October 1, 2007

Reasons for optimism

EVANSTON - Northwestern dropped its third game in a row on Saturday, but there were plenty of reasons for optimism in the Wildcats' 28-16 loss to Michigan. The Cats' record fell to 2-3 on the year and 1-2 in the Big Ten, but a handful of positive developments that emerged in the game against the Wolverines indicate that NU's outlook may be brighter for the remainder of the 2007 season.

WildcatReport takes a look at why better days may be ahead for Northwestern.

  • The schedule: The Wildcats have already put Ohio State and Michigan - the two toughest teams on their schedule, by far - behind them, and seven winnable games are in front of them. It's true that there is not a sure win in the bunch - save for the non-conference game against Eastern Michigan - but there isn't a sure loss in the wide-open Big Ten, either. At Michigan State? The Cats will be underdogs, for sure, but we'll see if new coach Mark Dantonio can save the Spartans from falling into their typical second-half-of-the-season death spiral. Minnesota? You can mark this one down as a win, but write it in pencil for now. Eastern Michigan in Detroit? Vanderbilt pasted the Eagles 30-7 on Saturday. At Purdue? The toughest remaining game. The Boilermakers are 5-0 and can score in bunches, but they are not Ohio State. Iowa? Don't look now but the Hawkeyes have lost seven Big Ten games in a row, including Saturday's ugly home loss to Indiana. Indiana? The 4-1 Hoosiers are better than expected, but at home, the Cats will likely be the favorite. At Illinois? The Fighting Zooks are 4-1 after a big win against Penn State, but this is a rivalry game and the Cats will be gunning for their fifth straight over the Illini. If the Cats can win four of these remaining seven, they will be in a bowl game.

  • Amado Villarreal: "Amadomatic" is now a perfect 7-for-7 on field goals after hitting all three of his attempts against Michigan, including a 49-yarder that would have been good from 55. Meanwhile, Michigan's Jason Gingell missed both of his attempts - including a chip-shot 26-yarder - and is now 3-for-9 on the season. Coach Pat Fitzgerald called Villarreal a "real bright spot," especially considering that Villarreal was essentially an unknown with one career field goal going into the season. With a lot of closely matched opponents coming up on the schedule, you can be sure that Northwestern will be in some tight games. Having a money kicker like Villarreal will greatly increase their odds at success in those close contests.

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