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.