Forget the perception: Northwestern and Minnesota opened the Big Ten season in equally poor fashion. Despite the Gophers' easier schedule (Iowa and Michigan), Saturday's opponents are tied in the Legends Division standings.
So for Northwestern, it's about "first things first," the sad but true idiom for a team that watched the surrounding hype disappear this weekend.
Perhaps the Wildcats can't prove themselves until Nebraska, with Minnesota and Iowa the preparation for another serious challenge. NU was miserable against Wisconsin, with dropped passes, coverage breakdowns and just about everything else contributing to the 35-6 loss.
"Those self-inflicted wounds against good football teams, we can't have," Pat Fitzgerald said on Monday. "We're playing another one here in Minnesota, a team kind of in the same position we are."
Wisconsin exposed numerous issues: In short, they forced the Wildcats' explosive offense off the field and tired out a defense prone to making big plays.
"[It was] kind of eerily similar to the way I felt coming out of the Army game a couple of years ago," Fitzgerald said. "I felt like it was an anomaly. I felt like we just didn't execute cleanly and had plays there to be made…"
The problems, however, weren't limited to the Wisconsin the game. NU struggled at times against Western Michigan (secondary) and Maine (quarterbacks/O-line), with the elusive complete game still waiting.
So was it an anomaly? They'll begin by proving that as home favorites; the recovery from Saturday is not an overnight process. With consecutive wins, NU can resuscitate its Big Ten Championship hopes. But again: first things first.
Optimism resonated through the football complex on Monday, with the coaching staff chucking 300 water balloons at the team—with fun being the "glue" according to Fitz. If they can keep it together, not all hopes are lost.