Disillusionment: How to feel after Northwestern's Big Ten Championship year turned into maybe a bowl game

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats' season has not gone as planned. But we weren't crazy to think good things might happen, and we shouldn't start paying attention just because good things won't happen.

Sometimes, a word needs a PR campaign. That's why the Disillusion Council of America reached out to Northwestern football with regards to sponsoring their 2013 season.

"Disillusion" is tinged with negative connotations. Disappointment. Regret. A feeling that the disillusionee has been misled, personally victimized, by some scheme out of their control.

But as the fine folks at the DCA (who, full disclosure, have also paid a small sum to Sippin' on Purple to sponsor content) wanted to point out, it's not the disillusioning that's the problem. The problem is that you were led to believe in something false -- an illusion -- in the first place. Maybe that illusion was something you really wanted to hang onto -- that your significant other actually loves you as much as you love them, that there's a higher power that helps good things happen to good people and rewards them for positive deeds, or that your football team has a chance of winning a conference championship.

Disillusionment hurts, but it's simply removing the veil. If you'd prefer to leave it on, go ahead. We'll recut "The Matrix" trilogy so it's just 11 hours of Neo sitting at his desk programming.

The Disillusionment Council of America is deeply sorry that the things you want to be true are not. They're sorry there's no god, and that your parents were Santa Claus, and that your significant other has been sleeping around behind your back since last July. (Wait, did you not know about that? Whoops. The Disillusionment Council of America apologizes for this premature disillusionment.) But they can't fix the world. They're merely here to remove the veil and show you the truth -- the hideous, cold, awful truth -- and help you live with it.

You were fooled -- but you're not a fool, are you? If not, the DCA would like you to participate in a quick recalibration.

Northwestern football will not win the Big Ten Championship in 2013. That's a fact. At 0-3, it is very nearly logistically impossible for them to do so. Let's talk about what this means for you:

Do: realize Northwestern's season has different expectations

No Big Ten Championship. Nuh-uh.

That's not a good reason for you to stop paying attention, though. Northwestern has five games left, and needs to win two to continue its streak of bowl appearances. With Nebraska, Michigan State, and Michigan on the schedule, that won't be an easy task.

There's a big difference between going 7-5 and winning a bowl game and missing a bowl game, which, by the way, is completely on the table now. We won't be happy with either result, but it's important to acknowledge that they're different results -- that there are still things to be accomplished, games to be won. If Northwestern doesn't reach those new checkpoints, things get really ugly.

Don't: think you were crazy for thinking otherwise

By and large, we aren't insane. We don't connect with lunatics. That's why when they make dystopian futuristic psychological thrillers and stuff, the main character is always a normal-seeming guy, who just happens to have slight twinges of thinking that he's nuts. That's something we can connect to -- and it's also the scary part. That we, too, normal people, could be teetering on the fringe of insanity.

That's what's happened to us here. When Northwestern was undefeated and leading No. 4 Ohio State at home just a few weeks ago, we were perfectly rational in expecting big things out of this team. There were hints of overachievement -- excellent turnover ratio, bad outings against mediocre teams that turned into wins based on sheer talent -- but the gist was that we were watching a solid football team.

That team vanished. But it wasn't a mirage.

Do: understand the parts of this football team that aren't very good

There was no point in this year where Northwestern had a good offensive line. When combined with Trevor Siemian's newfound indecisiveness, that's a recipe for disaster. The sacks have come in droves, and those just put Northwestern in even more pass-heavy scenarios that leads to more passing.

Northwestern's best weapon was always Venric Mark. Without him, Northwestern loses much of its run game credibility. That means opponents can stack up even more heavily against the pass. Also, if any of you have seen Treyvon Green since, oh, Week 2, please alert us to where he is.

Without defensive Sean McEvilly, Northwestern's run defense is flawed. This hurt NU against Maine, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and late Saturday, against Minnesota as the Gophers drove down the field to set up a key field goal and ran out the clock. Teams are not struggling to move the ball with relatively simple running plays, and there's no reason for them to stop.

Dwight White is an unfortunate situation. Best of luck in the last three years of his collegiate career, but the initial indicators that he wasn't a Big Ten cornerback after being pressed into action Week 1 have turned out to be true.

Don't: ignore the good guys

So many of these players were key factors on a team that won 10 games and Northwestern's first bowl game in damn near a millenium last year. As depressing as this year is, let's not forget what those guys have done for NU -- and the fact that many have been good this year.

A lot of those players are on the defensive side. Ibraheim Campbell has been amazing. Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo have been rock solid at linebacker. NU lost to Minnesota 20-17, but you can realistically only pin 10 of those points on the defense -- one was a pick-six, and one was a fumble deep in NU territory. As noted, the run game has been a killer, but there's a lot to like about this defense -- the offense hasn't held up.

And it's no surprise that injuries to Venric Mark and Kain Colter have led to a dropoff in offensive. We spent all year foaming at the mouth about the potential of that dymamic option game for a whole year, and we've seen it for about one half of action in 2013.

Do: be disappointed in the way things turned out

2013, regardless of final record, will be a flop for Northwestern. It sucks to be 0-3 in conference play. It really seemed like Northwestern had levelled up, and now we're back here.

Don't: lose faith in Pat Fitzgerald and the way things are going at Northwestern

Something almost zero percent of college fans realize: that things don't inherently become better. Fans of 125 teams think that next year will be a better season. Because in college sports, no matter what happens, there's the promise of the future. The next recruiting class is the one your school has been waiting for, and the new coach is really going to change things around here.

A pretty solid percentage of the time, that's not true.  Some recruiting classes turn out to be just as untalented as the one before. Some coaches don't turn their program around. And at a certain point in time, you have to stop buying into that promise of future success.

This past season, Northwestern reached that point with Bill Carmody. The "hey, we're almost there" argument stopped holding up. Northwestern has been at "hey, we're almost there" in football for a while.

I think we're still very, very far away from reaching that point where Pat Fitzgerald. There are great things happening here, and this letdown year might suck wholeheartedly, but it doesn't derail that.

Some of those things around the program are tangible, like last year's 10-win season and a recruiting class that literally everybody thinks is not only good, but the best Northwestern has ever had. Some of them are intangible: just the fact that Northwestern football was here in the first place is something very few coaches could probably muster.

In 2013, the Wildcats are not the team we wanted them to be. But they had their shot: they were in position to do the things we wanted them to do. They just didn't do it. They came at the king, and, regrettably, missed.

The Disillusionment Council of America thanks you for your time and willingness to test your preconceived notions about the world. They now bid you adieu -- you know, until Northwestern misses a bowl game, or something.

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