Column: northwestern fans need to keep Michigan State loss in perspective

By Jacob Brown

This sucks.

As good as Northwestern’s defense is, its offense hasn’t clicked. Wide receivers Kyric McGowan, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Riley Lees all alternate between making incredible catches and dropping easy balls. The offensive line has struggled at times, and quarterback Peyton Ramsey hesn’t been everything he’s billed to be.

Right now, Northwestern fans are hurting because Northwestern’s 29-20 loss to Michigan State knocks the Wildcats out of CFP contention. And it HURTS.

But let’s take a step back.

Before the season, three InsideNU writers out of 17 predicted the ‘Cats to go 6-2. No one had them winning the West (Will Karmin said maybe, but not certain). We are currently upset that our dreams have been crushed. But what were these dreams? To go to the COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF. That is a huge sign of progress. Northwestern won the Big Ten West for the first time two years ago. Assuming that the Minnesota game is called off due to COVID-19, Northwestern has already secured the West title again, not to mention the fact that it can still win the Big Ten, whether it be against Ohio State or Indiana.

This is a Northwestern program that went decades with losing season after losing season. Just last year the Wildcats went 3-9. And this year they contended for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Northwestern has blossomed into a contender before our very eyes. 

It says a lot about a program to have its best player and two defensive starters opt-out, just to have young players like Brandon Joseph and Peter Skoronski star in their place. The pending losses of Earnest Brown IV, JR Pace and the linebacking corps next season pose further challenges. But year after year Northwestern has lost key players and replaced them. And there’s a lot of depth on this roster. Northwestern’s defense will be good for years to come.

On the offensive side of the ball, there are more questions. But we know what the questions are. In a way, Northwestern is simply lacking in talent this year. To fix that you need to recruit better players. Not only will Northwestern’s recent success help with recruiting, but they still have Hunter Johnson on the roster. He played poorly last year, but he split reps all offseason while learning the Mick McCall offense. With a full offseason as QB1 and a stronger offensive coordinator, Northwestern could just have a legit quarterback on its hands. And if not, there’s talent to be had in recruiting and transfers. 

Northwestern is making the step from a fringe top-25 team to a perennial powerhouse. There’s going to be hardships along the way. What separates winners (Alabama) from programs of the past (Nebraska) is how you respond to that adversity. Pat Fitzgerald has made his career as a player and a coach by responding to adversity. At the end of the day, the man is a winner. And while it wasn’t this year, something tells me that one day the College Football Playoff Committee will read the name “Northwestern Wildcats” and Fitz will get ready to prep his players for the biggest game of the program’s existence.