Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Huskening now with BYCTOM NBA Preview

At halftime, Northwestern held a 17-14 edge.  The defense had managed to keep all-everything running back Ameer Abdullah largely in check.  Justin Jackson was slithering around defenders and smashing into people.  Those gothic uniforms were pretty sharp.  Northwestern was holding its own as part of a transformation into Bizarro Northwestern, relying on the defense and a power running game instead of desperately trying to outscore people.  Then the second half happened and Ryan Field turned into Peter Lorre's spooky sanitarium.

Northwestern failed to score or move the ball particularly effectively.  The defense eventually succumbed and Abdullah shook free.  And this all happened under the watchful eye of thousands of Husker fans staining the stands red, letting their "go big red" chants echo through Evanston like they did 14 years ago on the San Antonio Riverwalk and who are I am sure all wonderful people who happen to like a different football team than I do but irritatingly and predictably took over an alleged home game and one of them threw nacho cheese on me.
 
Literally a Northwestern home game

Being outnumbered at home is part of the Chicago's Big Ten Football Experience and has been since time immemorial, so it's no surprise area Nebraska fans and roaming Husker vagabonds took over the stadium.  But we can do better, and Bring Your Champions, They're Our Meat is a Web Log devoted to ideas, innovation, synergy, thinking outside the box, achieving buy-in, shooting you an e-mail about that.  Last week, I proposed some concrete ideas on twitter that I will lazily regurgitate here for filling the stands with purple:

1. Hire a nineteenth-century ward boss to fill the stands with Civil War veterans
2. Invent the machine from Multiplicty, fill the standswith thousands of Keatons (assuming the multiplicity machine only clones keatons)
3. Tupac holograms
4. Construct a fake Dyche stadium on campus, tell visiting fans to go there, conduct game in peace and quiet
5. Hire a snooty maitre'd, only admit people in purple attire, but allow guests to borrow a gigantic purple sport coat for the evening
 
Mr. Purdue Pete, I am going to have to ask you to remove your hard hat
One time, I had to attend a function at a London club that originated in the nineteenth
 century that was all plush red carpets and muttonchop portraits and ossified 
stodginess.  I didn't have a jacket and was prevented from entering the establishment 
by a tail-wearing doorman who looked like he had seen action at Sebastopol, but he 
was gracious enough to lend me the house sportcoat which was designed for an 
enormous plutocrat grown fat on the plunder of empire.  I then spent the rest of the 
evening absorbing elbows like a Karl Malone opponent as other guests were able to sense 
that the guy in David Byrne's Stop Making Sense jacket was not important enough to 
remain unjostled in a race to talk to an actual important person.   

In addition, I suggest the athletic department strongly look into covering opposing fans with tarps, making Ryan Field into a speakeasy with a password like "Steve Schnur," or demolishing the stadium and replacing it with a field that has only one bleacher where I am the only spectator and can freely support the team and heckle Kirk Ferentz. 

Northwestern was certainly an underdog in this game and demonstrated that its defense is not a fluke.  There are five more games and three more wins to a bowl.  Only Notre Dame is a powerhouse and anything is possible in the Big Ten, the conference for dreamers and mystics.  But first the Wildcats need to make it through hell.

IOWA WEEK Y'ALL

Iowa is 5-2.  Somehow.  The Hawkeyes have not looked like world-beaters, although by Big Ten standards they are they are at the very least world insulters.  To be honest, I can't tell you much about Iowa football this season.  We have a finite number of minutes in our lives and no one outside of the Hawkeye state lies on his deathbed regretting that he did not watch more Iowa football.  You might be disappointed that you came to a college football blog with virtually no pertinent information about football, but you probably should have closed the browser window when you read that sportcoat anecdote.

The Hawkeyes once again feature human battering ram Mark "Heisman" Weisman who will be long celebrated in Iowa City for his ability to play multiple years in the backfield with all of his ligaments.  Jake Rudock seems entrenched at quarterback, despite Kirk Ferentz teasing a Colter/Siemian style quarterback rotation earlier in the month.  One can imagine the staid Ferentz thinking about making that change with the same disdainful look he had on his face when he learned that the Big Ten legalized the forward pass in 2003.

The 2005 All-Big Ten football team featured many athletes who served against 
the Kaiser

At this point, it seems that the Wildcats can hang with any team in the division.  Both teams see this as a winnable game.  And given that Iowa-Northwestern has been a surprisingly fervent rivalry in the last few years, I'm going to say throw out the record books.  Throw them out and invent a hideous CatHawk trophy to hoard in victory and rule over ancient Egyptians if we ever meet them in some sort of Stargate scenario.


BYCTOM NBA PREVIEW

I am really excited for the return of professional basketball.  In that spirit, please peruse the ultimate and essential guide to every possible important scenario in professional basketball in question and answer format.

How long will the new-look Cavs take to lead the Eastern Conference?

There are two ways to look at this.  One is to balance the advanced statistics and likely strategies that the Cavaliers will employ since regaining the services of the greatest basketball player on earth and his superstar teammates.  This is for chumps who sit around watching basketball and printing out reams of paper on dot matrix printers while wearing orange basketball statistics visors.  The best way to determine anything involving the Cavaliers is to practice golfcartmancy, a method of reading the future by analyzing the patterns and attitudes of the people who patrol the James estate in golf carts, as popularized by the time reporters set up a tent city and besieged his Cleveland-area mansion until we as a species could determine where he would play basketball next season.  In the wake of the media circus, James has taken more measures to protect basketball secrets by hiring additional golf cart men, decoy golf cart men who are actually people dressed like golf carts, and submersible golf carts used to patrol his property’s water and check for scuba-diving reporters should he decide to opt out of his contract at the end of this season.  After meticulously observing the movements and patterns of his golf cart men, it appears that the CLEVELAND CAVALIERS will make the EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS.

Which Laker will die under mysterious circumstances during the season?

At some point, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to take a player out of the Staples Center in a body bag.  Maybe it’ll be Carlos Boozer, whose screams were never heard because he is pretty much always yelling and everyone who heard him yelling HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY ARRRRGHGHGHGHGHGH thought he was playing basketball.  Maybe it will be rookie Julius Randle, who vanishes after taking more than 10 shots.  Maybe it will be some other guy on the Lakers whose untimely death is notable because there was no prior evidence that played basketball professionally.  Maybe it will be Nick Young, whose Kobe-related obituary is already on file with the LA Times.  During the investigation, Byron Scott will refuse to use fingerprints, DNA, or any other modern techniques, arguing that if it was good enough for Allan Pinkerton, it's good enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. The murders would never be solved because they were all Speckled Banded by a mamba.

Will Derrick Rose regain his form and lead the Bulls to the Finals?

Derrick Rose will undergo an experimental Monkey's Paw procedure where he will wish for super strong knees.  His knees will indeed make him unstoppable but they will keep growing stronger and larger until he finds himself gradually turning into an anthropomorphic knee.  Derrick Rose's knee will lead the Bulls to the second round of the playoffs.

This is my most plausible prediction

Will the Phoenix Suns maintain their surprising rise?

The Phoenix Suns will be unstoppable this season because they added Zoran Dragic.  He and Goran will walk around off the court in matching shirtless vests as Double Dragic.  Mark Cuban will add Abobo from overseas to no avail.

What power plays does Jason Kidd have up his sleeve this season?
Kidd engineered a move to Milwaukee after attempting to seize control of player personnel from Billy King in Brooklyn.  Kidd had a tumultuous first year as head coach just a year after the end of his playing career.  He grew a comic book villain beard, oversaw a disappointing first half, orchestrated the first intentional beverage-related timeout, led the Nets to the second round of the playoffs, then feuded with his general manager, attempted to invade Silesia, invented the #trader hashtag, poisoned the Brooklyn Knight's jousting horse, and absconded to Milwaukee in the dead of night after vanishing from a Nets boardroom with a puff of smoke.  Once there, he made noises about letting the seven-foot Giannis Antetokounmpo run the point.  Jason Kidd may be capable of anything.  This season, he plans to coach with a goblet of wine in hand for emergency timeout situations, keep a bugout bag in his office, and deploy decoy Bango the Bucks spread throughout the arena to gather intelligence.

One has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because 
they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; 
therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one 
does not stand in fear of revenge

Where is Drew Gooden playing?  

Drew Gooden must play for every NBA team, and BYCTOM is a clearing house for Gooden movement.  Sadly, the Washington Wizards have retained his services for another season, but we can only hope he makes it to at least one other team by the end of the season.
 
The NBA is only 33.3% Goodened.  We can do better.

PIZZA CITY CALLS

Northwestern has two remaining home games, and both are winnable.  The 'Cats face a struggling Michigan team hellbent on defying road fields with stakes and climax with the possible ultimate showdown with Beck Man.  The possibly soon-to-be-erstwhile Illini coach may have helped salvage his job with a stunning win over West leader Minneosta.  The Illinois victory has thrown the West into further chaos.  Enjoy the last week of October because every football move must be evaluated not only in terms of bowl implications, but Hat consequences. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE SAFE FROM THE FOURTH QUARTER


This is Master of Horror Svengoolany bringing you to the depths of terror every Saturday with the most frightening programming imaginable: Big Ten Football.  Tremble at fumbles.  Cringe at special screams.  Try to sleep a full night after gazing into the grotesque dancing of man-sized gophers, badgers, wildcats, discarded rugs wearing a scarf, an anthropomorphic hammer-wielding chin made flesh.

Last week's feature left your mind boggled with fear as you gazed upon "Terrors from the Fourth Quarter 5: Another Quarter."  You watched as Northwestern fans walked into a creaky basement, stopping only to put their car keys in their most inaccessible pockets, separated individually, and turned off their flashlights.  But the rustling they heard was not a cat this time, it was Jalen Myrick leaping from the shadows, returning a kick 100 yards, and plunging a rusty farm implement into Northwestern's temporary control of the Big Ten West Division while cackling maniacally.

This week, we bring you night terrors.  A speed demon.  A town besieged by a scarlet horde taking over the stadium to their unspeakable ends.  An unfathomable head-bouncing avatar of corn's sinister possibilities.  And Ryan Field shrouded in darkness.

In the dead of night, when all is still and unnervingly quiet, in the distance you might be able to 
catch the faintest whisp of an unnatural mechanized yow yow sound echoing through the wind

GRAVE ROBBING

Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist.

Hablot Knight Brown's Ressurectionists (l.) depicts body-snatchers at work in the late eighteenth
century.  The corpse dissection industry caught the public imagination in Britain in 1828, when 
William Burke and William Hare were implicated in a string of murders in order to obtain salable 
corpses.  They sold them to Robert Knox, an anatomy lecturer who was never prosecuted, but 
was publicly derided for purchasing the bodies and because according to this picture of him, he 
looks really mad-scientisty

Justin Jackson looks harder to bring down every week.  The defense held against the bruising David Cobb.  And, despite his murderous name, Gopher Head Coach Jerry Kill did not kill anyone during the game at all.  Minnesota now controls the West.  This is much more satisfying than saying that a team controls the Legends because it sounds like teams are medieval warlords rather than rogue anthropologists.  Despite the deflating loss, Northwestern still played well, and the occasional backbreaking kick return touchdown with little time remaining in the fourth quarter seems just a normal part of the Northwestern football experience.

GOTHIC HORRORS

Last year, Nebraska turned Northwestern into a House of Horrors when an impish spirit took possession of Ron Kellogg III and delivered a stomach turning hail mary as a contribution to the Block Museusm exhibit on shitty football losses.  The Wildcats' bowl hopes looked dead after two gutting losses to open the season; they have been galvanized back into life with two big wins over Penn State and Wisconsin and now they lurch about, terrorizing Big Ten West opponents who have no idea what to make of them.

Northwestern football scientists reanimated dead tissue into a 
creature learning what it means to be human although it knew 
innately to protest against an unjust defensive holding penalty

Some people say sequels have diminishing returns, but you will be glued to your seat with the third straight edition of "Terrifying Running Back Is Lurking in the Backfield."  This week, Northwestern defenders will be looking in their rear-view mirror at what is that movement, oh that must just be from a truck that passed by, but there it is again and then oh my god it's Ameer Abdullah and his hook hand. Abdullah surely will be the focal point of whatever fiendish concoctions are cooked up by Bo Pelini and his coaching staff.
Pelini tries to sell skeptical Nebraska fans on the Black Cloak defense

Northwestern will hope to play another close, low-scoring game inspired by their suddenly fearsome defense.  The offense may be hampered by a banged-up Siemian as InsideNU's Zapruder film analysis of his ankle tape reveals.  The game should be a raucous Homecoming affair, with alumni coming from far and wide to take up nearly 50% of available stadium space.

But who knows what horrors may lurk again in the fourth quarter?  If a football game is a spooky mansion (this is a common metaphor in high-level football analysis), then the first through third quarters are wandering around the house only occasionally startled by a creak or by a painting of a duke with shifty eyes and then the clock chimes fourth and the stairways turn into ramps and the shifty-eyed duke is made flesh into a vengeful ghost duke and Ron Kellogg III and in fact all of the Ron Kelloggs are bending the time-space continuum and scoring on hail mary passes in three decades simultaneously.  If that happened, it would be bad.

PRIMAL FEAR AND NIGHT GAMES

It has been a rollercoaster season.  If Northwestern football kills you on Saturday, make sure that you are guarded against Victorian grave robbers and anatomists, or better yet take preventative measures and remove your heart right now and transplant it into a rampaging monster that learns about human emotions by watching the Wildcats.

The moon will rise above Ryan Field.  And it will bring with it the return of long-deceased late-night hauntings from Carlos Hyde, Denard Robinson, and Matt McGloin, that flame-headed hobgoblin of Northwestern football.  But do not be afraid.  But don't be afraid of the stadium's haunted past.  The ghosts of past defeats don't really exist like Frankenstein monsters and werewolves and Big Ten spots in the College Football Playoff. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Invincible Fortress Evanston

As the clock approached midnight on December 31, 1999, there were three types of people: those celebrating the end of the twentieth century, those huffily refusing to celebrate for another year making a brave stand for joy-killing pedantry, and those who sat huddled with rifles waiting for our dial-up modems to rise up and tie us to railroad tracks.  All three of those types are now joining us in the twenty-first century, when we can illegally stream football from other continents, when we wait for our cable modems to murder us all, where Wisconsin has failed to win a football game at Ryan Field.

Chaos Week, certified by thousands of hash-tag notaries, was here!  A college football Carnival where top-ranked teams lost, unranked teams ruled the day, and goalposts were pillaged.  A day where, somehow, Northwestern sits atop the Big Ten West, with dreams of a crappy bowl game now dancing through our minds.
 
Current Big Ten West standings

After sputtering through two losses, Northwestern is now in the driver's seat in their division.  They will face off against Minnesota for first place this Saturday.  And, this week, they revealed they will be playing a homecoming night game against Nebraska while dressed like the Castle of Otranto.
 
Here's a Wikipedia Sentence that describes the plot of Horace Walpole's gothic novel
"Shortly before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic 
helmet that falls on him from above."  In case you were wondering what makes 
this a Wikipedia Sentence rather than a regular sentence, it is the specific detail 
that the helmet falls on him from above instead of crushing him from below or 
from the sides, from the other other gigantic helmets you didn't even know were there

It's been an exciting week for Wildcat football.

NO ESCAPE FROM RYAN FIELD

Ryan Field is a picturesque place to watch a football game.  It has grass and towers and a tarp.  It is located near Chicago's Big Ten public transportation.  It is probably the worst home field advantage in the country.  Opposing fans invariably swarm the stadium, debase the stands with their reds and yellows and maizes and oranges, and occasionally force the offense to use a silent snap count.  Yet, for whatever reason, Wisconsin has lost its last four games against Northwestern in Evanston.  A rational person would note that the Wildcats notched three close victories (including the spectacular 51-48 Tyrell Sutton breakout game in 2005 where both teams refused to play defense) while getting blown out repeatedly in Madison.  But if you were a rational person, you would certainly not be wasting your time reading this blog, so it's clear that Wisconsin players are intimidated by fist claws, by the yow yow wildcat sound they play over the PA system, by the Foster-Walker complex.

Everyone expected the Badgers to run all over the Wildcat defense.  Wisconsin coaches climb beanstalks to recruit their offensive linemen, and Melvin Gordon is a human locomotive.  He rushed for a career-high 259 yards and seemed poised to explode for a 50-yard gain every time he touched the ball.  Yet, it was the Northwestern defense that carried the day by seizing four interceptions, including three by freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike in his first start.  It was the second consecutive breakout game from a freshman defender after Anthony Walker's debut against Penn State.  Badger fans, however, remain baffled at their coaching staff's decision to call passing plays late in the game while Gordon remained their most dangerous offensive threat.
 
Wisconsin coaches instruct their evil ninjas to circle Black Belt Jones and attack 
him one at a time.  It's called playing the percentages

Northwestern's offense seems to improve every week.  Freshman running back Justin Jackson, had an impressive game in his own right with 162 yards.  Tony Jones and Dan Vitale have given Siemian steady options to move the chains; Kyle Prater is finally healthy and Pratering people. 

But something more important happened last Saturday.  Northwestern entered the fourth quarter with a lead.  Northwestern entered the fourth quarter with the lead against a ranked opponent.  Northwestern entered the fourth quarter with the lead and instead of fumbling nine consecutive times or throwing fifteen interceptions or committing personal fouls with overly-extravagant timeout gestures or the heavens opening up and a ray of light shining down upon Joel Stave who then turns into a many-armed Russell Wilson/Jim Sorgi/Scott Tolzien avatar of Wisconsin quarterbacking which makes him really good at handing off and also occasionally completing passes and then throwing five consecutive hail marys to Melvin Gordon, nothing happened.  The Badgers approached the endzone.  Igwebuike picked off the pass.  The Wildcats held on.
 
Godwin Igwebuike's Law: As a Wisconsin game grows longer, the 
probability of a ridiculous Wisconsin interception on a pass play 
when Melvin Gordon is literally in the backfield approaches 1

LOOKING DOWN AT THE BIG TEN FROM A LOFTY PERCH

Minnesota and Northwestern sit atop the Big Ten West.  The Gophers are 4-1 this season, with their only loss to TCU.  Their signature win this season was at Michigan, where they waxed a Wolverine team in complete and utter disarray and reclaimed their jug trophy.  Minnesota plays rivalry games for a jug, a pig, and an axe as they try to complete the Triple Crown of Hillbilly Accoutrements.  There's no trophy at stake this week other than control of the division as the Big Ten and college football continues to eat itself in an upset ouroboros.

Conference play has come, and Big Ten teams can safely retreat to their thunderdomes to clobber each other in peace, insulated from the braying mockery of the national media.  There is still upheaval.  Michigan has fallen apart.  Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke have been confined to the Touliers Palace. 
 
Hoke and Brandon attempt to flee to Windsor, Ontario, but are captured when 
Brandon's face is recognized from a Domino's coupon

At the bottom of the conference, Illinois fell to lowly Purdue at home.  The loss casts a pall over the Beckman Era.  Illinois supporters have grown restless with their coach, who has managed a single conference victory.  A rogue Wikipedia editor has added a section to his page entitled "Public Outcry."  There are vultures circling the Castle Beckman.  He may not last the season.  All of us can only hope that he turns it around and wins a few because nothing in college football has brought me greater joy Tim Beckman's War on Northwestern.  

GOOD GRAVY, NORTHWESTERN IS A DECENT TEAM BY BIG TEN STANDARDS

What are we to make of this Wildcat team?  They went from encouraging to despair to looking like a bowl team.  They only need three more wins, and Big Ten victories apparently come more easily than to Pac-12 and MAC opponents.  They have decisive home and road victories over Big Ten title hopefuls. 

Minnesota is in the same position, hoping to take the pole position in the topsy-turvy West.  They don't feature any superstars like Penn State's Hackenberg or Wisconsin's Gordon, but they also don't have a glaring achilles heel like Penn State's self-blocking linemen or Wisconsin's nineteenth-century passing attack.  We're in a dangerous place as Northwestern fans, with our expectations raised just enough to be dashed.  But this team's steadfast refusal to Northwestern itself in Big Ten play has gone from puzzling to exciting.  Regardless of what happens in Minneapolis, Nebraska will have to come into the Invincible Fortress Evanston where they face the impossible pressure of not embarrassing themselves in front of the stands full of Husker fans. 

Fist pump.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tremble Big Ten, Unironically

These were the facts heading into Saturday's contest in Happy Valley: Northwestern would be playing at Penn State's homecoming (Northwestern is a perennial Homecoming Opponent, forever treated by the Big Ten as the first or second guy Van Damme fights in a Van Damme is kicking everyone's ass montage in one of those infinite Van Damme movies where Van Damme is in an underground fighting tournament for money, for love, for United States foreign policy objectives).  Northwestern had played poorly in its first three games.  Penn State was undefeated, and now allowed to appear in post-season games.  And the Big Ten is a festering cauldron of nonsense football.

What I don't think anyone expected was for Northwestern to flatten Penn State for a decisive 29-6 win on the road.  This was Penn State's worst loss at home since getting clobbered by the legendary 2001 Miami Hurricanes team.  The Wildcats' defense held Penn State's highly-touted quarterback Christian Hackenberg to 22 completions on 45 attempts for 216 yards.  The Lions managed only 50 yards on the ground.  By the end of the game, discombobulated Penn State offensive linemen were out of answers and attempted to slam into each other while yelling "WHY ARE YOU BLOCKING YOURSELF."  This did not help.
 
An alternative explanation involves deep-seated subterfuge and hypnosis in what's known as the 
Manchurian Blocker theory

Trevor Siemian looked crisper, repeatedly finding a wide-open Dan Vitale moving through the middle of the field, a desolate area abandoned by Penn State defenders.  Justin Jackson and Warren Long led the rushing attack, although it was Siemian who cashed in three rushing touchdowns from the one yard-line and should now be referred to as "Touchdown Sneakian."  On defense, the story was freshman Anthony Walker who started his first game at linebacker and appeared everywhere on the field at once.  He essentially ended the game by scoring on an interception in a tribute to his injured comrade Colin Ellis.  Northwestern's defense looked like it could keep the 'Cats in games while the offense rounds into shape.

CANCEL THIS

Myths and legends are much more of a daily part of our lives than we like to imagine.  We swim in a sea of apocryphal common knowledge.  Our understanding of the world around us is shaped by half-remembered lectures shrouded by daydreams, discredited theories, misinformed relatives, television, and That Great Deceiver Wikipedia.  The things we don't just think we know but we know we know are riven with cracks and papered over by over-simplifications, false anecdotes, even outright lies.

I'm sure there are nuanced reasons why the Vanderbilt Athletic Department canceled its series with Northwestern.  I'm sure the addition of two new conference teams wreaked havoc with their scheduling.  But it's way better to imagine a furious James Franklin angrily clearing his desk of Commodore memorabilia with one sweep of his forearm and shouting CANCEL THEM into a red hotline phone that handles football scheduling emergencies.  I've been regularly taunting Vanderbilt for abandoning the series as The Assassination of the Northwestern-Vanderbilt Rivalry by the Coward James Franklin because I strongly believe that any time you get a chance to make fun of someone for ducking Northwestern and you have a high-powered and influential blog like this one you take it.

I've recently learned that certain corners of the 
internet refer to Franklin as "CJF," which stands 
for Coach James Franklin.  I really like how "Coach" 
is an honorific title like Lord Palmerston or 
Captain Cook or Chairman Kaga

In any event, Northwestern traveled to Happy Valley and unexpectedly ruined their Homecoming festivities, which is close to the platonic ideal of a Northwestern road victory.  The win also jolted the Big Ten, which has been usurped by chaos and uncertainty as these flailing programs start to play each other.  The conference in the midst of a Carnival season, where boring agents of stability and order have fallen apart and no one knows if any of these teams is actually decent.  Only Nebraska remains unbeaten.  Ohio State lost a Heisman-caliber quarterback.  Michigan is so bad that its students are staging literal demonstrations against the athletic director. 
 
Legend has it that a campus screening of a football-related opera ignited a fervor 
amongst Michigan students who took to the quad demanding independence from 
their athletic director Dave Brandon.  Brandon, the former CEO of Domino's Pizza, 
remained defiant, and as of press time was constructing a balcony that could be 
used to taunt protesting students while preparing to advance on the crowd with his 
personal elite noid guard

Northwestern might be ok enough to win games in the Big Ten West.  Four more wins might be possible.  Everything is up for grabs.

BADGER-BAITED

What is certain is that Wisconsin is among the best teams in the Big Ten.  The Badgers' sole loss was to Les Miles's LSU team from the Invincible SEC West filled with teams that can only be defeated by other SEC West teams much like how Highlanders can only chop off each others' heads.

Nick Saban celebrates a 2013 win over Texas A&M on the roof of 

A&M's Department of 1980s Production Values

This year's Wisconsin team wins games by doing the same Wisconsin shit they have been doing since time immemorial.  They have a stable of a stable of excellent running backs led by Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon running behind giants.  With Joel Stave out, Wisconsin has gone Full Wisconsin and started converted safety Tanner McEvoy at quarterback.  There are few certainties in this world, and it is a comfort to know that Wisconsin is still Wisconsinning at people nearly 20 years after the reign of terror perpetuated by Ron Dayne. 

Northwestern put up a stellar defensive effort against Penn State, but Wisconsin will be a far tougher challenge.  The Penn State offensive line had been a concern all year while the Wisconsin line is an anthropomorphic ozone layer.  If two Wisconsin linemen accidentally block each other, the result would be a seismic calamity orders of magnitude beyond a catastrophic Jump Around  mishap.  Gordon himself will give the Wildcat defenders fits if he gets any space.  Certainly, Wisconsin is one of the most difficult matchups left on Northwestern's schedule.  Even at home, Ryan Field will be at least half full of Wisconsin fans braying at Siemian. 

At least Wisconsin will not be bringing this abominable Terror Badger to horrify 
petrified spectators and unsuspecting Evanston residents on the second floor of 
their homes

As excited as we were by last week's romp at Penn State, the Badgers will be heavy favorites.  The Badgers have designs on a Big Ten Championship.  As we all know, though, the true Big Ten Champion this season is Chaos.

LET US BECOME UNREASONABLY CONFIDENT

Which Northwestern team is the real Northwestern team?  Is it the team that looked lost during the first half against Cal and in disarray against Northern Illinois?  Is it the team that failed to pulverize Western Illinois to a satisfactory pulp?  Or it the team that shut down Penn State's offense and sent thousands of disappointed Nittany Lion fans home to their Unhappy Mountains in the fourth quarter and frustrated the James Franklin, the Apocryphal Dodger?  There is no doubt that the Wildcats can match up in the post-Big Ten Big Ten.  There is no doubt that the Badgers have a very good team that views Northwestern as a stepping stone to the conference championship game.  And there is no doubt that, if the game is close, we'll only be able to see if this is a new Northwestern team by how completely and utterly insane things will get in the fourth quarter starting at a baseline Northwestern Football Fourth Quarter Chaos Scale that starts at major natural disaster, reaches a middle of expected Godzilla attack, crescendos into unexpected Godzilla attack, and tops out at 2013 Northwestern vs. Nebraska.

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.