[ COLLEGE FOOTBALL ]
Wildcats hope to bounce
back from mediocrity
This is the 11th in a series of 12 articles on Hawaii's
opponents for the 2004 season. Tomorrow, Michigan State.
In its own way, Northwestern football was fun when the Wildcats didn't win any games. They were the best at being bad. Of course, it was lots more fun when they had those three Big Ten title seasons. And things really got exciting when point-shaving and bookmaking scandals hit the Evanston, Ill., campus. It finally started to look like a real college athletics program.
Recently, though, the Wildcats seem to have settled into a melancholy mediocrity which this fact defines: Last year Northwestern got into a bowl game, and ended up with a losing record.
The other thing is, Northwestern doesn't play the most exciting brand of football. It sports a typical Big 10 type of game with everything built around a 1,000-yard rusher. The 'Cats should turn in their purple for vanilla.
With that being said, the preseason talk near Lake Michigan is NU is more likely to be like Gary Barnett's world-beaters of the 1990s than muddle along in the middle or free-fall to the traditional depths of Bottom Ten domination.
The reasons for the optimism are a 4-2 finish, not counting the 28-24 loss to Bowling Green in the Motor City Bowl, and the Wildcats return eight starters on offense and nine on defense.
"There is a great deal of promise for 2004," coach Randy Walker said. "For the second straight year, we have a wealth of experience returning. And now most of that experience is seasoned one additional year."
Jason Wright, who rushed for 1,388 yards last year, isn't back, but Noah Herron is expected to do as well or better. Herron rambled for 739 yards as Wright's backup in 2003.
Junior quarterback Brett Basanez was intercepted 12 times and passed for only four TDs last fall, after an impressive freshman season.
Basanez's fall-off can be partly blamed on injuries to receivers Mark Philmore and Ashton Aikens, who are both being counted on this year.
Junior tackle Zach Strief is expected to lead the offensive line.
On defense, Tim McGarigle led Northwestern with 140 tackles as a sophomore and returns at outside linebacker. Senior John Pickens is also a returning starter on the other side.
End Colby Clark and tackle Luis Castillo, both seniors, have 600 pounds and 65 career starts between them.
Senior safety Dominique Price and junior cornerback Jeff Backes are returning starters in the secondary.
Senior Brian Huffman is slated for punts and kickoffs, and is expected to be among the conference's best in both.
"We want to win the Big Ten championship," Walker said. "We want to play 2,000 miles west of here. When I talk to my kids about the destination, that's the destination."
Of course, it's the Rose Bowl to which Walker is referring. If they don't qualify for any bowl, the 'Cats finish up 2,000 miles more away from home, at Aloha Stadium, where they beat Hawaii 47-21 in 1998.
Basic offense: Multiple
Basic Defense: 4-3
2003 Record: 6-7 (4-4 Big Ten)
Lettermen Ret./Lost: 28/11
Starters Ret./Lost: 19/5
Head coach: Randy Walker (83-70-5)
||at Ohio State
*Motor City Bowl
||at Texas Christian
||at Penn State