2013 Season
Review Page



Football, perhaps more than any other sport, is a game that hinges on alignment.  For a team to be successful, a lot of factors must be aligned to the pursuit of success: there are a lot of moving parts in this success engine, and losing even a few will throw the machine out of alignment.  One season ago, Northwestern's football machine was kept surprisingly intact.  The Wildcats were nearly injury-free, and the players, coaches, timing, and schedule all aligned to provide NU with a path to its third-ever ten win season.

This season, however, proved to be the precise opposite of 2012: the machine lost so many parts it was a marvel that it could continue to function, and nothing seemed to align.  Northwestern lost to injury a player such as Kain Colter or Venric Mark at just the moment when the player's skill was needed most to execute NU's plan; the schedule would offer up the worst matchup possible given that week's injury roster; and the coaching staff's plan was usually just one step out of alignment from what was needed at the time. 

As the season progressed and worsened, Northwestern seemed to retreat into increasingly conservative and "safe" plays-- understandable, given the MASH unit that Northwestern's sideline had become.  The roster of walking wounded included Daniel Jones; Sean McEvilly;  quarterbacks Colter and Trevor Siemian; and running backs Mark, Mike Trumpy, and Treyvon Green.  Nevertheless, the team was no longer in proper alignment with one of its greatest tenets.

There was a lumber shortage in Evanston.

The season began with the highest expectations for Northwestern since 2001.  The 'Cats were ranked in the preseason and were expected to contend for the final Legends Division title.  All American Venric Mark was to return, as were Kain Colter, Tyler Scott, and much of the rest of NU's Gator Bowl champion team.  While there were concerns about the young offensive line, most fans thought that if the line could hold, then the parts were aligned for a memorable season.

Opening in a night game at Cal would be a daunting challenge, but the 'Cats survived, securing one of only a handful of wins at a Pac-12 stadium in the program's history.  However, the game provided a portent of the problems to come: the 'Cats returned from Berkeley pockmarked with injuries.  Within minutes of the kickoff Colter left the game.  The team lost starting defensive back Daniel Jones for the year.  And during the second half many of the 'Cats had left the field, cramped or dinged up.

Northwestern soldiered its way through the rest of its non-conference slate, still banged up, but remaining undefeated until its B1G opener against Ohio State, a team sporting a winning streak dating to 2011 and looking at a national title run.  The battle of undefeateds sparked national coverage unlike anything Northwestern had ever seen, even during the Rose Bowl campaign in 1995.  ESPN Game Day set up camp on the Enchanted Lakefront, and the sixteenth-ranked Wildcats commanded prime time on ABC.

The 'Cats gave the fourth-ranked Buckeyes a fierce contest and led into the fourth quarter.  Ohio State pulled out the victory, however, and the spiral began for Northwestern.  During the following six games, Victory sported enormous jaws, but Northwestern had the nimble and hot hand, snatching Defeat at every turn.  At Wisconsin, Northwestern's offense shut down-- it was the first game since 2007 that NU failed to score ten or more points.  Against Minnesota, NU tried to rally, but fell one onside kick short and left its fan base stunned.  At Iowa, the 'Cats fell in overtime in a heartbreaker.  And then came Nebraska: a solid lead, another late collapse, and the "Anti Victory Right," a 'Husker Hail Mary for the ages.  Northwestern then hosted Michigan and found a new and horrifying way to lose, allowing Michigan to kick a game-tying field goal as time (after time?) expired, and falling in triple overtime.  The 'Cats staged their last home game of the season with a trouncing by Michigan State-- a game featuring the preseason Legends favorite vs. the eventual champion.

NU finally found some solace by knocking off the 4-8 Illini and keeping the metal headgear that might have saved our sixteenth president.  The victory over hapless Illinois prevented the first B1G doughnut for NU since the awful 1998 campaign.

The stars did not align for Northwestern in 2013, but that's not to imply that there weren't bright spots for this team.  Kicker Jeff Budzien led the nation in field goals, was second in the nation for accuracy, and landed All-Big Ten honors for the season.  Tyler Scott was named second-team All-Big Ten for his remarkable year leading NU's defensive line.  And the 'Cats racked up a stunning string of interceptions and pick-sixes (picks-six?  Yes, I think it's picks-six) during the first half of the season.

Where does this misaligned, damaged, injury-strewn season lead us?  The answer is simple: it leads us to the same place this team occupied before the 2012 season and before the 2013 season-- a strong team, with a strong coaching staff, with a plan for success and high hopes.  Northwestern did not get the breaks it needed this year; instead, it received every hard turn possible.  How likely were the 'Cats to go through 2012 without a significant injury?  About as likely as hitting the wild string of injuries the team suffered in 2013.  Flukes happen, but by definition they are not the norm, and should not be expected.

Before this season, Pat Fitzgerald was viewed as the face of the program, the person best suited to lead the Northwestern Wildcats.  And after this season, heading into 2014?  Fitz is no less the face and heart of the program, and is more than ever the person best suited to lead the 'Cats.  The steps needed to prime the machine are not herculean: get healthy, get rested, get re-grounded, get realigned.

Heal yourselves.  Trust yourselves.  Take yourselves to the next level of Wildcat Football.

The Once and Future King:
The Fates Will Again Align

What follows are excerpts from some of my posts to this site during the course of the 2013 season.  Please note that the comments posted below are only ones written by me, and this year I did not provide game previews or much postgame commentary.  As with last couple of years, the bulk of articles on HailToPurple.com in 2013 came from other contributors.  For their commentary and analysis, please check out the pages for the Waterboy and the Lowes Line.

NU Welcomes 2013 Recruiting Class [posted Feb. 6]

Northwestern welcomed 19 new Wildcats this afternoon during the 2013 national signing day.

This year the list of potential new players leans slightly toward offense: 10 players are offensive (including two highly-regarded centers) and two candidates have split experience between offense and defense.  Eight players will play primarily on defense.  NU also will sign a kicker, its first signing-day kicker or punter in four years.

The Wildcats' recruiting playground last year was Pennsylvania; the 'Cats landed five recruits from that state in 2012.  This year only one recruit comes from the Keystone State.  Ohio and Illinois remain hotbeds for NU recruiting, each providing five recruits in 2013.  Three candidates come from California and three also from Texas.

Both Rivals and Scout have rated NU quarterback recruit Matt Alviti at four stars.  Scout also rates Godwin Igwebuike-- a potential threat on either side of the ball-- at four stars, while Rivals rates him at three stars.

Scout, in general, has NU ranked higher than does Rivals, placing NU's class at 40th in the nation (down, however, from 34th last week).  Scout had ranked NU's class a strong fifth place in the B1G (behind only Michigan, OSU, Nebraska, and MSU) last week, but now has Illinois surging into 31st place.

Rivals now ranks NU at 49th, just above Indiana and down four spots from last week.  Rivals ranks Vanderbilt 19th and Illinois 35th.

ESPN only releases its top 40 teams, and NU is not on that list.  Vanderbilt and Stanford are, however, at 21st and 38th, respectively.

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. 

QB Matt Alviti
Park Ridge, IL
Rivals, ESPN and Scout 4-Star. ESPN #2 QB. Scout nat'l rank: 22. Rivals 11th ranked QB; 7th ranked player in state. Offers include BC, Illinois, Indy, MSU, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Purdue.
OL Sam Coverdale
Chagrin Falls, OH
Rivals and Scout 3-Star. 17 offers, incl. Ariz. St., BC, Cincy, Cornell, Harvard, Pitt, WVA, Yale.
WR/QB Tommy Fuessel Frankfort, IL
NIU offered.
WR/DB Matt Harris
LaGrange, IL
Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Rivals ranked 22nd player in state. 8 offers, incl. BC, Illinois, Minny, Wisc.
DB/RB Godwin Igwebuike
Pickerington, OH
ESPN and Scout 4-Star. Rivals 3-Star. Scout nat'l rank: 22. Rivals ranked 28th in state.  17 offers, incl. BC, Cincy, Illinois, Indy, Minny, Nebraska, NC State, Pitt, Wisc.
DE Eric Joraskie Mount Carmel, PA
Scout and Rivals 3-Star. Rivals ranked 29th in state. BC, Kent St., Maryland, Pitt, Purdue, Rutgers, 'Cuse, Vandy offered..
OG Blake King Minooka, IL
  Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Toledo, W. Mich. offered.
C Tyler Lancaster Plainfield, IL
Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Scout nat'l rank: 10.  ESPN #10. Rivals 6th ranked C; 15th ranked player in state. BGU, CMU, EMU, WMU offered.
RB Warren Long Union City, CA
Scout and Rivals 3-Star. Army, Colorado, Fresno St., Oregon St. offered.
DB Marcus McShepard
Cleveland Hts., OH
Scout and Rivals 3-Star. 9 offers, incl. Illinois, Penn St.
RB Xavier Menifield Chatsworth, CA
Scout and Rivals 3-Star. Air Force, Army, Wyo. offered.
K Hunter Niswander
Peninsula, OH
Scout nat'l rank: 11.
C Brad North
Allen, TX
Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Scout nat'l rank: 36. Rivals 9th ranked C.  13 offers, incl. Boise St., Col. St., Wake, Wash. St.
DB Kyle Queiro
Oradell, NJ
Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Rivals ranked 17 in state. 17 offers, incl. BC, Cincy, Colorado, Illinois, NC, NC St., Pitt, Purdue, 'Cuse, Vandy, WVA. Yale.
TE/SB Jayme Taylor The Woodlands, TX
Scout 3-Star. Air Force, Cal, TX St., Wake offered.
Anthony Walker Jr.
Opa Locka, FL
Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Scout nat'l rank: 42. 6 offers, incl. Minny & Purdue.
LB Brett Walsh
Monrovia, CA
Scout and Rivals 3-Star. 6 offers, incl. Fresno St., UNLV.
RB Keith Watkins II Forest Park, OH
Scout and Rivals 3-Star. Rivals 34th ranked RB; 24th ranked player in state. 10 offers, incl. Ariz. St., BC, Cincy, Iowa, Minny, WVA.
WR Macan Wilson
Houston, TX
Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Cal, NMex., Tulsa offered.

NU, Cubs Announce Wrigley Deal:
Five More Football Games @ Friendly Confines [posted Feb. 6]

Confirming days of speculation and stories that raced through Chicago's newspapers, Northwestern and the Cubs formally announced a partnership that will see NU football return to Wrigley Field for at least five games, will include multiple other sports (including baseball, soccer and lacrosse), and will be "reciprocal," with the Cubs obtaining marketing presence at Ryan Field.

Coach Fitzgerald spoke about not just the marketing, but the recruiting advantage: "We plan on winning and competing for a Big Ten and a national championship, and to have that kind of opportunity in recruiting, to attract young men for a unique experience that no one else can sell, along with everything that we already have, was something that was very appealing...  To [tell] kids that we're right now talking to for future signing days, "you're going to play in Wrigley Field..." will be something that will be exciting for kids."

It took Northwestern nearly 87 years to return to Wrigley Field after hosting its first game there in 1923.  The 2010 event was a media extravaganza, with ESPN's College Gameday making its first appearance at a Northwestern home game since 1995 and national coverage focusing on the "losers walk" one-goal rule in place for the game.

Now, it looks like it might be just four years after that event when NU returns to Wrigley.  Tuesday's announcement did not shed any light on when the five football games might be played.  Given Wrigley's slated remodeling and the Big Ten's upcoming restructuring, a football game at Wrigley might be possible in 2014, but when-- and against whom-- won't be known until NU and the Cubs have a better idea of their near-term schedules and plans.  Also not yet known is the spacing of the five games.  Will they be annual, or spread out further into the future?

While this has a great potential upside for NU marketing and the effort to attract Chicago-area interest in the team, a yearly event might be too frequent.  Bi- (or even tri- ) annual trips to Wrigley seem more appropriate, particularly if they feature big-name opponents that don't compete for Chicago rooting interest.  In other words, hosting Illinois twice at Wrigley was great; it's time to move on.  Notre Dame and NIU would also be unfortunate choices.  However, Nebraska or Michigan would be interesting choices, and would get the media-- Chicago and maybe national-- in gear.

NU's Greatest Games:
Dark Ages Edition [posted Apr. 1]

During HailToPurple.com’s winter break, I received several e-mails commenting on the photo of Mike Kerrigan that I had displayed on the front page.  Kerrigan was NU’s quarterback in 1979, in the middle of the “Dark Ages” and the beginning of the 1979 – 1982 losing streak.  I wanted to pay tribute to the players who toiled for the ‘Cats during the 20-or-so years that the team lacked administrative support.  Readers agreed: there were a lot of great players—some remembered, some long forgotten—who fought the good fight during the coaching eras of John Pont, Rick Venturi, Dennis Green, and Francis Peay. 

During that period (roughly 1973 through 1991), Northwestern produced a pair of All-Americans (Chris Hinton and John Kidd), 15 first-team All-Big Ten picks, and a host of NFL draft talent, including Steve Craig, Jim Lash, Pete Shaw, Randy Dean, Rob Taylor, Curtis Duncan, Bob Christian, Darryl Ashmore, and hall of famer Steve Tasker.

These players, and many others, dealt with inadequate alumni, fan, student, and administrative support; subpar training and practice facilities; and virtually no bench depth in an era when most other Big Ten schools took advantage of the 105 available football scholarships per team.* 

Still, they managed to provide some key wins during this period of the team’s history.  Here are recaps from eight of them.  In chronological order, we present the best games from NU’s Dark Ages.

1973: NU 31, Iowa 15

The John Pont era began with a convincing win against Michigan State, but quickly descended due to losses to Notre Dame, Pitt, and middle-of-the-MAC Ohio.  Thankfully, next on the schedule was hapless Iowa, a team that beat the ‘Cats in 1972 (one of the Hawkeyes’ three wins that year), but was staring down a winless skid in ’73.

Before the game, the team met before Pont came to the locker room.  “We were just so sick of losing,” quarterback Mitch Anderson said, in postgame comments to the Daily, “we just decided to go out and do something about it.”  Anderson did his part, throwing for 123 yards and no interceptions.  Star runningback Greg Boykin rushed for 64 yards, including a 29-yard sprint in the second quarter and a 12-yard touchdown run.

Stunningly, the win over Iowa put Northwestern in first place in the Big Ten in mid-October: the three losses to that point were non-conference, and NU’s 2-0 conference record tied the ‘Cats with OSU and Michigan.  Unfortunately, it was the last time that NU would be in the “catbird” seat vs. Iowa during this period: NU’s next win against the Hawkeyes would come in 1995.

1975: NU 30, Indiana 0

Two years after Northwestern enjoyed the top spot in the Big Ten in mid-October 1973, it would repeat that quirk by annihilating Indiana on October 11, 1975, giving the ‘Cats a 3-2 record for the year, and 2-0 in the Big Ten.  NU had opened the season by edging a weak Purdue team, 31-25, but had gone 1-2 in non-conference games.

Coming into Dyche Stadium, Indiana coach Lee Corso had taunted Northwestern, canceling one of his team’s practices that week in order to spend time “toasting Indiana’s upcoming victory.”  The motivating move backfired, and NU was out for blood from the opening kickoff.  The ‘Cats racked up 497 yards of offense, vs. 88 yards for Indiana.  NU’s 31 first downs tied the team’s all-time record.

Boykin, returning from sitting out the previous season injured, rushed for over 100 yards.  Quarterback Randy Dean threw for 164 yards, and the Northwestern defense stoned Indiana, holding the Hoosiers to negative three yards in the third quarter.  “This kind of football game is the kind you just feel good about, just good all over,” Pont would note later. 

As the game ended, each of NU’s players on the sideline held up a paper cup and—making sure that Corso could see them—“toasted” the Indiana coach.

It turned out to be the last victory for Northwestern until November of the following year, when NU would stun Michigan State.

1976: NU 42, Michigan State 21

By November 1976 the ‘Cats were spinning out of control, having lost 14 straight games since toasting Lee Corso.  When Michigan State visited Dyche Stadium, however, there was always a chance for victory, and the Spartans did not disappoint at this critical point.  MSU brought in a three game winning streak, having beaten Big Ten foes Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana.  The Spartans were on the cusp of a winning season, and—like Indiana—underestimated the damage Northwestern could inflict.  The ‘Cats made MSU pay.  The rout of MSU was Northwestern’s lone win in 1976.

1982: NU 31, Northern Illinois 6

After the 1976 beatdown of MSU, Northwestern would win just two games during the next three seasons, before embarking on the 34-game losing streak.

There were several games during which it seemed that NU might snap the streak: the ‘Cats lost a heartbreaker to Indiana in 1981 that would have prevented them from setting the NCAA record.  By 1982, however, the team was improving a little, and several games provided an opportunity for a win.  One such opportunity came on September 25, 1982, against Northern Illinois.

In its previous three games in 1982, Northwestern had piled up a total of negative 44 yards rushing.  Against NIU the Wildcat ground game exploded: NU amassed 208 rushing yards, led by Ricky Edwards’s 177 yards and four touchdowns—tying the school TD record held by Otto Graham and Mike Adamle.

Northern Illinois Coach Bill Mallory summed up his team’s place in NU history: “we just stunk.”

With 34 seconds left in the game (coincidentally, one for each of the losses in the streak), fans and students rushed the field, tearing down both goal posts and marching them to Lake Michigan, in a repeat of the previous year’s laking.  However, the 1981 post laking had been an act of rebellion, a reaction to setting the record for futility.  The laking of the goalposts after the NIU win was an act of pure joy.

As NUMB plays on the south half of the field,
students tear down and parade the north post after the '82 NIU win.

1982: NU 28, Michigan State 25

Dyche Stadium’s goalposts came down again, just two weeks after the win vs. NIU, when the ‘Cats defeated a simply horrible Minnesota team, 31-21, to snap the Wildcats’ 39-game Big Ten winless streak.  But one big streak remained: Northwestern had not won a road game in eight years!

Enter, as it so often did when NU needed it most, Michigan State.  The Spartans had just won their first game of 1982 by knocking off Indiana on October 30.  MSU hosted Northwestern the following week and it first appeared as if NU might have to wait another year for a win away from Evanston. 

The Spartans jumped to a 17-0 lead.  However, freshman quarterback Sandy Schwab connected with Jon Harvey for a 45-yard touchdown just before halftime.  The ‘Cats continued to battle back, and by the middle of the fourth quarter they were down by four.  MSU had a chance to seal the game with just a few minutes left, but fumbled the ball back to NU. 

With seven yards to go for the winning score, Northwestern executed one of the greatest trick plays in its history to win the game.  NU assistant coach Ron Turner (who would later give NU fits as head coach at Illinois) scripted and called the flea flicker: Schwab pitched the ball to Ricky Edwards, who then lobbed the ball back to Schwab for the touchdown.

1986: NU 24, Michigan State 21

Francis Peay’s first season as (interim) head coach got off to a relatively good start: a close loss to Duke was followed by a big win vs. Army and a shutout of Princeton.  However, the ‘Cats would drop their next six games. 

Enter, as usual, MSU.  The Spartans were actually a strong team in 1986, and they sported a winning record heading into Dyche on November 15.  The ‘Cats, smarting from their 32-0 pasting at Spartan Stadium the year before, played a physical game in a contest that remained close from start to finish, and eventually triumphed, 24-21.

Michigan State would finish the season 6-5.  Northwestern’s wins over Army and MSU in 1986 marked the first time since 1971 that NU had beaten a school that would go on to have a winning season.

1990: NU 24, Northern Illinois 7

By 1990, the Wildcats were unfortunately mired in another streak.  The “Mini Streak” comprised 14 losses, from the end of 1988 through early 1990.  The team was desperate for a win, and this time Northern Illinois came to the rescue, just as it did in 1982.  NIU was actually a decent team in 1990, but it caught Northwestern at the wrong time.  The ‘Cats drubbed NIU, with Bob Christian rushing for 179 yards on an astounding 43 runs.  The defense put together perhaps its best effort in a decade, shutting down NIU’s wishbone completely.

After the game, just as they had after the 1982 win over NIU, fans rushed the field and tore the posts down.  “I didn’t think Northwestern students would act like that,” said quarterback Lenny Williams, “but they were as happy as us.  Maybe happier.”

Front page photo from the Daily Northwestern shows students
carrying off the goal posts after the 1990 NIU victory.
[I am actually in the very back row of this photo,
dodging the huge purple arrow...]

1991: NU 17, Illinois 11

Of Northwestern’s 36 victories from 1973 through 1991, the biggest was arguably the 17-11 win at Dyche Stadium against Illinois on October 26, 1991.

Since its stellar performance against NIU the previous year, NU’s defense had underperformed, allowing an average of 34 points in the 14 games in between that win and the meeting with the Illini.  Illinois, on the other hand, was the defending Big Ten co-champ.  Two weeks before meeting NU, Illinois had knocked off Ohio State, and despite losing a heartbreaker to Iowa the following week, Illinois entered Dyche Stadium ranked #17 in the nation.

The ‘Cats were given no chance in the game, and several players had expressed their resentment at the lack of respect.  Wearing all-purple uniforms for the first time in over a decade, and drenched on the sideline from the steady rain during the game, the ‘Cats were poised to grab that respect.  They did so by upending Illinois, with Len Williams driving the NU offense in the first quarter to take an initial 7-0 lead.  The defense awoke and, helped by the downpour, buried the “Flying Illini’s” air attack and picked off Illinois quarterback Jason Verduzco twice.

The victory was Northwestern’s first over a ranked team since 1971.

As usual with big wins during the period, the game ended with students swarming the field and tearing down the goal posts.  This occasion, however, would mark the final performance of NU’s glorious goal post ritual, the great tradition of the Dark Ages.

*Reduced to 95 in 1978, then to 85 in 1992, the scholarship limit changes, along with increased administrative support and Coach Gary Barnett’s program reboot, helped to end NU football’s Dark Age.

Has the Fate of the Fire Bell Been Uncovered? [posted Apr. 6]

Before Northwestern and the University of Illinois had the Land of Lincoln Trophy, they fought for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk.  Before that, the teams played for the Sweet Sioux Statue.  And before that?  NU and Illinois initially played for an old firehouse bell, donated to the teams in 1941.  The fate of Sweet Sioux is well known.  However, as this site has described before
(see the trophy history page), the eventual fate of the Fire Bell trophy is a complete mystery.

That mystery might have become a little less impenetrable.

The Bell's debut in 1941 was well-covered by the press: the Tribune and other Chicago papers, as well as the Daily Northwestern, Daily Illini and even the Associated Press all mentioned the new trophy, noting that it would take its place alongside the Little Brown Jug in the Big Ten's trophy case.  When Northwestern won the first Bell game in 1941, that too was covered thoroughly, with several mentions of the Bell trophy.

Although the Bell was not mentioned during the build-up to Illinois and Northwestern's 1942 game (which the Illini won), several newspapers do describe the Bell's handoff from NU to Illinois at the Big Ten luncheon at the end of the season.

That December 1942 event is the last time that the Bell is ever mentioned in any newspaper.  Northwestern and the University of Illinois currently have no known record of the bell after that moment.  Not only does it seem that the Bell ceased to exist after December 1942, it seems as if it had never existed.  When the Sweet Sioux trophy began in the fall of 1945, both schools acted as if it were the first time they ever fought in football for a trophy, which is bizarre: the seniors in fall 1945 would have been freshmen in fall 1942 and would surely have known about the Bell.

Because the Bell was in the hands of the Illini when it vanished, it made sense to focus further research on Illinois and its archives and newspaper articles.  The Daily Illini, the university's student newspaper, contains information that seems to add weight to the assumption that the schools only used the trophy in 1941 and 1942, and that it was terminated in early 1943.

In October 1943, before the Illini played Purdue (or Northwestern), the Daily Illini described the upcoming debut of the Purdue Cannon, the newest Illinois trophy.  The article mentions all of the other Big Ten trophies, but give no mention whatsoever of the Bell.  It is reasonable to assume that if the Bell were still in use in October 1943, the Daily Illini would have mentioned it in this article.

So, it is increasingly clear that the Bell dropped away at some point between late December 1942 and October 1943, and was nearly certainly not used for the 1943 NU - Illinois game.  The big question, however, remains: what happened?

On the HTP Trophy History page, I speculated that the trophy was possibly sacrificed in a scrap metal drive.  This seems a reasonable assumption: between late 1942 and late 1943 college campuses across the country were conducting massive scrap drives for the war effort.  Americans eyed any shred of metal that was not essential, looking for war material.  This was the fate of at least one university bell: Western Michigan's Victory Bell, rung during home football games, was donated to a metal drive in October 1942.  A bell like the NU - Illinois bell, made in the 1840s, would have been made with bell metal-- a bronze with a high copper content-- which would have been desirable.

It now appears likely that this was, indeed, the fate of the Fire Bell trophy.  Again, there is absolutely no mention in any source of the Bell trophy after December 1942.  However, the Daily Illini does mention other trophies at the school, and they wind up on the war's scrap heap.

On October 7, 1942, the newspaper reported that the Illinois salvage section of the War Production board recommended that the university's fraternities should donate all of their intramural trophies to the war effort.  The board's representative stated, "Every trophy... no matter how small, would be of great value... Our supply of tin is practically exhausted.  Those cups standing on fraternity trophy shelves contain a great deal of tin..."

And in February 1943, the university, in conjunction with the rest of Champaign-Urbana, conducted a massive metal drive and parade, hauling in old cars, other remaining trophies, and any piece of metal that was not necessary.  Although we may never know for sure what happened to the original Northwestern - Illinois trophy, it is now very likely-- given the atmosphere on the Illinois campus at the time and the fact that sports trophies had actually been targeted-- that the Bell was placed into the February 1943 scrap heap.

'Cats Hold 2013 Open Practice [posted Apr. 6]

Northwestern held its open spring practice on April 6, an event that took the place of the traditional spring exhibition.  Rather than a scrimmage held at the end of the spring session, NU chose to host a simpler open practice a week before the end of practices.  Coach Fitzgerald, while describing the structure of the practice, explained why there was no end-of-spring scrimmage, due to the lack of depth available this spring in the offensive line.  Fitzgerald was confident that all positions will be at 100% before the season and that the 'Cats will be in a place to contend for the B1G title.

While starters Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, along with backup Zack Oliver, had the bulk of snaps during the scrimmage situations, the rest of the quarterback field also took snaps during passing drills, and freshman Christian Salem showed a crisp delivery.  Sophomore wideout Cameron Dickerson also looked solid.

On defense, sophomore linebacker Drew Smith delivered some heavy force and looked promising.

Immediately after the public practice, NU held its youth clinic, the first such event after an open spring practice.  The clinic took the place of the traditional Stretch with the 'Cats event, and it was huge: hundreds of kids took part, at least twice as many as ever took part in the stretch activity of past spring games.  Kudos to the NU players and staff who helped out with the clinic.

Gator Up!

Venric Mark's name, added to the Otto Graham Wall of Honor

All-American Mark prepares to hit the field

Colter and the rest of the QB crew work through passing drills.

Siemian's turn

Prepping for trench warfare

Lowry tries to break through

Practice swings into high gear

OC and QB Coach Mick McCall advises Oliver

The coaches gather with the team, alumni and some guests after the practice

Coach Fitzgerald addresses the players...

...and then the crowd

Media 2013 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats:
Great Expectations [posted Aug. 4]

Welcome to summer!  The annual college football magazines are beginning 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.

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.

2013 is shaping up to be a year of very high expectations, and perhaps the first year of a new trend for Northwestern, with a new set of assumptions.  Coming off of the Gator Bowl victory, a ten-win season, ranked in the 2012 post-season polls, and with a host of returning talent, NU is expected to crack the pre-season polls for the first time since 2001, and expectations for NU among the media and fans are at their peak.  The "Heinz Line" phenomenon (media analysts invariably putting NU at or near #57 nationally) is officially dead.

One watchout lurks with this season's predictions for NU: the Wildcats nearly always defy expectations.  When media expectations are low (nearly every season since 1997), the 'Cats typically finish much stronger than the media predicted.  When expectations are high (1997, 2001...), NU has continued to defy the experts, but in an undesirable manner.  Will 2013 be the year that expectations and performance align?

The 2013 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
2013 Wildcat predictions so far (more to come throughout the summer):
  • Until last season, Athlon had turned in the most accurate pre-season prediction for NU for three straight years.  Athlon ranks NU 24th nationally (just above Oregon State), and third in the Legends Division.  The magazine debated the third-place spot for the division, giving Nebraska and Michigan the first two places, and struggling to fill the third position with either Michigan State or NU.  Ultimately, Athlon tabbed the Wildcats because of the amount of returning talent.  Like most of the pre-season publications so far, Athlon mentions Northwestern's very difficult 2013 schedule: "The team will have to handle a tougher schedule and the preseason hype, which at times hasn't panned out for Northwestern."  Hype or no, Athlon predicts a 9-3 record for the 'Cats, with a 5-3 conference mark.
  • The Sporting News has released its early summer predictions, and they are nearly identical to Athlon: TSN picks NU third in the Legends, behind Nebraska and Michigan, and ahead of Michigan State.  TSN has offered up the highest bowl projection so far for the 'Cats, predicting the Outback.  The magazine is very high on Venric Mark and Tyler Scott, ranking them both among the best in the B1G.
  • Lindy's comes close to placing NU in its preseason top 25, slotting the 'Cats at #28, below Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.  Lindy's predicts a 6th-place B1G finish for NU, but cautions that the "team sags when expectations are higher."
  • They have not yet made their pre-season picks and predictions, but the folks at CollegeFootballNews.com have offered up their preview of NU, and note that the season will be a success for the 'Cats if they "...win ten games again.  Having to play Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders is a horrendous break, and going to Nebraska won't help.  Those three games could be just enough to keep NU out of the Big Ten title chase, but for a program that struggled for so long to win a second bowl game, another 9-3 season with a post-season victory would be fantastic."
  • Internet statistician and ranking mogul James Howell has been offering his rankings and game predictions for many years.  For the 2013 pre-season his power rankings slot NU at #35, one of the lower rankings among the pre-season prognosticators.  Howell places the 'Cats seventh in the conference, behind Penn State.  Also ranked above NU: Northern Illinois and Tulsa.
  • NationalChamps.net's 2013 Early Bird Preview makes one of the highest picks for NU, ranking the 'Cats #18, and a whopping second in the Big Ten, behind only #7 Ohio State.
  • There will be more to come from the Bleacher Report, but David Fitzgerald II has weighed in with his Big Ten bowl predictions, and he projects Northwestern to the Capital One Bowl to face Florida.  Fitzgerald foresees a showdown between NU and Nebraska for the Cap One spot, with Northwestern getting the nod whether or not it makes it to the conference championship game.
  • Always the most anticipated college print annual, Phil Steele's College Football Review provides a fairly balanced view of the 'Cats.  In Steele's power poll, NU clocks in unranked, at #32 nationally, just ahead of Boise State and Penn State.  Steele predicts that Nebraska will take the Legends, and NU will tie for third in the division, heading possibly to the Wings Bowl to face Baylor.  Despite keeping NU out of his top 25, Steele does include NU as one of his 14 teams that "has what it takes" in 2013 to vie for the national title.

Ed. note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the media's preseason predictions.  For 2013, most of the media wildly overestimated NU's performance for the season.  One of the most accurate predictions was from Lindy's, with its caution about NU's potential to sag with high expectations.

In most years, the "dog" pick from the media usually comes from the site that ranks NU the lowest-- the 'Cats have typically overperformed.  However, this year's dog picks unfortunately go to NationalChamps.net and BTN's Tom Dienhart.  Dienhart projected NU to the Rose Bowl.

NU Sets "Modern" Season Ticket Record
[posted Aug. 4]

In a recent release, NU's athletic office announced that the number of this fall's season ticket holders will break a modern era record, set in 1997, and will double 2009's season ticket base.  The school points out that the attendance lift corresponds with the "Chicago's Big Ten Team" campaign and marketing push that began in 2010.

Three things immediately jump out from the announcement.  First, NU does not release the actual number of season ticket holders.  Lake The Posts, Northwestern Highlights, and Sippin' On Purple all speculate that the number is in the low to mid 20K range, given estimates of the 1997 ticket base.  The Tribune's Teddy Greenstein initially guessed that the current base is just under 20,000, but later revised his estimate ("Triangulating some past comments from NU").  Greenstein believes that the previous record was set in 1998.  The low 20K range does sound reasonable.

The second item to note from NU's release is that this is the "modern era" record.  Just when does the modern era start-- 1936, post-War, or (as one comment wryly suggested on LTP), 1995?  This one, to me, looks like a little bit of a creative definition to suit the situation.  I'd guess that this modern era began with Ara Parseghian skipping over to South Bend in 1964.

Third: what does this say about the state of NU's fan base in 2009?  Doubling the season tickets since then is both a great feat and an apparently disturbing note about the rather meager base just four years ago.  The answer might lie with a combination of NU's much-improved marketing, the state of NU football right now, and our non-conference schedule. 

There is no doubt that the "Chicago's Big Ten Team" push has helped bring new fans into the fold.  Fitz's team has also helped, with its string of bowl seasons, capped by the bowl win last season.  And we need to remember that in 2009 Ohio State had dropped off our home schedule and Nebraska was still a gleam in Jim Delany's roving, Sauron-like Eye.  NU plays Ohio State this fall (in what could be the biggest game at Dyche / Ryan in decades) and the 'Cats now play Nebraska in Evanston every other year.  Yes, the fan base is increasing, but so is the local competitive base, willing to pay for season tickets to Chicago's Big Ten team in order to see the competition.  As Jim Philips has repeatedly and publicly stated, that's exactly according to plan, an integral part of NU's modern-era strategy.

AP Ranks NU #22 As Preseason Nears Conclusion
[posted Aug. 18]

Northwestern will wrap up an apparently successful preseason at Camp Kenosha this week, and it will do so ranked #22 in the AP preseason poll.  Including the AP rankings from last season, this is the fourth straight week that the 'Cats have been ranked.

NU is one of five B1G teams in the rankings.  Ohio State is #2-- the only B1G team in the top ten-- while Michigan and Nebraska are 17 and 18, respectively.  NU's 22nd place puts it just above Wisconsin.  MSU just missed the cut.  The AP rankings are nearly identical to the preseason Coaches Poll, released a week earlier.

The 'Cats conclude their preseason practices this week, and will then begin their pre-game prep for Cal.  By all accounts, the 22nd Camp Kenosha has been productive, with no significant injuries and a focus on younger players.  USA Today's Dan Wolken provided an interesting take on Coach Fitzgerald's decision to eliminate two-a-days from this year's camp, using a preseason approach closer to the NFL's and attempting to limit possible camp injuries even further.

Murakowski's Touchdown Was Legit:
Here's Proof
[posted Aug. 28]

With Northwestern taking on Cal for the first time since the 1949 Rose Bowl, there has been a wave of renewed interest in that great game, the only other time that NU and Cal have played.  Cal fans are quick to point out that Bear Coach Pappy Waldorf should have won that game against his former team, and with it the national championship.  Why make that claim?  Because NU's second touchdown in its 20-14 victory was very controversial at the time, and it remains so to this day.

Wildcat Art Murakowski made a drive for the endzone in the second quarter, coming just a couple of feet from the goal line, and setting the 'Cats up with a first and goal.  On the very next play, Murakowski took the handoff and lunged for the goal.  He was wrapped up by Norm Pressley, who managed to jerk the ball loose.  The field judge (it's a truly small world: the official who made the call was Jay Berwanger, the University of Chicago alumnus who won the first Heisman Trophy) called the play a touchdown, and Cal players were outraged.  After the game, the press released the following two photos:

As Cal fans point out, the photos seem to show Murakowski fumbling before he crosses the goal line.  Murakowski claimed that he had already lunged across the goal line before these photos were taken, and that Pressley had dragged him backward, back from the goal, after he had already broken the plane.  Plausible, but is it accurate?

There is film of the Rose Bowl game, and the NU Archives has posted it onto YouTube.  At first glance, the film appears to offer no help in solving the mystery of the Murakowski touchdown.  In fact, when you focus on the play in question, it seems to bolster Cal's claim that Murakowski fumbled before he fell into the endzone.  Here is the play, first at full speed, then at one-third speed:

Making it more difficult to ascertain what happened is the sudden movement of the movie camera a split second after Murakoski breaks the plane; the camera's jerky movement hides the backward motion of Murakowski as Pressley pulls him back. 

Now, let's look, Zapruder-like, at the key frames-- in sequence-- of the moment of the fumble.

First, this frame shows the moment of the touchdown, a split second before the black and white top photo.  This frame is crucial.

The white line is pointing at Murakowski, already over the goal line.  In the foreground is Pressley, grabbing onto Murakowski.  Note the NU and Cal players in front and to the right of Murakowski.  The NU player has his arms in front of the Cal player, but neither yet has his arms up in the air.  Both of these players have their arms raised by the time the top photograph is taken (look at the two players in the far left of the top photo).  The Cal player in this frame has his knees slightly bent, but is not yet falling.  In the top photo, that Cal player's knees are more fully bent, and he is starting to fall backward.  The players' body positions in this frame establish this frame as coming before the top photo.

Frame #2 is nearly the same moment as the black and white top photo.  The NU and Cal players grappling have assumed the positions they have in the top photo: the Cal player's left arm is raised above and between the NU player's arms, and he is falling backward, though with both feet on the ground.  Notice that both Pressley and Murakowski (again indicated by the white line) are over a foot back from where they are in the first frame.

Frame #3: Immediately after the photos.  After jerking Murakowski back and out of the endzone, Pressley has spun him sideways, and then fallen in, with Murakowski, to the endzone.  Note the clear view that Berwanger had of the whole play, and he saw the ball break the plane, just as Murakowski claimed, and then get briefly hauled backward.

The press photos certainly appear to have been conclusive, but without these film frames, and the movement they show, the reality of the play eluded fans until now, the very week these two teams meet once again.

NU 44, Cal 30 [posted Apr. 6]

The Wildcats and the Bears have had their first football showdown since the 1949 Rose Bowl, and the game at Memorial Stadium left Cal players and fans as upset as did the game in Pasadena.  Northwestern and Cal fought tooth and nail until the fourth quarter, when Collin Ellis and Treyvon Green applied the finishing touches to their exceptional two-touchdown performances.  The 'Cats punched out a 14-point win and demonstrated an ability to finish that occasionally eluded them last year.  The did so, however, at a cost: injuries to key members of the team cast as many new questions onto the team as the win over Cal had managed to remove.

The evening began badly for NU.  The Wildcat defense seemed ill-prepared for the new California Bear Raid attack, and Cal drove 82 yards before Tyler Scott stopped Cal's third-down try at the NU 11.  Cal proved smarter than your average Bear, however, and pulled out a fake field goal that gave it an early seven-point lead.  NU took over on offense, and within two plays it had lost Kain Colter.  Colter completed his first and only pass as he was knocked to the turf.  He left the game with apparent injuries to the head and left shoulder. 

Colter remained on the sidelines, looking furious and frustrated.  All-American Venric Mark saw game action, rushing 11 times, but had limited touches and also seemed to be at less than 100%.  The injury trifecta was completed later in the game when starting corner Daniel Jones went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.  The loss of Colter threw off NU's offense and took away Mark's main option-based attack.  Colter's loss has unknown ramifications for the early phase of the season.  More clear are the effects of losing Jones: backup corner Dwight White must now assume a key role on NU's defense.

After the troubling opening drives, the teams then settled in for a night of trading blows.  Cal's freshman quarterback Jared Goff minced NU through the air for 445 yards, but the Wildcat defense stood when it came time for Goff to close deals: Goff threw as many touchdowns for NU as he did for Cal.  Both of those Wildcat touchdowns came courtesy of Ellis, who scored on nearly identical pick-six plays, reaching out for a tipped ball and tearing ass for the endzone.  It is the first time since early last year an NCAA player has scored two interception touchdowns in the same game, and it is believed to be the first "pick twelve" for NU.  Goff's interceptions weren't just the results of tips, however, as Ibraheim Campbell ably demonstrated:

Taa daaa!!
[AP Photo]

Toward the end of the night, Cal's Bear Raid began to take its toll on NU's players.  Wildcats went down with cramping or other minor injuries for three straight plays, and Cal fans began to boo the injured players, believing that NU was faking the injuries to slow down the game play.  I've never, in 30 years of following football, witnessed fans booing an opposing injured player.  The Cal fans had no problem cheering one of their own, however, as he was escorted from the stadium, ejected from the game for head hunting quarterback Trevor Siemian.

Regarding the wounded 'Cats, Cal Coach Sonny Dykes questioned the validity of the injuries as much as his fans.  Perhaps the best explanation of what happened to NU during the game came from a former Wildcat player on the Rivals.com message boards.  The player, who uses the handle MRCat95, had this to say about NU's injuries:

99 snaps playing with the motors our guys on D play with? The human body (especially 250+ plus variety) was not designed for that.

Guys get dinged up all the time in games where the opponent is playing at a normal tempo, and they simply jog off the field and nobody notices they were even dinged up (because it looks like a rotation). But when an offense runs at a tempo Cal does, you cannot treat getting dinged up like a simple substitution because the offense will snap the ball before you're off the field and your replacement is on. Thus, you have no other way to get off the field when you're dinged up (with a minor thing) than to lay on your ass and stop play.

Plenty of times I simply jogged off the field after getting dinged up (i.e., stinger, wind knocked out, dislocated fingers, tweaked ankle, dizziness after a hit, etc.) and nobody noticed. Had we played an offense like Cal, I would have had to lay on my back to get off the field when hurt because my replacement wouldn't have been able to get on the field to replace me before the next snap of the ball.

The offense changes the dynamic and comes up with an innovation (i.e., insanely fast and arguably dangerous tempo) designed to give them a competitive advantage. The defense has no choice but to react to that change, which is to sit on your ass (and stop play) when hurt rather than jogging off the field and let their teammate replace them.

With the injuries on the purple side of the field, and the head hunting that plagued the other side, there seemed to be no love lost between these teams.  The game in Evanston next year should be very interesting.

The game answered a lot of questions that NU fans had in the preseason.  Was Siemian ready to be a universal quarterback, and not just Colter's passing relief?  Was the offensive line ready for prime time?  Was the defense up for the task of stopping a high-octane air attack from scoring?  Has NU improved at finishing games?  The answers all appeared to be yes.  And these questions were answered during a road game at a Pac-12 opponent, only the third time in its history that NU has come from such a game with a win.

It was a gritty, hard-fought win, and it did answer questions.  Now, however, there are more questions-- questions about Colter, about Mark, and again about NU's secondary, and their answers might define the season.

Francis Peay: 1944-2013  [posted Sept. 21]

The Wildcats have lost a former head coach: Francis Peay, who led Northwestern football from 1986 through 1991, died Saturday morning.  Coach Peay was 69.

Peay was an offensive lineman, and a teammate of Gary Barnett, at Missouri in the 1960s.  He was drafted by the Giants in 1966, but is better known for his stint with the Packers.  After his playing career, Peay became an assistant coach at Northwestern under Dennis Green.  Green, the first-ever black Division I-A head coach, left Northwestern unexpectedly after the 1985 season.  Northwestern tapped Peay as "interim coach" for 1986, and Peay became the second-ever black head coach in the Big Ten.

Peay's first season at Northwestern was his best, a four-win excursion that featured victories over Army and Michigan State.  It was good enough for Northwestern to drop the "interim" from his title and declare Peay the team's formal head coach.  His final season in Evanston also showcased his finest moment in purple, a fantastic win over defending Big Ten champion Illinois.

Peay improved the Wildcat program beyond what Green had accomplished, but it unfortunately was not enough.  When his contract concluded after the 1991 season, Peay was removed, and NU installed Barnett, Peay's former roommate.

While Barnett's accomplishments at NU eventually eclipsed Francis Peay, Wildcat fans need to remember what Peay accomplished for the program.  Under Coach Peay's watch, the team continued its academic excellence, its reputation for sportsmanship, and it showed continuous-- if gradual-- improvement.


The hype surrounding Northwestern's showdown with Ohio State this Saturday has increased tenfold: ESPN's GameDay will be broadcast from Northwestern on October 5.  Chris Fowler made it official on Twitter late Saturday night.  Speculation had been hot for the last three weeks that ESPN was considering NU vs. Ohio State.  The Buckeyes' victory over Wisconsin has set up the battle of B1G unbeatens that caused ESPN to pull the trigger and head for the Enchanted Lakefront.

From GameDay's Twitter / Facebook feeds: pure Wildcat creaminess

It will be the third time ever that GameDay has broadcast from an NU home game, and only the second time ever from Evanston: GameDay came for the 1995 showdown vs. Iowa at Dyche Stadium (but broadcast from indoors, due to the snow storm), and the show broadcast from the 2010 spectacle at Wrigley Field.

There are reports that NU has selected the northern portion of the lakefill for the broadcast, picking the spot over Deering Meadow, which will be the site of ESPN's Mike and Mike radio broadcast on October 4 and NU reunion activities during Saturday.  The Daily Northwestern reported on Sunday that GameDay will be incorporated into the school's homecoming activities.

...Okay, HTP did not exactly provide a great heaping cache of coverage during NU's Big Ten season.  I doubt anyone missed it.  The Waterboy and the Lowes Line did carry on, with a stiff upper lip and a Wildcat rally cap firmly in place, and HTP did post a few snarky Paul Lynde TV highlights, but we were pretty quiet in October and November.  Next year, NU faithful, next year...

Wildcat Home Attendance Highest Since 1998;
Challenges Lie Ahead  [posted Nov. 24]

Depending on the outcome of this week's Land of Lincoln showdown with Illinois, 2013 could be the worst season for Northwestern football since 1998, Gary Barnett's terrible final year leading the 'Cats.  However, when it comes to attendance at Ryan Field, 2013 shaped up to be the best year since 1998.

Ryan Field averaged 39,307 fans per game in 2013, a significant increase from last season, the second straight season with an average increase, and the fourth straight season with an average over 33,000.  The recent upswing in attendance began in 2010.  Driving the surge since then has been the huge marketing effort by the athletic department, the Wrigley Field game in 2010 (which required season tickets to purchase home tickets to the game), the entry of Nebraska into the B1G (and the massive 'Husker fan base in the midwest willing to pay for NU season tickets to see their team every other year), and the Wildcats' overall success on the field.

Just before the 2013 season, that success leapt a tier, as NU won ten games and its first bowl game since 1949.  The team's victories and the 2013 preseason expectations helped to drive further the program and the ability to sell tickets.  The school had announced that the season ticket base for 2013 was the largest it has been in modern history (the meaning of which has been debated:  "modern history" likely began in the early 1960s).  No non-conference home game in 2013 dipped below 32,000 in attendance, which is quite a feat when playing the likes of Western Michigan and Maine.  And Northwestern enjoyed two home game sellouts, against Ohio State and Michigan.  The Michigan sellout is somewhat suspect, since there were gaping chasms of empty aluminum in the southwest corner of the stadium during the game, but a sellout it was nonetheless.  These two games marked the first time two games sold out at Ryan Field in a single season since... 1998.

Can Northwestern sustain this resurgence in attendance and build upon it?  Perhaps, but it will be very difficult.  The 'Cats are about to embark on an offseason that follows their first losing season since 2006 and their most disappointing season during the Walker / Fitz eras.  It will take marketing savvy and a solid year in 2014 to maintain the interest in the program.

There is a rumor that Northwestern is exploring personal seat licenses, similar to what the Chicago Bears and some elite-level college teams employ to generate additional revenue from the season ticket base.  The Northwestern licenses-- so goes the rumor-- would be required for all season ticket holders sitting on the west side between the 20 yard lines.  If this rumor is accurate, and if Northwestern were to attempt to use such a tactic, it would spell doom for the program.  Northwestern is not the Chicago Bears; it is not the University of Michigan; it is not Nebraska. 

NU has struggled for 45 years to maintain high attendance at its home games, for a number of reasons.  It is finally in a position to cultivate a decent-sized season ticket base.  If the program can successfully notch sold out games for 80% of its home events (that's five or six sellouts at Ryan Field per season) for five straight seasons, then maybe, just maybe, it should consider the possibility of a PSL.  Until then, the idea of a PSL is as far-fetched as putting Ryan Field directly on the lake front.