rashad Lawrence, Demetrius Fields, and Vitale-- to set up Tyris Jones's touchdown.  The lead was seven.  Could it hold?

Siemian's hot hand briefly gave out when he threw an interception.  However, the Northwestern defense--particularly the often-maligned secondary-- saved the game, stoning the Bulldogs in their last two drives of the third quarter.  NU's final drive of the quarter was one for the books.  Mark and Vitale each picked up first downs before Siemian scrambled for a first down in Bulldog territory.  Not to be outdone, Colter went wild for 31 yards, taking the ball to the MSU 4-yard line.  From there Siemian put on his second Colter imitation, taking the ball and pounding into the end zone.  The 'Cats were up by two touchdowns, and Wildcat fans everywhere dared to think that this, maybe, might the the game for which they had hoped so impatiently. 

The following drive by MSU appeared to stall, but a Northwestern penalty put the Bulldogs into the NU red zone, and they responded, coming back to within seven.  A Northwestern punt put MSU in place to tie the game.  On third down Russell launched a bullet that went up for grabs.  The grabber turned out to be Nick VanHoose, and he tore ass to the MSU 10-yard line.  However, a Bulldog sideline interference call put the ball on the MSU 5.  Strangely, it was the second straight game in which NU benefited from an opponent's sideline interference.  On third down, with Wildcat Nation holding its breath, Mark punched in for the last score of the game.  MSU would have two more chances to answer, but the sterling defensive performance of Jared Carpenter, Tyler Scott, Williams, and so many others, locked down Northwestern's end zone and locked up Northwestern's Gator Bowl victory.

And what a victory.  This was a victory of the offense, of Colter, Siemian, Mark, Vitale and the rest, innovative and determined; this was a victory of special teams, of Mark and the incredible Budzien; this was a victory of defense, relentless, always improving; this was a victory of coaching, Fitzgerald celebrating his 50th win at Northwestern University, as no one else ever has, in a venue fitting the occasion, and doing so with one of the most underrated coaching staffs in the nation.

This was, finally, a victory of doing things the right way, the Wildcat way.  It was what's important now, and the team that provided this victory are a group of players whom Northwestern alumni and fans everywhere will always regard fondly, with deserved pride.

The mission is complete.  "What now?" -- is a silly question.  The mission was the rebuilding of the program.  Well, consider it officially rebuilt.  The new mission is to take that rebuilt program to places only dreamed before. 

Now comes the fun part.  Now, let's sit back, savor the moment, and realize that there has never,-- not in 137 years of Northwestern football-- never been a better moment to be a fan of the Wildcats.