Commentary: Alamo Bowl Aftermath
by Jonathan Hodges

Now just over a week removed from Northwestern's Alamo Bowl overtime loss to Missouri, it's time to reflect on the impact of the game in the short run and the long run.  While the result of the game was disappointing to any Wildcat fan, the fact that NU was "just a play away" from a bowl win that would propel the 'Cats to a 10 win season is a testament to this team and Head Coach Fitzgerald - something that hasn't gotten past many in the major media.  Sports talk radio (Dan McNeil of ESPN1000's Mac, Jurko, and Harry show), print media (Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey), and the talking heads on ESPN have all praised Fitz and called on him to be given a contract extension to remain at NU for a long while, if not for life.  And many are looking forward to next year already, with ESPN's Rittenberg predicting that NU will attain a bowl win next season and ESPN's Schlabach predicting that the 'Cats will make a run for the Roses in 2009.

In the short term, it's obvious that Northwestern has gained some respect both within the conference and nationally as a result of its 9-win season and a strong performance against such a heralded team in the Alamo Bowl.  No, it wasn't a win that would have propelled this team to double-digit wins in a season, but it was quite a performance in what was a heck of a game - quite possibly one of the best bowls of this season.  And the noise is all about the defense, and rightly so, which allowed only one regulation TD by Missouri's vaunted offense - and forced 3 INTs - Fitz had his hand in the turnaround of this defense and looks to have NU in a position to continue its success on that side of the ball (not to discount the work that DC Hankwitz has done, of course).  Fitzgerald has received a large amount of press this season thanks partially to his induction into the college football hall of fame as a player (the only 2-time Bednarik and Nagurski awards winner), but a lot has to do with getting NU to 9 wins and landing in the top 25 at the end of the regular season.  And with the talent returning next year, especially on the defensive side of the ball, things are looking good moving forward as Fitz works to make bowl bids commonplace at Northwestern.

That transitions nicely into the long term result of the Alamo Bowl and the 2008 season as a whole.  When Coach Walker met an untimely passing prior to the 2006 season and Fitz was named Head Coach, it was obvious that Fitz was being pushed into the fire - and the first 2 seasons' results showed: 10-14 with multiple "breakdown" losses, including 3 lost 4th quarter leads in 2007 and the infamous "comeback" game in 2006 against MSU.  But after all that, he implemented his full coaching scheme in 2008 and brought in two new coordinators to fill out "his" staff - and the results on the field were immediate, with NU reaching the second highest single win total in program history.  He did so with just one all-conference selection on the field and low expectations from those in the media and even most NU fans (just look at the attendance).  Fitz has shown that the program is heading in the right direction both on the field (he's increased the season win total in each of his 3 years at the helm) and off (NU's graduation statistics are once again at the top nationally).  He's the guy for the job and his time to shine is now, and hopefully, for some time to come.

Looking back to the 2008 Alamo Bowl, the cry, "remember the Alamo," may be heard from 'Cats fans as they cheer on a team that is routinely headed to bowl games, wins many of those games, and expects victory - something that came directly from the structure that Fitz is currently building and the foundation that Barnett and Walker laid the past 15 years.  Yes, the defeat was hard to swallow because that elusive bowl win was, oh, so close, but the 2008 season has shown us that NU fans shouldn't have to wait long to reach that win.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.