Today has been the ultimate letdown for fans of the Northwestern Wildcats. At the beginning of the 2013 football season there were some very high hopes in Evanston, Illinois. The Wildcats were coming off a good 2012 season and had some key contributors back coupled with a red hot coach whose success and national fame were sky high. Coach Pat Fitzgerald was undeniably one of college football’s coaches to watch in 2013 with rumors surrounding him beginning early on this season. The potential of coaching at one of college football’s premier Universities was a onetime reality for Northwestern’s head football coach. The University of Southern California Trojans fired their head coach Lane Kiffin, and two early losses put Mack Brown from the storied Texas Longhorns program on the hot seat as well.
Coach Fitzgerald had a number of things working against his team from the onset this season. First of all was the team’s difficult schedule, especially at the beginning of the season. The Wildcats’ first two games of Big Ten play were against arguably the two top teams in the conference, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Wisconsin Badgers. It is very hard to develop a winning attitude for a team when you are asked to take on two college football powerhouses like the Buckeyes and Badgers early in the season. The Wildcats lost both matchups, but the loss to the Buckeyes may have been more a heartbreaker as they were in that game till the very end and nearly knocked off the Ohio State. Since then the Wildcats have dropped some winnable contests but also been asked to play on the road in Iowa City against the Iowa Hawkeyes and in Lincoln against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The schedule has not been favorable for coach Fitzgerald this season.
The Wildcats have also had their struggles at the quarterback position. They struggled to find their true top quarterback all season with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian splitting time under center. The Wildcats saw success with both at times, but to be truly effective Fitzgerald’s team needed one to step up and outshine the other. Colter has been a consummate team player doing everything he can to contribute to the team in a variety of different ways. Colter has seen time at quarterback, halfback, and wide receiver this season. Had things worked out ideally for Fitzgerald, Siemian would have proven himself a very capable quarterback which would have allowed Colter to become a more versatile offensive weapon for the Wildcats.
Finally coach Fitzgerald has been asked to lead his team without their best offensive player all season. Running back Venric Mark has been out of action because of an injury nearly all season. Not only do the Wildcats miss his presence in the backfield he is also missed as a threat in the return game. Mark is an explosive runner whose speed made him a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Had Fitzgerald had his tailback this year the Wildcats’ record may look very different at this point in the season. All said the Wildcats still have an opportunity to make a bowl game and salvage some of their pride this season as well as keep their coach’s reputation as one of the top coaches in the conference intact.