Chicago has seen its fair share of teams coming up short after having great seasons, most recently the White Sox this season and the Bears a few years ago, but now may be the time for a team in Evanston to reach its goals.
Northwestern currently sits at 5-0 and with the Big Tenbeing more wide open than in recent years, the Wildcats not only have one of the better teams in the conference but they haven’t fulfilled head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s goal of playing consistently in all three phases.
Yes, the Wildcats are undefeated but as I’ve written in previous articles, it doesn’t matter to them and neither does the team being ranked in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls this week. This team is one of the better coached teams in the conference and it shows during practice and games.
Critics of this team would quickly point out that Ohio State is easily the best team in the Big Ten and while that is arguable, the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason. Northwestern, however can not only reach a bowl game but could very well appear in a major bowl game for the first time since the 1996 Rose Bowl.
What I’ve noticed about this team over the past few months is each player and coach buying into and embracing what Fitzgerald has noted as “The Journey.” This could be the journey towards a conference championship or a bowl victory.
While statistically this team may not be the best in the conference, this team has found ways to win games when they’ve given up leads, blown coverage’s on defense or turned the ball over multiple times. Like the old cliché, good teams find ways to win games.
What has impressed me and others the most has been the Wildcats rushing defense. Through five games, Northwestern is only allowing an average 90 yards per game to its opposition, first in the Big Ten. Controlling the run game is crucial for any defense, especially the Wildcats this season.
Northwestern also has one of the better rushing offenses in the country. With quarterback Kain Colter beginning to run the ball effectively and the Wildcats valuable dual-threat running backs in Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy, this team is averaging 256 yards on the ground which is the ninth best total in the nation and second in the conference.
The Wildcats not only boast a quality rushing offense but its passing offense isn’t too shabby either. Northwestern has benefitted from using sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian more effectively since its opening contest against Syracuse.
Siemian, who expressed his desire to start hasn’t disappointed. The Windermere, Fla. native leads the team in passing with 672 yards and has just one interception in five games. The Wildcats are used to having great quarterbacks but Siemian has the potential to shatter many passing records before he’s done in Evanston.
Coming up this Saturday, the Wildcats will face its toughest test of the season when they face Penn State on the road. Northwestern can continue to silence its critics with an impressive victory over a surging Nittany Lions team. It won’t be easy however; the Wildcats haven’t won at Beaver Stadium since 2004.
With a win this Saturday, Northwestern can improve in the standings and continue on its journey which could lead them to Indianapolis. The Wildcats won’t get caught up in its record but if you’ve followed this team for quite some time, it’s pretty hard not to be excited about the future of this program moving forward.