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B1G 2020: It Sure Can’t Get Much Worse for Northwestern

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Playing in their natural habitat—a 60-minute paean to John Cage’s 4’33”—Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats look to push the boundaries of offensive indecency...and somehow improve on a 3-win 2019.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Northwestern at Illinois
Lovie Smith will never take our HAT! HAT HAT HAT HAT HAT!

After last year’s trainwreck of a season, a pandemic tossing our world upside down, and the Big Ten conference changing it’s mind, we’re gonna have football this fall in Evanston!

Unfortunately, unless you’re family member of a player of athletic department staffer, you’re going to be watching Chicago’s Big Ten Team on your favorite couch.

Have your butlers bring out some of Chicago’s finest craft beers and libations, and pull up a chair because MNWildcat and I are gonna give you a quick overview of what to expect.

What We Can Learn from Pop Culture

MNW: We’ve been practicing for this for years, boys.

GOOD MORNING FROM RYAN FIELD, I’M BETH MOWINS, AND—

Go back. Do not scroll any farther down.

Hit play on 4’33”.

Let it wash over you.

Welcome to Ryan Field.

Who’s Out?

[This section has been added, 10/17/20 —MNW]

Per InsideNU, in addition to NFL Draft-bound LT Rashawn Slater and medical retirements WR Jace James and OL Sam Stovall, four more Northwestern players have opted out of the 2020 season just a week before play begins:

Just eight days out from the start of Northwestern’s 2020 football schedule, the program announced Friday that four veteran Wildcats — DL Samdup Miller, QB Aidan Smith, S Travis Whillock and QB/TE Jason Whittaker — elected not to participate in the coming season.

Offense

LPW: Let’s be honest, last year was one of the worst I’ve seen on offense in the 19 years I’ve been a season ticket holder. Stud RB Isaiah Bowser the ballcarrier got injured, then Jeremy Larkin medically retired, and we had a random cast of characters toting the rock. Bowser’s back this year, and I assume he’ll be back to 2018 form.

Clemson five-star transfer Hunter Johnson was supposed to be the next great QB succeeding Clayton, Son of Thor, but after his mom got sick, his heart wasn’t in the season and was benched. He’s gonna battle Indiana graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey for the starting job. (Ramsey will probably get the starting slot.)

[MNW: Ramsey probably should get the starting slot, but let’s not rule out T.J. Green, who is also here for a sixth season and could get the Pat Fitzgerald Sympathetic Opening Day Start for Stick-To-It-Ness With The Program or some similar award. That’s not to say Green is miles worse than Ramsey, but I will take the QB with a nearly-70% completion rating, thanks.]

Our offensive line was the sole bright spot on last year’s team. We have a great coach in Kurt Anderson, and Sam Gerak, Nik Urban, and Gunnar Vogel return. Incoming freshman Peter Skoronski could contend for a starting spot [MNW: OL Sam Stovall retired so it’s looking more likely that’s true]. Unfortunately, stud lineman Rashawn Slater opted out of his senior season earlier this fall. That stings, but I don’t blame Slater for wanting to prepare for getting drafted in the first round next year, He was our best offensive lineman since either Patrick Ward or Zach Strief. I’m confident Kurt Anderson will continue to mold the Trench ‘Cats into one of the best lines in the conference.

Unfortunately, our best wide receiver transferred to that school in South Bend. BOOOO.

Peyton Ramsey will end up throwing the ball to Riley Lees, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, Kyric McGowan, with JJ Jefferson, Malik Washington and Raymond Niro III also joining the rotation.

We’re no longer using the term “superback” in Evanston. Ramsey’s going to throw to and be protected by tight ends Charlie Mangieri, Trey Pugh, Alex Oelsner, and Thomas Gordon.

[MNW: (1) Fuck Matt Bajakian for that. Superbacks ‘til I die. (2) Don’t forget grad transfer FAU TE John Raine. In terms of “transfers into a program in the Big Ten,” tight end is pretty important.]

Savvy readers might be wondering, LPW, aren’t you burying the lede? Yes, I wanted to save the best news for last. Pat Fitzgerald fired longtime OC Mick McCall, and replaced him with former Boston College OC Mike Bajakian.

I wish Fitzgerald dispensed of McCall by catapult. I saw this at Castel Sant’Angelo last fall on my honeymoon in Italy and thought it would be a perfect way to get rid of McCall

I have high hopes that Bajakian will be the breath of fresh air our offense needs.

Defense

As MNW alluded to in his season preview, our defensive philosophy is bend but don’t break and is coached by long-time DC Mike Hankwitz, a dead-ringer for Walter White.

We’ve got Samdup Miller and Earnest Brown IV on the defensive line, stud LBs Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher, and Greg Newsome II and JR Pace in the backfield.

I think it’s fair to say that we both are confident in our defense.

Special Teams

MNW: LPW says this is “all me”. And BOY IS IT EVER.

Northwestern has a grad transfer punter. Derek Adams. From Kent State. EVER HEARD OF IT? IT’S IN OHIO.

That’s about what I’ve got for you. Odds are, if he plays, he can kick it much farther and better than anyone else on the roster. That’s probably a pretty damn good thing, seeing as how things weren’t so good in the only “most exciting play in football” department last year.

It is Charlie Kuhbander’s job to kick the football when someone else holds it on the ground for him. He has been OK at this in the past, but Northwestern’s special teams have been pretty bad lately, so...???

Also do you like fair catches? Good! I have now previewed Northwestern’s return game.*
*As with all things Northwestern, this does not apply to games against your team, because it’s in those games against your team that we get lucky and decide to return punts/throw the ball/run the interception play. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, I just selectively apply them.

Schedule

Northwestern 2020 Season

Date Team Location
Date Team Location
Oct 24th Maryland Evanston
Oct 31st Iowa Iowa City
Nov 7th Nebraska Evanston
Nov 14th Purdue West Lafayette
Nov 21st Wisconsin Evanston
Nov 28th Michigan State East Lansing
Dec 5th Minnesota Minneapolis
Dec 12th Illinois Evanston

What have we written about Northwestern this summer

Predictions

LPW: 4-4.

MNW: Hello. I am here to predict the outcome of the Northwestern Amateur Footballing Wildcats in the 2020 season. I have not slept in approximately 22 hours and by now I am seeing the “ghost armadillos” I texted my wife about when I was driving in Texas last week.

It’s a real damn shame I haven’t seen a live armadillo yet, either. But that’s for another day.

But boy that’s a nice schedule, huh? Maryland and Michigan State on the crossover is about as friendly as anything gets in the Big Ten West, so I’m sure that means Pat Fitzgerald will win at least one, if not both, of those games and not at all speak condescendingly to us about wearing a mask properly after he inexplicably kneels the ball three times while down 3 against Maryland. Only Communists go for the tie, reporter who asked a question about how Peyton Ramsey’s arm was feeling.

Let’s give the ‘Cats a win to open against Maryland. That’s nice, huh? 1-0.

Now let’s look at the West.

  • Iowa at Iowa on Halloween? Spooky. 1-1.
  • Hosting Nebraska? No Big Red crowd, no Big Red advantage. Plus we’ve talked enough shit about Nebraska that we should probably win this game, huh? 2-1.
  • At Purdue in November—HI I’M BETH MOWINS. 2-2.
  • Hosting wisconsin. I’m tired, but I’m not drun—oh wait I’m having scotch. 3-2.
  • We have covered the crossover. 3-3, probably. But I don’t actually know what a “Mel Tucker” is, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna learn now.
  • Northwestern has not lost back-to-back games against Minnesota since the Lost Years of 2013-2014. If that’s not a sign of something...then it’s probably not a sign of something. 3-4.
  • We’ve gotten to the free space that is HAT. 4-4.
  • Chalk up a power-matched game with [/spins wheel] Indiana! 4-5. Maybe an invite to a really prestigious bowl game. I’m feeling it.

The beauty of why this is all an exercise in futility was captured so nicely by Ryan Nanni over at Banner Society in his new Nail-Biter Directory:

We’ve already catalogued the numbers on the last 30 years of blowouts, so now it’s time to look at its dramatic opposite: the nail-biter. For these purposes, we’re applying that term to any game decided by fewer than three points.

Northwestern’s the current leader in close games played, with 36 (21 wins, 15 losses). From 1990 through 2019, the Wildcats played 363 times. Imagine the experience of being a Northwestern fan over that stretch, with ten percent of your games coming down to the thinnest of margins. (This, of course, is why Pat Fitzgerald is known as America’s Greatest Showman.)

Ten percent of games. Three points. I could’ve gone to Stanford. I hate myself.

Poll

Poll

How many regular season wins will Northwestern have this season?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    8
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    7
    (2 votes)
  • 7%
    6
    (12 votes)
  • 12%
    5
    (20 votes)
  • 19%
    4
    (30 votes)
  • 40%
    3
    (63 votes)
  • 10%
    2
    (16 votes)
  • 3%
    1
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    0
    (3 votes)
155 votes total Vote Now