Keep going east, men, what could possibly go wrong?
The Wildcats are 5-0 and ranked #24 in the AP Poll with only one win standing between them and a wretched bowl game. Of course, Northwestern fans are dreaming bigger with the dire state of the Big Ten. What looked to be a rebuilding year could be a triumph for Pat Fitzgerald and his invincible legions of perfect footballmen.
Meanwhile, the Northwestern trustees have approved a quarter-billion dollar football facility upgrade that will ensure that the team gets all of the triangular weights, vibrating belt machines, and tug of war ropes that they need to keep their competitive edge against other programs.
The facilities should have everything a modern college football program needs to succeed at the
RUSH AND ATTACK
Northwestern's offense took off against South Dakota, and exploded for a school-record 704 yards against Indiana. Kain Colter, Venric Mark, and Mike Trumpy have formed a three-headed rushing monster that has become unstoppable against inept defenses that specialize in mystified flailing (chin up, Hoosiers. We'll meet one day in the Big Ten Championship game through a combination of bowl bans, a flu that hits every city but Evanston and Bloomington, or a national obsession with Australian Rules football that leaves the two squads as the only rump club teams in the conference).
The 'Cats raced out to a 27-0 lead against Indiana until the third quarter struck and the team decided to momentarily terrify Northwestern fans.
The third quarter triggers a horrifying transformation for Northwestern's defense,
much like how Lon Chaney transformed from the mild mannered Dr. Jeckyll to
a guy who just put some Boston on the jukebox and c'mon it's Boston what
are you you going to do, just sit there huddled in the corner let's go get out
there, c'mon, I love this one, let's go, alright fine, but the next four plays are
all going to be Speedwagon
Colter rushed for 161 yards, grabbed another 131 yards receiving, scored four touchdowns, and returned to the multifaceted skill position role he played with Dan Persa last year. Meanwhile, Siemian connected for more than 300 yards in the air, and Venric Mark continued to do Venric Mark things. The ability to play Colter and Siemian at the same time should open up some interesting trick plays, including one where Colter disguises himself as an official and fakes an illegal shift flag on himself before running amongst confused defenders for an easy score.
Things get tougher for Northwestern as they have to do the unthinkable and leave the welcoming confines of Ryan Field for the first time in a month. Penn State is certainly a program in disarray as the dust from the criminal investigation and NCAA sanctions settles and the wind sweeps away the makeshift Joe Paterno Ozymandii from the tailgate parking lots. The Nittany Lions are improving after a not entirely shocking slow start against Ohio and Virginia. They've handily beaten Navy and Temple, and they clobbered an Illinois team that looks bad enough to surrender The Hat to the rightful collective heads of the Northwestern faithful. Though Northwestern is undefeated and ranked, they will go into Happy Valley as underdogs.
Penn State has been a perpetual obstacle for Northwestern who have beaten the Lions in only three of fifteen tries. The last Northwestern win came in 2004 and half of 2010.
Dan Persa runs for a touchdown during his glorious return to
Pennsylvania, where he led the 'Cats to a 21-0 first half lead in
his home state and then I turned off the game and just assume
everything went swimmingly from there
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has successfully passed for more than 400 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions in his two games against Northwestern. Running back and Dickensian villain Silas Redd, who effortlessly ran through the Wildcat defense last year, has transferred to USC, though he still returns to State College to berate the indigent workers at his iron foundries and get his tophats and pince-nez fitted.
Workers asking for a Christmas goose can expect threats of dismissal, stiff arms,
and chop blocks
The Northwestern offense will face its stiffest test yet. Penn State's defense is currently fourteenth in the country in points allowed (a little over 13) and has given up just 127.8 rushing yards per game (Northwestern is ranked 14th in rushing yards allowed with a stingy 90), and I imagine that Colter and Mark will have a tougher time getting to the edge. On defense, Northwestern will have to contain Allen Robinson, who already has 32 catches for 439 yards and 5 TDs. I expect Bill O'Brien to test the Wildcat passing defense early with long passes, play-action, and a diabolical series of riddles delivered to the Northwestern sideline in wax-sealed parchments that will distract the DBs by making them search the Penn State bench for the secret to their defense while being unaware, for example, that the signals are stored on backup quarterback Steve Bench.
THANK GOODNESS THE BASEBALL SEASON IS OVER
The success of Northwestern has fortunately overshadowed a dark baseball time for Chicago. The White Sox surprised everyone by challenging Detroit for the AL Central title, but sputtered in their final few weeks. The Cubs, on the other hand, were out of it on April 2. They barnstormed to 101 losses as they train-hopped from city to city bringing opposing fans joy with their ineptitude on the mound, in the field, and in the batters' box. The pitching struggles could be partially explained by the inexperienced bullpen and loss of three top starting pitchers to trades and injury; no term better explains the Cubs in the second half than "staff ace Jeff Samardzija." They also finished close to the bottom in runs scored and tied the Astros for dead last in OPB with a paltry .302. The only chance Cubs fans will have to see the ivy turn brown on TV for the next several years will involve a deranged White Sox fan poisoning it and then calling in a radio show before signing off with "Let's go, go-go damn Sox."
The Cubs' futility was expected this season as Epstein and Hoyer are committing to a scorched-earth rebuilding program. They seem to have found a first baseman in Anthony Rizzo. Starlin Castro may inspire heated debates in mustard-soaked Cub fan antechambers, but he has become an elite league leader in making outs. Other prospects may take awhile to arrive. Neither Josh Vitters nor Brett Jackson seemed ready in their limited debuts; Jackson struck out in nearly 40% of his at-bats and was last seen with a shopping bag full of Jobu dolls.
The 2012 campaign has taken a toll on Theo Epstein, who plans to spend the
winter meetings ranting about those damn trains and gumming things
I expect the Cubs to make the playoffs when Bud Selig or any Future Bud Selig equivalents decide to do the right thing and allow all teams to make the playoffs, although the first round will be one game where teams rotate pitching, batting, and fielding and are eliminated on an inning-by-inning basis and then they have to flee from robotic tigers or a professional scythe-wielding bounty hunter named The Rt. Hon. Justice of the Scythe in order to escape because we all know that future sports immediately turn into horrifying post-apocalyptic death sports with elaborate betting systems for some reason.
Until then, we can be nothing but patient as the Cubs stave off triple digit losing seasons, failed prospects, nincompoopical base running, and all of the other hallmarks of hopeless baseball. In other words, it's basically reverting to pretty much every year of the Cubs, so you might as well stock up on overpriced bleacher tickets and t-shirts about drinking beer and try to inadvertently injure someone in a drunken high-five gone awry as Cubs fans have for generations.
Northwestern has gotten to 5-0 with a string of narrow and occasionally harrowing victories over opponents who do not exactly bring to mind Notre Dame's Four Horsemen. The Penn State came may well be a sobering preview of a difficult end of the season. While no Big Ten team has looked like world beaters, it also means that they will be unlikely to take the Wildcats lightly as they will also be scrapping for every conference win they can get in order to get a chance to be publicly humiliated in the Rose Bowl. A win at Penn State, however, does a lot to show that Northwestern's record is not a scheduling fluke. I expect the Wildcats to go up 65-0 in the first half, then allow seven consecutive Penn State touchdowns before tackling Robinson three inches from the goal line as time expires and then Pat Fitzgerald explodes on the field leaving a pile of oakleys, crew cuts, and headphones.