Season Review: Tale of two seasons for Wildcats

Northwestern experienced one of the most bizarre descents in the nation, watching a 4-0 start melt into a 5-7 record and last-place finish in the Legends Division. The low-light was a numbing seven-game losing skid that followed the 4-0 start. The pain finally ended with a season-ending win at rival Illinois.

Injuries played a big part in ruining this season of promise for Pat Fitzgerald, as quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark—among others–never got on track. That was a big reason why NU had the No. 11 scoring offense in the Big Ten (26.2 ppg)—and was one of the biggest disappointments in the Big Ten in 2013.

[ MORE: Final B1G standings | Northwestern's 2013 results | 2013 stats ]

Record: 5-7 overall; 1-7 Big Ten

Bowl: none

High point: Northwestern was coming off a 10-win season and its first bowl win since the 1948 season. Some thought NU was a dark-horse to win the Legends Division. Why not? Lots of talent was back. And the Wildcats looked legit coming out of the gate, winning their first four games—Cal, Syracuse, Western Michigan, Maine–and rising to No. 16 in the Coaches Poll with a huge visit from Ohio State looming. Could NU make it to the Rose Bowl for the first time since that magical 1995 season? The answer was no, as the Wildcats lost to Ohio State and dropped seven of their final eight.

[ MORE: See all of Dienhart's 2013 Big Ten season reviews ]

Low point: Pretty much any game from the teams’ seven-game losing streak could fit here. But for a program that had made five consecutive bowl games, the 30-6 blowout loss to Michigan State stung. Here’s why: It officially eliminated the Wildcats from bowl contention, it was their seventh consecutive defeat, and the offense failed to score a touchdown (in regulation) for the second straight week. Yeah, it was a bad loss – even if it was to the eventual Big Ten champs.

Offensive MVP: K Jeff Budzien. He was voted the Big Ten Kicker of the Year after nailing 23-of-25 field-goal attempts. The senior hit all seven of his kicks between 30-39 yards and was 3-of-5 from between 40-49 yards with a long of 43. Budzien was one of the few reliable and consistent weapons for a struggling Wildcat offense.

Defensive MVP: E Tyler Scott. The senior was one of the few bright spots on a defense that often struggled to stop the run. Scott notched six sacks and 10 tackles for loss to be a force off the edge for Northwestern.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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