It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Northwestern in November: 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten.
The Wildcats had higher hopes, and they probably thought they would be bowl-eligible by now.
But they’re not – at least not yet. NU has to win three of its remaining four games to be bowl-eligible for the fifth consecutive season: at No. 9 Nebraska on Saturday, and then three consecutive home games at Ryan Field against Rice, Minnesota and Michigan State. But with the way the Big Ten season is shaking out, Northwestern might get left out even with six victories.
The Nebraska game has loomed large on the schedule, as the Wildcats will play in perhaps the rowdiest environment they’ve seen in a while. A victory in Lincoln would be immense for the program.
“It would be huge,” quarterback Dan Persa said. “We’re just focusing on the things leading up to the game, and when we get there, we’re going to take it one play at a time and not worry about all the outer focus, the bigger picture. It’s about just playing in the moment.”
Persa could be the poster boy for a frustrating season. He was a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate who expected to start in the season opener Sept. 3 at Boston College but ended up missing the first three games because he wasn’t fully healed from the ruptured Achilles in his right foot. A turf-toe injury in the 34-24 loss to Penn State was a minor hurdle, but aggravating nonetheless.
“I do [get frustrated] a little bit – when we were losing and obviously with my leg and getting a couple more injuries,” Persa said. “Winning cures everything. We’re coming out of that and we’re playing a lot better on offense, so it’s not too frustrating anymore.”
Beating Indiana 59-38 last week helped put the Wildcats in a more jovial mood during a Nebraska prep week in which the stress level can run high.
And it has helped that Wildcats reserve cornerback Tim Weak is providing some of that much-needed levity.
Weak is an Omaha, Neb., native and has been fielding interview requests from a variety of media outlets from his home state. It has gotten to the point where his teammates are starting to get used to seeing Weak with a cell phone glued to his ear after practice.
“There’s plenty of Nebraska joking around [on the team], and the best thing was ‘What is the only good thing to come out of Nebraska? The Weak family,’ ” Weak said. “But I appreciate that. I know it’s fun.”
Weak considered walking on at Nebraska or NU. He decided on Nebraska, but two hours after he called the recruiter with his intent to walk on at there, the recruiter called back and said there were too many walk-ons. So Weak went to the Wildcats.
And now he’s serving as a de facto instructor to his teammates on all things related to the Cornhusker game-day experience.
“I’ve been to more Nebraska games growing up than I care to admit,” Weak said. “It’s more like a lifestyle since we don’t have any pro teams and they’re the only major-college football team that’s there. ”
The ties to Lincoln run deep in Weak’s family. Weak played in state-championship games three times at Memorial Stadium when he was a kicker for Millard North High School and won a state title his sophomore year.
His father, Lannie, went to dental school at Nebraska and Weak’s sister, Katy, is a member of the Cornhuskers marching band. Weak said his sister was given permission to wear one of Weak’s jerseys during band practice on Friday, and since she learned how to play the Wildcats’ fight song she will probably play it whenever the Wildcats score on Saturday.
“She plays the piccolo and I’m sure there will be one piccolo playing our fight song, so she’s on our side,” Weak said. “All though my years here I never would have imagined playing there or playing Nebraska – ever.”