Wildcats hit rock bottom with another loss

On the disaster loss, in which Northwestern lost 20-17 to Minnesota.

"Can you give radio hits in West Virginia?"

They asked me, and I thought, "What? They know what Northwestern is?"

The assignment was this: Every 25 minutes or so, I called in to provide minute-long updates from today's Northwestern game.

It figured to be boring, with Minnesota stumbling to Ryan Field after losing consecutive games. NU would win today, win next week and then brace for a thriller at Nebraska on Nov. 2nd.

What remains is an incoherent handwritten script, the subject rapidly changing.

Second quarter: "Mark's replacement, Stephen Buckley, carrying the offense with seven carries for 57 yards and a touchdown… Siemian struggling… O-line, uh…"

Third quarter: "The story of the game has been the NU injuries…"

Fourth quarter: "BIG surprise here in Evanston… An impressive upset bid."

At 1:51 central time, I called in right as Northwestern attempted its first of three fourth-down conversions—bailed out by questionable pass interference. After my first foray into play-by-play, which was probably quite bad, anchor Hoppy Kercheval offered the line that sticks:

"You were darlings three weeks ago… What happened?"

That's coming from West Virginia. No idea, Hoppy.

All that's left, with another loss sealed up, is one fitting cliché: Rock bottom.

Beat writers, analysts, parents, friends couldn't believe it. After the hype, the Ohio State slugfest, the No. 16 ranking and universal Big Ten Championship hopes, there is rubble.

Pat Fitzgerald and his players claim there are no moral victories, so we'll treat them accordingly. Today, they are the former darlings, and nothing more.

This might be the most disappointing team in the nation—another listless outing against Minnesota for clarification. Good teams don't continually fall apart in the fourth quarter; good teams stay composed in difficult environments; good teams take care of bad opponents at home.

It's the lost season of Northwestern football. Even after the Wisconsin debacle, the optimists clung to math: "Well, if this happens, and this happens, and five or six other things happen, we're in Indianapolis."

But they missed one crucial part of the equation. NU needed to be good. The process began and ended today, with the Wildcats unable to overcome injuries in the stunning loss.

If Kain Colter and Venric Mark were active, I believe that Northwestern would have beaten Minnesota. As Trevor Siemian labored through the poorest outing of his collegiate career, most people had similar feelings.

But, really, are there any excuses for that loss—even without Mark, Colter and Sean McEvilly? No.

Is 7-5 (or even 8-4) good enough? No.

Is today good enough? Nowhere nearly.

Fans can hold NU to higher standards these days. The program demands them, with fierce promotional campaigns and the now-insane "5:03" workout shirts referring to their nearly "undefeated" season in 2012.

This year, sadly, people gave Northwestern football attention. One year after the Gator Bowl victory–which obscured the lack of "big" wins–it seemed like your "sleeper" team.

Even from West Virginia. Even after two losses.

To the darlings question, I had no answers.

I didn't use the word "fraud," though it was the only one that came to mind.


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