Link to a piece on ChicagoSideSports

It’s all over but the bowl game now. The college football season was exciting, but ultimately disappointing for me as an alumus of Northwestern University. Not one, not two, but three games got away from the Wildcats, and that’s why there’s no game to look forward to this weekend. That’s why this feels more like 1996–the year that I went to see the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on new year’s day–than like 1995, when a top five ranking was a possibility.

I sometimes deal with disappointments by writing about them. Here’s a link to the ChicagoSide piece. Enjoy it if you can. I like the artwork, though.

Eight wins and disappointment

The world certainly has turned for Northwestern football. I bore witness to exactly eight wins in the entire four years that I was on campus, from 1986 through 1989. There were four wins in my freshman year, and four in the following three years.

We threw marshmallows at each other in the stands during football games to keep our minds off what was happening on the field.

Every victory at home, no matter who the opponent was, was grounds for running onto the field and tearing down the goal posts.

My senior year, 1989, was so bad that the final two games were lost by a combined score of 169-28. Talk about ending with a whimper.

But things have turned around since then, beginning with 1995 and stretching into the foreseeable future. Coach-for-life Pat Fitzgerald has pointed out, correctly, that everyone under the age of 40 only knows Northwestern as a winner. And that’s a change for the better, as far as I can see.

But today’s win against Michigan State marked the eighth win on the season. I should be thrilled at the progress that’s been made over the past 20 years, right?

Well, not so fast. Each of the three games that Northwestern has lost this year was as a result of a fourth quarter meltdown. Double-digit leads were surrendered against Penn State in Happy Valley, against Nebraska in Evanston, and–most shockingly of all–against Michigan just last weekend. If even two of those three games were won, Northwestern is 10-1 and making plans to play in the Big Ten’s first championship game this year. So an 8-3 record could be as much as 11-0 instead. It’s very hard to see this season as anything other than a disappointment, when viewed through that lens.

But it is what it is. Illinois comes in next week, and while I hope the game is competitive, I would be shocked if it actually was. Then comes the ritual of accepting a bowl invitation, travelling to wherever the game will be, and then losing the game. I won’t ever take being in a bowl game for granted (how could I, when the dark days of the late 80s are considered?), but you play the games to win, after all. That’s really the only way to redeem what has been an agonizing eight-win season. And I really did just type that. Wow.

Hopefully he’ll sit today

At the start of this college football season, Northwestern put up billboards touting Dan Persa as a Heisman trophy candidate. The problem was that he was still rehabbing from an Achilles injury that ended his season–and Northwestern’s as well–against Iowa last year.

I was literally hanging on every play listening to that game in the car, and the joy that I felt when they came all the way back in the 4th quarter didn’t even last a minute, since Persa went down when the play was over. And the final games of the season, when he couldn’t play, were just an embarrassment. But that was last year.

For this season, Northwestern’s athletic department coined the word PersaStrong, and sent out packages to media figures with dumbells bearing Northwestern’s colors and Persa’s #7. Everything looked to be a go for his longshot candidacy to challenge Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who everyone has all but given the trophy to at this point.

But Persa’s rehab hadn’t gone as well as everyone would like, and he was scratched from both the Boston College and Eastern Illinois games in the first two weeks of the season. Kickoff for today’s game against Army is still at least an hour away, and I don’t know if Persa will be in the lineup today. I actually hope he isn’t, for two reasons:

First off, the team has seen Kain Coulter emerge as the kind of a credible backup QB that Northwestern did not have last year. His time will come next year after Persa’s time is up, but it certainly can’t hurt to let Persa continue to heal for one more week, with a bye week coming up next Saturday. This would give Persa two full weeks to heal before  the Big Ten season begins two weeks from today.

The second reason is that non-conference games just don’t mean the same as conference games do. Army doesn’t have a conference, so they have to get up for every game the best that they can. But Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, and others are the opponents I really care about, not Army. The Wildcats can win today’s game or lose it, but the season really begins with the Illinois game on October 1.

The Heisman isn’t going to Dan Persa this year, but I hope he didn’t choose Northwestern to boost his Heisman chances. He would be the first one to ever do this, if that’s the case. A week off is actually two weeks to continue healing, and I’m more than willing to wait that long to see him in the huddle. My hope is that coach Pat Fitzgerald feels the same way.

Go Cats!