Per usual, it has been another whirlwind of a season for Northwestern football. Every summer, I find myself counting down the days for Northwestern football, and now more than ever, I find myself asking why. Through the first six games, I have had an unnecessary amount of stress and anxiety watching the team through the first portion of the season.
Entering the second half, Northwestern finds itself in an interesting position. Roughly seven weeks ago, I wrote that Northwestern’s primary goal for this season was to win the Big Ten West. Before the season, in order to achieve this, I would have said Northwestern would need roughly ten wins, to avoid any bad losses, and beat Wisconsin. The two losses would come from Notre Dame and either Michigan or Michigan State. Well, here we are. Northwestern is 3-3 with losses to Duke, Akron, and Michigan. Of course, Northwestern blew 17+ point leads in the Akron and Michigan losses, and against Duke, Northwestern simply played lackadaisical football. NU paid for it as Duke outplayed the Wildcats. These three losses are all inexcusable on many different levels as Northwestern spent all summer hyping itself as a team ready to compete with the big dogs.
The university spent $200+ million dollars on the “Fitz Mahal,” but the team still fell short in each one of these winnable games. This stat in itself should make the season a failure, and the result should include a change among the coaching staff (primarily the offensive coordinator, Mick McCall, whose job Northwestern fans have been calling for in what seems like an eternity by now). Yet, the craziest part of it all? If the season ended today, Northwestern would represent the Big Ten West in Indianapolis as the team still has a viable shot to make the Big Ten Championship with many games left to play this season.
Northwestern should beat Rutgers, as the Wildcats will open as 20+ favorites (though, we may have to start counting on the unpredictable to happen!), and after this game, Northwestern has a matchup against Wisconsin. This game against Wisconsin will not be hyped by the national media, and tickets will not be overly expensive. Make no mistake about it: this is the biggest game Northwestern will play since hosting College Gameday against Ohio State in 2013. If Northwestern wins this game, the team will position itself in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten West, along with securing a very good shot to play in the Big Ten Championship. This scenario would would push Northwestern to the next level.
With a loss? Northwestern will not play in the Big Ten Championship, the team will win six or seven (eight if they win out) games before playing in a subpar bowl game, and their losses to Akron, Duke and Michigan will all become magnified. Mediocrity will yet again be the status quo this season for a program that so badly needs to take the next step. One could argue that if NU does lose this game, the defeat would finally spark change within the program. A coaching shakeup would be the only acceptable answer at the end of this season, rather than the continued continuity of a coaching staff that has been together since Pat Fitzgerald became the head coach.
Northwestern fans, buckle up for the second half of the season. Northwestern may be 3-3, but they still have a lot to play for. The upcoming game at Ryan Field in two weeks should decide the season.
Follow William on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit-Brendan Sullivan/The World-Herald