EVANSTON IL - OCTOBER 23: Dan Persa #7 of the Northwestern Wildcats is stopped by Colin Neely #89 and Jerel Worthy #99 of the Michigan State Spartans at Ryan Field on October 23 2010 in Evanston Illinois. Michigan State defated Northwestern 35-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Dan Persa; Colin Neely; Jerel Worthy
With the football season getting close, it's time to check in with MSU's upcoming opponents. In the weeks leading up to the season, we'll have a short Q&A with a blogger from each opposing school. Next up: Northwestern. Rodger Sherman runs the great Northwestern blog, Sippin' On Purple. He was gracious enough to answer some questions about the upcoming season and why Nebraska fans are buying Northwestern season tickets.
1. Pat Fitzgerald has built a solid program, with bowl eligibility being the norm. What are the expectations for the Wildcats this season?
I'm uber-concerned about the Wildcats' defense. Northwestern should put up plenty of points, but I have a hard time seeing Northwestern winning more than seven or eight games. I think NU fans expect a team to make a bowl every year after this recent stretch, but there's a legitimate fear of Northwestern missing out on that this year with some three BCS teams on the non-conference schedule and an always difficult Big Ten slate.
2. Who are some players on both sides of the ball who could have breakout seasons?
On offense, let's talk about Rashad Lawrence, although it could really be any of Northwestern's 11 or 12 young, talented wide receivers, including USC transfer and former five-star recruit Kyle Prater. They're all about 6-foot-3, all pretty reasonably fast, and none have really had a chance to show their talents. Kain Colter will have some fun tossing to these guys.
On defense, I nominate Steel Reserve malt liquor. It technically isn't a defensive player, but since Northwestern takes a secondary that couldn't stop even the Big Ten's most mediocre passing attacks and graduates two corners and a safety, replacing them with guys who weren't good enough to crack the rotation, this low-grade beer bears a faint taste of metal and its high alcohol content might be the best defense NU fans have against having to see their squad lose a bunch of 45-35 games this fall. Those with great tolerances can drink one 40 in the first half and one in the second.
3. Thoughts on Illinois claiming "Our State" and not referring to Northwestern by its name?
Hah! This is somewhere on the stupid scale between lighting up a smoke after a nice dip in a gasoline swimming pool and "Deuce Bigalow 2: European Gigolo".
For those of you unfamiliar, let's recap: Northwestern, since we have no fans, decided to put out a dumb marketing campaign calling Northwestern "Chicago's Big Ten Team." Of note: most people in Chicago are not Northwestern fans, since they mainly watch professional sports and generally did not go to Northwestern. This irked Illinois, because Chicago is in Illinois. So Illinois put out a marketing campaign to rival NU's insisting that Illinois is "One State. One Team." The variety of reasons why this is dumb is manifold, but most importantly: Illinois already has more fans than Northwestern, and while the majority of them are outside of the Chicagoland area, I'd bet if you forced most Chicagoans who don't have a college rooting interest to pick, they'd choose Illinois. They don't really need to worry about Northwestern. Instead, they decided to freak out and enter into direct competition with NU - the hypothetical "little brother" in the situation - when they really don't need to. I enjoy it, because the fake rivalry brings out the dumbest in Illinois' brass and coaching staff while NU continues to move up in the world.
4. Which three opponents tend to bring the most fans to Ryan Field?
The clear-cut winner is Ohio State, who sold out NU the last time the two squads played. Next is a bunch of teams who all seem to bring good crowds - I remember Wisconsin and Michigan being packed the one time I saw each team vs. Northwestern while in college. But coming for the title is Nebraska, who sold out Ryan Field for this fall's game before single-game tickets went on sale to the general public — thousands of Huskers apparently bought season tickets just for the opportunity to buy additional tickets to Northwestern-Nebraska. Them folks is crazy.
5. Thoughts on the new jerseys? Personally, I like them. It's unique without going over the top. One of the few good-looking new jerseys this season.
I didn't freak out like many NU fans did: the white on purple, in my opinion, is straight-up ugly. But it's clear that the people at Under Armour know what they're doing, and I love that they decided to emphasize the Northwestern striping NU popularized back in the 20's as a signature across all 19 of NU's varsity sports. I'm curious to see how it will factor in to Northwestern's basketball unis - the stripes typically appear on sleeves and socks, not basketball jerseys - and think the stripe right across the chest of NU's football jerseys is nice. Altogether, I guess I like the outfits, and I know that Under Armour has more exciting stuff coming. CLICK-CLACK, and whatnot.
Thanks again to Rodger for taking the time to answer some questions. We'll check back in with him during game week. Until then, make sure you check out Sippin' On Purple for all your Northwestern info.