clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Will Northwestern become the second Chicago team to choke this October?

New, comments

Indiana starts the second half of its 2016 season at a place Kevin Wilson is very familiar with.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Each week until the start of football season, we'll be going through Indiana's opponents one by one and looking at whatever we find interesting and/or hilarious about them. And as always, the kick was good. This week: Northwestern.

Previous previews: FIU | Ball State | Wake Forest | Michigan State | Ohio State | Nebraska

GAME 7: NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

Last year's record: 10-3

2015 Final F/+ Ranking: 52

Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, IL

When: October 22, 12 p.m. Eastern/ 11 a.m. Central

1. This is not only Northwestern's homecoming game, but also a homecoming for Kevin Wilson

Everyone fondly remembers the 1995 Northwestern team, which current Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald played for. That team beat Notre Dame early in the year and then ran the table in the B1G, qualifying for their first Rose Bowl since 1949. However, the 2000 Northwestern season was also a fun one in Evanston. That year, the Wildcats finished 8-4, went 6-2 in the B1G, and put up massive amounts of points nearly every week. The late Randy Walker was in his second year in Evanston, and when he arrived from Miami-Ohio the previous year, he brought along a young offensive coordinator named Kevin Wilson.

That 2000 season was the first true glimpse of how a Wilson offense could work for a Power 5 team, and a glimpse of what was to come for Wilson at IU. In Northwestern's eight victories, they scored 37 points or more every time. Most notable of these victories was a 54-51 barnburner against a Michigan team that eventually finished in the top 10. Here's a clip of that game's final minutes. Even in just the few plays of that final winning drive, you can already see some staple routes from Wilson's spread attack.

The last time these teams met was in 2012, when the Wildcats piled up a school record 704 total yards of offense on the Hoosiers en route to a 44-29 victory. Let's hope they don't break their own record again this time.

2. Northwestern quietly won 10 games last season

While the advanced stat metrics fairly assessed IU last season, the numbers did not like the Wildcats. They were 52nd in F/+, only 9 spots ahead of Indiana, and 56th in S&P+, which was only 4 spots ahead of the Hoosiers. However, they won four more games than Indiana, finishing 10-2 in the regular season before a rough loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. And despite being in the B1G West, Northwestern's games weren't all gimmes either - their divisional crossovers were Michigan (loss) and Penn State (win), they won the infamous "body clock" game against Stanford on opening weekend, and they did not have to rely on the kick being good to beat Duke.

As Bill Connelly discussed in his preview last week, the Wildcats can't be just lucky this year - they also have to be good. Last year, the Wildcats won four straight games in late October and early November by a score or less. Eight of their 10 victories were decided by 10 points or fewer. The conference schedule gets even tougher this year too - the Wildcats play at MSU, OSU, and Iowa, so a repeat of last season's success is a tall order.

3. Can Indiana's defense stop an offense that was moribund last year?

The Wildcats' offense was a work in progress last season. Clayton Thorson took over the reins at QB with mixed results, and while Justin Jackson had about 100 more carries than Jordan Howard, he could only manage about 200 more yards than Howard last season. The Cats ranked 111th in offensive S&P last season. They'll likely improve on this mark in 2016, but regardless, this game will be an important one to see where the Indiana defense stands heading into the second half of the season. If Tom Allen's squad is gelling at the right time, this game could be the catalyst for an Indiana team that follows Northwestern up with contests against Maryland, Rutger, and Penn State. If the Hoosiers come out of that stretch 3-1, they're almost assuredly going bowling.

That being said - despite Northwestern expected to regress and Nebraska expected to do better, I still am more optimistic for the Hoosiers to get a win at home against the Huskers than in Evanston against the Wildcats, whose defense should again be stellar. A loss wouldn't be the end of the world, but if this season's goal is a repeat bowl berth, a win here would go a long way toward not having to stress about it in November.

4. Let's hear from our readers

We challenged you to come up with literally anything about Northwestern. Once again, you all delivered:

I am forwarding these comments to Charles Shipan at your university.

Not that I've heard. If they do, it must not be that important, as no Northwestern alum has ever talked about it before.

Go Trevians! I'm a Real Chicago Guy.

Makes sense. Every stadium needs a good sandwich place nearby.

HOW DARE THEY

HOOSIERS WIN 45-0

Next week on the CQ Summer Preview Series: CRABCAKES AND FOOTBALL