For very different reasons both Northwestern’s football team and men’s basketball team have a lot to prove in their upcoming seasons. Both had what I would call successful seasons last year, but many doubters remain. The sense I get inside the Northwestern community is that Wildcat Nation stands in direct opposition to those who doubt the gridiron ‘Cats. We expect Coach Fitz’s crew to ride a strong defense and Mike Kafka’s legs to a minimum of 8 wins. At the same time, though, Wildcat Nation is much more divided in its expectations for Coach Carmody’s basketball Wildcats. The optimistic Wildcat hoops fans are still cautious in their optimism, but they fully expect last season’s win total of 17 to increase into the 20s and perhaps place the ‘Cats in the NCAA tournament. The less optimistic feel that Bill Carmody simply doesn’t have what it takes to get Northwestern into the NCAA tournament and will likely be looking for work when his contract runs out.
While it might be frustrating to some to hear negative comments about the team we support, I think it is important to remember that those comments bother us far more than the players or coaches. The players and coaches either don’t bother to read the negatives written in magazines, newspapers, and internet sites or they use them as motivation. One of the most powerful forms of motivation is the desire to prove that you can accomplish a feat which others think you have no chance to accomplish.
I believe both Northwestern teams will use this form of motivation and excel in the coming seasons. I’ve already heard the NU receiving core has responded to the fact nearly every preseason publication has ranked them at the bottom of the Big Ten by introducing themselves during media day by saying, “I’m nobody.” What they really mean is they’re nobody yet, but Andrew Brewer, Sidney Stewart, and Jeremy Ebert have confidence that by November everybody will know their names.
Really, with the fact NU loses so many skill positions players I can almost understand why some prognosticators aren’t picking NU as high as I think maybe they should. What is upsetting is those prognosticators who predict Northwestern to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten just because it is Northwestern. The past is the past, people need to look at the now. Fitz hasn’t yet won a Big Ten Title as a coach (just wait and maybe not too long), but he’s got the program in great shape. I seriously doubt we’ll ever see any total disaster years at NU with him running the show.
Basketball wise, I again ask people to evaluate in the now, not the past. Yes, NU basketball has a horrible history. Way worse than NU football (expect for that 1931 National Title which I’m still hoping NU’s AD will take note of), but last year was a very successful season for NU. Yes, it at times had the feel of a rollercoaster with some amazing highs and remarkable lows, but it was still a winning season. NU’s players (and coaches) both had some of the best performances I’ve seen from those associated with Wildcat hoops. Off that winning season NU brings back its best player in Kevin Coble and a great team leader in Juice Thompson. The Wildcats also bring in their second consecutive high-level recurring class. There is no reason not to believe such a team will improve over the previous season. If the recruits and the sophomores really step it up to help Coble and Juice they might even improve a lot. If NU’s basketball players do hear the doubters out there, I hope they take a lesson for NU’s football squad and embrace the doubt with the quiet confidence that comes with knowing you will be successful no matter what others say.
Simply put, right now Northwestern has the chance to prove the doubters wrong and put together very successful seasons in football and men’s basketball that prove to be jumping off points for sustained success. And I say to those fans who can’t get over NU’s past struggles, get out of the past. The Wildcats of today can beat anybody. Welcome to the future.