Northwestern probably isn’t going to repeat on their 10-win season from last year. Saturday, they lost 9-7 to Illinois State, an FCS team, thanks to this game-ending field goal.
The field goal is what lost it for Northwestern, but this was no fluke loss. The Redbirds out-gained the Wildcats by 100 yards. Northwestern’s offense was dismal, and the Wildcats only stayed in the game thanks to a pair of ISU turnovers and a string of convenient penalties. ISU only won 9-7, but the truth is that they played well enough to beat Northwestern by more.
It’s quite a downturn for the Wildcats after one of the most successful seasons in school history.
Losing to Western Michigan was arguably justifiable -- Western Michigan is a very good MAC team that often out-recruits Big Ten teams, and Northwestern lost in a flukey way -- but losing to Illinois State shows that there are somewhat serious problems with the Wildcats.
To be fair, the Redbirds are a really good FCS team — they’re ranked No. 9, and came within a field goal of winning the championship in the 2014 title game — but, well, they’re not allowed to have as many scholarship athletes as FBS teams. If you’re a decent FBS team, you should still probably win.
Last year’s Northwestern team probably wasn’t deserving of their record — they won five games by one score and were actually outscored 162-148 over the course of the season. They got to ten wins thanks to some pretty serious luck in close games — and these two games are what it looks like when luck goes the other way.
As you probably know, Northwestern is historically the worst major college football program of all time. Their 34-game losing streak in the 1980s is still an FBS record, and until a few years ago, they had the record for most all-time losses.
But those days were hypothetically done. Northwestern had winning records in seven of Pat Fitzgerald’s first 10 years and occasionally looked like a contender in the Big Ten West. Before Saturday, they hadn’t lost to an FCS team since 2006, when they lost to a Chip Kelly-coached New Hampshire team just months after the shocking death of head coach Randy Walker.
10 years later, Fitzgerald is the second longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten. He’s made a point of continuing to employ the same coaches, with his staff totally unchanged for three consecutive years. The Wildcats have recruited better in the past few years than they have at any point in program history, landing several 4-star recruits.
When you have a long-tenured coach, a stable crew of assistants, and solid recruiting, you’re theoretically supposed to be good. Instead, Northwestern is 0-2 with a loss to a MAC team and an FCS team.
Fitzgerald is the best coach in program history, and his job security is airtight. But this isn’t good enough, even for a team with as dismal a history as Northwestern.
Last year UCF followed up a nine-win season with an 0-12 year. The Wildcats still have plenty of chances to get things right and win games, but they’ve dropped two of the easier ones on their schedule with the entire Big Ten slate ahead.