took a solid defense and an improving offense into 2016 and, by the end
of the season, it strengthened both. The end of 2016 presented NU fans
with a relatively deep, experienced team, one that won three of its
last four games, including a sparkling performance in the 2016
Pinstripe Bowl. However, the season did not begin with such quality:
the Wildcats' early games were a grim patchwork of offensive ineptitude
and defensive breakdowns. NU kept grinding and improving, and the
season proved to be one of the greatest turnarounds for the team in its
history: not since 1970 had NU started a season 1-3 and still achieved a
Northwestern opened the year by kicking off a four-game stand at Ryan
Field, and it did so by falling to Western Michigan, 22 to 21. Justin
Jackson notched all three of NU's touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to
stop WMU, which marched 75 yards in the fourth quarter to score the
winning touchdown. The 'Cats had a chance to retake the lead, but a
Wildcat fumble at the goal line sent NU to a loss. Fans were initially
shocked at the loss to a MAC team, but Western Michigan would proceed
to dominate the regular season and finished in a New Years Six bowl.
Far less impressive was NU's second opponent in 2016, the FCS mid-tier
fodder Illinois State. The Redbirds managed only a single touchdown
(the point after try for which failed) and a 33-yard field goal, but it
was enough to beat the Wildcats, which turned in one of the worst
performances by the team in a decade. Steeped onto the previous week's
loss, the Illinois State game seemed to point to a disaster of a
season. NU began to dig itself out the following week, when it knocked
off Duke. Clayton Thorson finally uncorked the 'Cat offense, throwing
for 320 yards and three scores, including a TD strike to Austin Carr.
Carr began his trek to a stellar season with the Duke game. He would
eventually record 90 catches for 1247 yards and 12 touchdowns,
including a staggering performance at Iowa, in which Carr caught three
NU wrapped up its Ryan Field stretch with a loss to Nebraska, which
took the team to 1-3 and made 2016 appear to be a rebuilding year.
However, the trip to Iowa the following week was a pivot point: in
addition to Carr's explosive output, Jackson contributed 171 yards,
including a 58-yard touchdown run, and both offensive and defensive
lines showed marked improvement. But the real shocker came a week
later, when NU tore into East Lansing and ripped Michigan State 54-40.
It was the most points MSU has ever allowed at home, and it
demonstrated just what NU's offense could do when the line, Thorson,
and his targets worked as one.
While the newly-energized offense had grabbed much of the attention
during NU's successful road trip, it was the Wildcat defense that stole
the show-- and the ball-- during the team's homecoming. NU dropped
Indiana 24-14, powered by Anthony Walker's 11 tackles and a pair of
crazy one-handed interceptions-- one by Montre Hartage and another by
Kyle Queiro (whose other hand was in a cast at the time). The win
brought NU's record to 4-3, and the team appeared to be back on track.
That feeling did not dissipate, even with a loss to Ohio State in
Columbus. The 'Cats played the #6 Buckeyes to the wire, looking far
stronger than they did in September. But NU stumbled the following week
in a lackluster loss to Wisconsin. A beatdown of rudderless Purdue was
unfortunately followed by a weak loss to Minnesota. That left 5-7
Northwestern facing Illinois: even with a loss, the 'Cats could still
make a bowl game, given their strong APR. A win, however, would
possibly salvage the season.
Driven by outstanding performances by Jackson and John Moten IV-- the
running backs combined for over 300 yards-- Northwestern jumped to a
21-0 lead against the Illini and cruised to a 42-21 win. NU's defense
had an interception and forced three fumbles. During the game Jackson
passed both Darnell Autry and Tyrell Sutton to take second place in
NU's all-time rushing yards records.
The 6-6 finish to the regular season tied Maryland and Indiana, and it
earned the 'Cats an invitation to play in the Pinstripe Bowl against
23rd-ranked Pitt. NU took Yankee Stadium and played its game of the
year, featuring a solid performance by Thorson, an electric offering
from Jackson, more heroics from Walker and Queiro, and great work by
both lines. The win, just the third bowl victory in NU's history, gave
the team a winning record for 2016 and provided a fantastic finish to a
season with such a troubling start.
from a couple of my posts to this site during the course of
2016 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. Most of the articles on
in 2016 came from other contributors.
NU Set to Sign 2016 Recruiting Class this Week
[posted Jan. 30, 2016]
With signing day just a few days away, Northwestern appears to have a class of 20 ready for 2016.
with last year, this
year's list of potential new players appears split nearly evenly
offense and defense, with eleven players on offense (four on the line)
and nine players on defense (also four on the line) And, for the third
year straight, NU will not sign any new kickers or punters, apparently
relying on walkons for these critical positions.
has apparently lightened its recruiting emphasis on Pennsylvania, while
renewing its focus on Ohio and Texas. The 'Cats have six recruits from
Ohio, four from Texas, and a pair each from Illinois and Indiana. The
two recruits from Indiana are both from Fort Wayne (hometown of former
NU standout Trai Essex). Two of the Texas recruits are from Katy High
School. Overall, NU has 13 recruits from the midwest, three from the
east / southeast, and none from the plains or west coast.
has given four stars to defensive back Roderick Campbell, from St.
Louis. Scout, meanwhile, has given a four-star rating to running back
Jeremy Larkin, from Cincinnati. Most of the rest of NU's class have
three stars from the
major recruiting sites. CBS Sports' 247Sports site gave every one of
NU's recruits three stars.
the number of four-star recruits for NU is down vs. recent years,
the team's ranking is roughly the same as last year. As of January 31,
Scout ranks NU 38th in the
country (up from #40 two weeks ago), just behind Miami, FL, and eighth
in the B1G, just
ahead of Minny. Rivals has NU at
#43 nationally (down from #39 two weeks ago), just above NC State, and
8th in the B1G, now just behind Iowa. 247Sports is more downbeat on
NU's class, ranking it
48th in the nation and 10th in the B1G
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 247Sports.
is always a somewhat challenging topic for me to cover. I have no interest at all in
college recruiting. Yet, I recognize that success in recruiting is
critical to Northwestern's program.
detailed info and analysis, be sure to check out Lou V.'s reporting at
Rivals and the work at Scout and CBS' 247 Sports.
Scout and 247 3-Star. 17 offers, incl. Air Force, Army, BC, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Iowa, KS St., Yale
||Round Rock, TX
|Rivals and 247 3-Star. Offer from Texas St.
|St. Louis, MO
Scout and 247 3-Star. Rivals 3rd in state; 17th at DB. Scout 1st in
state. 13 offers, incl. AZ St., Cincy, Duke, Illinois, Iowa, Notre
Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 24th in state. Scout 3rd in state. 8 offers, incl. Duke, Iowa, Wisc.
||Ramaud Chiaokhiao- Bowman
Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 9th in state. 12 offers, incl. Harvard, Minny, Yale
Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 23rd in state. Scout 3rd in state. 11 offers, incl. Cornell, Illinois
Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Scout 10th in state. 11 offers, incl. Baylor, BC, Wash, Wisc.
Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Scout 5th in state. 17 offers, incl. Harvard, Indy, Navy, WVA, Wisc., Yale
Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Scout 6th in state. 14 offers, incl. Air Force, BC, Iowa, Vandy, Wake
||Orchard Lake, MI
247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 32nd in state. Scout 3rd in state. 11
offers, incl. Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Mizzou, Vandy
|Scout 4-Star. Rivals and 247 3-Star. Rivals 14th in state; 8th at RB. Scout 3rd in state; 25th at RB. 7 offers, incl. BC, Cincy, Wake
Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 24th in state. Scout 2nd in state. 9 offers, incl. Army, Iowa
247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 24th in state. Scout 2nd in state. 17
offers, incl. BC, Harvard, Illinois, Pitt, Vandy, VA, Wake, WVA, Yale
|247 3-Star. 13 offers, incl. Air Force, Army, Boise St., Houston, Rice, SMU, TX Tech
|Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Scout 2nd in state. 10 offers, incl. BC, Cincy, Illinois, Oregon St., Pitt, Vandy, Wake, Wisc.
|Fort Wayne, IN
|Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 15th in state. Scout 2nd in state. 15 offers, incl. BC, Cincy, Iowa, NC St., Indy, Purdue
|Fort Wayne, IN
|Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 4th in state; 12th at QB. Scout 2nd in state. 7 offers, incl. BC, Toledo
|Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Scout 2nd in state. 10 offers, incl. Duke, Illinois, WVA
|Rivals, 247 and Scout 3-Star. Rivals 29th in state. Scout 5th in state. 8 offers, incl. Air Force, Harvard
|Scout and 247 3-Star. Scout 10th in state. 12 offers, incl. BC, Houston, Iowa St., Wisc.
Rivals state ranks include all positions. Scout state ranks are position-specific.
Media 2016 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats:
Breaking from the Heinz Line
[posted Aug. 7]
We're wrapping up 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
HailToPurple has tracked the media previews and predictions since the
2000 preseason, and regular readers might be familiar with the HTP
"Heinz Line": most media attempts to rank NU nationally in the
preseason will gravitate toward 57th place.
Here is how media picks for NU have played out since summer 2000:
(Based on average preseason national rankings by Lindy's, Athlon, Phil Steele, ESPN bloggers,
The Sporting News, and several other media sources)
year the media actually put NU below the Heinz Line in the preseason,
and their predictions significantly missed the mark when the 'Cats
finished 2015 ranked. In fact, the media consistently failed to predict
any of NU's best seasons in
the last 16 years, but they have typically overcorrected by overrating
NU the year after a great season (e.g., 2001, 2013).
is the 2016 preseason assessment of NU also an overreaction? Or have
the media underestimated the team again? Or... will they nail their NU
prediction, something they've only achieved twice in the last nine
The Recap of the 2015 Predictions
2015, the media took a downbeat view of NU's prospects, uniformly
underestimating NU's potential. In fact, there was no truly accurate
prediction last year among the large media outlets. The closest,
technically, was CollegeFootballNews.com, with its #50 ranking for NU
(way off the mark, but still closer than anyone else). The "dog" pick
for 2015, hands down, went to USA Today's Paul Myerberg, who ranked NU
#82 in the preseason, below Ball State, Georgia Southern, and New
The 2016 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 2016
Wildcat predictions so far.
- Since it holds the crown for most accurate prediction last year, let's begin with CollegeFootballNews.com.
CFN and Pete Fiutak ranks NU #40 nationally (just ahead of Nebraska),
seventh in the B1G, and third in the B1G West, behind Wisconsin and
Iowa. CFN lists running back, linebackers, and secondary as program
positives, and quarterback, receivers, and D-line as watchouts. #40
sounds fairly strong for a media prediction, right? Not so fast: CFN
ranks by talent. However, in its list of how it thinks teams will finish
2016, CFN ranks NU at a Heinz-esque #54, predicting that, with its
tough schedule, NU will end the season at 6-6. CFN actually lists NU as
an underdog to Western Michigan at home...
- Moving on to the print picks, Lindy's
is one of the most overreactive when it comes to NU: after a bad
season, the mag will expect similarly awful results from NU the next
season, and it will be just as bullish after a good year. In the wake
of Northwestern's ten-win season, Lindy's has offered up one of the
highest predictions for 2016. It ranks NU #28 in the nation. That
translates to a fifth spot in the B1G and second in the West, behind
Iowa. Lindy's tabs Anthony Walker as a first-team All American and
Justin Jackson as first-team All Big Ten. It hedges, however, on
results: "NU will be improved in 2016, but ten wins will be a stretch."
- The second major national preview magazine is Athlon,
and it also ranks the 'Cats higher than it did last year (#44, up from
#58). But it has the B1G improving across the board, and ranks NU only
eighth in the conference and fourth in the West. Athlon also puts
Walker in its first-team All American squad, but it predicts just seven
wins, and only four wins in the B1G. The magazine predicts that NU will
meet USC in the Foster Farms Bowl.
- In his preseason power poll Phil Steele
ranks NU #42, which is eighth in the Big Ten, just behind Penn State
and ahead of Minnesota. He slots the 'Cats at #4 in the West. Given
NU's ten wins in 2015, Steele lists NU in his "bear market" of teams on
the decline, but also lists the 'Cats #4 in the teams that should have
the most improved passing game. Additionally, Steele is very high on
NU's defense: "The Wildcats may have the best back 7 on defense in the
league and a top 5 defense overall plus RB Jackson and an
improved QB Thorson." He predicts NU will meet Southern Miss in the
Heart of Dallas Bowl.
- Internet statistician and ranking mogul James Howell has
been offering his rankings and game predictions for many years.
For the 2016 pre-season his power rankings slot NU at 41st, good for
seventh in the B1G and fourth in the West, just behind Nebraska. Most
prognosticators for 2016 consistently have Wisconsin and Iowa ahead of
NU in the West and disagree about Nebraska's place, which is virtually
tied with NU in many of these power polls.
- Internet source The Power Rank
builds a predictive model for all Div. I teams. For 2016, The Power
Rank ranks NU 58th, which makes it one of the few prognosticators in 2016 that actually ranks NU lower
than it did in 2015's preseason (when it put NU at #55). The Power Rank
is actually down on the Big Ten in general. Michigan, its top-ranked
conference team, comes in at #9. NU is eighth in the B1G, behind Penn
- But The Power Rank's 58th place rank looks positively generous compared to Sports Formulator,
another model-based Internet source. Sports Formulator ranks NU 64th in
the preseason (up just one spot from its 65th pick in '15). That's good
for ninth in the B1G, behind Indiana.
- Another Internet prognosticator is Mike DeSimone, who has NU in 43rd, just above Virginia Tech.
- Among newspapers, the Orlando Sentinel
is one that provides a preseason rank of all teams. The Sentinel ranks
NU a lofty 24th, noting that the 'Cats need "to make strides on offense
in order...to post back-to-back double-digit win seasons." It is one of
the few media sources to rank NU over Penn State and Georgia.
- Bill Connelly posts on SB Nation,
and his preseason B1G power rankings placed NU in ninth, behind
Minnesota and Iowa, and just ahead of Indiana. Overall, Connelly ranks
NU 46th, with odds of winning 6.2 games (that 0.2 had better not be
against the Illini). His colleague at SB Nation, Jason Kirk, predicts
that NU will make it to an at-large bowl (the Independence) to face
- The Sporting News has its bowl projections up for the preseason, and it picks NU for the Foster Farms Bowl, to face UCLA.
- CBS Sports
released its national preseason ranking on August 9, and the Tiffany
network placed NU at a relatively high 38th, good for sixth in the
conference and third in the West, behind Iowa and Wisconsin. CBS's
Jerry Palm projects that NU will face USC in the Foster Farms Bowl.
- The Coaches Poll has been released for the preseason, and NU is
unranked. The 'Cats pulled in 31 points, putting them in the middle of
the unranked also-rans.
note: At the end of every year, we go back to the preseason media
predictions and call out the most and least accurate. For 2016, the
media came very close to predicting NU's performance. Most sources
actually had a nearly spot-on assessment. The closest, for the second
year running, was CollegeFootballNews.com, which called the 6-6 regular season record, and a loss to WMU.
There is no "dog" pick this year, although the Orlando Sentinel was perhaps too optimistic in its predictions.
'Cats Take Pinstripe Bowl 31-24
[posted Dec. 31]
Northwestern's trip to New York was, apparently, a journey for vengeance.
Fans were mostly unaware of just how angry the Wildcats were, angry at
being underestimated, at the assumption that the team would repeat its
January bowl flop when it entered Yankee Stadium and faced #23 Pitt in
the Pinstripe Bowl. Northwestern took that desire for vengeance and transmuted it
into a sterling postseason performance, leading Pitt for much of the
game and winning, 31 to 24.
Leading NU's charge was The Ball Carrier, Justin Jackson, who
purple-fisted his way to 224 net yards (down from 226 yards in the
initial stats) rushing and three touchdowns. Jackson's effort was a
stunner: he slashed, juked, bullied, and seemingly flew past baffled Pitt
defenders to a Pinstripe Bowl rushing record.
JJTBC came just 13 yards
from NU's bowl rushing record (set by Jason Wright in Detroit). Jackson
received the bowl MVP honors, and he set up-- one hopes-- the
groundwork for a 2017 Heisman campaign.
The Pinstripe Bowl was fought on the ground. Jackson's 32 rushing plays
tied another NU bowl record and equaled Pitt's rushing plays, spread
across nine players. However, the unsung Wildcat is Clayton Thorson,
whose touchdown pass to Garrett Dickerson gave Thorson the NU
single-season touchdown passing record, a surprising feat considering
how little hype Thorson received during 2016. If scores were to be
settled and cases were to be made during the Pinstripe bowl, consider
them settled and made. Thorson's offensive line, while shaky at times,
turned in a fantastic effort, a substantial improvement vs. the
beginning of the season. For NU's most maligned squad, the win over
Pitt must be particularly satisfying.
One singularly satisfying thing about the Wildcat offense was the play
calling. Coach McCall mixed it up, calling throws on first down,
misdirection, well-timed running plays, and a great use of Jackson,
John Moton, Austin Carr, and Garrett Dickerson. Coach Fitzgerald and
McCall put on an aggressive game, and the 'Cats delivered, going 4 for
4 on fourth downs, using a different mix of tactics for each.
The Wildcat defense also came out pissed off and fired up, and it
blasted the Panthers, holding them to their lowest point production for
all of 2016. The team that knocked off Penn State, upended Clemson, and
hung 76 points on Syracuse was befuddled for much of the game. Pitt
notched just 18 first downs, going 6 for 13 on third downs and--
crucially-- 0 for 2 on fourth downs. One of those fourth downs
concluded a first quarter, four-down goal line stand by Northwestern.
That drive rivals NU's 1962 goal line stand against #6 Ohio State as
the greatest-ever defensive effort by the team.
The NU defense followed up the phenomenal stand at Pitt's goal with
three interceptions during the game, each at a critical moment, each
helping to break Pitt's will. Godwin Igwebuike, Kyle Queiro, and Jared
McGee each picked Pitt and helped NU dominate time of possession. The
'Cats had over 35 minutes TOP, a stat they needed to hit if they were
to win the game.
Trae Williams led the defense with five solo tackles, and Anthony
Walker was not far behind, racking up four solo tackles. Walker had a
solid game, for what has turned out to be his final appearance in an NU
Next to the offensive line, Northwestern's kicker, Jack Mitchell, had
received perhaps the greatest amount of criticism during the season.
Mitchell, however, performed flawlessly at Yankee Stadium, provoking
memories of his performance at Notre Dame Stadium. Mitchell's four
extra points ties an NU bowl record, and his 37-yard field goal gave NU
the assurance of at least overtime, if not a regulation win.
The players and coaches are to be commended for defying expectations
and turning in a great win against a very skilled opponent. The win
comes at a key moment for the program, and it helps reset expectations
for fans and non-fans alike. Now, Northwestern fans are not just hoping
for success; they will once again expect victory.
Anthony Walker, Jr. Will Enter NFL Draft [posted Dec. 31]
days of speculation, Anthony Walker made his announcement: NU's
celebrated linebacker will enter the 2017 draft. Walker will receive
his Northwestern degree this spring and will not return for a fifth
year in Evanston. Walker announced his decition on Twitter:
According to the Chicago Tribune,
Walker is not the only NU player that has thought about entering the
NFL draft early: Godwin Igwebuike has also contacted the NFL draft
Coach Fitzgerald, also on Twitter, responded to Walker's announcement:
"We're so proud of Anthony, and thrilled for the Walker family. He's
cemented a spot as one of the best players in Northwestern football
history, will earn his degree this spring and has the opportunity to
pursue his dream. That's what Wildcats football is all about. I can't
wait to see him on Sundays proudly representing Northwestern and his
Best of luck to Anthony, and congratulations on a terrific legacy at Northwestern!