The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.
The great Paul Simon wrote that. He was singing about love and relationships and stuff, but it also applies to sports. It pertains to perhaps every team, everywhere.
As was referenced in The Gazette this week, the story of the 2013 Northwestern Wildcats resembles that of the 2010 Iowa Hawkeyes. Both got a big whiff of the sweet smell of success the year before, and both believed similar or better times were up next. Nothing in love or life or football is a certainty, is it?
Like the ‘10 Hawkeyes, this season’s Wildcats have found great expectations to be a great weight. After going 10-3 last season and notching its first bowl win since the 1948 Rose Bowl, Northwestern wanted more, talked openly about getting more, felt the rush from being on the verge of getting a whole lot more three weeks ago when it was 4-0 and led Ohio State 23-13 in the third quarter and 30-27 in the fourth.
But Northwestern lost that game, lost badly at Wisconsin the following week, and lost at home to Minnesota last Saturday. So, like Iowa in 2010, this Wildcats season won’t begin to compare favorably to the one before. The Hawkeyes would make sure of that today with a win over the Wildcats.
In early June, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas opened betting on the Northwestern-Iowa game by making the Wildcats 12-point favorites. Even Vegas thought this year’s Northwestern team could be special. But as of Thursday, Iowa was favored by 3.5 points.
What happened between now and then? Football happened. The Wildcats’ offensive line isn’t especially good. Nor is their run-defense. Quarterback Kain Colter got hurt and missed the Minnesota game. Running back Venric Mark hurt an ankle early in the Wisconsin game. He won’t play today.
Mark carried 16 times for 162 yards against Iowa last year. Colter rushed 26 times for 166 yards. Northwestern’s 28-17 win was dominant, glorious. But that was last year.
After the Wildcats’ Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State on New Year’s, NU Coach Pat Fitzgerald said his team was just getting started. In August, he said “If we don’t keep winning, it’s going to be like (last year) was a great year for Northwestern football, but it’s still Northwestern. We don’t want to hear that thought.”
If the Wildcats lose today, they’ll hear that thought.
“We’re a better football team than we were a year ago,” Fitzgerald said at the Big Ten media days in July. “But what’s that mean? I think there will be a lot of close games where we’ll have to kick a field goal or make a big play. We’ll have to have what I call a defining moment somewhere in the season where we get a win we’re not supposed to get.
“Sometimes when you get a win like that, everywhere I’ve been it carries on more. You gain confidence and it starts a snowball effect.
Instead, his team got a loss it wasn’t supposed to get against Minnesota. If the ‘Cats lose today, the snowball effect will be the bad kind.
A 10-3 season with a bowl win over an SEC team was so nice last season. But the thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.