It has been awhile since I have done one of these, but it has also been awhile since we have played this opponent. The Northwestern site within SB Nation recently changed over from the fantastically-titled Sippin' On Purple to the more bland InsideNU, but the content has improved. Site manager Kevin Trahan answered my questions recently concerning the Wildcats:
T-Mill: First Kevin Coble, then Venric Mark. Why is Northwestern pissing off players that can make a huge difference?
Kevin: I actually hadn't thought about that comparison until somebody brought it up the other day. It's kind of strange that this has happened twice now this decade. But Venric's situation is a little bit different in that he did some things to get suspended that contributed to his departure.
T-Mill: Is losing Mark as big of a loss as some think it is?
Kevin: Venric is obviously a really good player and he could give NU some of the explosive plays they were missing last year. That said, I think fans are getting carried away because they remember 2012 and think it will be like losing that version of Venric. But we weren't going to get 2012 Venric this year anyway - he thrived in he read option game with Kain Colter, which he wouldn't have had this year. Moreover, the Wildcats have a lot behind him. Treyvon Green is capable, as are Stephen Buckley and Warren Long. And two very highly-touted recruits - Solomon Vault and Justin Jackson - are stepping into play, as well. Green and Long will be the workhorses, while Buckley, Vault and Jackson will give the offense the explosiveness that it was missing last year without Venric. So the bottom line is yes, this huts. But we weren't going to see the best of Venric anyway, and there is more than enough depth to replce him.
T-Mill: Since this game is at Purdue many of our fans are thinking it is a win. After struggling last year is NW close enough to Purdue to think we can win?
Kevin: No offense to Purdue fans, but I really don't see that. NU really should have won at least 7 games last year (particularly the Nebraska and Michigan games), even when you consider all the injuries, which were by far the worst in the conference. So without many of their best players, they still ranked 59th in the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, while Purdue was 114th. Right now, these two programs aren't really close. It seems like Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana are much better chances for Purdue to get Big Ten wins than Northwestern is.
T-Mill: Was last season and all the close losses a regression to the mean after so many years of Northwestern pulling out tons of close ones?
Kevin: Definitely. Northwestern fans like to pretend they're unlucky even though they were actually incredibly lucky during a stretch between 2008 and 2010 when it came to winning close games. They were lucky again in 2012 due to having so few injuries, and they finished a little higher than they probably should have because of it. Last year, everything - the injuries and the luck in close games - came crashing down. As a program, NU is improving, but it's probably somewhere between the 2012 and 2013 seasons on average - maybe a 7.5-win team that sometimes does much better and sometimes does much worse.
T-Mill: After not seeing Purdue in 4 years what can you tell us about the Wildcats?
Kevin: It's funny, because Northwestern underwent a pretty big transformation from a pass-heavy program to a run-heavy program, but you guys missed all of that. Now, you're going to be seeing the pass-heavy team that you were used to. Expect the typical spread offense with a better defense.