After a 10-3 season, a Gator Bowl victory over Mississippi State, and a Top 20 finish in 2012, the Northwestern Wildcats seemed like a certain Top 25 team again in 2013 with 15 returning starters. Pat Fitzgerald was the hottest coach in college football at the time (except for maybe Nick Saban), and the program appeared to be on the rise.
Then 2013 happened, and reality set in again as the Wildcats slumped to a 5-7 season, reminding everybody how hard it is to win at Northwestern. In all honesty, though, it shouldn’t have been hard to see why they had such a fall off.
There was still inexperience on the team, star running back Venric Mark missed almost the whole season due to a leg injury, and a quarterback change happened as Kain Colter gradually gave the reigns to Trevor Siemian. And finally, perhaps because of those three factors, Northwestern lost its close games in 2013. It won them in 2012.
The Wildcats were 1-4 in one-score games last year. But a lot of that had to do with inexperience, though. Now, as they get ready for the 2014 season, not only do the Wildcats have lots of questions they need answered, the team has the obvious major distraction of Colter’s decision, as he departed Northwestern, to form an NCAA Football Player’s Union.
So what does this all mean on the field? Well, Fitzgerald has lots of returning talent this year, even more than he had returning last year. With key injuries last year, his team was also able to build up more depth. Is that enough to get it back to a bowl or better?
The team will have to resolve some issues before it can come to that point.