Friday, September 26, 2014

TREMBLE, BIG TEN

The Northwestern "Wildcat" Football team has won a game. Tremble, Big Ten! After two disappointing losses, the 'Cats have taken on a team from the mighty Missouri Valley Conference and triumphed, showing yet another FCS team what it's like to play at the mighty Fortress Ryan Field unless they are that New Hampshire team coached by Chip Kelly. Pat Fitzgerald will stop at nothing to wring every advantage against a team psychologically bolstered by a phalanx of cheerleaders with inspirational placards reading "NECKS."
 
The Leathernecks ought to bust out their original "Rocky" mascot, 
shown here with an alternate mascot entitled "Dog Who Sees All 
the Secrets of Time and Space and then is Instantly Mummified"

Not taking any chances on a WIU field goal at the end of a tense first half, Fitz deployed all three timeouts in succession.  The 'Cats blocked the kick attempt, which somehow justified it and set Fitz on a course of madness.
 
"ICE DA KICKAH: FREEZE, FREEZE, WINTER COLD, WINTER ICE 
COOL COOL FREEZE FREEZE," Fitz said to the official before 
whirring away to halftime on his icemobile.

Northwestern may not have dominated the game, but still came up with a vital win before beginning Big Ten play this weekend against Penn State.  While it has been a grim opening to the season, there still may be hope for the Wildcats because the Big Ten is a frigid wasteland of broken dreams, as I wrote about last week in a guest post for Lake the Posts.  But Saturday's game is a tall order against an undefeated Penn State team in the jubilant throes of a modern college football team's greatest triumph: an end to NCAA sanctions.

WE WANT FRANKLIN SHUT UP OLD MAN

Northwestern faces off against new Penn State head coach James Franklin.  Franklin used to coach at Vanderbilt and led the Commodores to a minor resurgence.  This success did not extend to games aginst Northwestern, as the Wildcats beat them in a close-run away game.  The next year, Vanderbilt canceled the series, citing the shake-up of SEC schedules thanks to the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.  This sounds perfectly reasonable, and a sound explanation so let's just

WAIT A MINUTE I'M TALKING TO YOU NOW PENN STATE HEAD FOOTBALL COACH JAMES FRANKLIN AND YOU LISTEN GOOD.  NOTICE I'M USING THE WRESTLATIVE TENSE, WHICH MEANS THAT I CAN ONLY ADDRESS A PERSON BY THEIR FULL NAME AND GIMMICK FOR EXAMPLE I CAN SAY I'VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY TO YOU HULK HOGAN AND ALL YOU HULKAMANIACS OUT THERE FROM COAST TO COAST: WILL YOU PLEASE PASS THE GREEN BEANS?  SORRY, PARDON MY REACH THERE, GORILLA MONSOON.  PENN STATE HEAD FOOTBALL COACH JAMES THE COMMODORE FRANKLIN, YOU CAN'T DUCK US ANYMORE.  YOU CAN'T RUN.  YOU CAN'T HIDE.  THERE'S NO SEC SCHEDULING LOOPHOLES NOW TO SAVE YOU FROM A RAMPAGING, UNSTOPPABLE WILDCAT FORCE EXCEPT FOR YOUR APPARENTLY VERY GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM, HEISMAN-CANDIDATE QUARTERBACK, AND 100,000 FRENZIED FANS OOOH YEAH.
 
Pioneer of the Wrestlative Tense The Macho 
Man Randy Savage shown here in press 
materials for the 1988 American Academy of 
Rhetoric and Piledrivers conference.  Savage's 
speech "I've Got Something To Tell You: Modes of 
Address, Semiotics, and the Ring, a Structuralist 
Reading," is still widely cited in academic papers
 and before sending a vice-provost through a 
flimsy card table

Northwestern has not beaten Penn State since 2004.  Actually, Northwestern has not technically played Penn State since 2004 according the NCAA, who has vacated all five of Penn State's wins since then, so all of those losses occurred in a shadowy alternate universe; perhaps in one Northwestern held their 21-0 lead against Penn State in 2010, perhaps in of them the NCAA negligently allowed players to use both endzones in the Wrigley, perhaps in one of them America has become a brutal future dictatorship run by Ron Zook with the standard greeting being an enthusiastic butt bump and a Gainesville-based resistance movement.

Penn State is 4-0, but has not exactly looked dominant.  They beat Akron and UMass, but struggled against Central Florida and Big Ten newcomer Rutgers.  The Nittany Lions can be excused for that last game as it is clearly a deadly rivalry game.  I can only dream that one day fans of a rival team can hate Northwestern enough to express their disdain via hastily-stenciled sheet.  Nevertheless, Penn State are heavy favorites against a Northwestern team that has struggled at times to move the ball.  Pat Fitzgerald has assured reporters that the Wildcats will play better because he is doing things like enthusiastically yelling at practices, and a solid effort in Happy Valley will be an encouraging sign for how they can play against other crappy Big Ten teams.

UP IN THE AIR

I've recently been reading Atlantic Fever by Joe Jackson about the 1927 race to be the first to fly the Atlantic.  The race, set off by New York hotelier Raymond Orteig's $25,000 prize, led to a confluence of explorers, daredevil aviators, magnates, engineers, and all of the types of people you would imagine would be willing to strap themselves into a flying lawnmower and travel several thousands of miles over the vast, unforgiving expanse of ocean in the name of science, patriotism, and lucrative endorsement opportunities.

The race was won by Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis, but Jackson and Bill Bryson, who uses the spring air chase and Lindbergh's nation-wide adulation tour to frame One Summer: America 1927, discuss Lindbergh's colorful rivals.  These aviators included René Fonck, the French World War I ace whose attempt in in 1926 ended in a crash.  Fonck and his crew overloaded their plane with mahogany chairs, a hide-a-bed, and a fancy table for a victory feast; essentially, they were attempting to transverse the Atlantic in a flying nineteenth-century gentleman's club, missing only an ancient, decrepit man in dozing in the corner with a newspaper clinging perilously to muttonchops and life.  Though Fonck survived, three of his crew members perished.  Another French team led by WWI ace Charles Nungesser and François Coli  attempted the first crossing in 1927 from Paris.  Their plane, L'Ousseau Blanc (the White Bird) disappeared over Canada.  Frontrunners Noel Davis and Stanton Wooster, Americans fueled by a patriotic desire to beat the French across the ocean, died during a test run of their American Legion. The ill-fated flights cast a somber pall over the race.  In all, eighteen people died in 1927 attempting the feat. 
 
Nungesser (l) was ravaged by injuries sustained in the 
First World War, and Coli flew with an eye patch.  The 
two are shown here looking like the  platonic ideal of 
people who should be flying primitive airplanes

By the time Lindbergh set off, there were three other teams close to beating him.  One, led by polar explorer Richard Byrd, crashed before takeoff and was delayed by his financial backer, the spectacularly named Rodman Wanamaker.  Wanamaker was greatly moved by the deaths of Nungesser and Coli, and was hesitant to send Byrd and his crew out until he could explore every safeguard possible.  The Columbia team became embroiled in a heated contract dispute the day before the flight that led to a legal injunction against the plane's takeoff.  Charles Levine, who owned the grounded Columbia and had no flight training before 1927, took off with pilot Clarence Chamberlin and flew to Germany two weeks after Lindbergh landed.  Byrd's team eventually made the journey into horrible weather, and was unable to land in a heavy fog surrounding Paris; eventually they crash-landed in the ocean.  As Jackson notes, some kind of altercation happened on Byrd's America during the flight, but the events remain shrouded in mystery.  According to one account, co-pilot Bert Acosta attempted to hijack the plane and turn it around before Byrd stopped him by hitting him with a flashlight.  Another tale involved engineer George Noville and Acosta getting drunk together during the flight's most hopeless moments-- in this version, Byrd knocked them both out with a wrench.  A third unconfirmed version had Colonel Mustard pummeling all three of them with a lead pipe.

Other aviation pioneers broke barriers adjacent to the Orteig Prize.  One of the most fascinating was Francesco de Pinedo, the "Lord of Distances."  De Pinedo flew a seaplane thousands of miles around the world, making numerous stops.  He crossed the Atlantic from Buenos Aires on a quest to fly across four continents.  De Pinedo faced numerous challenges, but perhaps none were as harrowing as the capricious patronage of Mussolini, who supported him but demanded results.  All of his movements were politically charged; an appearance in New York City sparked a riot between anti-fascists and Mussolini supporters.  His plane was destroyed in an accident in Arizona, which carried accusations of sabotage from Rome.  De Pinedo failed to complete his tour, running out of gas and needing a tow to the Azores.  After he returned, Mussolini sent him to a diplomatic post in Buenos Aires.  Ruth Elder attempted to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic in October of that year, becoming herself a media sensation.  She and co-pilot George Haldeman safely crash landed more than 2500 miles from New York.  Frances Grayson, an ardent feminist, attempted the crossing in late December, but her plane vanished before reaching Nova Scotia.
 
Francesco de Pinedo, Ruth Elder, and Frances Grayson

Both Jackson and Bryson are fascinated not only by the sheer derring-do of the flyers, but also the media frenzy that surrounded them.  The Oreteig race blew all of the participants up to daily front-page news, and test flights and appearances brought out thousands of spectators.  Lindbergh, who projected a blank slate of monomaniacal determination to fly solo, made him a blank canvas for the media to shape into whatever narrated they wanted.  While the flight made Lindbergh rich and unimaginably famous, he found himself haunted by his inability find quiet and outside of the skies.  Eventually, Lindbergh transformed his intense desire to be left alone into a geopolitical philosophy, becoming an outspoken voice against American participation in the Second World War.  Byrd took solace in the Antarctic, at one point living for months in a frozen hut alone in the tundra. 

PENN STATE CLASH

Saturday, Northwestern hopes to set its own season on a course.  Perhaps they will manage to upend the favorites.  They may take flight against the Nittany Lions, they may crash and burn, or they may get involved in some sort of mysterious altercation involving wrenches and flashlights before being rescued by a friendly lighthouse-keeper.  The Big Ten (except for Indiana) (exclamation point) is a laughingstock, but Northwestern will fight to remain in the middle of this particular pile of garbage.  It will take courage, heart, and hopefully as many timeouts as humanly possible to ice a kicker and bring about a winter of discontent what killed da dinasawas, de ice age freeze freeze freeze ice pun, I'm sorry it has been 17 years since that movie came out and this is still funny to me.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Let's All Freak Out About Football

At one point in the second quarter, Northwestern had shown signs of life as Cameron Dickerson scampered into the endzone. A despondent Ryan Field woke up. The band struck up a chorus of Go U, the Cal lead narrowed to a manageable ten, and the listless Wildcats seemed poised for a comeback. Cal got the ball back, and on the first play from scrimmage, Jared Goff found Trevor Davis with a few miles on the last defender, leaving every single player behind him as irrelevant as the fictional Batman football teams swallowed by a chasm. Ryan Field deflated. The pockets of Cal fans erupted. Northwestern fans turned into sentient tarp. This is Wildcat Football. 
 
There are some teams for whom a nine-win season is an unmitigated disaster that demands the sacrifice of a head coach and a bevy of deranged alumni staring unblinkingly at creepy flight-tracking websites. There are programs in the throes of misery that get scraped off the field every week. And then there is Northwestern, a team that wins upsets, perseveres with moral victories, and suffers horrifying losses, usually all within the fourth quarter of a single game.  
north·west·ern 
adjective \-ˈwes-tərn\ 
in, toward, or from the northwest
of or relating to the northwest
 

verb
to lose a football game in a spectacular manner in the fourth quarter or overtime by hail mary, quick field goal, interception, treachery by the inopportune defection of the offensive line, fundamental rule change to the game of football that applies only to Northwestern at that moment in time such as the abolition of the forward pass, or playing profoundly badly.
A WRISTBAND RAPSCALLIONSHIP

Northwestern did manage a comeback in the second half, tightening the defense, moving the ball, and using a super cool double pass play. The 'Cats had several opportunities to tie the game before some ill-timed drops and a backbreaking interception ended the game.
 

We're unsure what this game augurs for the Wildcats' season. In the first half, they looked unprepared and unmatched by the remnants of a 1-11 team before rallying in the second. Part of it involved preparation. InsideNu discovered that Northwestern defenders had incorrect play-calling wristbands, which Pat Fitzgerald dismissed as a "typo." This goes deeper than simple uniform confusion. What Fitzgerald does not want you to know is that the wristbands were switched with elaborate early modern battle maps that left the NU defense less than prepared to stop the Cal offense but in excellent position to siege Constantinople if it was the fifteenth century.


Wildcat defenders are confused when they are unable to locate their siege towers 

and sapping equipment
 

While we can be heartened that Northwestern played far better in the second half, the loss has significant implications for the team's bowl hopes. Assuming they can pull together and defeat Northern and Western Illinois (scheduled by an apparently self-referential athletic department), Northwestern will need to wring four wins out of conference play and Notre Dame in order to qualify for the postseason. Better prognosticators than me will have to figure out where those are coming from (aside from a surefire Hat Defense), but it is going to be a rough and exciting Road to Pizza City this year.

Crunching the numbers on Northwestern's Bowl Position
 

The first week of the season, especially when the game is not against Chicago Dental College or the Institute of Football Losing Science, is unpredictable. Maybe Sonny Dykes has righted the ship and Cal will be far better than last year. Maybe Northwestern's lapse was a product of Mark's departure and Christian Jones's injury. Maybe Tim Beckman's Legion of Evil Abraham Lincoln Impersonators successfully switched the wristbands before melting away, unseen, into a landscape of license plates and pennies. Regardless of the reason, the 'Cats will have to improve to win in the Big Ten, to make it to a bowl game, and to finally drive us all to the brink of insanity at the end of each game.
 

NORTHERN ILLINOIS MUST FALL
 

The demoralized 'Cats will return on Saturday against Northern Illinois to rescue their season. This is fitting. Northwestern defeated the Huskies in 1982 to end their ignominious record-breaking streak of defeats. They have, in fact, never lost to Northern, and at 6-0-1, they have dominated them more thoroughly than any other opponent that is not a high school, YMCA, dental college, or other group of Spanish-American War-era football enthusiasts.
 

Northwestern owns a 0-0-1 record against Kentucky's 
Transylvania University, which was founded in 1780.  
Transylvania University's law faculty at one time included 
future Secretary of State Henry Clay, shown in the standard early 
photographic pose where subjects were asked to look like they 
wanted to murder every man, woman, and child who has ever 
lived and will live in future times. There are no other jokes to 
be made about Transylvania University
 

Northern is coming off of a 55-3 thrashing of Presbyterian College. They lost their All-American Heisman candidate quarterback Jordan Lynch who graduated and was last seen wandering from NFL city to NFL city offering to football. Nevertheless, the Huskies are more than a one-player team, and have been the scourge of the MAC West for the last four years. They were certainly the best college football team in Illinois last season. The stakes for Northwestern are serious. A loss would effectively end their hopes at bowl contention (barring a miracle Big Ten run), obliterate their unbeaten record against Northern, and lead to the Huskies putting up a series of garish billboards along the expressway declaring themselves Chicago's MAC Team, and then entering a float denigrating Northwestern into the annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival. This is Northwestern's Waterloo.
 

BASEBALL INTERMISSION
 

The Chicago Cubs are alive. Not in the sense of having any hope of making the playoffs or achieving any concrete thing in baseball. But they have recently swept the AL East-leading Orioles (using a variety of former Orioles in the pitching staff) and the erstwhile NL Central-leading Brewers and have done so with an arsenal of exciting young prospects that would in theory lead the Cubs to glory in a universe where the Chicago Cubs were not the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have gone from the basement to the sub-basement. They can realistically overtake the free-falling, injury-cursed Reds to finish in a position above last for the first time in a few years, and I could not be more excited.
 

The most impressive addition has been Jorge Soler, a Cuban free agent who has hit everything since coming up last week. The more intriguing prospect, though, is Javier Baez. Baez already has 7 dingers in his first 30 games. He also has struck out 51 times in 129 plate appearances and his hitting .179 with a .217 on-base percentage. This is because Javier Baez swings hard. He wants to hit a baseball so hard it will simultaneously hit all of the baseballs made from the same hide. If it was possible, he would take a running start into his swing from the dugout. His swing starts from the origin of the universe and, on the rare instances when he makes clean contact, he hits the ball it into the next era of geological time. 

The Pacific Coast League demanded that pitchers throw balls to Baez with the Pioneer plaque
 

In addition to Baez and Soler, the Cubs have had excellent seasons from Anthony Rizzo and even Starlin Castro, whom I've spent the past several seasons maligning. Reinforcements including Addison Reed, Kris Bryant, and the sublimely-named Albert Almora are cooling their heels in the minors. It is a tremendous time to be a Cubs fan because it is way more fun to imagine Hypothetical Future Good Cubs than to deal with the inevitable September collapses, October collapses, and even possible November apocalypses that are the best-case scenario for this forlorn, hopeless team.
 

LET'S GO OUT TO THE HIPPODROME
 

College football is here again. It is an unalloyed spectacle of the absurd, of crowds braying for barely-controlled violence that is vaguely connected to educational institutions, of goofy mascots and bands dressed like Edwardian bus drivers playing 1970s jazz rock, of people falling upon hunks of meat in parking lots and college students letting the streets run sort of yellowish with vomit, all of which is covered by sports networks with the gravity of an international arms summit. It's a mutant cousin of the NFL, which oversees a similar menagerie with the gravity of the end of the world.

AIKMAN: Joe, I've just learned that the Pacific Northwest has just vanished under 

a mushroom cloud.
Aikman: Joe, San Franciso and Vancouver have gone, and no one has heard 

anything from a major city outside North America.
AIKMAN: Joe all we can do is try to defense ourselves and our loved ones
AIKMAN: Joe
AIKMAN: Joe
BUCK: There's no excuse for that in the National Football League

 

Yet, watching young people collide for our amusement while stuffing ourselves with nachos is just as ridiculous as any form of mass entertainment spectacle we've come up with in the last century. London's Hippodrome in the Edwardian period, for example, hosted elaborate variety shows, some of which required hundreds of gallons of water for aquatic extravaganzas. These included divers, polar bears, and ramps for elephants to slide down and fall gracefully into the water while spectators looked on. As football stadium experiences become more elaborate to hold the crowd's attention during an ever-expanding roster of television commercials, perhaps we too can turn them into elaborate variety shows with breaks for synchronized swimming, animal ventriloquism, and people getting embarrassingly removed from the premises with robotically controlled vaudeville hooks.

A reproduction of the hippodrome, attended crowds in their top-hatted finery, 

no doubt shouted things like "I say, sir, that is tip-top elephant sliding."
 

IT IS NOT YET TIME TO GIVE UP
 

One game into the season, and Northwestern remains a team shrouded in mystery. It is still possible that the best is yet to come for the Wildcats as they shake off the rust. Pat Fitzgerald's perfect streak of openers is shattered, but we can continue the streak of invincibility against Northern Illinois University. And, in case you don't get official e-mails from Northwestern football and doubt the team's ability to mean-mug their way through adversity, let this prove you wrong:

I've stared at it for hours, and there is nothing that can be included in this image 

that is funnier than the phrase "Official E-mail of Chicago's Big Ten Team."
 

If there's one thing we can be sure of one game into the season, it's that Northwestern will continue to play the most exciting games in college football until there's no one left sink to their knees in full Heston in the fourth quarter. Northwestern may yet Reverse Northwestern itself to glory, its football team basking in an unending parade of fortuitous bounces, incomprehensible opponent gaffes, and a 35-lateral trick play that makes up for the entirety of last season.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bear Attacks

College football has returned!  The Wildcats will take the field this weekend in a rematch against Cal played at time when events actually start that don’t take place at Studio 54.  Once again, a small number of people roughly comparable to the crowd at a rally for the Divine Right Party will gather at Ryan Field to exorcise last season’s demons and witness the destruction of college football as we know it.

Many aspects of the game are unrecognizable.  Realignment has led to the end of old conferences, the rise of new ones has confused casual fans (the reshuffle involving the Late Big East, Conference USA, and something called the “American Athletic Conference” in particular has the feel of a television show crafting an alternate reality to avoid trademark infractions.  The American Conference is home to schools like State University, Texas and Wasamotta U.
 
The American Conference's Milford School student section unnerves the opposition 
with an eerie silence

This means that Rutgers and Maryland will play in the Big Ten, creating rivalries that will, in the tradition of college football, become ageless bedrocks for fans until teams inevitably move to another conference in two years because a cable network is throwing around ducats like a Dickensian Marquis.
College football is changing as a result of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit and the Northwestern unionization case.  The impossibility of clinging to amateurism for players in a multi-billion dollar sports entertainment industry is eroding in the court of law and in public opinion.  The results of the O’Bannon lawsuit, however, have shown that the status of college athletes in revenue sports will remain in an ambiguous morass of slow-moving lawsuits about how much lunch meat to give players and selling pants. 

We can’t be sure what college football will look like in the future, except that all future entertainment will turn out to be death sports propping up an authoritarian government envisioned by people in the 1980s.  Litigation, however, will mean that college athletes will eventually be able to be compensated and able to capitalize on their likeness until we can get robots to tackle each other for our amusement and also take over universities and churn out papers with titles like “The Flesh Prince? Discourses of power and bodies: Foucault’s rhetorical ‘pendulum’ ‘swings’ from Bel-aire to TGIF,” in Sensors: A Journal of Robot Humanities, v. 46514836 (May, 2167) pp. 15164-15194.
Dean Vernon is unable to deal with Robot Faculty

THE PLAYOFFS, NORTHWESTERN, AND CHAMPIONSHIP INDIFFERENCE

The most important change to the college football is the addition of a playoff.  The four-team system will replace the hated Bowl Championship Series system, which was designed to combine polls in order to select the best two teams in the country and to enrage the South.  The new system will use a panel of judges to arbitrarily select four teams in a playoff and infuriate the South and potentially the Rust Belt.  We’ve made progress.

For NU fans and, indeed, fans of most of the 120 FBS football teams, the precise method of choosing a national champion, be it a Mythical National Champion, a BCS Champion, or a Piggly Wiggly National Champion, is largely irrelevant.  Schools outside of the newly-christened “Power Five” conferences (excluding Notre Dame, which bums athletic conferences like a drunk ex-smoker) will toil for mid-tier bowl berths.  MAC teams exist mainly to provide weeknight games ending in 75-68 scores and to potentially humiliate Michigan.  And the majority of Power Five teams are only around to upset major teams, charge the field, and play each other to death in Pizza City Bowls across the country.

Most college football fans have no real stake in the annual debate over rankings, Heisman winners, and championship berths that fuel the Twenty-First Century Sports Jabbering Industry.

BYCTOM is a card-carrying member of the Twenty-First
 Century Sports Jabbering Industry, although fewer 
people read this blog than a hastily-xeroxed  fan zine 
about zither player trading cards

As a Northwestern fan, I don't care about the playoff or the National Championship or whatever powerhouse team manages to win.  I don't care about the Big Ten being terrible because there is maybe one team that can win the championship and it no longer has a quarterback and because Michigan is the Sick Man of College Football.  One year, perhaps even this year, the 'Cats may catch fire, catch all the breaks, and reverse 2013 the conference on their way to having a claim on a playoff berth.  One day, perhaps, Illinois will come out of nowhere and win every game except the Hat Game and be denied a playoff spot and Tim Beckman will be caught doing whippets on the sideline.  Until then, though, I'm not going to worry about the ridiculous Kafka-esque process that this dumb sport uses to determine a champion.  I measure victory in bowls and Hats.

The Selection Committee convenes to determine a College Football Champion

DYKES'S REVENGE

College football analysts have analyzed rosters, attended practices, looked at the state of the Big Ten West, and their verdict on Northwestern's season is a resounding Fuck If I Know.  Last year's games ended on a series of impossible calamities which could not possibly be duplicated.  This year's team lost its two best playmakers and plays a tougher nonconference schedule.  Also, the team became the face of college football's labor activism, with the NCAA and the university denouncing it as the ruination of the sport.
 
NCAA-provided informational literature to student-
athletes about unionization
And the 'Cats have to perform against their sworn enemies, the California Golden Bears.  Last year in Berkeley, Northwestern played a close game against first-year head coach Sonny Dykes.  The game ended in recriminations and promises of vengeance.  Dykes accused Fitzgerald of instructing players to fake injuries in order to slow the fast-paced Bear offense.  The Bears' attack was indeed vicious.  Wener Herzog has instructed Northwestern defensive coaches to burn their tapes.  Cal suffered an even more disastrous season than NU. They finished 1-11, beating only Portland State.
The acrimony is supposedly behind both coaches, but Dykes spent the rest of the season fuming.  He has spent weekends rolling around pretending to clutch his hamstrings outside of numerous academic conferences on Northwestern's campus, he has been calling Fitzgerald and pretending to sell motivational haircut equipment then screaming OH MY INTERNAL ORGANS and hanging up, he has been putting hooks on Northwestern players' cars.  Football fans hope the game is as exciting as the last one without being marred by controversy.  Actually, fuck it, I want Northwestern to win and I don't care if they do so by bringing in a mechanized Tyrannosaurus on the sidelines and they pretend to get mauled by it every three minutes because we're going to a bowl game this year even if it means using underhanded tactics like stealing playbooks, impersonating coaches, and fomenting revolution in rival programs by sending Kain Colter to their practices in a sealed train.

RUNNING FOOTMEN, FLYING BUTCHERS

As college football erupts in stadiums across the country and our homes, it carries a long legacy of mass interest in sports.  And with sports came gambling.  In the 17th century, for example, English people took a great interest in foot racing.  The most celebrated runner of the 1690s was known as the Preston, the Flying Butcher of Leeds, who earned his nickname by literally being a butcher.  This demonstrates a true dedication to nicknames that is unmatched in the twenty-first century except by Kobe Bryant who calls himself the Black Mamba and hisses at people on the court like he is Thulsa Doom.  According to Edward Seldon Sears, Preston became too well-known to race and had to disfigure himself in order to get opponents.

Similarly,  aristocrats wagered heavily on races between footmen.  These "running footmen" had to keep up with horse-drawn carriages, carrying light snacks on poles.  I assume that the presence of gambling aristocrats made these races crooked.  I imagine that there were all sorts of ways to gain an advantage such as destroying a competitor's confidence by wearing fancier footman uniforms, poisoning their staff-borne hard-boiled eggs, and falling down to fake injuries in order to slow the opposing offense.  

While aristocrats could compete for the services from 
the hardiest footmen, the shoe buckle companies also 
fought for their endorsement, as seen for this ad for the 
popular 1698 Stride Man buckle with an elaborate air 
pumping system for increased racing and unruly 
dinner guest thrashing performance

By the nineteenth century, long-distance walking events gained traction with the gambling community alongside horse racing, attracting enormous crowds.  Here, according to Wikipedia, is an account of Robert Barclay Allardice's celebrated 1000-hour/1,000 mile walk in 1809:
One hundred to one, and indeed any odds whatever, were offered on Wednesday; but so strong was the confidence in his success, that no bets could be obtained. The multitude of people who resorted to the scene of action, in the course of the concluding days, was unprecedented. Not a bed could be procured on Tuesday night at Newmarket, Cambridge, or any of the towns and villages in the vicinity, and every horse and every species of vehicle was engaged...Capt Barclay had a large sum depending upon his undertaking. The aggregate of the bets is supposed to amount to £100,000.
The image of people frantically shaking money and screaming at Barclay to walk, to walk, to WALK DAMN YOUR BLOOD while he calmly but determinedly ambles through the countryside is irresistible and unrecognizable to modern sports fans unable to process such a feat without the nineteenth-century equivalent of Skip Bayless shrieking about his gentlemanliness.

The nineteenth-century version of ESPN's Embrace Debate format.  
This is actually a depiction of a duel between a journalist named 
Paul Déroulède and Georges Clemenceau from 1892 over a political 
dispute, which means that only eight years before the twentieth
century these two prominent public men literally shot guns at each 
other.  Neither was harmed, and Clemenceau went on to become the 
French Prime Minister in 1917, represent France at the Paris Peace 
Conference, and grow a spectacular mustache

Pedestrianism is the antecedent of race walking and other endurance sports, such as race walking, ultra marathons, and watching Northwestern attempt to hold a lead in the fourth quarter.

FOOTBALL IS HERE

It is college football season!  Head to Ryan Field, turn on your television, fashion your hands into elaborate defense-encouraging claw gestures, and hold onto your butts.  There's no way the 'Cats can lose on eight consecutive hail mary fumble overtimes again.  There's no reason the Wildcats can't beat Cal without allegations of chicanery.  There's no reason they can't keep the The Hat from The Beck Man.  There's no reason why they can't sack, pillage, and salt the fields of South Bend on the way back to where the program belongs-- in a low-prestige bowl game sponsored by an absurd company that I can't possibly want to win any more.  I'll grab my pole and my elaborate footman livery and race you all to the stadium.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Good Gravy, Northwestern Football is Almost Here

We've had nearly nine months to forget about last season, a season of promise and preseason rankings, a season of winning amongst allegations of fake injury skullduggery, a season of making fun of P.J. Fleck's absurd rowboat sloganeering, and a season that ended in ignominy amongst hail mary passes, last-second field goals, overtimes, failed fourth-down conversions, and, well, at least we have The Hat.  We spent the offeseason watching Northwestern become the focal point of the NCAA's ridiculous Custer-like defense of student-athlete amateurism.  It is time to put that aside, drink beer, contort our hands into claw gestures, and bray for touchdowns as our Wildcats smash into other football teams for our amusement.  Northwestern makes its debut in the Big Ten West in search of a bowl berth, the final blow against the Tim Beckman Hate Machine, and oh my goodness, we play Notre Dame again this year, let's create a dumb rivalry trophy and then use it to dismantle that stadium brick by brick.
 
Northwestern and Notre Dame last played 19 years and this Pat Fitzgerald 
mustache ago

The Wildcats will this season to their comfortable position of low expectations, they return key defenders, and, most importantly, they will never play in the LEGENDS DIVISION again or at least until the next Big Ten expansion that will create the LIONHEART, LOCH NESS, or LINKEDIN.COM divisions.

START PANICKING

Yet, before the season started, the Wildcats have already hit some setbacks.  Star running back Venric Mark, one of the most exciting players in Northwestern history, has departed the team under mysterious circumstances.  Mark missed most of last season with an injury (a "lower body" injury in NU's festively vague injury-reporting protocol that lists injuries as upper or lower-body; the medical staff would be baffled figuring out how to report Buzzsaw's untimely end at the hands of the fugitive Ben Richards).  Reports surfaced that he had been suspended from the team for the first two games for a violation of team policies.  Last week, the school announced unexpectedly that he was transferring.  There's nothing more to say about any of that other than reiterating how much I enjoyed watching Venric Mark zoom around Ryan Field as defensive players futilely tried to tackle him using a variety of defective products from the Acme catalog.
 
Tim Beckman presents a solid tactical plan to stop the 
Colter/Mark option play

That same day, we learned that speedy wideout Christian Jones is lost for the season with a knee injury.  These developments will strain an offense already adjusting to a presumably more pass-happy offense under the sole direction of Trevor Siemian.  Northwestern fans have seen plenty of him the past few years as a co-starter who saw significant playing time.  Now, the senior will get his shot as the full-time signal caller without two dynamic playmakers and with the pressure of knowing that, at any minute, some pun-happy newspaper editor is going to figure out that his last name is a homophone for simian and let loose with a barrage of substandard ape-related wordplay until he or she is subdued by the proper literary authorities.  

Northwestern has had an uncharacteristically interesting offseason.  Normally, Wildcat fans can look forward to ramping up to opening day by reading Pat Fitzgerald's candid admissions that they will indeed be playing (American) football this season and are training with branch of the military that will teach them how to lift logs in tandem and safely detonate landmines for football purposes.  This year, though, the union case made Northwestern football into national news, thus taking away a key tactical advantage against Big Ten coaches who often forget the 'Cats are in the conference and now need to figure out how to get a bus to Evanston in less than 72 hours.  
 
Whatever the hell this thing is doesn't need to worry about finding out how to ride 
to Evanston for the forseeable future

Then again, maybe Northwestern's dismal season and loss of key offensive players has rendered the offseason attention moot.  The Grantland Big Ten preview by the excellent Holly Anderson, for example, offered few bits of insight for Wildcat fans such as the existence of the team or its intention to play football games this fall in both home and away venues.

As we've learned from years when the 'Cats have boasted preseason ranks and then crashed or have been picked to finish in the basement and then won Big Ten Championships, there's no point in prognosticating.  The defense, returning Ibraheim Campbell, Nick VanHoose, and Chi Chi Ariguzo along with some exciting newcomers, could potentially carry the team to a better record than we expect.  The Big Ten West does not terrify anyone.  But the 'Cats will have to face a vengeance-obsessed Sonny Dykes, try to maintain their perfect record against Northern Illinois, and travel to South Bend in November during a brutal stretch of conference games in order to make it back to their rightful place in Pizza City.  I would not have it any other way.

INTRIGUE SEASON

For those of us who are idle and silly enough to waste our time following sports, we have been greatly rewarded by the creation of year-long soap operas around our favorite leagues.  The NBA is the best at this, featuring a summer of stunning revelations, open letters written in comic sans and normal fonts, exile and deliverance from Minnesota, and breathless updates on golf cart men.

The NBA trade and free agent market is rendered even more exciting by a collective-bargaining agreement that is essentially impossible to follow unless you are a person who owns a green accounting visor and one of those jewel-magnifying monocles for strictly recreational purposes.  Player movement is governed by a salary cap riven with exceptions such as the midlevel exception, the room exception, the bird rights exception, the table ladder and chair exception for players able to successfully pin either Karl Malone or Diamond Dallas Page in a professional wrestling match, an exception for players willing to get a tattoo of former commissioner David Stern in an area visibly exposed by a modern basketball jersey, an exception for teams with non-extinct animal mascots, and an exception for general managers able to last an entire night in the NBA's spooky mansion.

The NFL has gone a step further and made contracts, as far as I can tell, completely and utterly meaningless, like they've been placed on the front page of the official organ of the fictional evil Wisconsin communist regime.


This interview with a Temporary Mosinee Communist sheds light on the festive fictional communist coup.  While the Mosinee experiment is a notorious Red Scare episode, few historians are aware of Moscow's repsonse, where citizens in a small rural Soviet town pretended to launch an American takeover and spent the day accusing each other of being communists.

 START THE CLOCK

The wind is shifting, Wildcat fans.  Old men can feel it in their bones.  Pat Fitzgerald's fists pump infinitesimally harder in practice.  Soon, the leaves will fall from the trees.  Dozens of people will pour into Ryan Field.  The Chicago Cubs will stop embarrassing themselves in public.  Football is mere days away, and I couldn't be more excited.  There's no hype this season.  No preseason ranking.  No expectations.  No verbs in these sentence fragments.  It will soon be football season, it will soon be Big Ten football, and it will soon be time to share in college football's greatest prize: a berth in a bowl game named for a soon-to-be-defunct product or service.  Wildcat football is coming to save us all.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Big Ten Expandomania

After years of conference skullduggery, the day Big Ten fans have dreamed about is here.  Maryland and Rutgers have joined the Big Ten, bloating it up to 14 teams and hundreds of possible teams.  For those of you who haven't been diligently following, printing, and annotating the blogspot Northwestern football blog Bring Your Champions, They're Our Meat posts for the past several years, this is a positive step in the direction of the creation of the Enormous Ten, an all-encompassing college sports conference that involves every single team in the country with the possible exception of Purdue.   The Enormous Ten football season will play out with a series of regional Tournaments of Roses, eventually culminating in a Big Ten Champion of Champions ladder that involve prestigious Big Ten bowls such as the Rose Bowl, the Alamo Bowl, the Motor City Bowl, and the Big Ten Championship Super Bowl Bowl played at a newly-built luxury sports facility at the exact geographical center of the continental United States, which will be the Big Ten's remit.
 
The Big Ten extends its manifest destiny as it moves east, west, north, south, and a multitude 
of other directions

For football, Maryland and Rutgers will be placed in the Big Ten East, and neither will play Northwestern next season.  It is, however, important to assimilate them into the Big Ten culture as quickly as possible.  Spearheading this effort will be Illinois football coach Tim "Beck" Man, who will also be serving as the inaugural Big Ten Director of Rivalry and Mutual Antagonism.  Here are some leaked documents obtained by BYCTOM contacts in the Illinois athletic department detailing how Beckman plans to welcome Rutgers and Maryland to the greatest athletic conference in the midwest and some parts of the northeast.

EXCLUSIVE LEAKED BECK MAN COMMUNIQUES

The following is a transcript of a series of recordings of conversations held in Tim Beckman's Anti-Wildcat Command Center in an underground bunker underneath Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois.  Voices identified as Jim Delany, Tim Beckman, and an unidentified Illini assistant.

Monday, March 10, 2014, 7:51 AM

DELANY: ...like legends and leaders but with more attitude, you know, like in those doritos commercials.  Like the upstanding young person division but with those rap songs where people announce who they are and what they're going to say.
BECKMAN: [to unknown] I SAID NO PURPLE IN HERE YOU TELL THEM I'M NOT GOING TO PAY FOR THAT DIMETAPP DISPLAY THIS IS ILLINI COUNTRY.  What was that?  Legends?  Leaders?  I get paid to win ball games x 22 rocket right burn evanston hut.
DELANY: Coach as you know, we have two more top-flight educational institutions in the lucrative East Coast television market and the problem is no one here hates them or knows anything about them.  We need you to do what you do best: ban their logos, headbutt photos of their mascots, spit chewing tobacco all over their flags.  Something, leaderous.  Legendary.  [whooshing noise]
UNKNOWN VOICE #1: Your cape just got caught in that smoldering wreckage of Ryan Field model
BECKMAN: I've got no time for those schools out east.  Is one of them Youngstown State?  Because next game is Youngstown State.  You know, Toledo lost to those guys in 1961, and I've been going to zoos and roughing up people in Penguin costumes
DELANY: No, you unhook it at the front, it's held together by that Big Ten Legend Juan Dixon pin
BECKMAN: And the Burgess Meredith people don't understand college football at all and that's why he

[18 minutes of silence]

DELANY: ...but what if we call them the LEASTDERS and the WESTGENDS, I said to the guy I was just spitballing but we're paying you thousands and I just came up with that in five minutes, you know?
BECKMAN: So it's Maryland?  Maryland's easy.  What's in Maryland?  Crabcakes?  I'm going to have an assistant fly out there and bring back a crate full of crabcakes and I'm going to stomp them one by one while dressed as...what's their mascot?
UNKNOWN VOICE: The terrapins.
BECKMAN: Is that some sort of wild cat?
UNKNOWN VOICE: It's a turtle
BECKMAN: A turtle?  Ok, I'm going to stomp on on a bunch of crabcakes while pretending to be controlled by a floating anthropomorphic brain in a gigantic belt.  Done.  What's the other one?
DELANY: Rutgers, a fine educational institution with generations of Big Ten tradition.
BECKMAN: Is that a small, private university?  [suspiciously] Are they purple?
DELANY: They're a state university, and they're scarlet knights.
BECKMAN: Ok, I'm going to joust a guy and rip a flag from, where the hell is Rutgers?  Michigan?  Ohio?  Kentuckey?
DELANY: Jersey
BECKMAN: Jesus Christ.

Intercepted E-mail from Tim Beckman to Jim Delany

Monday, March 10, 11:26 AM
From: r.zook@illinois.edu
To: legendleader14@b1g.org

i am going to win bon jovi's house and im going to burn it

tbman
 
THE NBA IS A VIPER'S NEST OF INTRIGUE AND INNUENDO

Carmelo Anthony is a free agent.  So is LeBron James.  And so are dozens of other of NBA stars, semi-stars, role players, guys who come in for five minutes and elbow people, and Drew Crawford.  Teams like the Bulls and Rockets have been pulling out all the stops, lining their stadiums with Pro-Carmelo propaganda like he has just successfully pulled off a coup d'etat 
 
And at that point Melo knew he loved the Houston Rockets

The NBA's byzantine salary cap has made it extremely difficult to determine whether or not the Bulls can afford to pay him and retain key pieces such as Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, the crown of Spanish Poneramia, and one of Stacey King's old gym socks.  The Miami Heat are involved in a convoluted dance to re-sign their Big Three at enough of a discount to add another player who does not spend his time between playoff games in a sarcophagus.  Meanwhile, we can all agree that this convoluted player movement is all for naught unless we can get Dwight Gooden one step closer to playing for every team in the Association.

But the most entertaining intrigue this off-season has been with coaches and executives.  Former point guards have been taking advantage of an NBA pilot program to send former players with no coaching experience directly into head coaching positions and somehow this has resulted in bizarre power plays.  Mark Jackson departed Golden State amid allegations of a falling-out with assistant Brian Scalabrine, which would be an incredibly funny development to someone in 2005.  The Warriors then hired Steve Kerr who had been a general manager and now only needs to become a majority owner in order win some sort of NBA job decathlon.  And Jason Kidd, hired months after his retirement, has somehow forced his way out of Brooklyn through a series of attempted power grabs in order to take the reins in Milwaukee.  Kidd's major accomplishments were coaching Brooklyn into the playoffs in an abysmal Eastern conference, tactically spilling a courtside beverage, decisively exiling his rival Lawrence Frank to an abandoned film room, and growing a beard that makes him look like the villain in one of those Iron Man movies.  Usually, this is the place in BYCTOM where I would compare all of this to some sort of early modern Holy Roman Empire situation, but a treacherous Duke was allowed time to scheme in private and not have to deal with twitter rumor-mongering, the NBA salary cap, transnational Russian nickel-mining concerns, and the trauma of having been dunked upon in the recent past.  Thank goodness for professional sports.

Friday, June 13, 2014

So Your Football Team May or May Not Have Theoretically Unionized

In April, Northwestern football players voted on unionization.  The results, however, won't be known for awhile.  They will be revealed after the federal NLRB rules on the NCAA's appeal to overturn the landmark decision that allowed Northwestern athletes to be classified as university employees.  That means it will be several months before the union forms or we see an excessive celebration from Mark Emmert.

A classless display by Emmert.  In my day, NCAA presidents would simply hand their legal briefs 
to their legal team and act like they've continued the baffling marriage of a mutli-billion dollar 
minor-league sports apparatus to a university system before

What does this mean for Northwestern moving forward?

Disclaimer: BYCTOM is a legal expert on all matters of Internet Football Law.  Our legal team has been hunkered in a closed concrete bunker for the past several months receiving legal documents through a pneumatic tube system to explore every possible precedent for legal action in this case.  Do not trust other websites or so-called legal experts to explain any part of this situation to you.  There is no more trusted, accurate analysis of the Northwestern union situation on the entire internet than a blogspot website called "Bring Your Champions, They're Our Meat," and you should expect to see this post mentioned in legal citations for generations.  BYCTOM also specializes in horse-law and shipwreck treasure arbitration.

This image would theoretically get old in a blog that updates more than 
once every several months

THE BACKLASH

While Kain Colter, College Athletes Players Association, and others have been encouraging unionization, the efforts have not been popular with other Wildcats.  Quarterback Trevor Siemian opposed the measure, stating that he was satisfied with his treatment at Northwestern.  This was troubling since he and Colter combined into a theoretically unstoppable passing/running multifaceted quarterback threat for the past two seasons, and I assumed that the Cats' unorthodox sleep studies and training with Navy SEALs were experiments designed to link the two signal-callers' brains like the robot operators in Pacific Rim.  Other players have suggested that the union fight is a distraction.  The case certainly drew far more attention to Northwestern athletics in the spring at a time when the basketball team traditionally eliminates itself from the NCAA tournament and everyone forgets that Northwestern football exists.

Certainly Northwestern's administration did all that it could to dissuade football players from unionizing.  Coach Fitz has found himself in a strange position.  He has depicted himself as an earnest, crew-cutted boy scout troop leader, selling Northwestern's academic bona fides.  When Colter began to publicly ally support unionization by stenciling references to the "All Players United" slogan on his wristbands, Fitzgerald publicly supported the gesture while disagreeing with the message.  But, with a looming unionization vote, Fitz has lined up squarely behind the university.  He has sent out messages to, in his words, "educate" players and their families about the university's fears against unionization

Union supporters fear that the fist pumps of encouragement may turn into the 
Pinkertons' cudgels

Regardless of the results, union activism has made some impression.  Athletic Director Jim Phillips has recently argued that athletes should have voting voice in major issues that concern them.  He opposes a union, however, because he, Northwestern, and the NCAA do not believe that athletes are employees.  Phillips, like Fitzgerald, claims that schools should act in the best interests of athletes without the involvement of a union.  Union activists counter that schools will continue to pay lip service to changing conditions unless an organization representing players can apply pressure and bargain collectively.

The central problem is that the link between a massive minor league football apparatus and universities makes absolutely no sense.  Our national love affair with watching organized people smash into each other, mixed with regional pride, mixed with college students holding up signs and the pompous pronouncements of television personalities, and combined with people willing to call into Paul Finebaum's show and yell at each other like professional wrestlers for my amusement, is grafted onto an already unwieldy educational complex.  It seems unlikely that the NCAA can continue to hold this all together.  It is impossible to endorse the status quo, where enormous piles of money make their way to universities, the NCAA, conferences, and other college sports-adjacent organizations while the young people who smash into each other are governed by an elaborate set of rules designed to prevent them from capitalizing on their smashing while Ed Orgeron is allowed to use his football notoriety in order to convince people to pay him to talk in public.

COLLEGE ATHLETICS

College athletics, especially in the big revenue sports, is inherently absurd, corrupt, unfair, and hypocritical.  Northwestern's unionization efforts have contributed to the increasingly loud outcry against the NCAA.  Northwestern, which has tended to position itself as a model program that graduates nearly all of its athletes and insists on higher academic standards for recruits, now stands as a citadel against athletic unionization and for the untenable status quo.  It's certainly not news that that college sports are rife with contradictions or that the NCAA's defense of amateur athletics rings hollow.  This has been true since college sports existed.  But it is odd to see Northwestern at the front lines of organization efforts.  It's hard to celebrate college football while the NCAA and others taking a share of monstrous college sports profits comport themselves with the fiscal integrity of a nineteenth-century political machine.
 
The Bowl Championship Series, for example, made waves by 
pocketing millions from universities and dodging taxes by operating 
as charitable organizations while paying half-million dollar salaries to 
bowl executives.  The 2007 Fiesta Bowl even featured allegations 
of reimbursing employees for campaign contributions, which I enjoyed 
because it's as if the Fiesta Bowl executives were making a list of ridiculously 
unethical things to do with the windfall from college football games while 
staging some sort of boring executive bacchanal when someone said wait we 
haven't figured out a way to also make illegal campaign contributions yet and 
then a bunch of balloons fell from the ceiling while Kool and the Gang blared 
from the speakers and then they all started betting on toddler fighting or 
something equally awful just because they can

The reason why all of this money is at stake is because college football is spectacular.  I love Northwestern football.  I can't wait for next season.  I hope Northwestern's football people smash the crap out of lesser football people.  I want to hear the fight song when Venric Mark zooms past a bunch of hapless linebackers.  I want Northwestern to anger a bunch of people from Iowa.  I want to root for the Wildcats to take the Former Legends Division while being conflicted that the Big Ten has sane, cardinal-direction based divisions and I can't make fun of the LEGENDS DIVISION anymore.  Most importantly, I want to continue to support Northwestern athletics for the sole purpose of frustrating the designs of Tim Beckman, who made the grave error of trying to respect Northwestern as a rival and has thus fated himself to be ground into dust by the state's slightly less miserable conference rival.
 
Captain Beck Man spends another season in pursuit of his Purple Whale

NEXT SEASON OUTLOOK

Kain Colter, the face of college football unionization, has graduated.  He will attempt to catch on with the Minnesota Vikings along with Tyler Scott.  Both hope to join Corey Wootton, who signed with the Vikes as a free agent because the Minnesota Vikings have apparently hired me as a general manager to build the team the way I used to load all of my Madden teams with Wildcats.

Madden 05 was the last copy I owned, but it had a bunch of NU guys and the "hit stick" feature,
which let you launch horrifyingly illegal headhunting tackles that would get you fined in the modern
NFL, but let you gleefully injure Digital Brett Favre, one of the greatest villains in the history of 
video games alongside Bowser, Soda Popkinski, and those dumb birds from Ninja Gaiden that knocked
you into the game's seemingly endless array of bottomless pits

Colter's work with CAPA has deservedly taken the lion's share of attention, but the Wildcats will miss him on the field as well.  Kain Colter was probably the most fun player Northwestern has had.  He lined up all over the field, but as quarterback he was more effective as a runner than a passer.  On third and long, over and over again, he took the snap and scampered past a helpless defense that had to know what was happening but was unable to stop it.  When Mark was healthy, they formed the most exciting option attack Northwestern had ever fielded.  He  came off the bench to hit Ebert with a strike that went 81 yards to help upset Nebraska in Lincoln in one of the most memorable wins of the Colter era.  And, he clearly got that fourth down against Ohio State, regardless of what the corporate ESPN mainstream media want you to believe.


It's all very clear if you just look at the video evidence

Northwestern's outlook for the season is unclear.  The 'Cats lost Colter and a number of other talented seniors, but they will return Venric Mark and the core of an improving defense.  It is also unlikely that they will suffer from the horror of last year's impossible season when they lost game after game on plays that only happen at the end of sports movies.  Historically, the 'Cats have not performed well lately with preseason top-25 rankings and expectations, and will have the luxury of letting the season grow into what it will.

No matter what happens on the field, the unionization issue will continue to hover over the program.  We're all looking forward to the Wildcats feeling their way into a new Big Ten landscape brought about by another wave of ridiculous and byzantine conference realignment.  I look forward to developing an enmity towards Rutgers and Maryland when it comes time to actually play them.  I look forward to Sonny Dykes swearing revenge after accusing the 'Cats of faking injuries without the panache of their face-clutching basketball and soccer-playing compatriots.  And, most importantly, I look forward to a version of college athletics where players have an opportunity to challenge the NCAA and universities in order to gain fair compensation for totally wrecking an opposing quarterback.