I'm happy to have to eat my words on this one. If you'll recall, I wrote in this very space on November 23rd:
My best guess is that NU blows one of the next three games, keeps it close against Ohio State for two and a half quarters, and ends up in the Gator Bowl getting beat by a second tier SEC opponent.
They blew it against Michigan St., kept it close for two and a half quarters against Ohio State, and ended up in the Citrus Bowl against Auburn led by sophomore quarterback and personal favorite of mine, Bo Nix. And Northwestern outplayed Auburn. Granted, Auburn fired head coach Gus Malzahn prior to the bowl game, but Northwestern looked like a team determined to cement their place among Northwestern's all-time great teams and turn doubters, both fans and rivals alike, into believers.
This isn't my favorite Northwestern team of all time. That honor still belongs to the 2012 team that ended the winless bowl streak. But I'm happy to be wrong here. Pat Fitzgerald had what I believe is his best year as the head coach of his alma mater. I've been an outspoken Fitz doubter when it comes to his in-game decision maker and his conservative play style but I was nothing but impressed with Fitzgerald this year. My father is still talking about the decision to go for it twice on fourth down early against Michigan St.; I didn't mind the calls at all. Inside NU's reaction piece pointed out that the Wildcats will most likely achieve their highest final AP poll ranking since 1995. I know Ryan Day was outspoken in bringing back Big Ten play, but when you factor in that the Wildcats didn't have any positive Covid test until late December, I think it'd be silly to give the Big Ten Coach of the Year honor to anyone other than Pat Fitzgerald.
I was able to listen to some of the radio broadcast for the game. Dave Eanet and Ted Albrecht openly pondered what could have been if not for the Michigan St. game; so will be the legacy for this team. There are some Wildcats that have some decisions to make. But this was a really fun team to watch. Beating an SEC team and the scene of the gatorade dousing and the game ball going to retiring, after 51 years of coaching, Mike Hankwitz, was a very nice ending. So now, Fitz loses his defensive coordinator since 2008 and his athletic director of the same length. Last year, Fitz promised that as long as he was in charge the Wildcats would never have another year like the three win disaster put forth in 2019 (still won the hat). Did he know something we didn't? Did Jim Phillips and Mike Hankwitz? For now, let's enjoy the win. Go Cats.