One of the major successes coming out of the Big Ten this season, the Northwestern Wildcats stood out as a team that could make a serious run at the conference title next season.
A young team with a boatload of talent, Northwestern really flexed its muscles this season, finishing up with 10 wins for just the third time in school history, going 2-0 against the SEC, and most importantly, the Wildcats downed Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl.
The season for Northwestern started out with a nail-biting win on the road over Syracuse, who proved to be a very solid team this year. Trevor Siemian hit Demetrius fields in the back left corner of the end zone with 44 seconds to play to seal the victory for the Wildcats. For the first time of many, we saw the Wildcats two-quarterback system work to perfection.
As nonconference play progressed, Northwestern picked up a key win over Vanderbilt of the SEC and headed into conference play undefeated at 4-0. Among other bright spots, junior running back Venric Mark really shined, and his impressive season continued throughout conference play. Mark ended the season third in the Big Ten in rushing yards, with 1366.
Conference play started off really nicely for the Wildcats, who had an offensive breakout in their first game, a 44-29 win over Indiana. In that game, Northwestern set a school record with 704 yards of offense, we saw the reliability of Siemian behind center as he threw for 308 yards, and we saw the triple threat of Kain Colter, who attempted 3 passes, rushed for 161 yards and 4 touchdowns, and had 131 yards receiving on 9 catches. Colter???s ability to move around in the pocket really gave Northwestern an added dimension this season, one that was lost a little bit last season with Dan Persa coming off an Achilles injury.
What followed that game really killed Northwestern???s chances at a conference championship this season. Blown fourth quarter leads really did the Wildcats in for three games this year, all three of them losses. Against Penn State, the Wildcats held a 28-17 lead with under ten minutes to play. Against Nebraska at home, the Wildcats blew a 28-16 lead with under six minutes left. Then came the one that hurt most of all, a 38-31 loss in overtime to Michigan on the road in which the Wildcats could not prevent Michigan from kicking a game-tying field goal after a 53 yard heave by Devin Gardner to Roy Roundtree.
After taking care of Michigan State and rival Illinois to end conference play, the Wildcats went into the Gator Bowl facing another SEC opponent, Mississippi State. The rest is history. The Wildcats finally got rid of that monkey on their backs, the ultimate accomplishment during Pat Fitzgerald???s coaching career.
Looking ahead to the future, expect the Wildcats to compete for the Big Ten title next season. A team now with experience and a fantastic coach, the Wildcats will only get better.