By: Andrew Bowen
The Northwestern Wildcats recovered from two early losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State this year, salvaging their season with a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility in the Big Ten Conference. But while the ‘Cats stand at just .500 on the year, Northwestern is better than their .500 record suggests. Here’s five reasons why:
- The ‘Cats play in the toughest conference in college football. Northwestern plays in the Big Ten, which has four of the top ten teams in the country. Playing in such a tough conference, wins can be hard to come by. However, Northwestern was able to garner a winning 5-4 record in conference play. In addition, the ‘Cats nearly beat Ohio State in Columbus, showing that this team can play with nearly anyone/
- Northwestern has two of the best offensive players in the Big Ten. Austin Carr and Justin Jackson were the focal points of the ‘Cats’ offense this season and among the best at their positions, respectively in the Big Ten. Jackson was third in the Big Ten in rushing yards, which is impressive considering the leading back, Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, only has 4 more yards than Jackson and played in one more game. Carr has been equally impressive. He led the Big Ten in receiving yards (1,196), receptions (84), and touchdowns (12). Both were able to help Northwestern’s offense into the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
- Northwestern’s defense is better than you think. Northwestern ranks fifth in the Big Ten in scoring defense. And while that may sound unimpressive, that’s a list that includes Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State: three teams in the top 10 that were considered for the College Football Playoff. They also rank four in the Big Ten in total interceptions. In addition, the ‘Cats defense had three players named to the All-Big Ten teams: linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., safety Godwin Igwebuike, and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo.
- Northwestern faced difficult schedule. Northwestern schedule ranks No. 34 in the nation in terms of strength of schedule. Six of the teams they played were ranked at some point during the season. Western Michigan, who the ‘Cats were one play away from beating, went undefeated and will play in the Cotton Bowl versus Wisconsin. Northwestern also lost a one-possession game to State in Columbus that was a play or two away from going in the ‘Cats’ direction. Northwestern beat every team they were supposed to and played most of their elite opponents close.
- Clayton Thorson is a good quarterback. Despite some inconsistency this year, Thorson played well, finishing fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards. Thorson threw for 21 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions, showing promise for a sophomore. This year was essential for his development as a quarterback and Thorson’s potential was on display throughout an impressive sophomore campaign.
So there you have it. The Wildats’ 2016 campaign was a bit disappointing after a 10-win 2015 season. However, there were a lot of positives to take away for Northwestern, and a bowl game and more too forward to in the future.