Two games to go for fallen Wildcats

The Wildcats need to remind us of what they once were, writes Sylvan Lane.

"It's pretty unbelievable," said Jeff Budzien after Northwestern's 27-19 loss to Michigan. "It's shocking, it's depressing. If you told me we were 4-6 at this point in the year, I would have laughed at you."

And Budzien is far from alone. What figured to be another banner year for the Wildcats has turned into disaster, and now this team has to win out in order to preserve a five-year streak of bowl appearances.

After the game, Pat Fitzgerald discussed how he told his players to keep fighting and sticking together like they've done all season. He argued Northwestern has been a big play or tough break away from winning five of their last six games, excepting Wisconsin. But as my colleague Nick Medline explained, that argument loses all of its weight when it's been made after five of their last six games.

You can throw out five out of six in the same rhetorical trash bin in which you tossed "5:03," because "two" is the only number that matters for Northwestern right now. Two games–specifically, two wins–separate the Wildcats from a bowl-eligible record and the preservation of their bowl appearance streak, which suddenly means a lot more now that it's at stake.

Fitzgerald knows exactly what he and his team are getting into. Two years ago, Northwestern headed into a Lincoln with 3-5 record, upset No. 9 Nebraska and then beat Rice and Minnesota to earn a trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, or as a few members of the marching band called it, "Not Detroit."

"We have one choice," said Fitz, "and that's to come out swinging and come out fighting and make great choices from getting plenty of rest this weekend and getting ready to go next week and playing an outstanding football team here."

As Budzien noted before, the team morale is in the proverbial sewer. The same squad that emerged from the Ohio State game resolute and determined is now grappling with just how far it's fallen.

"No one is going to be happy with a loss, whether this is the first or the sixth," said Damien Proby. "No is going to be happy or satisfied with the way we performed and weren't able to get the job done. The emotion across the board right now is unhappiness with ourselves and the way that we performed."

Fitz, Proby, Budzien and Siemian pinned the loss on missed opportunities and a lack of execution, which have become the team's catchall phrases for why it has lost five of these last six games. As much as fans and reporters would love to hear the team break down each individual mishap and what it is doing to correct it, they frankly don't owe that to anyone.

However, it does owe its fans a reason to believe that this losing streak can end, the bowl-appearance streak can continue and that Wildcat football can be as exciting to watch and rewarding to root for again. Northwestern has failed to do that in six straight games, and with two left, time is running out. There's no way to look at this season as anything but a disappointment, but the Wildcats have once chance spread over two games to prevent it from being a disaster.

"If there's games to play, there's games to win," Fitz said after the game.

Yes, there certainly are.


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