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B1G 2018: Sit down, it’s time to talk about the 2018 Big Ten West runners-up, the Northwestern Wildcats!

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Meet the new ‘Cats, same as the old ‘Cats...kinda. There’s a new running back, and the quarterback might be dead. But there’s still lots of purple! Maybe we can start there.

Northwestern v Nebraska
At least one of these players might be all-Big Ten this year.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Welcome to B1G 2018’s Northwestern Week!

No, it’s still not Maryland Week. We know where DJ is, but at this point we’re thinking about putting Maryland after Penn State and just seeing what happens. We need the traffic, after all; our Fearless Leader is up to his ass in baby formula, and diapers ain’t cheap.

As such, you’re stuck with 5 days of skipping to the comments and relentlessly shitting on Northwestern. If you don’t want to do that, I’ll give you a quick preview of Northwestern to keep you in the loop at your bosses’ respective cocktail parties...assuming they let you into the back lounge for cigars and bourbon, of course.

Wha’ Happened?

Anchored by...well, pretty much nothing but giving Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier the ball approximately 84 times a game (don’t bother fact-checking me), Northwestern made (and won!) a bowl game in 2017.

I know, right?

After avoiding embarrassment in a home win over the Nevada Wolf Pack in which the ‘Cats entered the 4th quarter tied, with The Pack, your favorite Big Ten elitists went on the road and got the ever-loving shit kicked out of them by the Duke Blue Devils on a muggy day in Durham. I rented a car from Hartsfield-Jackson at 1:30am and drove through the night to tailgate and watch that game. Shut up.

Not losing to Bowling Green followed that, and then...well, it looked like the wheels fell off. After putting up a fight against wisconsin during the second half, Northwestern got pancaked at Homecoming by Penn State. Clayton Thorson was getting his ass royally beat because OL coach Adam Cushing somehow still has a job, the defense was getting run over (in part because the offense give them no rest, in part because they couldn’t get stops at crucial junctures). It sucked.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Northwestern won eight straight games. Three of those games were in overtime. Consecutively.

I don’t get it either.

There was a 17-10 slugfest over Iowa when Noah Fant forgot how to catch the ball. There was a 39-31, 3OT escape of Michigan State when Thorson spread it to Ben Skowronek, Flynn Nagel, and Cameron Green like he was Isaac Haas at a key party. There was a...well, they beat Nebraska somehow. Let’s leave it at that.

At some point they went to Maryland and won. Why not. A freezing cold handling of Purdue, a shutout of Minnesota where Demry Croft completed his first two passes to Gophers and three to Wildcats thereafter, and a whipping of Illinois for HAT, and the ‘Cats were...right back to where they always are, passed over by shittier teams for better bowl games.

Sunrise, sunset, 31-degree Music City Bowl win over Kentucky.
AP #17. 10-3. Two consecutive bowl wins; first time ever.

So yeah, that was 2017. Clayton Thorson tore everything in his knee on a trick play in the Music City Bowl, the defense was Top 25 material, Justin Jackson graduated along with two all-time Northwestern safeties. Now we gotta figure this season out.

Will they score points?

If they can run the ball. Sophomore RB Jeremy Larkin, he of 6.0 YPC and 5 TDs, will take over for JJtBC and get a lot of action.

That’s because...well, we don’t really know who the QB will be, unless we’re snarky InsideNU commenters or Pat Fitzgerald, but that seems like a secret he only reveals when he’s back in Orland Park, having a few brewskis at the bowling alley with the Sandburg Class of ‘93. Thorson should be back by the time non-Purdue Big Ten play starts, but in the meantime...

TJ Green, Andrew Marty, Aidan Smith. Those are in alphabetic order. One probably runs a little more than the other two, who are more pro-style. TJ Green is Trent Green’s kid. That’s what I’ve got for you, and anyone else who has more is a paid journalist or is making shit up based on watching Rivals tape, and my life is sad, but it’s not that sad yet.

Those QBs will throw the ball to mostly the same cast of characters, mostly Nagel on short, quick shit or deeper outs; and Skowronek on balls thrown high in the air, because Ben’s a little taller. Cam Green is still the superback; Garrett Dickerson left.

Keeping them upright will be the job of an offensive line that has four upperclassmen and one of Northwestern’s more heralded OT prospects ever, true sophomore RT Rashawn Slater. That could be promising, assuming it doesn’t take them 6 games to gel again this season, because Clayton Thorson nearly died last year.

Speaking of QBs, Northwestern got a big 5* QB transfer. You may have heard. He can’t play ‘til 2019. More on him tomorrow.

Will they give up lots of points?

More than last year, yeah. Safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro departed, along with DT Tyler Lancaster. That’s only three guys, but that’s a lot of lost production, along with the retirement of DBs coach Jerry Brown. (More on that tomorrow.)

Thankfully, Paddy Fisher (111 tackles) and Nate Hall (17 TFL, 5 sacks) are still in the linebacking core, are still very good, and Paddy’s just a sophomore. In front of them you’ve got DEs Sam Miller and Joe Gaziano, destroyer of worlds. With DTs Jordan Thompson and Alex Miller, they should be able to stop the run. Maybe.

In the secondary, Montre Hartage and Trae Williams will attempt to provide cover for new starting safeties JR Pace and Jared McGee. Both those guys have played considerable amounts (I’m told Pace had a couple picks, but I drink most defensive series away), so they’re not a huge worry, but...it’s Northwestern’s defense. Worry. Always.

What about those weird guys who use their feet?

Charlie Kuhbander kicks balls that someone else holds. Don’t ask him to do it over 40 yards, or maybe do, because I’m a big believer in personal improvement. Just not mine.

I don’t know who kicks off, but I can guarantee they won’t be great at it.

Northwestern has a graduate transfer punter!

NORTHWESTERN HAS A GRADUATE TRANSFER PUNTER!

His name is Jake Collins, he’s from Western Kentucky, he averaged a little over 40 ypp last year, and the bar is set so low that I just want him to have a nice life before he’s sent upstate to that other farm with all the other Northwestern punters where they bark at Jeremy Maclin, who’s got the vacuum and man this is making me sad.

Solomon Vault, kick returner extraordinaire, missed 2017 after some “lower-body” surgery. He’ll be back in 2018, and recently said “lol” in response to the Northwestern football twitter account posting that he made Athlon’s 4th-Team All-Big Ten at kick return specialist.

Who plays/doesn’t play for them now?

Departures: RB Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier, WR Macan Wilson, SB Garrett Dickerson, LB Brett Walsh, DT Tyler Lancaster, S Godwin Igwebuike, S Kyle Queiro, LB Warren Long, QB Matt Alviti

Arrivals: P Jake Collins (grad transfer, WKU)

Maybe others. I don’t know. That seems sufficient, and you’re not reading this anyways.

Who they playin’?

If you listen to Chicagoland area sports talk radio, you are well aware that the ‘Cats host Michigan, Nebraska, wisconsin, and Notre Dame. There are also home games with Duke, Akron, and Illinois. It is a very exciting home slate, and enough of a challenge that they could do anything from 4-8 to 9-3, if you squint really hard.

So why “Big Ten West Runners-Up” in the headline? I don’t know. Seems like that’s the program’s ceiling, and it’s not like Nebraska or Iowa are knocking the ‘Cats over to get to second place.

We’ll talk more about that on Thursday.

The Cocktail Party Preview

In the pre-SEO days, when Matt Brown or Wescott Whatshisnuts or whoever my new corporate overlords are weren’t sending us long email missives on clicks and video-pivots and corporate synergy, we called these things the Cocktail Party Previews, because they were supposed to help you manage your way through a cocktail party where you realized your boss was a Northwestern grad.

Here are some talking points, should you find that is still the case:

What should I mention?

Ten wins in 2017! Also a Music City Bowl win, how nice Jim Phillips and Pat Fitzgerald are, the shiny new lakefront facility, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s lacrosse, softball, fencing, how fun baseball and basketball were in early 2017.

What shouldn’t I mention?

Nothing. You’re an asshole who will come here to do nothing but make jokes at Northwestern’s expense, so just go nuts. If you’d like to make it personal, I’m a couple stone overweight and wet the bed until 5th grade.