The Northwestern Wildcats have been one of the more intriguing teams, not only in Big Ten football, but in the entire country this season. At times, they appear to have the ability to compete with anyone in the country using a gritty style dependent on a smash-mouth running game and stout defense, while at other times, they look totally over-matched and in over their heads.
In matching up against the SEC’s Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl, the Wildcats appeared to have their work cut out for them–at least on paper. This hardly turned out to be the case as Northwestern broke a 49-year bowl winning drought, easily handling the Bulldogs 34-20 in Jacksonville.
Led by the dynamic duo of Kain Colter and Venric Mark–who can certainly be a handful when on top of their games–the Wildcats never trailed and kept Dan Mullen’s squad at bay for the full 60 minutes. It’s become obvious that the Wildcats are a reflection of their head coach. Their gritty style mirrors the no-nonsense demeanor of head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has become one of the more talked-about Division I football coaches in the country.
With a Big Ten Conference in flux, the Wildcats and Fitzgerald have a chance to continue to increase their profile and string together a few years of consistent improvement, possibly jumping into the conference’s first-tier in due time rather than continuing to reside in the middle.
Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin will continue to be the class of the conference in the short-term, but there’s always room for the underdog to build in the background and make some noise when the building is done.
Dynamic coaches with an established personality that carries over to the way their team performs on the field are the teams that continue to get better in today’s dog-eat-dog world of college football.
Pat Fitzgerald is one of these guys and Northwestern’s gritty win today is proof the Wildcats are on the up-and-up.