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Northwestern Mailbag, Pt. 1: How bad can the football be?

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Looking back at M00N and...well, just EVERY Michigan loss as we answer your questions on why NU beats Iowa but can’t fill Ryan Field, the best upsets of wisconsin, and more!

The LA Times has a whole goddamn image gallery from the M00N game. WHY?
LA Times

Welcome back to Northwestern Week!

Sorry there haven’t been any potlucks.

You asked, and we...well, we kind of responded? For both brevity’s sake and to very sneakily fool the Mothership into thinking that we produced a lot more content than we actually did this week, we’ve split up our Northwestern answers into two: the football and, well, the everything else.

IN THIS ARTICLE:

  • A History of Horrible: Northwestern vs. Michigan since 2008
  • Just how bad can Iowa-Northwestern BE this year?
  • The Northwestern Practice Facility: Too much?
  • What’s the BEST Northwestern upset win over wisconsin?
  • What clouds will Fitz yell at in 2021?

Football

why didn’t you guys wear your black and gold unis against OSU in the champ game last year? —BoilerUp89

LPW: That wasn’t an option since we were the away team

MNW: Ohio State has an additional devil magic in championship games anyway. That was never happening. That’s been the REAL travesty of the Michigan State and Penn State declines of late — no one to challenge OSU for the East title. GIVE US SOMEONE FALLIBLE.

Have you stopped crying over the loss of Superbacks? —WSR

LPW: I was never attached to it in the first place. I think MNW was.

MNW: John Raine’s outstanding 2020 season helped me get over the loss of the superback a little quicker. Mostly it was just nice to see a big boy catching the ball in Evanston again.

Have you ever had a game manager like Peyton Ramsey who you absolutely loved in spite of his obvious limitations? If so, who? I’ll go first: Peyton Ramsey. —87 Rides a Surfboard

LPW: Steve Schnur in 95 and 96.

MNW: Cory Sauter.

In what new, horrible, hilarious way will Northwestern lose to Michigan this year? —RockyMtnBlue

LPW: ::twitch::

MNW: Let’s look briefly at all the Northwestern losses to Michigan since 2008, a game all NUMBalums will be happy to learn I was Definitely At:

  • 2011 (L, 42-24): Just a solid thumping at the hands of the Hoke Wolverines scoring 28 unanswered second-half points after Northwestern led by 14 at the half. Denard Robinson stopped throwing interceptions and started playing what would become a theme: the 50-50 ball that Northwestern’s undersized DBs couldn’t stop.
  • 2012 (L, 38-31): Michigan’s big game of 500 pays off, as Roy “how the FUCK did he catch that” Roundtree—goddamnit this response is a mistake but on we march
  • 2013 (L, 27-19, 3OT): You don’t need to be set to kick a field goal! This is fine!
  • 2014 (L, 10-9, M00N): Trevor Siemian on a banana peel will never get old, at least.
  • 2015 (L, 38-0): Michigan ran the opening kick back before I’d even reached my seat, which was occupied by a very fan Michigan Man who would not acknowledge that his planet-sized ass was, in fact, covering up two numbers. So I stood at the top of the stairs, mostly joking with a security guard about why he shouldn’t kick my incredibly inebriated friend out of the stadium entirely.
  • 2018 (L, 20-17): One of the most chickenshit games a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team has ever played. After taking a 17-0 lead on the strength mostly of some inept Michigan offense-ing and a couple sustained drives, Northwestern bunkered and hoped 17 points would be enough.

Much has been made in the stats world and InsideNUosphere of Pat Fitzgerald’s luck or ability in one-score games (11-3 since 2017!), and maybe Michigan is just the exception to that rule.

Really, though, you have two distinct periods of Northwestern football here:

  1. Batshit insanity Northwestern: Want to beat Iowa on an onside kick or seventeen fumbles or breaking a quarterback’s leg? Do it! Want to run bizarre trick plays in bowl games while throwing the ball 100 times? Do it! Just know that your luck in those capacities will run out when Michigan (1) decides to be as batshit insane, or (2) realizes “We’re bigger than you, fuck this noise.”
  2. Manball Northwestern: Sourcing this exactly to 2013 is a little anachronistic, as this was the last season of the Colter-Siemian Experiment, but Northwestern’s offensive identity was in the process of transitioning to Full Fitz — since that season or so, it’s been less about Dan Persa or CJ Bacher running around doing weird shit for 30ish minutes and more about HORP HORP HORP establish the run.

And sometimes you just come up losers in that regard!

This year, it will be when Pat Fitzgerald is flagged 15 yards for going too far onto the field while celebrating after Northwestern gets the game-ending sack. Michigan takes the ball and wins on a fake field goal Hail Mary.

In the same vein as RMB’s excellent question: how ghastly will the NU/Iowa game be this year? And what’s the o/u for number of points the winning team has? —SlothAstronuat

LPW: Pass the Malort.

MNW: You can still give real answers, LPW.

I don’t see a reason it’ll be any more ghastly than usual. I just named a whole bunch of godawful Northwestern-Michigan games, and I would watch any of the semi-competitive ‘Cats-Hoks games of the last 10 years over M00N or the Drew Dileo slide game. The run-establishing in Iowa-Northwestern is insufferable, but at least it’s two teams playing generally predictable, fundamentally-solid football, rather than whatever the fuck Northwestern-Michigan has been.

That said, a safe O/U is usually something like 18.5.

Poll

O/U for the winning score in Northwestern-Iowa 2021 is 18.5:

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Over
    (56 votes)
  • 44%
    Under
    (45 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now

Do you like the new football practice facility or are you embarrassed by its extravagance? —nothsa

LPW: I think it’s fantastic, gorgeous, and long overdue. I also like that our team doesn’t have to waste limited time going a mile off campus to Ryan Field every day. It helps with recruiting.

Biz Journals

MNW: Given Northwestern’s myriad issues in the last five years, from the Jim Phillips-Mike Polisky debacle to the Johnnie Vassar bullshit to the Abolish Greek Life movement to the current student opposition to the NU Police Department, there wasn’t going to be a good time to build a palatial practice facility—especially on the Lakefront—and not draw those comparisons. (Even Old Deadsp*n got in on the criticism, if you can believe that!) Student protests against institutional racism did disrupt the project, which sparked a little introspection but not much action.

That said, unless there are waterslides or golf simulators or cucumber water bidets or fold-out beds or whatever passes for haute couture in the college football arms race these days, it’s a nice facility and a recruiting tool. It’s a monstrosity, but it’s at least not an eyesore and didn’t disrupt the campus too much.

I don’t think “embarrassed” is the word I’d ever use. But in the context particularly of the unionization fight, where Fitz and the administration allegedly bought off players with iPads and whatever other kinds of employer threats go with it, the practice facility is another reminder of what the facilities arms race was, for a long time, helping hush up.

Speaking of which: if you want a reminder of just how razor-thin those margins are, please look at the saga of Kain Colter. From Q&As on the union fight to being labeled one of Mother Jones’s Heroes of the 2010s, Colter has now been involved in a domestic violence case and been described as “indigent” in Colorado (a lot of DV and other triggers in that article). Not everything has a happy ending,

Is Wrigley big enough now for an actual big boy football field? That last experience was an embarrassing parade of horrors. —NUDave

LPW: God, I certainly hope so. The Ricketts family has plowed a fortune into Wrigley and the surrounding area, and I hope they made it work.. I was so angry at the last time we were there (the result of the game, the bathroom lines, and nearby bars not properly staffed when I wanted a cheeseburger) that I stomped all the way home back to Lincoln Park. I should’ve stopped at Big City tap and drowned my sorrows there…

MNW: No. It’s not. (It is technically big enough now. BUT.) Wrigley is terrible and should not be happening and is the dumbest fucking game for which you get to pay more money for worse sightlines in a stadium that a good chunk of your fanbase is not at all attached to (see below on more of how Northwestern can stop fucking this Chicago chicken any day now).

I’m sure recruits love it or something, though, so I’m just gonna go yell at a few more clouds.

Poll

Should Northwestern play a yearly game at Wrigley?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Yes
    (27 votes)
  • 75%
    No
    (82 votes)
109 votes total Vote Now

Iowa Fans Ask Questions They Know the Answers To

Does the quality of [Northwestern] football ever actually change? —Stewmonkey13
Did Pat Fitzgerald sell his soul for a winning record against Iowa? And did the devil put a clause in the contract requiring NU’s repeated embarrassing losses to inferior teams like Illinois State, Duke, and Michigan? —Hollywood Hawk Hogan

MNW: Yes, if you can believe it, it does! In 2019, for example, the ‘Cats were absolute dogshit!

More concretely, the quality of Northwestern football has involved Pat Fitzgerald stabilizing (2019 notwithstanding) the floor of the program. With program continuity and coaching consistency—and holy shit is this take going to look awful if the ‘Cats crater without Mike Hankwitz—Fitz has imposed his 1995 wet dream vision on Northwestern, making it not only the same disciplined team it always has been, but one that’s rarely bullied by other Big Ten squads.

It’s part of why, as I told Slothy above, the Iowa games have become so ugly in recent years: both Fitz and Kirk are so risk-averse that it (1) has provided a good level of stability in the Big Ten, but (2) will stumble against a team like Illinois State because playing from behind or against the clock is not something the ‘Cats are equipped to do, especially early in the year.

It hurts to point out that [Northwestern] is actually pretty decent at the footbally thing. As weird as it sounds, most of the time they are competitive (i.e., even # years).

So why does their home attendance suck so bad? In a city of like 22M people, can’t more than 15 show up for a game? Should they make attendance mandatory, like face masks and vaccinations? Would that make a difference? Attendance at ILOLinois is bad too. Is it because the whole state of Illinois sucks? (This last question is rhetorical; everyone agrees Illinois, as a state (and concept) sucks.) —cericjo

LPW: You do realize that NU is a smaller school with an alumni base that diffuses across the country after graduation, there’s a lot to do in the Chicago area, including watch the various pro teams, and there aren’t enough casual or non-alum fans to come? I got into NU football because a lot of my family went there, and my brother who’s a year younger went there, so I just took the train up and had fun with it. I always thank visiting fans for funding our athletic department.

MNW: LPW is a rare bird in that he is a Subway ‘Cat. Otherwise, just for some numbers to go with cericjo’s question, there are about 2,000 Northwestern undergraduates in a given year. On top of that, Northwestern is a much more national university than an Iowa or wisconsin or Ohio State — those 2,000 folks tend to scatter to the winds a lot more than Iowans, who tend to move to Minneapolis or back to Greater Naperville to escape the [/nopolitics] of that hellhole.

So take a student body just inherently less passionate about college athletics, slap the school in a pro sports town with a rich tradition of winning a Superb Owl that one time before I was born (as opposed to Northwestern, who was Bad in 1985, when all opinions about sports teams were permanently frozen in time), and surround them with tons of Big Ten fans from other schools, and no shit Northwestern’s just not going to attract more fans. Many silver bullets have been proposed; none—outside “win more”—seem like plausible answers, and even “win more” is not foolproof.

But you ARE correct — Illinois is terrible.

Bitter wisconsin Fans Ask Questions

Which type of win over Wisconsin is more enjoyable for Cats fans:

1) the ones that have some sort of fluky play and/or controversy (a la 1992, 1996, 2000, 2014, 2015) that enrage the Wisconsin fanbase, or

2) the ones where Northwestern is flat-out the better team that day (a la 1995, 2018, 2020)?

—BradNortmansActingCoach

LPW: Yes

MNW: First, 2015 is the pinnacle of those games. It was the perfect combination of B1G weather and shithousery that makes Northwestern football so eminently lovable and wisconsin the drunken inbreds of the I-94 corridor.

Second, they’re all enjoyable. Fuck your school.

Third, it’s funny that we don’t really know what to do with 2009, isn’t it? That was my first Northwestern-wisconsin matchup, and I think I concerned more than a few NUMB folks (beyond the reasons of my alcoholism) with the vigor with which I approached the wisconsin matchup. But I’ve had a lifetime of dealing with badgers all over the goddamn Twin Cities, then marrying into a family where I would get patronizing, “Oh. Northwestern’s not in a big bowl game this year, huh?” as the TV would be set to wisconsin shitting itself against TCU in the goddamn Rose Bowl.

Beating the badgers will remain cathartic throughout my life, regardless of the means of victory. Fuck wisconsin.

Poll

Best NU win over wisconsin?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    The fluky play: 1992, 1996, 2000, 2014, 2015, etc.
    (5 votes)
  • 4%
    The flat-out pasting: 1995, 2018, 2020
    (4 votes)
  • 6%
    Specifically 1995
    (6 votes)
  • 5%
    Specifically 1996
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Specifically 2000
    (0 votes)
  • 2%
    Specifically 2009
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Specifically 2014 — YIP! YIP!
    (0 votes)
  • 18%
    Specifically 2015 — SNOWBALLS AND JAZZ HANDS FOR EVERYONE
    (18 votes)
  • 3%
    Specifically 2018
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Specifically 2020
    (2 votes)
  • 36%
    They’re ALL great
    (36 votes)
  • 17%
    I loathe this question.
    (17 votes)
98 votes total Vote Now

1. What tone deaf, idiotic bullshit will Fitz complain about in 2021?
2. Who’s worse, Fitz or the caricature of “old man telling kids to get off his lawn”?
3. Will Fitz just fuck off already?
—beezer

MNW: I mean, you know it’s going to be NIL, right? After a loss, we’re going to hear about NIL and how players are setting up endorsement deals and not focusing on the field.

He will not fuck off already, I assume, no matter how many “Fitz to Chicago Bears” rumors we’re forced to endure this offseason.

You’re stuck with Northwestern.

Poll

What will Fitz complain about first?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Phones
    (8 votes)
  • 53%
    NIL endorsements
    (47 votes)
  • 1%
    Unions
    (1 vote)
  • 28%
    Social media
    (25 votes)
  • 7%
    OTHER!
    (7 votes)
88 votes total Vote Now

See you later today to talk about Malort, Evanston, and Quiz Bowl!

Correct, you ARE excited.

Happy Northwestern Week!