Does Northwestern Leapfrog Wisconsin in Bowl Picture?



By Paul M. Banks and Jake McCormick

(PMB) Well Jake, I guess we both we wrong in our predictions for this game. The team I cover ended up besting the team on your beat in in one of the most exciting Big Ten games of the 2009 season.

To make all our readers and fans of both team jealous, David Kay and I (I guess you could call this game the TSB bowl) saw quite a lot of cool stuff on the sidelines of the game in the 2nd half. A lot more than just sideline princess Charissa Thompson. Although seeing the Big Ten’s hottest reporter up close is always a treat. We saw NU Athletic Director Dr. Jim Phillips nervously pacing back and forth behind the end zone during the extremely tense final minutes, we heard Pat Fitzgerald screaming at the refs about how they were calling holding penalties, and in the end, we almost got trampled by the students storming the field celebrating with the team around the 50 yard line of Ryan Field.DSC03149

Like I predicted the crowd had more red than a Trotskyite convention, so this was kind of like a neutral site game or quasi-home game for Badger fans. How are the Wisconsin fans dealing with this loss? How do they feel?

(JM) Like they had too much pure grain alcohol and distilled water last night. I’m still fuming at Wisconsin’s inability to grasp the 70-30 passing to rushing split of the Northwestern offense. They simply weren’t ready to play, took Northwestern for granted, and did everything in their power to make it harder to pull out a win. Even when the Wildcats were giving away field position and making their own mistakes we somehow found a way to one up them. I’ll give the Northwestern offensive line some credit for practically neutralizing O’Brien Schofield and JJ Watt, although I think that is made easier with Kafka’s quick release and the lack of under center snaps. Given the lack of a home field advantage and Wisconsin’s higher level of overall depth and talent, this one is really tough to swallow. Fitzgerald is definitely an intense guy. He reminds me of a quasi-successful Todd Haley with all his strained facial expressions, minus the lack of respect for his players.

(PMB) The title of this post is also my next question to you. Your take?

Here’s what Fitz had to say on that subject, very intensely to the media in the post game presser.

“Although you will write other things, our fan base travels OUTSTANDING to bowl games, so make sure you check your facts. If you need any, you see Dr. Jim Phillips. He’ll make sure you have them, and they are crystal clear, when you write about the facts of our bowl attendance tomorrow. So, at the end of the day, I think we are a very attractive group of Wildcats that would go down to any destination that we are honored to have the opportunity to participate in.”

I greatly enjoyed that pre-emptive strike against scribes who say the Purple Hearted fans don’t travel well. But two things: 1.) In the internet age we write our stories today, not tomorrow 2.) It reminded me a bit of Mike Gundy’s infamous GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT just not as angry.

(JM) Fitzgerald tends to get a little high and mighty after wins against ranked opponents. I’m sure you remember that comment about how Northwestern has been a better program since 1995 than Notre Dame and Stanford. There’s some truth to that, just like the statement above, but those definitely are embellished bragging points after emotional wins. Northwestern fans probably do travel well, but I would say Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State fans top the Big Ten in bowl fan support. Then again, the Wildcat fan base is much smaller than those three.

I think Northwestern has made their case for a better bowl placement, but I think at the end of the day Wisconsin will still be playing in January, mostly because of money. I have no problem if it’s the other way around though, because I feel like they took two giants steps back after putting their best foot forward for three straight weeks.

Here’s are some interesting stats that may help explain why things ended the way they did today: In the last 26 games where the margin of victory/defeat is seven points or less, Northwestern has won 24 of those games. Since 2000, Wisconsin is 4-7 in road conference games in November. Both are definitely interesting, and seemingly overlooked, pieces of information.

(PMB) All of NU’s talking points begin with “since 1995…” If you look at the history of the program, you’ll see why. However, in their defense, most people don’t remember much beyond 5-10 years anyway, so it makes sense. I’ve heard that Notre Dame and Michigan won a bunch of national titles 50 years before I was born, but they’ve been mediocre in my lifetime, so I don’t care.

Fitz also said that he thought the Big Ten MVP would come down to either John Clay or Mike Kafka, and that after today he (naturally, as expected vote for Kafka) I myself would vote for neither, and pick Penn State’s Darryl Clark. However, I can see people making cases for all sorts of different players, as this year there is no clear front-runner. Kind of like NL Cy Young was this year. Your pick?

northwestern sideline

(JM) I would probably take Clark as well. John Clay would come next for me, but I can’t put him first because of his equally successful ability to lose a game for Wisconsin with his butter fingers. Clay will have some big expectations for this award next year, but he was too inconsistent with his ball handling and play in big games for me to consider him the frontrunner. As for Kafka, his 10/7 TD to INT ratio doesn’t really jump out at me as being impressive. He plays in a pass-first system, and although it’s not completely his fault that the Wildcats usually don’t put up 33 points per game, 10 touchdowns for a player of the year is too low; unless you’re Jesus Tebow, of course.

(PMB) Right, tebow could complete 20% of his passes for the season, and the media would still hand him the Heisman. So where do the Sconnies go from here? How do you think they’ll respond out in Hawaii, and in their bowl game?

As for the Wildcats, and whatever bowl game takes them, I’m predicting their performance will be reflective of their Coach, who also gave us this gem in post.

“Well I assume we’re going to be playing some champion from some other league like we did last year, so 99.9% of the country is going to pick us to lose like they did last year, so I don’t have to motivate our guys a whole lot. Obviously, we’re a couple miles away from the crest of the mountaintop, and that’ll happen whichever bowl opportunity we are privileged to play in. This is a mountaintop that we’ve talked about now for a couple of years, and something we need to get over to eliminate all the naysayers and the negativity towards our program, and obviously to represent the great Big Ten conference the way we want it to be talked about and represented throughout the nation.”


(JM) I think the Badgers are still destined for the Outback Bowl. They have one of the best traveling fan bases in the nation, are regular New Year’s Day bowlers, and boast the top offense in the Big Ten. Coach Bret Bielema won’t let them take two teams lightly in a row, so I would expect a nice bounce back from Sconnie in the Aloha state. At least the weather will be a nice break from the typical Northern United States chill that apparently kills them in November.


  1. Hispeed Streamyx says

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