Self-proclaimed Big Ten expert and Northwestern superfan Michael Wilbon was asked about his Wildcats' loss to Iowa on Monday's edition of The Tony Kornheiser Show (ESPN 980, Washington DC). Here's how he explained the defeat:
Kornheiser: Because college football is something that Wilbon has always cared about, and because Northwestern started out the season 4-0 and ranked and has now lost four in a row, what has happened and is the silver lining that you will now be able to keep Pat Fitzgerald because nobody will offer him a big job?
Wilbon: I don't know about any silver linings, but what happened is they were dispirited from losing to Ohio State -- for me, I told you the next day that automatically there would be a loss at Wisconsin --
Kornheiser: That's two tough games in a row.
Wilbon: That's two tough games. What's happened since then is two bottom-feeders that we should beat, and we have beaten consistently over the past few years in Pat Fitzgerald's time, Minnesota and Iowa, is that we have an injury to the best player. We're an offensive team, and Kain Colter, the starting quarterback, he was in and out of this Saturday's game. And it feels like we had that game won at Iowa, and at the Minnesota game the previous week he was out. And, without him, we're just not going to win much, Tony. That's just the way it is.
When your program is still on the rise and has a backslide, it's because of something like depth, particularly at a school that's never had that. That's the difference between us and the bigger programs. We lose a kid, we're not LSU, we don't go to another honey badger. We lose this kid, we lose, and that's that.
When he was in there, we scored quickly, tied the game, [went] quickly right down the field, had a big diving play to convert a third down. He does that, and then he goes out of the game, and we don't score. This is our reality.
Blaming Northwestern's loss to Iowa on Kain Colter being injured is an interesting version of the facts, especially because almost none of those facts are true. Let's just break it down, FJM style.
"Kain Colter, the starting quarterback, he was in and out of this Saturday's game."
Kain Colter, the injured star quarterback who is crucial to Northwestern's entire football existence, missed a grand total of seven snaps Saturday. Seven. Early in the fourth quarter, Colter dove for a first down and left the game injured. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian finished the series in his absence, taking seven snaps, and Colter returned to the game for the following series. That was the extent to which Colter missed time Saturday.
In fact, as a percentage of his team's total offensive plays, Colter played more Saturday than he had in any other game this season. Northwestern has run a two-quarterback rotation throughout the season, something Wilbon probably didn't notice because he was daydreaming about Lebron James. Siemian took every snap against Minnesota last week, attempting 46 passes. He threw 34 times against Wisconsin, when Colter was clearly hampered by an injury. But in the five games before that, when Colter was healthy, Siemian averaged more than 17 pass attempts per game. Entering Saturday's game, he had not thrown less than eight times in any game. His total number of pass attempts against Iowa: Zero. Zip. Nada. This game was 99% Kain Colter, and Northwestern's star quarterback was only out of the game when his jankety-ass offense got shut down again and he had to return to the sideline.
"And it feels like we had that game won at Iowa."
Really? That game where you never led? Where your "offensive football team" scored a whopping 10 points and was held 90 yards below your season average? You had that game won? Math is on the phone. It would like to have a word with you, sir.
"When your program is still on the rise and has a backslide, it's because of something like depth..."
To reiterate: Northwestern uses two quarterbacks in rotation, and has throughout the season. Northwestern surely has depth problems -- it's how you end up with Mike Trumpy as your starting halfback when Venric Mark goes down for the year -- but quarterback is not an issue.
Also, Kain Colter took 89.4% of Northwestern's snaps Saturday. Depth didn't change that.
"When he was in there, we scored quickly, tied the game, [went] quickly right down the field, had a big diving play to convert a third down. He does that, and then he goes out of the game, and we don't score."
This is the point where I realized Wilbon hadn't even watched the game. Because not a single word of this is true.
Kain Colter took every snap of the first half. Every. Single. Snap. You know how many points Northwestern scored in that first half? Zero. Iowa went to the half up 10-0 (it was at this point that Wilbon probably thought Northwestern had the game won). Northwestern's first touchdown came with 4:44 to play in the third quarter. So, yes, Northwestern scored quickly, if "quickly" means "first points after more than 40 minutes of play."
On the next series, with Northwestern down 10-7, Colter dove for a first down and was injured. Siemian handed it off four times, then was sacked on 3rd and 6, and Northwestern kicked a field goal to tie it. Colter returned for the next series. So not only did Colter not tie the game, but when he left the game after the dive play mentioned, Northwestern scored. Wilbon's statement literally could not be more incorrect.
"This is our reality."
We'll wait over here for you to join ours, Wilbon, the reality where Northwestern fielded essentially the same lineup it had against Ohio State, managed to score just 10 points, and lost in overtime to a "bottom-feeder." The one where your beloved Wildcats are 0-4 in the conference and two games behind everyone else in their division. The one where Northwestern is the bottom feeder. The one where, despite your jersey-wearing announcing booth cameos on GameDay, you don't really pay attention to, or know anything about, college football. Because that's actual reality.