That 37-34 win – which broke a seven-game losing streak – satisfied fans who wanted the seniors to leave with something memorable.
But afterwards, Pat Fitzgerald delivered what, if true, could be the lasting line of the 2013-14 season: "We'll be back."
No one really pretended that NU's last game of a horrible season meant anything more than a reminder of what it feels like to win. There will be long thoughts during bowl weeks, I'm sure, because Northwestern is so clearly better than these types of seasons.
The recovery process could not have begun sooner, and elite prospect Garrett Dickerson waited one week to set it in motion. The four-star tight end recruit committed to Northwestern this weekend on his campus visit.
While other schools prepared for the loosely defined "postseason," the Wildcats could only hope for this — a perfect recruiting weekend when the program needed it.
You know you're signing the right players when this outburst of support happens. In an impressive display of solidarity, all but two commits showed up on campus this weekend. Then, every available offer (Dickerson, Parrker Westphal and Khari Blasingame) joined them.
Garrett Dickerson gets it. In a Nov. 12 interview with Brian Dohn of Scout.com – during Northwestern's downward spiral — he said: "… I do know that even though they may be in a slump right now, you know they're striving for excellence and greatness."
And Dickerson ended up being proof of that. NU never apologized for being lousy this season; the team viewed it as a bad-luck anomaly and then carried itself the same way. The Wildcats were the walking embodiment of "act like you know." In spite of the losses, they were steady in demeanor and figured this wouldn't happen again.
Plus, as you learn when covering recruiting, relationships are key. Players believed in Pat Fitzgerald and stuck with him as NU reached its nadir. The 5-7 record can't possibly ruin everything about this program — especially when worse play means a greater opportunity at future playing time.
There are programs that fall apart and lose recruiting momentum. Fitzgerald, though, won't allow that to happen. It's why his job is safe as long as he wants it. He can sell this as one bad season caught in the middle of an improvement process. He can really sell anything.
Garrett Dickerson didn't visit a defeatist, apologetic football program this weekend. He could have chosen Stanford, or Michigan, or a bunch of schools, but settled on this one even after the trouble.
And what better way to begin the transition to next season? Can it begin now? With nothing to play for until the next calendar year — and spring ball months away – the Wildcats can translate confidence to recruiting success.
Every piece of negativity surrounding this program was understandable. But that only lasts so long.
Today, Garrett Dickerson reminded us that there's always next year.