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College Football End of Season Analysis: Northwestern Wildcats

2010 CFBZ Prediction: 6th Place in Big Ten
2010 Actual Finish: Tied for 7th Place in Big Ten (7-6, 3-5)

Northwestern finished just about where we thought they would this year. They beat up on some inferior opponents to start the season 5-0. Then they lost a game at home to a Purdue team that would finish 4-8. The Purdue loss was definitely their worst loss and stands out when looking at their season. After going 5-0 to start, Northwestern finished up 2-6 in their last 8.

The high point of the season was beating Iowa, then ranked #13, 21-17.  However, the win was bittersweet as the Wildcats also lost their dynamic QB Dan Persa in that game and without him finished the season 0-3 including losses in very winnable games against Illinois and Texas Tech. To find out more about the 2010 Northwestern Wildcats we reached out to the Northwestern blog Lake The Posts.

1. In our Pre-Season Preview you said 8-4 would be a very successful season and anything less than 7-5 would be a major disappointment. Northwestern finished 7-5 in the regular season (7-6 after the bowl). How do you feel now that the season is over? Was this season a success, a failure or somewhere in between?

Somewhere in between. Overall, a disappointment as we continued the nation's current longest bowl losing streak. I'm always one to not use injuries as an excuse as they are part of the game. I think NU's inability to still have the "put teams away" demeanor is the most disheartening. Clearly the emergence of Dan Persa was THE storyline of the season as 'Cats fans believe we have a legitimate Heisman candidate in 2011. Without Persa I shudder to think how far we would've fallen after 2009.

If I had to fairly go back in time and assess expectations for the 2010 season it would go something like this:

1) Confident at QB and skill position players b/c we've proven we can reload at both in our spread system. Fitz was very confident in Persa and we believed.

2010 post analysis - spot on and even bested expectations.

2) OL should be a strength as we return everyone and RB game has to be better since Fitz put it as a point of emphasis and he believed it was much improved.

2010 post analysis - pretty big disappointment. The OL struggled in pass protection and our run game, while OK by committee and overall stats really was a trial and error experiment.

3) Defense - some pretty big question marks as our secondary is the most suspect and replacing Corey Wootton at DE will be a tall task. LB should be good though.

2010 post analysis - biggest disappointment. NU gave up 550+ yards in total offense in last three games - all post-Persa and all losses. We ranked 97th in total defense and simply lacked the ability to do some very basic fundamentals like wrap guys up when we had them. Our pass rush was God-awful.

4) Special Teams - Our punting is pretty bad and kick coverage has been an Achilles heel but hopefully Stefan Demos will recover from the Outback Bowl and have a bang-up year.

2010 post analysis: aside from placekicking where Demos played injured all year and struggled on FGs and PATs, it was a night-and-day improvement. Brandon Williams was an unsung hero as a punter and our return game, ignited by Venric Mark shows huge promise for the future, while our kick coverage teams might be the most improved unit on the field.

2. What were your favorite memories from this season?

In no particular order, yet another "upset" against Iowa in a classic performance by Dan Persa, being up 21-0 at Penn State and having Sean McDonough gushing about the level of athleticism at NU.

3. Which players surprised you the most this season?

In general, I'm going to go with the true freshmen on this one. Fitz is a vocal proponent of redshirting so for him to play a true freshman it takes a lot. Fitz unleashed many frosh this season and they were impact players like WR Rashad Lawrence, WR Tony Jones, KR/PR/WR Venric Mark, RB Adonis Smith and DT Will Hampton. Its great to visibly see so much improved talent on the field and really bodes well for the future.

4. Who are you looking most forward to watching next season?

Obviously all eyes are on the recovery of Dan Persa which is reportedly ahead of schedule. I'm looking forward to Adonis Smith making a big jump at RB next year with a full off-season to really dive deep in to the system. We're all sitting back arms crossed waiting for someone, anyone to step up and lead this team on defense.

5. Northwestern has been placed in a division with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska. Where do you think Northwestern fits in and what do they need to do this off-season to move up the ladder in their division?

I think most objective fans would look at the end of 2010 and say the projected order of finish for 2011 would be:

However, I'm not objective. With Persa returning as a senior captain, this has the makings of one of those once every 3-4 year jump years where NU actually competes for the top of the pack in Big Ten play. MSU and Iowa are both realistic to overtake in 2011 and a 2nd place finish isn't unrealistic. However, that will rely on us converting all of our productive offense into 7 points instead of 3 points on drives and of course a defense that can prove it can make a few stops in key spots. I put the bar of success season at 9-3 in the regular season and that includes a couple of non-conference gut check road games at Boston College and Army - both bowl teams in 2010. NU catches a schedule break in 2011 with no Ohio State, no Wisconsin (we also unfortunately lose Purdue) with 3 of the 8 opponents experiencing year one coaching changes (Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana). You can't ask for a better schedule.

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