2014 was supposed to be the season that Northwestern football got back on track.
The Wildcats, after composing one of their greatest seasons (the
ten-win, Gator Bowl title 2012 campaign) found themselves ranked midway
through 2013, only to spiral out of control in a whirlwind of injuries
and helplessness. After the 5-7 disappointment of 2013, NU should have
been ready to reset: it had the returning talent (veteran QB Trevor
Siemian and All-American Venric Mark were healed and in place) and a
fresh set of young players who were highly recruited. Things, however,
did not work as fans expected. Siemian played much of the 2014
campaign hurt, and Mark played the entire 2014 campaign for another
team. Injuries continued to be as much of a problem in 2014 as they had
in '13, tearing out starters on both sides of the ball. Northwestern,
with its injury-riddled, threadbare lineup, repeated its performance
and its final record as the previous year, limping to a 5-7 finish and
another year without a bowl.
At first blush, 2012 through 2014 seemed to be a strange reliving of
2000 through 2002. Northwestern, coming off a triumphant season,
powerfully through the early part of the following season, earns a high
ranking, and then cartwheels into oblivion, followed by a season that
derails even worse. Like 2002, the 2014 edition of the Wildcats faced
issues that potentially divided the team. In 2002, the issues included
the aftermath of the death of Rashidi Wheeler; this year the issues
were less important, but potentially divisive nonetheless.
Former quarterback Kain Colter led a nationally publicized effort to
form the first-ever college football players' union, leading to a
team-wide vote on the matter in April. The results of that vote remain
sealed, pending a decision by the Washington-based National Labor
Relations Board on whether to uphold a decision by the Chicago division
of the NLRB to grant Northwestern players "employee" status and the
right to unionize. While media sources reported that the student vote
likely rejected the move, and the team has insisted that the union
issue did not divide them or drive a wedge between them and the
coaching staff, it now appears that the union issue did create a
distraction for the program as it prepared for the 2014 season.
By the time that Northwestern opened the season, more ominous moves
jolted the program. Venric Mark, NU's best running back, abruptly left
the team and transferred. For fans, this created the bizarre experience
of seeing Mark's name emblazoned on the inside of Ryan Field and
knowing-- at that moment-- he was playing for another college team.
The first game, a disappointing loss to Cal, was followed by a truly
embarrassing defeat against Northern Illinois. The Huskies, playing a
game that NU scheduled only a year before, beat NU for the first time
ever, and claimed regional and media bragging rights.
Only two games into the season, Northwestern's program grappled with a
winless skid, and fans feared that the year might already be a lost
cause. The team, however, proved to be bafflingly unpredictable.
Powered by an energized defense-- including one of the best defensive
secondary performances seen from this team since the 1990s-- NU
rallied, ripping out three straight wins, including a stunner at Penn
State and a great victory against eventual B1G West champion Wisconsin.
NU's rally was buoyed by freshman running back Justin Jackson, one of
the true bright spots of 2014. Jackson would eventually run for 1,187
yards in 2014 and would score 10 touchdowns (plus another touchdown
reception), despite only starting five games.
As noted, injuries continued to mount. As the season played out, the
wounded included Miles Shuler, freshman phenom Solomon Vault, Stephen
Buckley, Ibraheim Campbell, Chance Carter, Greg Kuhar, C.J. Robbins,
Chi Chi Ariguzo, Collin Ellis, Keith Watkins II, Sean McEvilly,
Christian Jones, and-- most dramatically-- Siemian, on whose ankle the entire team
seemed to rest.
A close loss to Minnesota and a stumble against Nebraska were followed
by an epic blowout at the hands of Iowa and yet another close, sorry
loss to a weakened Michigan team. Again, just when fans thought that
the Wildcats had checked out, NU found a way to perplex everyone. This
time it was in South Bend, and it provided a game for the ages.
Northwestern's overtime victory over 18th-ranked Notre Dame gave fans,
the team, and the program a shot in the arm, reminding everyone of what
the 'Cats could do when they played as one.
The team took that momentum and energy into Ross-Ade Stadium the
following week and flattened a weakened Boilermaker team, setting up a
make-or-break moment with Illinois at Ryan Field. Unfortunately, the
'Cats went with "break," falling to the Illini, losing the Land of
Lincoln trophy, sending Illinois to a bowl game, and staying home for
the holidays for the second straight year.
Though it's only two years, it seems much longer since the moment on
the podium at EverBank Field when the Wildcats hoisted the Gator Bowl
trophy. The program seemed to have arrived: ten-win seasons, bowl
titles, recruiting success, promises of facilities upgrades, and a
coaching staff with a map to stability and strength gave NU the
apparent trajectory of a constant contender for B1G West Division
leadership. Two seasons, ten wins, and fourteen losses later, fans are
stocked with questions. What happened? Why has this team been cursed
with injuries to key personnel-- is conditioning at fault? When will a
Northwestern shovel greet the lakefront and start to dig the foundation
of the long-promised football facility? Is the players' union issue a
part of NU history, or is it just on pause, its resurgence inevitable?
Which players will step up to lead NU out of its rut? And can NU again
become the exciting, dynamic, unified team that we got to revisit this
year in South Bend?
Make no mistake, Coach Fitzgerald remains the best choice to lead the
Wildcats, but he now faces having to answer several of these questions,
and answer them quickly. Fitzgerald chose to make no changes to his
coaching staff after 2014. That may be for the best, but changes of a
different sort must
nonetheless come if NU is to right its course: adjustments to player
training, game prep, team energy and vision. Fans are hoping for those
changes and the improvements in expectations that will come with them.
from some of my posts to this site during the course of
2014 season. Please note that the comments posted below are only
ones written by me, and this year I did not provide game previews or
postgame commentary-- much of what would have been commentary on the
site went instead to 'Cat Nips. The bulk of articles on
in 2014 came from other contributors. For their
commentary and analysis, please check out the
pages for the Waterboy and the Lowes Line.
NU History: Friday Night Lights [posted Dec. 29, 2013]
While posting an update to the Program Cover Gallery,
I noticed that the cover for the 1944 DePauw game appeared to have a
typo: the cover showed the game date as September 22, 1944, but all
records for the game show it as having been played on September
23. September 23 makes the most sense, because it is a
When I did research for my 2005 book, I never looked into this game,
despite its place as one of the most lopsided wins in NU history (the
'Cats took apart DePauw, 62-0). Looking now at the Associated
Press coverage of the game, however, settles the question:
in newspapers Saturday, September 23, 1944] EVANSTON, Sept. 22--(AP)--
Northwestern University opened its gridiron season with a devastating
62 to 0 victory over DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., before
15,000 spectators in flood-lighted Dyche Stadium tonight. The
Wildcats scored nine touchdowns, six conversions, and a safety against
the visitors whose offensive and defensive [sic] was pitifully weak.
Northwestern unveiled a potential star in 18-year-old Johnny Yungwirth,
freshman left half from Fond du Lac, Wis., who pitched two touchdown
passes of 30 and 18 yards and plunged for a touchdown.
The Wildcats dominated the play so completely that they gained 393
yards on the ground, while holding DePauw to minus 26. The
Hoosiers never threatened and managed to get to their own 39 yard line
only twice. Northwestern made 18 first downs to none for the
The Wildcats scored within the first five minutes when Yungwirth heaved
a 30-yard pass to end Duane Sickels in the end zone. Fullback Bob
Funderburg place kicked for the extra point.
The game was not only played on Friday, September 22, it was a night
game, which NU had not noted in its records. As recently as 1988,
however, the game was indeed remembered as a night game, as noted in a column in the Tribune,
written when NU played its first night game at Dyche in 44 years.
However, even in 1988 NU's records showed the DePauw game as having
been played on Saturday.
An ad in the Thursday, September 21, 1944 issue of the DePauw
student newspaper The DePauw spelled out the day that DePauw and NU would play.
Tiger Coach Gaumey Neal and his players looked on from the sideline
as the 'Cats throttled DePauw [DePauw Image]
Just as the stadium had in 1943, Dyche hosted the College Football
All-Star game at the start of the 1944 season. And, just as it
had in 1943, NU took advantage of the temporary lights that were
erected for the All-Star game by playing its first home game of the
season at night. Click here for a list of all of the Wildcat night games at Dyche Stadium.
The game against DePauw was just the fourth game NU ever played on a
Friday, the first since 1894, and the first Friday game at night.
It was the final Friday game ever at Dyche Stadium. Since then,
the 'Cats have played several (regular season) road games on Friday,
the most recent at Ford Field in 2007 against Eastern Michigan.
However, for one game in its history, NU played under Friday Night
Lights at Dyche.
First reported by ESPN earlier today,
a group of Northwestern players, led by Kain Colter, have formally
requested to join a labor union and be recognized as employees of the
school. The players sought representation backed by the United
Colter, Other NU Players Move to Join Union: ESPN Report
[posted Jan. 28, 2014]
Accroding to ESPN, the NCAA and NU have already responded. Per
ESPN, the NCAA's response read, in part: "Student-athletes are not
employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act,"
and that there is no existing employment relationships between the
"NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes. . . This
union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines
the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not
employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We
stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to
Also per ESPN, NU athletic VP Jim Phillips gave the following
statement: "Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not
employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate
method to address these concerns. However, we agree that the
health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and
others are important ones that deserve further consideration."
Obviously, this situation is going to continue to unfold. More to come.
It's been a week since the news broke that a group of NU players, led
by Kain Colter, had begun an attempt to join a labor union, setting off
a national discussion about the status of student athletes.
NU's Union Effort:
A Thorough Analysis [posted Feb. 6]
I've avoided commenting about the issue until now. I have had zero interest in wading into this issue.
The HailToPurple.com staff (here dramatized by award-winning
actor Alec Baldwin) prepares its comments regarding the NU union situation.
in keeping with the courageous history of this website, I've decided to
punt, at least for a while further. In the meantime, enjoy the
images below, which imagine what it might have looked like had NU's
players always been unionized.
What if NU always had unionized players?
Northwestern's marketing materials might have been somewhat different. Instead of 2002's ad campaign:
...maybe we would have had:
How about 2005's slogan?
...Might this have worked?
unions sometimes use a huge inflatable rat to symbolize scab
workers. NU, of course, has its own inflatable mascot, which it
could have brought out of retirement and pressed into service:
Would Kafka have crossed union lines to take down the Hawkeyes? Perhaps...
Even the original Willie, back in '48, would have looked a little different:
aside, I do think that the players' requests-- particularly the ones
pertaining to player safety, concussion protection and evaluation, and
medical coverage-- are totally reasonable. However, it remains to
be seen if unionizing is the best way to bring about these improvements.
NU Welcomes 15 Recruits
welcomed 14 new recruits who submitted National Signing Day letters of
intent. The new recruits joined with Parrker Westphal, who
pledged to NU last December.
During Signing Day 2014 [posted Feb. 6]
year the list of new players is split nearly evenly between
offense and defense, with seven offensive players (including a
highly-rated running back and quarterback) and eight players on
defense. After signing a kicker last year, NU was unlikely to
sign any additional kickers or punters this year.
success for NU has moved geographically, from Pennsylvania in 2012, to
Ohio in 2013, to a more diffuse effort this year. Four recruits
hail from Illinois, three from Texas, two each from Ohio and New Jersey, and the rest are
spread across the country.
has given four stars to tight end Garrett Dickerson, safety Parrker
Westphal (who graduated early from high school, and has already signed
his LOI with Northwestern), and running back Justin Jackson.
Rivals rated each of these players four stars, and also gave four stars
to Wheaton, Illinois, quarterback Clayton Thorson. ESPN goes even
further, giving four stars to these players, plus running back Solomon
Vault. NU has not had a recruiting class with five four-star
players in the last 15 years; it's possible the 'Cats have never had so
many highly-ranked recruits in a single class.
signing day, Scout ranked NU's class 56th in the country, down nine
spots from January 20, likely due to some last-minute changes to the
recruiting roster. Scout places NU's class at 11th out of 14 in
the B1G, sandwiched between newcomers Rutgers and Maryland.
Scout, by the way, ranks Illinois last in the conference. Scout
puts NU's class behind Indiana, Minny, and Rutger's, despite NU's class
having a significantly higher star
average than those schools.
Rivals ranks the Wildcats' class at a surprisingly low 69th nationally,
down 20 spots from January 20! , Rivals puts NU's class at 12th
in the B1G, with Purdue holding the bottom spot.
ESPN ranked NU's class 41st, substantially higher than Rivals or Scout,
but still lower than ESPN's January 20 ranking of 33rd in the country.
The following table shows the
list of recruits who have committed to Northwestern. The comments are compiled
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 great interest in the recruiting process, crucial though it is. For more
detailed info and analysis, be sure to check out Lou V.'s reporting at
Rivals, Nick Medline's work at Scout and of course LakeThePosts.com.
and Scout 3-Star. Rivals position rank: 15th. Offers from 16 schools,
incl. AZ St., Cal, GA Tech, Nebraska, Stanford, Texas, and UCLA.
|ESPN, Rivals and Scout 4-Star.
Rivals position rank: 17th; state rank: 10th. Scout position rank: 12th. 24 schools offered, incl.
Alabama, Florida, FSU, Michigan, MSU, Nebraska, OSU, Stanford, and Wisc.
|Grand Rapids, MI
and Scout 3-Star. Rivals state rank: 18th. Scout position
rank: 36th. 5 schools offered, incl. Army and Michigan.
|Offers from 7 schools, incl. Bowling Green and Pitt.
and Scout 3-Star. Rivals state rank: 24th. Scout position rank: 31st. Offers from 13 schools,
incl. Illinois, MS St., Mizzou, Nebraska, and NC State.
||Carol Stream, IL
| ESPN, Rivals and Scout 4-Star.
Rivals position rank: 14th; state rank: 6th. Scout position rank:
15th. 14 offers, incl. Boston Col, Cal, Illinois, Iowa, and
|Offers from 5 schools, incl. Navy.
||Avon Lake, OH
|Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Offers from 6 schools, incl. Illinois and L'ville.
|Offers from 7 schools, incl. UConn and NIU.
|Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Rivals state rank: 30th. Offers from Pitt and Vandy.
|ESPN and Rivals 4-Star.
Scout 3-Star. Rivals position rank: 6th; state rank: 8th. Scout position rank: 29th. Offers from 13
schools, incl. Boston Col, Illinois, Iowa, NIU, Penn St., and
|ESPN 4-Star. Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Rivals state rank: 28th. 11 offers, incl. E. Carolina, Nebraska, Pitt, and Tenn.
|Cedar Hill, TX
|Scout 3-Star. Offers from 7 schools, incl. Air Force and Yale.
|ESPN, Rivals and Scout 4-Star.
Early HS grad: signed with NU in 2013. Rivals position rank: 20th;
state rank: 9th. Scout position rank: 10th. Offers from 20 schools, incl. AZ St., Florida,
Michigan, MSU, Nebraska, Notre Dame, OSU, and Wisc.
|Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Offers from AZ St., Kansas, OK St., and Rice.
NLRB APPROVES NU PLAYER REQUEST [posted Mar. 26]
famous for its use of the phrase "student-athlete," today claimed the
national stage by involuntarily giving birth to the phrase
"employee-athlete." Northwestern's current football players
scored an unexpected and landmark victory when the National Labor
Relations Board ruled that the players are primarily employees and have
a right to unionize.
The ruling will, of course, be appealed, and could eventually end up
before the Supreme Court. If the ruling holds, it could possibly
and fundamentally change college athletics. Earlier this week
former NU president Henry Bienen noted that a union victory might lead
to Northwestern dropping out of NCAA Division I sports.
CAPA, Player Reps Head to DC;
NU Requests Review from Nat'l NLRB,
Appeal Likely [posted Mar. 30]
the media and fans of college athletics nationwide try to figure out
the ramifications of the National Labor Relations Board's decision that
NU football players are university employees and are entitled to
unionize, reaction spans the spectrum. Nearly everyone seems to
support the players' demands for enhanced medical protection and
coverage. There is a firestorm of controversy, however,
surrounding the legal shift of NU's players from being primarily
students to being primarily employees.
Northwestern certainly disagrees with the NLRB's ruling, and has
announced that it has asked the NLRB's Washington, D.C., office to
review the Chicago office's decision. NU is doing this to pave
the way for an appeal.
For the current Northwestern players, the next step might be to take a
secret vote on whether to unionize. The timing of this vote is
unclear, as is the question of any potential remaining legal hurdles
that would need to be managed before the vote.
HailToPurple.com will not provide an analysis of this situation.
I have no desire to comment on the union issue. In fact, this
might be a great time to step back and reevaluate not just this site,
but what it means to be a fan of college sports.
PLAYERS IN DC
players, including former quarterback Kain Colter, visited lawmakers in
Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to argue in favor of unionizing college
football. The players, along with representatives of the National
Colleges Players Association and the United Steelworkers Union, are
also trying to make sure that the Washington headquarters of the
National Labor Relations Board upholds the earlier ruling by its
Chicago division. The Chicago office of the NLRB decided that NU
players are primarily employees of Northwestern, which paved the way
Colter: "Congress is an important part
of the chess board" [posted Apr. 6]
Northwestern will almost certainly appeal the NLRB ruling within the next week.
Current Northwestern players will vote at some point this month on
whether to join the Steelworkers Union. Should they do so, it remains
to be seen what action the NCAA will take. It is feasible that,
since the NCAA is in no way bound to change its own rules due to a
ruling by a labor board, the NCAA could declare NU players academically
ineligible for the coming season, because of NCAA rules forbidding
players from seeking outside agency or representation.
FITZ: VOTE NO Last
Saturday, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald talked at last about
the union situation and the NLRB ruling in favor of the players.
Speaking to BTN in front of a couple dozen fans at an open spring
practice at Lakeside Field, Fitzgerald said, "[being silent until now]
has been a challenge, but that's what we're talking to our young men
about now... educating them to the best of our ability... There's
obviously a critically important vote that's coming up not only impacts
our young men, but the future young men of college football, and we
want to make sure that they have all of the information."
Players Will Vote on Union April 25
Persa: Colter Performed "Sneak Attack" on Players,
Actions Are "Unfair" to Coach Fitzgerald [posted Apr. 6]
Fitzgerald continued: "I am very proud of [the players] for trying to
work for national change." However, Fitzgerald had told the BTN
before the practice that he was going to encourage the team to vote no
During BTN's broadcast, former quarterback Dan Persa described Kain Colter's effort
to get other players to sign union cards as a "sneak attack" and the players' subsequent actions as "unfair" to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald also commented about where the players are in their spring
practice schedule, noting that the team "is going to be behind coming
out of spring from some scrimmage-type things," because of a lot of
post season surgeries and current rehab.
Northwestern employee-players are at last casting their votes, deciding
whether or not to join a labor union. The voting is taking place
this morning at McGaw Hall. The ballots will be impounded by the
National Labor Relations Board, which will hold the ballots secret
indefinitely. NU is currently appealing the Chicago NLRB Office's
ruling that gave players the right to this vote. Should the
Washington Office of the NLRB overturn the Chicago decision, it is
likely that we will never know the results of today's vote.
Late Friday, the Washington Office of the NLRB noted that the Chicago decision "raises substantial issues warranting review."
Should the Washington Office of the NLRB uphold Chicago, then down the
rabbit hole we go. If the players turned down a union, the
situation at NU might stabilize somewhat-- for now. Eventually,
another school or schools will take up the same challenge, and the
dominos within the NCAA will begin to fall. Change will come to
Northwestern; it just might take a couple more years. If,
however, the players voted yes, then the players, their union,
Northwestern, the Big Ten, and the NCAA will all square off in a summer
and autumn battle royale, with the NU football program (and NU
athletics in general) in the balance.
And, to spice things up on the eve of the vote, there's "Game Changers,
Collegiate Alumni Athletes for Change," a small group of former NU
players (including Rick Telander and Mike Adamle) who released a statement to the press accusing Northwestern of interfering with the union vote. Because why not?
Group of Alumni Players, Led by Telander and Adamle,
Accuse NU of Meddling with Election on Eve of Vote;
Vote Result Might Never Be Released:
Washington NLRB Office Grants NU's Review Request [posted Apr. 25]
THE WILDCAT WAIT [posted Apr. 25]
So now we wait.
The players have voted, the votes are sealed up, and NU football goes
into a kind of limbo as Northwestern and the NLRB sort out the next set
This series of actions which led to today's historic event began back
in January, when former NU quarterback Kain Colter urged his teammates
to sign union cards. The move to request union representation
required 30% of the current players to sign on, and Colter made sure
that he would have an adequate number of supporters by secretly meeting
first and separately with the freshmen members of the team and with
African-American players. Only after he worked to convince those
groups to sign did Colter convene a team meeting to discuss the union
option, knowing that he now had built-in support to make the
conversation move his way.
In recent weeks, however, as the voting day approached, the
conversation among some current players was less supportive of Colter
and his tactics. Colter's damning testimony against Coach
Fitzgerald and the NU program during NLRB evidence hearings soured
opinions among some players and alumni, while others sympathized with
Colter, setting in place a division that will mark this program for a
long time to come.
Initial Reports from Scout, Chicago Tribune
Scout's Chris Emma sent the first report via Twitter
before the voting was yet done: "A high-placed Northwestern source
believes the union receives in the range of 60 'No' votes out of 75
players." Just two hours after Northwestern football players
ended their voting, the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein also took to
"I just spoke to a Northwestern player (who will remain anonymous) who
voted today. He told me he's 80 pct sure union vote will be NO."
Point to Player Rejection of Union [posted Apr. 25]
[Ed. note: This was the last report by the media concerning NU's
historic vote. Over eight months later, the players' ballots remain
sealed and uncounted, and the issue hangs over Northwestern, in limbo
as legal procedures continue.]
Media 2014 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats:
We're halfway through summer and the annual college football magazines have appeared at the
offering their picks and predictions. The slate of previews
begins with Athlon and Lindy's and concludes
the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its
Mystery Team [posted July 20]
Last year the mainstream prognosticators were atypically high on
Northwestern, and many picked the 'Cats for their top 25, blasting NU's
phenomenon (media analysts invariably put NU at or
near #57 nationally). However, things did not turn out favorably for
the 'Cats, and NU limped to a 5-7 record, snapping its recent
So how do the media see NU faring this coming season? Predictions are
all over the map: never before have the major media shown such a wide
spread in their picks for NU's season. The 'Cats return much of their
starting talent from 2013, including their All-American punt returner /
and a seasoned quarterback. They lose another starting quarterback who
was both powerhouse star and colossal distraction. But distractions
remain, and the
union issue will likely hound the team for the rest of the year. Is the
team up for the challenge? Are they unified (rather than unionized)? Or
are they a house divided? Answers will follow in just a few weeks.
The 2014 List
During 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 2014
- It might have had one of the most accurate predictions last year, but let's hope that Lindy's
streak ends here. The magazine ranks NU a lowly 71st nationally this
summer, 12th in the B1G, and 6th in the Western Division, tied for last
with Purdue. Lindy's is more optimistic about Indiana, ranking the
Hoosiers 69th. As for the Wildcats, the magazine believes that the
union issue will indeed be a significant distraction, snarkily noting
that it's "difficult to negotiate labor relations while on the field..."
mentioned above, this year features the greatest spread ever in the
media's perception of Northwestern's preseason position. While
Lindy's anchors the bottom of that range, Phil Steele claims
the top. Steele's magazine ranks the 'Cats an astonishing 44 spots
higher than Lindy's, placing NU at 27th in the nation, and second in
the Western Division (Steele gives the Western nod to Wisconsin).
Steele calls Venric Mark's return "a huge addition" and taps NU as one
of his most improved teams for 2014. He believes the offensive line, in
particular, will be "vastly improved." Interestingly, Steele notes that
Northwestern is one of only four Div. I-A schools in the nation to have
the same head coach, OC, and DC for the last six years.
- The Sporting News
only provides a top 25 preseason ranking, and NU is not listed.
However, TSN does give conference breakdowns, and it puts the 'Cats 5th
in the West, near the bottom, but good enough to snag a trip to the
Heart of Dallas Bowl.
- USA Today is slightly higher on the 'Cats potential, slotting NU at 4th in the West (64th nationally).
- Closer to the old Heinz Line, ESPN (Magazine) has NU ranked #52, but a rather dismal 10th in the B1G, just ahead of Minny
- Along with Lindy's, Athlon
is the other major preseason football publication that has survived in
print form for decades. Athlon predicts a season slightly better for NU
than last year: a 6-6 campaign with a 3-5 finish in the B1G, good
enough for a 4th-place finish in the West and 9th in the B1G overall
(just behind newcomer Maryland). Athlon has selected several Wildcats
to its first-team All-B1G team, including Ariguzo and Campbell on
defense and Mark on special teams (it gives Mark a second-team spot as
a running back).
- Internet statistician and ranking mogul James Howell has
been offering his rankings and game predictions for many years.
For the 2014 pre-season his power rankings slot NU at #61, 8th in the
B1G and 4th in the West (behind Iowa; ahead of Minny). Howell does not
have the B1G in a strong overall position. The conference barely cracks
the top ten (OSU is 8th) and Purdue falls out of the top 100.
- Sports blogger Steve Deace
predicts every team's number of wins, giving each a range. Deace gives
Northwestern a six to eight-win range, which ties the 'Cats for 6th in
the B1G for overall wins (along with Nebraska and Penn State).
- Like many other media predictions, CollegeFootballNews.com
pivots its NU pick on how well the team gets through the colossal union
distraction. "If the program and the school can overcome [the union
issue], there's enough talent returning on both sides of the ball to
get right back into the hunt for really big things." CFN also notes (as
do many) the importance of improving both sides at the line. Seven or
eight wins seems like an achievable and successful season.
- Brian Leigh, columnist for Bleacher Report,
ranks each Big Ten team by its chances of making the 2014 season
playoff. Leigh puts Ohio State in the lead (with 5-4 odds, by Leigh's
calculation); Northwestern winds up at seventh (35-1 odds). Leigh would
likely rank NU eighth in the conference (Penn State remains
disqualified for the postseason). Purdue clocks in at the bottom of the
conference with 300-1 odds.
note: For 2014, the media split on its NU predictions. For the second straight year Lindy's had the most accurate prediction that NU would scrape near the bottom in the B1G West.
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 goes to Phil Steele and his too-optimistic view of NU.
Next Man Up [posted Aug. 14]
a little more than two weeks until the kickoff of the 2014 season,
Northwestern announced that it has lost two of its most important
starters. Venric Mark, already suspended for the first two games, and
Christian Jones, who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns
last year, will not see the field.
Mark, it was revealed on Wednesday, had actually been suspended in the
spring, but had appealed the suspension. Mark apparently lost the
appeal recently, and his two-game suspension was announced earlier in
the week. Just one day before Mark announced that he is leaving NU, he
talked to Teddy Greenstein and told him that "I fully expect us to be
2-0 by the time I get back" from the suspension. Coach Fitzgerald,
according to Greenstein, said that Mark "challenged the team to make
great choices and look after another. He said he'd be the best scout
running back in the country. He was excellent. He owned it."
It appears that Mark "owned it" for about 18 hours.
On his Twitter feed, the BTN's Dave Resvine noted that "Pat Fitzgerald
didn't seem all that interested in discussing [the departure of] Venric
Mark: 'He's not here anymore. Good kid. We wish him well.'"
At nearly the same time as the announcement of Mark's exit, NU issued a
statement that Jones was lost for 2014 to a knee injury. Jones is
likely to redshirt and return in 2015.
The swift removal of two of Northwestern's key offensive players from
the top of the depth chart is the last sour note in an offseason that
was a discordant mess for the program. Beginning with the media chaos
of the union issue and the resulting player vote on unionization, and
continuing through a spate of injuries to the team's underclassmen, the
offseason has been a trying period, and it has left a slew of questions
about the team. Have the union distractions and the lingering issues
about player satisfaction left the team divided? Are the team's leaders
able to lead the team effectively? Is the team focused on the goals of
the season? And are the remaining players ready and able to fill in the
spots left from the disappointing 2013 team and from this offseason?
It's Next Man Up: running backs Stephen Buckley, Treyvon Green, and
Warren Long have an opportunity to show what they have. Wide receiver
Kyle Prater has a golden opportunity to step up and make
Siemian-to-Prater the new Myers-to-Flatley. And the entire special
teams unit will be under the gun to show its talent.
One hopes that the dim outlook of the 2014 'Cats before the season will
be just as inaccurate a portent of the season as the elated and
optimistic preseason outlook was before last year's campaign.
ESPN: Michigan Targets Phillips [posted Nov. 2]
NU football's burning clown car parked itself on Kinnick Stadium's
FieldTurf last Saturday, rumors began to swirl that Michigan was
focusing its athletic director search on Jim Phillips. Michigan's AD,
Dave Brandon, had "resigned" just one day before, and the inevitable
speculation began at once.
ESPN first reported that Michigan was targeting Phillips, "according to a source." Whether that source was in Ann Arbor or Evanston is not clear.
The timing will make for an entertaining game week, as the Wildcats
look to re-track their season by taking on Michigan at Ryan Field this
Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Phillips takes his usual
sideline position during the game.
This is the second time in four years that Michigan has looked toward
the other side of the lake to fill a high-level athletic vacancy. Coach
Fitz was a candidate for the head coaching job before Michigan chose
Hoke (according to the Detroit News Michigan actually offered Fitz).
If Phillips does indeed leave for Michigan, it will be a blow to
Northwestern's athletic program and will bookend a disappointing season
that began with serious off-field issues related to the player union
vote. The outcome of that vote is still unknown, its fate pending