Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

73° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Advertisement
Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Advertisement

Advertisement

For Northwestern’s seniors, one last chance to break the curse and earn a program-defining victory

For Dan Persa, Jeremy Ebert, Al Netter and company, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas is more than a matchup between the sixth teams from the Big Ten and the Big XII. It’s more than the postseason contest formerly known as the Texas Bowl. For this year’s crop of Northwestern seniors, December 31 at 11 a.m. is all about what could have been.

For the second straight year, NU enters a bowl game with a record that inaccurately reflects the team’s collective talent. There’s no doubt that this squad is better than Army, a 3-9 team which beat NU before getting blown out by Ball State one week later. And then there’s Illinois, which went 1-6 after beating the Wildcats.

Last year, the team’s late-season struggles were pinned – whether fairly or not – on the loss of Persa to injury for the final three games of the season. This year, the Cats’ flaws are more complicated. At first, it was a leaky secondary. Then, it was an inconsistent offense. But something clicked after NU’s loss to Penn State, its fifth straight defeat, all of which followed tie scores or NU advantages at halftime. A 29-point shellacking of Indiana, led by Persa and senior superback Drake Dunsmore, gave the Cats renewed life. It was not the situation they were hoping for – having to win four of their last five games just to become bowl eligible – but with their backs against the wall, the Cats came through.

This isn’t the way NU’s seniors wanted to go out. Not this group. Not the winningest class in school history. Not Pat Fitzgerald’s first recruiting class, the first group to play four years for coordinators Mick McCall and Mike Hankwitz.

After last year’s loss to Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl, Fitzgerald singled out his then-junior class, stating that if NU wanted to win championships, the seniors would have to “step up. They’ve got to start making more plays, they’ve got to start leading and they have to be the catalyst for us to go where we want to go.”

Even with NU’s late-season surge, its unforgettable victory at Nebraska and its fourth consecutive bowl berth, there’s a feeling of missed opportunity in Evanston. It’s not often that the word “underachieving” is used to describe NU, but what else can you say about a class that produced a first team All-Big Ten quarterback, wide receiver and tight end, and still lost as many as it won in its final year? What else can you say about a class featuring four-year cornerstones at left tackle and cornerback that still went just 6-10 in the Big Ten in its final two seasons?

That’s where the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas comes in. Maybe as some sort of consolation for what could have been, or as a last chance to prove what was, this group of seniors is embracing the challenge in a way that the three classes before it did not.

“These last three years that we’ve played in bowl games we’ve kind of dodged the big monkey on our back,” senior safety Brian Peters said. “It’s cool to bring it to light, because we’re trying to leave a mark on the program. We haven’t had the exact senior season we wanted, but this gives us the chance to leave an imprint, leave something huge that hasn’t been done in 62 years.”

Texas A&M is more than NU’s 6-6 opponent. The Aggies represent the Cats’ last eight bowl games, all losses, combined with the remorse that follows an underachieving year. They represent the uncomfortable burden of a growing primate.

A win wouldn’t change the fact that this group underachieved. It wouldn’t change the fact that even with the most accurate quarterback in the country and the second-most explosive offense in the Big Ten, NU managed to win just one conference game at home in Persa’s final season.

But a victory would be the crown jewel for a class that has taken NU to new heights.

And maybe, just maybe, it would make this season a little easier to swallow.

This article is the 12th of our 15-part Road to Meineke series. We will be posting an article every night, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas, to help prepare you for Northwestern’s matchup with Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Join us again Wednesday night as sports editor Jonah Rosenblum argues the Aggies’ case in Saturday’s matchup.

More to Discover
Activate Search
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
For Northwestern’s seniors, one last chance to break the curse and earn a program-defining victory