Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Northwestern Football is Back

With the first week of practice, it's nearly college football season and it cannot come soon enough. After watching the Cubs' inevitable descent back into mediocrity due to untimely injuries (for example, take a look at this Tom Gorzelanny injury where he gets hit in the foot with the ball and then tries to feebly throw a man out at the plate only to wobble backwards like Lee Van Cleef trying to get off a last shot at Clint Eastwood before Eastwood shoots him and then his hat into a convenient open grave), stranding base runners, and incompetent relief pitching, I am more than ready to see purple helmets smashing into things.

A visual representation of the Cubs bullpen this season. The worst whammy in the 'pen
has been Kevin Gregg, who in the month of August has blown leads in 3 of his last five
appearances (including giving up back-to-back home runs for a walkoff in hated
Dolphin Stadium.

The most fascinating pitcher on the Cubs' roster is Carlos Marmol, the ace set-up man whose command apparently evidently got honked out of him at the World Baseball Classic. Since the Cubs seem reluctant to send him down to the farm or buy him some Ricky Vaughn glasses, it's time to reevaluate how they use him. I suggest inventing a new role for him, which I call the Base-Open One-Out Specialist (or BOOOS). Imagine that the Cubs have somehow managed to allow baserunners to score instead of vanishing into the ether of strikeouts, popouts, and poorly-timed double plays, and they are winning a close ballgame in the late innings. Aaron Heilman, fresh from practicing throwing meatballs or accidentally setting forest fires or feeding gremlins after midnight has managed to put runners on second and third with Carlos Lee or Prince Fielder, or Jose Valentin coming up to the plate. This is the time for Marmol.

In this situation, the ideal outcome is a strikeout and the favored strategy is an intentional walk. Carlos Marmol basically only walks or strikes people out. In 249 plate appearances, he's given up only 30 hits with a single home run. On the other hand, he has struck out 64, walked 52, intentionally walked 3, and hit a National League-leading 11 batsmen, comprising a total of 52% of all plate appearances. Of the remaining 119 plate appearances, hitters have only turned them into hits or sacrifices about 26% of the time. Marmol gets batters out a shaky 62% of the time, but in a situation where a walk is not not detrimental, he gets a favorable outcome (an out, walk, or hit batsman) approximately 88% of the time (PA/100-(hits+sacrifices)) by my shoddy, misleading, and irresponsibly extrapolated calculations. The remaining twelve percent chance of disaster, of course, does not include the possibility of wild pitches or massive suspensions resulting from the bench-clearing donnybrook caused by an errant Marmol fastball.

It's called playing the percentages. It's what smart managers
do to win ballgames.


With camp beginning, the Northwestern stories have begun trickling in, including this one about Freshman running back Arby Fields, another small back hoping to follow in the footsteps of Tyrell Sutton. With Arby Fields and Mike Kafka, the Wildcat backfield is among NCAA leaders in terrible headline pun potential as national sports editors cackle over their carefully constructed groaners about sandwiches and existentialist bohemian literary figures.

Hard-Bitten Editor: Run with this: Kafka leads Northwestern metamorphosis into
BCS contender
Brezhnev-eyebrowed news consumer: I cannot wait for mutually-assured nuclear


Northwestern has been playing (and generally flailing helplessly against) its hated Big Ten conference foes for well over a century. I decided to look into the College Football Data Warehouse as well as the excellent NU historical information at Hailtopurple in order to determine the Wildcats' (and, the Fighting Methodists' and The Purple's) greatest foes outside the Big Ten. The University of Chicago, of course, counts as a Big Ten member as they left the conference in 1939 and last played Northwestern in 1926. Perhaps it's best that they're gone, as NU went only 8-26 against the Maroons, a college football power whose onfield prowess vanished with the men's hat.

Northwestern's greatest non-conference enemy remains contempible Notre Dame, who holds an 8-37 record against the Wildcats. Four of the Northwestern wins came in a row, from 1959-62 during the Ara Parseghian era, after which he moved onto Notre Dame, and the Irish took the next 14 in a row. Northwestern were Notre-Dame natural early rivals, competing for the Chicago area and to determine which group has the fiercest "Fighting" mascot after the Fighting Shakers were no longer able to field a competitive side.

The Fighting Shakers intimidate the competition with a fearsome dance known
for its elegant simplicity

Although Northwestern's football past is often maligned by college football pundits and Big Ten opponent fanbases, a look at the schedule reveals some remarkable successes. For example, in terms of academic might, the Wildcats are undfeated against the Ivy League, having defeated Darthmouth, Cornell, and Harvard Prep School. NU has also beaten hated rivals Chicago Dental College twice, with an erroneously-recorded loss rectifed by Hailtopurple detective work. Wins over programs such as Northwestern Dental, Illinois Physicians and Surgeons, and Hahnemann Medical college leaves the 'Cats 11-2 over all medical schools, and undefeated against all dental schools, leading to forgotten nineteenth century fight song "Bring your dentists, they're our meat."

A recreation of nemesis Chicago Dental College's logo based on
the Iron Law of Dental Logos, which requires
anthropomorphic teeth.

The most wins by a Northwestern team over a non-conference opponent is sixteen against Lake Forest College followed closely by twelve over Beloit College, and ten against Evanston High School. For more legitimate wins against opponents that still exist, are colleges in the FBS, and played Northwestern since the fallout from the Teapot Dome scandal had comfortably subsided, Northwestern has eight wins against Duke, seven against Iowa State, and is undefeated at 6-0 against Northern Illinois, who ought to be on the schedule more often so that Husky fans can gear up for the game by ritualistically draping Wildcat effigies in barbed wire.

Joseph F. Glidden looks disdainfully upon
Northern's football performance against the Wildcats

Without Northern Illinois, Northwestern is 7-9 against the MAC, including a heartbreaking Motor City Bowl loss to Bowling Green and an uninspiring 2-6 record against Miami (Ohio), who dealt the 'Cats their only regular season loss in the 1995 season.


The legacy of Turkmenbashi, the late Leader of All Ethinc Turkmen and official BYCTOM post-Soviet Central Asian strongman, lives on in another insane public works project. According to this article by Luke Harding, Turkmenistan president Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov is attempting to build a giant lake in the middle of the Karakum desert. The, project, dubbed the "Golden Age Lake," was dreamed up in 2006 by Turkmenbashi and glorified in state-run newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan. The difference between a run-of-the-mill report of an ill-conceived lake in the middle of nowhere story and one set in Turkmenistan is that other articles don't contain this sentence:

"The president then rode off on a jewellery-bedecked horse, climbed into his helicopter and flew back to the capital, Ashgabat."

Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov only makes an appearance at press
conferences after the audience has satisfactorally unfocused their
eyes and stared at the backdrop long enough to see him or lie about it

In comparison to building a lake in the middle of nowhere without causing a highly expected ecological catastrophe, Northwestern's task of getting to another bowl game seems easy. On the other hand, a careful analysis of the schedule involving a jeweler's eye and a green accounting visor reveals that there are zero dental colleges on the roster. On the other hand, Northwestern can expect a
(hard-bitten editor's note: KAFKA EXPECTS FIRST GAME WILL BE A TRIAL/ARBY FIELDS SAYS HE HAS NO BEEF WITH TOWSON see kid, that's how you sell papers)

1 comment:

NorthwesternHighlights.com said...

I'm a sucker for Homer at the Bat references, but "bring your dentists, they're our meat" topped it.