“Many people erroneously think they have only one chance to succeed, and if they miss that chance, they are doomed to failure. In fact, most people have several opportunities to succeed.”
– Bill Walsh
The quote above comes from the man who is probably the most successful football coach ever. He might not have the most titles ever, though, he won plenty, but his style of football changed the way football is played and paved the way for today’s spread attacks. What’s interesting is Walsh didn’t immediately succeed in coaching and was actually fired from his first job as an offensive coordinator. What’s the point of this story? The point is that we’re all sometimes to quick to panic when something doesn’t go right. We’re quick to assume failure after one setback. I was crushed when Northwestern lost to Nebraska on Saturday because I thought it was a lost chance at success, but we can’t assume that’s NU’s only chance at success because it’s not. Northwestern has 10 regular season contests plus the Big Ten Tournament still to play. That’s a significant number of opportunities left for NU to get quality wins and for the team’s young players to learn about what it’s like to play in the Big Ten.
When Northwestern takes on #1 Michigan on Wednesday night the popular sentiment will be they have no chance to win. I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic about their chances myself, but it is an opportunity to succeed that I hope the team will relish. Michigan beat NU by 28 points when they last played. NU was playing without Reggie Hearn at that point and got limited minutes from Tre Demps and Alex Marcotullio due to injury, but a 28 point beating is a 28 point beating. Right from the start of the game Michigan looked far superior to NU in every way. That probably hasn’t changed with Hearn back and Demps and Marcotullio more able to play. However, NU seems to have learned some lessons since that day. The Wildcats have learned the importance of playing constantly hard on defense which helped them defeat Illinois and Minnesota. They’ve also learned how critical it is they make shots as failure to connect from the outside and the free throw line doomed them versus Indiana and Nebraska.
These lessons and the opportunities NU will have to succeed are what I think should be important to fans the rest of this season. I have no doubt I’ll get all worked up after multiple losses the rest of the season, but I’ll try to keep in perspective what I’m seeing. This is a team playing without its two best players and without another potential major contributor. It’s a team that while it features some veterans is giving heavy minutes to young players as well. As those young players fight through the challenges of the Big Ten they’ll be successful at times and fail at times. Sometimes both will be shocking. For example, I expected NU to go 1-1 last week, but I assumed the loss would be to Minnesota and win would be at Nebraska. Does that mean this team can beat Michigan and lose to Purdue? It might not be likely, but it is certainly possible (and given NU’s history maybe it is more likely than we all might think).
In the end what is important is we see progress from NU and they take advantage of enough of those opportunities to succeed that the program continues the forward momentum it has developed. That looked unlikely right after Drew Crawford went out, but I have seen enough from this team that I now believe 15 or 16 total wins are possible and I’d consider that a positive season. Plus, at this point I believe even if NU plays in the CBI postseason tournament (which I’d say is likely if NU reaches 16 wins) that they’re making solid progress and preparing for the opportunities to succeed they will have next season when Crawford, Cobb, and Lumpkin return from injury.
Prediction: I think Michigan’s fire power is too much for NU, but I think the ‘Cats actually improve by more than 10 points from their last beatdown by UM. Michigan, 70 Northwestern, 53