After seven games, the report is in. Northwestern is simply an average team.
Nothing more, nothing less. This team is just mediocre. Northwestern fans love to get upset and all up in arms when the Wildcats don't meet expectations, but what the fans and the players and coaches themselves should be saying is that maybe the expectations were too high.
Expectations were high for Corey Wootton, who could have been a first-round pick had he not torn his ACL in last year's Alamo Bowl. He has zero sacks this year.
Expectations were high for the defense, which was ranked in the top-50 in scoring and total defense last year for the first time in many years. The defense has been inconsistent at best this year.
Expectations were high for Mike Kafka and the offensive line, which was returning four starters. Instead, Northwestern is last in the Big Ten in yards per carry.
Experts and pundits said the Wildcats could have been as good as 9-3 or as bad as 4-8. At 4-3 with games against Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin still on the slate, it's starting to look as though the record will be closer to the latter.
Fans are looking for answers. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who insiders say has been "overcoaching," whatever that is, is looking for answers. The players are looking for answers.
A few plays here or there and Northwestern would be 7-0, just like Iowa, but the difference between a good team and an average team is those few plays.
The answer everyone is looking for is simple. Northwestern is just an average team.
Look at the stats. The 'Cats are seventh in the Big Ten in scoring offense, sixth in scoring defense, ninth in kickoff returns, last in punting, sixth in total offense, and seventh in penalties. To be fair, they are third in sacks, deceptively second in first downs and second in turnover margin.
This is a team that does a few things well, a few things just well enough and a lot of things poorly. Add that up, and the math gives you a mediocre team.
A bowl is still a possibility. The Wildcats have games against Indiana next weekend at Ryan Field and later against Illinois in Champaign. A record of 6-6 could get them to a bowl, and if the Wildcats don't go to a bowl, it would be a great disappointment.
Last year, Fitzgerald said the program should be at the point where a bowl berth is expected every year. But expectations are all talk.
Talk is cheap. Reality is not, and in reality, Northwestern is just an average team.