There is a growing anticipation for Northwestern’s 2017 football season.
It is a rare occasion when the Wildcats return so much experience — especially at the skill positions. Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson and Godwin Igwebuike are returning from a bowl-winning season to some meaty expectations for the team.
The Wildcats believe for sure that the years of strong recruiting — or, at least, “Best recruiting classes in Northwestern history” — will finally lead to some dividends in the standings. And, maybe, produce some results.
The timing for Northwestern seems right. The Cats have that talent returning in a year where Wisconsin is in some transition and neither Michigan nor Ohio State appear on the schedule. Northwestern will know just how good it is early on in the year when it opens Big Ten play against Wisconsin in late September.
That is still a few months away. The Wildcats are on their way to Big Ten Media Days this week. The conference does not have an official media poll, having done away with it several years ago. So there is no official prediction of what those who cover the Big Ten closest think will happen during the season.
But Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com has conducted his own informal media poll for several years now. It gives the conference the best picture of the Big Ten on paper before the season starts.
And the Northwestern hype for this coming season is getting louder and louder.
The poll of 38 writers who cover the Big Ten placed Northwestern second in the Big Ten West, including five first place votes. Wisconsin was predicted to win the division with 31 voters picking the Badgers. Ohio State is the projected winner in the Big Ten East.
While there is still not a lot of votes coming Northwestern’s way, that certainly says a lot about the team’s prospects. There are plenty of high expectations for the Wildcats. A second place finish in the Big Ten West likely means the team is getting six or seven conference wins — with victories over the likes of Iowa and Nebraska.
That would certainly be a strong season for Northwestern. A definite growth from the team’s six-win regular season last year — including a 5-4 record in conference.
With the experience returning, the Wildcats should not expect much less.
The whole Big Ten West is exceedingly hard to predict. Northwestern has the most returning talent, but the program has never really hit an established level of consistency. And the Wildcats rarely blow any teams out to establish themselves among the top. Pat Fitzgerald in his decade as head coach for the Wildcats has never even sniffed the Big Ten West title or any division crown. The year Northwestern went 6-2 in the Big Ten, the team lost to Michigan and Iowa as Iowa went undefeated in conference.
Pat Fitzgerald in his decade-plus as head coach for the Wildcats has never even sniffed the Big Ten West title or any division crown. The year Northwestern went 6-2 in the Big Ten, the team lost to Michigan and Iowa as Iowa went undefeated in conference.
As good as Northwestern can be, there are still plenty of questions. The team lacks a go-to receiver and has questions along both the offensive and defensive line as new players have to replace graduating or departing veterans.
In Talking 10’s predictions for Northwestern, the majority of voters had Northwestern finishing third with just one person placing them second. Their overall record ranged from 7-9 wins.
There is still plenty up in the air for Northwestern entering the Big Ten season. But it is good to see expectations and confidence in meeting them are high for this team.