This was supposed to be Pat Fitzgerald's year, the season the Wildcats took the next step from second-tier bowls.
For the first five weeks, it sure seemed as if Northwestern was well on its way. It rose to No. 16 in the polls and Venric Mark was once again healthy -- but it took two steps backward with back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The Wildcats, whom have since fallen outside of the top 25, are in a tough position now. They might have to run the table to stand a chance at the conference title game, and those visions of a BCS or Capital One Bowl are now longshots.
Those struggles may have come later in the season but they took shape in Week 1, when cornerback Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending injury and redshirt freshman Dwight White took over. Northwestern's defense is now ranked No. 100 in the nation, and its top-two offensive playmakers -- Mark and Colter -- are once again listed as "day-to-day."
The Wildcats are down right now, but they're not out. Fitzgerald's squad remains on course for its sixth straight bowl … just likely not the bowl it wanted.
Offensive MVP: QB Colter. Despite missing some time due to separate injuries, Colter remains the spark of this offense. The Wildcats just aren't the same without him running the read-option, as Colter is currently second on the team with 263 rushing yards (5 ypc) and four touchdowns. If it weren't for his interceptions, he'd be an incredibly efficient passer, too. He's completing nearly 83 percent of his passes, has thrown for 396 yards and has acted as a good change of pace from Trevor Siemian. Colter is one of the few players in the Big Ten who can do it all -- he also has a touchdown reception -- and his importance to Northwestern can't be overstated.
Defensive MVP: DE Tyler Scott. He's one of the toughest players in the B1G to contain the edge and, on a defense that's struggled as a whole, Scott has been a bright spot. He leads the conference with four sacks, and he's come up with several big plays. He blocked a field goal against Maine, forced -- and recovered -- a fumble against Braxton Miller, forced a Syracuse fumble, and has three quarterback hurries to his name. He's a team captain and he's led by example so far this season.