How the Wildcats fared in 2004: 6-6 overall, 5-3 Big Ten
(Links to USA Today game stories)
Sept. 2 – TEXAS CHRISTIAN 48, Northwestern 45
Sept. 11 – Arizona State 30, NORTHWESTERN 21
Sept. 18 – NORTHWESTERN 20, Kansas 17
Sept. 25 – MINNESOTA 43, Northwestern 17
Oct. 2 – NORTHWESTERN 33, Ohio State 27
Oct. 9 – NORTHWESTERN 31, Indiana 24
Oct. 23 – WISCONSIN 24, Northwestern 12
Oct. 30 – NORTHWESTERN 13, Purdue 10
Nov. 6 – Northwestern 14, PENN STATE 7
Nov. 13 – MICHIGAN 42, Northwestern 20
Nov. 20 – NORTHWESTERN 28, Illinois 21
Nov. 27 – HAWAII 49, Northwestern 41
Sept. 3 – OHIO
Sept. 10 – NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Sept. 17 – at Arizona State
Sept. 24 – PENN STATE
Oct. 8 – WISCONSIN
Oct. 15 – at Purdue
Oct. 22 – at Michigan State
Oct. 29 – MICHIGAN
Nov. 5 – IOWA
Nov. 12 – at Ohio State
Nov. 19 – at Illinois
Starters returning: 10 – 4 offense, 5 defense, 1 kicker
Coach Randy Walker: Entering his 16th season as a head coach, and seventh at the helm of the Wildcats, Walker is 89-76-5 overall (Northwestern, Miami of Ohio). He is 30-41 at Northwestern and 19-29 in Big Ten play.
Stadium: Ryan Field
Versus Wisconsin: Wisconsin is 54-31-5 against the Wildcats, including a 24-12 win at Madison last year, when quarterback John Stocco was 13 of 21 for 178 yards and Wisconsin's defense held Northwestern scoreless until the final seconds of the third quarter. The last time the teams met in Evanston, however, was a much different scenario. Wisconsin, then 6-2 overall and ranked No. 20 in the country two weeks after knocking off defending national champion Ohio State, came crashing to the ground in the form of an embarrassing 16-7 loss at Northwestern Oct. 25, 2003.
Badger Nation 2004 coverage
Wildcats' 2004 in brief
If only Northwestern could have won its season-opening, or season-ending, non-conference shootout, the team would have been bowling last year.
This very easily could have been an 8-4 team, but some bad execution led to throwaway losses.
In the opener, NU quarterback Brett Basanez completed 39 of 62 passes for 513 yards and four touchdowns, but kicker Brian Huffman missed five field goals, including two in overtime, and the Wildcats lost 48-45 in 2OT.
In the season finale, Basanez threw for 319 yards, but his interception with about a minute left to play sealed Hawaii's 49-41 win. NU was called for more than 100 yards worth of penalties in that one.
But despite those disappointments, Northwestern enjoyed a very respectable season, finishing with a 5-3 record in the Big Ten, just one game behind Wisconsin in the league standings. The Wildcats finished fourth, boasting wins over Ohio State and Purdue, as well as Penn State, Illinois and Indiana.
Northwestern was a perfect 4-0 in Big Ten home games last year and 5-1 in home games overall, with only Arizona State spoiling the Ryan Field advantage. Aside from playing very well at home, the Wildcats beat teams with a very capable offense and an adequate-to-mediocre defense with just enough playmakers to win some games.
Basanez threw for more than 2,800 yards last season. At his direction, and with Noah Herron's sparkling performance at tailback (1,381 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing), NU's offense was among the upper echelon in the nation. But when it came time to convert all those yards into points, the Wildcats fell to the middle of the pack. A big part of that problem revolved around Huffman's dismal 7 of 17 season kicking field goals. Joel Howells was 4 of 5 in relief.
Linebacker Tim McGarigle led the Big Ten with 112 conference-only tackles, playing behind a stout, veteran defensive line.
Looking ahead to 2005
Over the last two seasons Northwestern is 9-7 in Big Ten play and this team should finish around .500 again this year. If the Wildcats had not lost Jeff Backes and Trevor Rees, and if the Big Ten were not as stacked as it is this season, they would be a viable upper division pick.
As it stands, look for NU to be a very dangerous middle-of-the-pack team in the conference race.
The schedule is not very friendly at all. After playing a solid MAC opponent in Northern Illinois and then traveling to Arizona State to close out the non-conference slate, the Wildcats' first seven Big Ten opponents are potential bowl teams. And NU gets the four Big Ten favorites at the back end of that journey, including road games with Purdue and Ohio State. At least they get to wrap up the regular season at Illinois, right?
Despite that grueling stretch of games, Northwestern has the talent to compete for a bowl berth this season, especially if they can continue to play well at home and can pick up the slack a little away from Evanston.
The mid-summer loss of Backes (shoulder injury), one of the Big Ten's best return men and a solid cornerback, hurts, as does the departure of Rees, a two-year starter at center. But these are not catastrophic subtractions.
Basanez is back after a very good junior season and among Big Ten teams only Michigan can match NU's depth at wide receiver. The offensive line must replace four starters, but returns arguably the Big Ten's best run blocker in right tackle Zach Strief. Herron is gone but Terrell Jordan and Brandon Robinson should be fine at tailback.
McGarigle is one of the best linebackers in the nation and end Loren Howard is a potential first-team all-league pick. The defensive line should still be a physical bunch, and linebacker Nick Roach looks poised for a breakout year. Cornerback Marquis Cole, who missed all of last season after breaking his ankle in August, could be the key to the defense.