2014 Season
Review Page


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, competes 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.

What follows are excerpts from some of my posts to this site during the course of the 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 HailToPurple.com 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 Saturday. 

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:

[Appeared 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 visitors.

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.

Colter, Other NU Players Move to Join Union: ESPN Report
[posted Jan. 28, 2014]

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 Steelworkers Union.

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 professionalize."

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.

NU's Union Effort:
A Thorough Analysis [posted Feb. 6]

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.

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.

So, 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?

Labor 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:

Silliness 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
During Signing Day 2014 [posted Feb. 6]

On Wednesday, Northwestern 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.

This 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.

Recruiting 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.

Scout 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.

After 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 from material taken from Rivals.com, Scout.com, and ESPN

Please note that HailToPurple.com does not closely follow recruiting efforts, nor do I have any 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.

RB Auston Anderson
Plano, TX
Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Rivals position rank: 15th. Offers from 16 schools, incl. AZ St., Cal, GA Tech, Nebraska, Stanford, Texas, and UCLA.
SB Garrett Dickerson Englewood, NJ
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.
OL Tommy Doles
Grand Rapids, MI
Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Rivals state rank: 18th.  Scout position rank: 36th. 5 schools offered, incl. Army and Michigan.
Nate Hall
Toledo, OH
Offers from 7 schools, incl. Bowling Green and Pitt.
OL Blake Hance Jacksonville, IL
Rivals 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.
RB Justin Jackson 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 Vandy. 
DB Jared McGee
Mansfield, TX
Offers from 5 schools, incl. Navy.
DL Ben Oxley Avon Lake, OH
Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Offers from 6 schools, incl. Illinois and L'ville.
DL James Prather Memphis, TN
Offers from 7 schools, incl. UConn and NIU.
LB Cameron Queiro
Verona, NJ
Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Rivals state rank: 30th.  Offers from Pitt and Vandy.
QB Clayton Thorson Wheaton, IL
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 'Cuse. 
WR Solomon Vault
Gaithersburg, MD
ESPN 4-Star. Rivals and Scout 3-Star. Rivals state rank: 28th. 11 offers, incl. E. Carolina, Nebraska, Pitt, and Tenn.
DL Xavier Washington
Cedar Hill, TX
Scout 3-Star. Offers from 7 schools, incl. Air Force and Yale.
DB Parrker Westphal
Bolingbrook, IL
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.
DT Fred Wyatt
Lawrence, KS
Rivals and Scout 3-Star.  Offers from AZ St., Kansas, OK St., and Rice.



Northwestern, 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]

As 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.


Colter: "Congress is an important part
of the chess board"
[posted Apr. 6]

NU 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 for unionization.

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.


Players Will Vote on Union April 25
Persa: Colter Performed "Sneak Attack" on Players,
Actions Are "Unfair" to Coach Fitzgerald
[posted Apr. 6]

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."

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 for unionization.

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.


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]

Current 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?

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 of moves.

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
Point to Player Rejection of Union [posted Apr. 25]

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 Twitter: "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."

[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:
Mystery Team [posted July 20]

We're halfway through summer and the annual college football magazines have appeared at the newsstands, offering their picks and predictions.  The slate of previews typically begins with Athlon and Lindy's and concludes with the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its official front runner.

Last year the mainstream prognosticators were atypically high on Northwestern, and many picked the 'Cats for their top 25, blasting NU's
"Heinz Line" 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 bowl-eligible streak.

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 / running back 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 Wildcat predictions.
  • 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..."
  • As 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.
Ed. 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]

Just 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]

As 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 further appeals.