Next up in our preseason check-in is Northwestern. Rodger Sherman from Sippin on Purple was kind enough to answer some questions about the Wildcats.
1. Looking back at last season, Northwestern won 10 games, but led in the fourth quarter of its three losses (and should have at least beaten Michigan). Obviously you're happy about 10 wins, but is there any lingering "what if?"
OH, REALLY, WE SHOULD HAVE BEATEN MICHIGAN? I HADN'T HEARD, Y'ALL. I HAVEN'T BEEN OVER HERE BURNING ROY ROUNDTREE IN EFFIGY OR ANYTHING, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT.
I think there will always be a little bit of what-if. Big Ten championships obviously don't come around very often, and if literally two plays go differently -- if our backup cornerback Daniel Jones' deflection on the Roundtree Hail Mary actually prevents Roundtree from catching a Hail Mary instead of miraculously falling back to him before he tips it to himself, allowing the Wolverines to force overtime, and if Jeff Budzien's 51-yard-field goal was five or six feet to the left in a one-point loss to Nebraska -- Northwestern is 11-1 and goes to Indy. That's without accounting for the double-digit blown leads in the Nebraska and Penn State games with under five minutes to go. (I know this might shock Michigan State fans, but Northwestern has been known to blow large leads in football contests.)
But at the same time, last year was still a dream for Northwestern. The ten wins isn't even the key: we'd done that before. It's the bowl win. We won a damn bowl! For the first time since 1949! My site is called "Sippin' on Purple," not "Chugging Purple," because at Northwestern, you kinda have to slow down and enjoy athletic success for as much as you possibly can.And, hell, the what if can stop lingering when we win the B1G this year.
2. Offensively, there are plenty of weapons with both quarterbacks, Venric Mark and more. What will be the weakness of the offense?
There are no weaknesses at the skill positions -- like you mentioned, Kain Colter and Venric Mark are damn near unstoppable in the option, and the receivers are solid if Kain and Trevor Siemian make throws -- but NU loses three of five offensive linemen. The good news is that the guys filling in are among the best offensive line recruits Northwestern has ever had, but they're still green. NU's left tackle is last year's right tackle and left guard is last year's backup left guard who never played, so the blind side is not exactly protected.
3. The offense has often been there for Northwestern, while the defense has fluctuated. How is the defense shaping up?
Actually, quite good. Because Northwestern's offensive players are dynamic, we ignore the fact that Northwestern was better defensively -- 22nd in scoring -- than offensively -- 42nd in scoring. The linebacking corps was perhaps the best NU has ever had without Pat Fitzgerald in it, and Tyler Scott may be the best defensive end in the Big Ten this season. We have one solid corner in Nick VanHoose, but the big question of the defense is whether teams will be able to successfully pick on whoever starts on the other side as easily as we suspect they will be.
4. This Northwestern team could be better, but the schedule is much tougher, adding Ohio State and Wisconsin to the slate. What are you expecting for a win-loss record, and can the Wildcats win the Legends?
I think you nailed it here: Northwestern won 10 games last year, had no players drafted, and basically lost no skill position players. But their record could very well drop this year on account of its schedule. Northwestern's the only Legends contender that will have to play Ohio State and Wisconsin, and if NU loses those two, they'll probably have to go 6-0 in their other conference games to win the division. That's tough.
I honestly haven't thought about the record yet because I've been too busy nervously reloading a countdown timer to the Cal game, meticulously building brick walls, running through them, chugging Red Bull and yelling "YEAHHHHH WOOOOO GO CATS" non-stop for the past 32 days, but I'd probably guess 9-3.
5. It seems like the road teams have better luck in this series recently. How are you seeing the matchup with MSU playing out?
I'm an MSU hater. Not in general, just of this team. I refuse to believe y'all are going to win any noteworthy amount of sporting events without the ability to score points, and I think y'all completely lack that.
But by all rights, Northwestern should have lost to Michigan State last year. It took a hilarious amount of turnovers, a bad goal line ruling, and a missed field goal for Northwestern to win by three. I think you guys suck emphatically, but won't spot Northwestern any more than three points.
Thanks again to Rodger for taking the time to answer some questions.