When it comes to National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division 1 football, most people would be inclined to talk about bigger schools like No. 18 Michigan State, and how they victoriously overcame their shortcomings to make a successful season. Highlights of this season include shocking then-No. 7 Penn State and overpowering their state rival Michigan. To add to the remarkable story, the Spartans are even on their way to the prestigious Holiday Bowl in San Diego, CA, on the 28th of December. But is bigger really better?
No. 20 Northwestern would be heading to San Diego to prove their worth against No. 21 Washington State if it weren’t for the Spartans, but what makes MSU such a spectacle? Besides knocking off Penn State by a short field goal and pounding a poor defenseless Rutgers football team, basically nothing. Their 9-3 record is exactly the same as the Wildcats, Northwestern bests them in multiple statistical categories including total yardage, yards by sacks, total sacks, total first downs, and points per game according to each of the school’s respective stat listings; and if you want to go off of field goal percentage like MSU did against Penn State, the ‘Cats have them beat there too. All considered, it’s safe to say NU was ditched for a larger fan base. Because of it, they are now headed to the much less important Music City Bowl on December 29th in Nashville, TN. If you have heard of that bowl game it is probably because you read about it in an article from USA Today titled “The 6 Worst College Football Bowl Game Names of 2017”. It is not even just the story of Northwestern getting demoted to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Even Iowa University (7-5) could have had a shot at the Holiday Bowl, especially after brutally obliterating the Buckeyes at Kinnick Stadium last month, destroying OSU’s National Championship hopes. But the bigger teams are almost guaranteed to win out and take the money and attendance with them, no matter the facts. One fact that remains is that sometimes football is not about just football anymore: it is about league revenue and attendance numbers, not deserving teams and good matchups.
Even All-Big Ten honors, a conference award meant to recognize individual players, is geared towards other teams. Running back Justin Jackson is the second Big Ten player to ever record four 1,000-yard seasons. MLB Paddy Fisher led the entirety of NCAA freshmen in total tackles. OLB Nate Hall ranked thirteenth in the nation in tackles for a loss. Yet none of these players from the No. 20 ranked team made First-Team honors. Even the Rutgers Scarlet Knights got a mention in the First Team. The same Rutgers that owns a three-way tie for second-worst record in the Big Ten, barely beat Purdue and Illinois, and held the football for a mere 12 minutes of offense against Michigan State. The Scarlet Knights that got kicked around the conference like an actual football landed a player in the Big Ten First-Team before a Top-20-in-the-nation team. That is some malarkey to say the least.
I could go on all day about the injustice of the Big Ten, the tyranny of the NCAA, or the “way things used to be” in the good old days. However, the reality for Northwestern and other smaller programs is that they won’t get the respect. In the case of the Wildcats, respect must be earned through
the consistent little things that no one expects from Northwestern: consistently closing out games that they are supposed to win, consistently having players that top conference standards, and refusal to relapse into the kind of ‘Cats that some of us have unfortunately had to witness in the 2000s. So, as disappointing as it is to be in a bowl that has more syllables than Olivet Nazarene University, it is still a bowl, and NU needs as many wins as it can get. A ten-win record and a Music City Bowl will be another steady step towards the program that Northwestern is shaping up to be.