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B1G 2016: Northwestern Wildcats Cocktail Party Preview

NCAA Football: Stanford at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Hi! Are you enjoying B1G 2016? This is quite a time to be alive, what with the Big Ten continuing to roll in that sweet, sweet TV money, a possible resurgence of the "Big Two, Little Ten" [get bent, Maryland/rutger] with HARBAUGH sending Michigan in the right direction, and the conference returning 5 bowl winners and having ended 2015 with 6 ranked teams (#4 Ohio State, #6 Michigan, #9 Iowa, #12 Michigan State, #21 Wisconsin, and #23 Northwestern). And so we roll on, with a little throwback to the Cocktail Party Previews of OTE Yesteryear.

You head out to the golf course, and this is your big chance: the boss has invited you to round out the foursome, and as you’re trying to make junior partner in the firm, you want to put your best foot forward.

As you pull into the country club in your 2007 Focus and the valet sniffs at your $2 tip, you lug your clubs up toward the clubhouse when racing around the corner comes the newest model of Jaguar with the license plate "B1GCATS". The boss hops out and executes the perfect handshake/tip with the valet, who eagerly bounds forward to help him.

Then it hits you.

The purple-tipped golf shoes. A heather-purple Rose Bowl polo. And, as he unzips the cover, you see it: A Pat Fitzgerald driver cover.

Extending his hand warmly (Northwestern grads are known for their hospitality, after all), he exclaims "[Insert your name]! Great to see you!"

The valet shoots you a dirty look. You peasant.

Giving your boss a firm handshake, you offer a meek "So Northwestern, huh?"

"Of course!" he replies. "Weinberg Class of 1978, Law School Class of 1981! Been a season ticket-holder since I graduated. What do you think of the ‘Cats this year?"

Your heart sinks. All these years mocking Northwestern, and now you actually need to know something positive to say about the Wildcats?

Well that’s where we’re here to help, friend! After some careful planning, the Northwestern writers have a jam-packed week planned for you so that you can navigate your way through a round of golf or cocktail party with the boss. Let’s hit it!

About Last Season...

The Good News

Northwestern won 10 games for just the fourth time in its...storied...tradition, finishing runners-up in the Big Ten West and heading to a New Year’s Day bowl game down in Tampa. The ‘Cats upset then-#21 Stanford at home to open the season, escaped a scorcher at Duke on the back of a stiff defense and a Solomon Vault KR TD (making them the best thinkin’ and football-playin’ school in the country), blanked Minnesota, won at Camp Randall for the first time since 2000, and took back HAT before about 5,000 Illinois faithful at Soldier Field to close Big Ten play. The defense was stout, Clayton Thorson ripped off a couple long runs, and Jack Mitchell still has ice in his veins.

The Bad News

The ‘Cats just didn’t show up when the spotlight was biggest, falling 38-0 on the road to #18 Michigan and laying a 40-10 egg against #17 Iowa on Homecoming. The offensive playcalling was predictable and stagnant, Clayton Thorson struggled throwing the ball, and special teams outside of kickoff returns were mediocre to abysmal.

It’s a shame they never got to play the Outback Bowl.

About the Offense...

The Good News

Justin Jackson the Ballcarrier. Justin Jackson the Ballcarrier. Justin Jackson the Ballcarrier. Why am I saying it so many times? Because it never gets old: for fans to hear, for defenses to bounce off, for Mick McCall to dial up. The ‘Cats were made or broken on the back of the the sophomore RB, who rushed for over 1400 yards and chewed up clock as the ‘Cats ground out low-scoring wins.

Clayton Thorson proved he could get it done with his legs, too, including long runs against Stanford and Nebraska. Oh, and the offensive line can be not-too-generously described as "competent," which is a far improvement over years past.

The Bad News

Mick McCall is still employed.

Jackson has been asked to bear a lot of the load and is due for a breakdown.

We’re still not actually sure if Thorson can throw the ball efficiently.

Dan Vitale was drafted and is no longer superbacking in a way replicated only by Drake Dunsmore.

There are no wide receivers. Two of the projected starting three are new to the position this year.

Mick McCall is still employed.

About the Defense

The Good News

They’re really, really good. Anthony Walker is an All-B1G frontrunner at linebacker who will work quietly in the shadow of flashier brands like Jabril Peppers and rack up the TFLs and stuff the run. Matthew Harris is a lock-down corner who returns with his 4 INTs, and both Godwin Igwebuike (pronounced "ig-weh-BYU-kay," don’t embarrass yourself in front of the boss) and Kyle Queiro ("KAY-row," like it’s a shittily-pronounced city in Confederate Illinois) are experienced safeties.

The Bad News

DE Dean Lowry, DT Deonte Gibson, and CB Nick Van Hoose all graduated, leaving the ‘Cats big holes to fill on the offensive line and on one side of the secondary. All were upper-level talents at their positions. The ‘Cats D also failed to stuff the run at the worst times, being manhandled by Michigan and Iowa in the trenches and especially on zone reads.

About the Special Teams

The Good News

Solomon Vault is good.

Solomon Vault is good.

Jack Mitchell is the one who knocks*

*Note: 4th quarter only.

The Bad News

Hunter Niswander is a not-very-good punter. The ‘Cats get some of the least production nationally out of their punt returns (except against Minnesota). Jack Mitchell is a mediocre kicker in quarters 1-3. None of these things have changed in the off-season, and all of them return.

Who they got?

First, a note:

While we know you all have thoughts on Northwestern’s schedule and like to post your predictions for the entire year, we’d respectfully ask that this week you’d try something different and hold off until Thursday -- that’s a specific Potluck question and we want to talk about the ‘Cats on both sides of the ball first!

The Schedule

9/3: vs. Western Michigan, 11am (ESPNU)

9/10: vs. Illinois State (FCS), 2:30pm (BTN)

9/17: vs. Duke, 7pm (BTN)

9/24: vs. Nebraska, 6:30pm (BTN)

10/1: at Iowa, 11am

10/15: at Michigan State, 2:30pm

10/22: vs. Indiana (HC), 11am

10/29: at Ohio State, 4:30pm (ESPN/ESPN2)

11/5: vs. Wisconsin

11/12: at Purdue

11/19: at Minnesota

11/26: vs. Illinois

Talking to a Northwestern Fan [TARP JOKE HERE]?

Do Mention...

Another 10-win season, possession of HAT, winning against Stanford and at Camp Randall, the beautiful Lakeside practice facility and Welsh-Ryan renovations, the 1949 Rose Bowl, college football from 1995 on, holding the Smart School Title Belt for 2015, Pat Fitzgerald’s mastery of James Franklin, a love of the color purple, having lost fewer games than Indiana, fucksaws.

Don’t Mention...

Mick McCall’s continued employment, the NCAA Tournament streak, tarps, body clocks, Michigan or Iowa, a love of The Color Purple, failures to beat Brady Hoke, Medill (unless it’s to a Medill grad but they’ll have already brought it up), college football from 1949 to 1994.

Outback Bowl? What Outback Bowl?


Again, welcome to Northwestern Week! Please don’t track anything on the carpets, feel free to leave your keys with the valet (though keep in mind even they have standards), grab a cocktail, and enjoy!