2011 Northwestern Football Season Preview

It's going to happen someday right? It has too. Chicago sports KNOWS DROUGHT. The Blackhawks ended their 49 year cup drought in 2010. The Cubs have that 1908 thing still going, and Northwestern football has 1949. That's the last time they won a bowl game; failing in eight tries. Then there's the basketball team which still hasn't been to a NCAA Tournament (the only major conference school never to have done so).

Maybe this is the year in Evanston?

Pat Fitzgerald displayed some of his trademark intensity in the post Ticket City bowl game press conference on New Year's Day. The 'Cats played well and put up a good fight, but alas, a loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Fitz emphasized a certain point about his program by raising his voice significantly. Therefore, I will type in all caps the portion of the quote spoken with an elevated tone of voice. I hope this further conveys the message.

“As I look at our junior class it’s one of the more successful in our program, starters across the board who have played multiple years AND ITS TIME THAT THEY STEP UP AND IF WE WANT TO WIN THESE KIND OF FOOTBALL GAMES AND WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS THAT CLASS HAS GOT TO STEP UP, THEY GOT TO START MAKING MORE PLAYS AND THEY GOT TO START LEADING, AND THEY GOT TO BE THE CATALYST FOR US TO BE WHERE WE WANT TO GO. AND I CHALLENGED THEM AT THE START OF BOWL PREP, A LOT OF GUYS MADE PLAYS LIKE JORDAN DID and if we want to go where we want to go it’s their time now, it’s their senior year,” he said.

Ah, the joy that arrives when you reach a home team you cover regularly in the 77 in 77.

Yes, this will indeed be a very talented and important group. Nine returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, five are seniors including all-everything  QB Dan Persa (a darkhorse Heisman candidate), Ben Burkett, Al Netter, Jeremy Ebert (the Big Ten’s leader in receiving yardage) and Drake Dunsmore (who has NFL potential).

On the other side, all 7 returning starters are seniors including Bryce McNall, Jordan Mabin, Brian Peters, and Vince Browne (the team’s leading NFL Draft prospect).

2010 was: a bowl season, with a very nice start, but fell way off the cliff at the end. Ironically, it was the defense, not the offense that seemingly forgot how to play football when Persa went down. They gave up 33 ppg more in the three without Persa than the ten with him. Not 33 ppg, 33 ppg more! When you see the season ending rankings in all the defensive categories (it's more '90s than a list of Third-Eye-Blind and Matchbox 20s hit songs) you completely forget how this team was a last second missed FG from starting 6-0.

And yes, I know that '90s music joke was witty. Thanks! "I wonder, how's it gonna be? When I'm not around?"

BMOCs: see the group of seniors above. But Persa really is the man around the North Shore. He broke the Big Ten record for completion percentage.

2011 will be fruitful if: they get balance out of the offense by finding a tailback again. Something they haven't had since Tyrell Sutton left in 2008. Mike Trumpy could legitimately be that guy. It's also important the young LB group gels in a hurry, I think they'll be pretty solid in the WR, DB and OL this year.

2011 will be awful if: Persa is either a.) injured again- that would be CAT-astrophic. or b.) shows an Achilles injury recovery and post recovery that mirrors Michigan State point guard Kalin Lucas. He was never the same again. Usually Fitz's teams get better in late season. Last year was an aberration. But hey, they did beat Iowa yet again.

Bottom Line: The schedule is tougher for the program than usual. Which is great in the long run. Enough to get to 8-4?  Only if Persa is Persa and the seniors do what's expected. And the defense improves. I think this Fitz Media Day quote says it best:

"Typically it's always on the seniors, but they can't do it alone. The biggest challenge they had to go through was the last two months, that's the summertime. I'll know that first week in August when the kids report where they're at from the standpoint of how they've invested, the chemistry and attitude our football program has going into camp. That dinner I had the other night with the leadership council, they feel they've accomplished the goals they had throughout the summer. We'll evaluate that. That's how we'll tweak and adjust our plan in training camp, how we're going to go."

NU Rankings: #46 Athlon, #44 Lindy’s, #46 Phil Steele

CHECK OUT ALL THE 77 IN 77s

#36 Iowa Hawkeyes

#37 Utah Utes

#38 Illinois Fighting Illini

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#76 Indiana Hoosiers

#77 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports You can follow him on Twitter

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    Paul M. Banks

    Fulbright scholar in media studies, MBA, small media business owner, Published author, Founder of The Sports Bank.net, a Fox Sports affiliate Member: Society of Professional Journalists, Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Former political writer for Washington Times.com, NBC Chicago.com and numerous business journals Credentialed for: United Nations, Rose Bowl, BCS National Championship, Final Four, Stanley Cup Finals, and NBA Playoffs. Been featured on: Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Live, The History Channel, CBS and ESPN radio. Does weekly segments for NBC and Fox Sports Radio stations across the nation.

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