Thursday, December 31, 2015


The ball will drop on 2015 and the curtain will  rise on a bowl sponsored by a dubiously Australian chain restaurant in stadium with a pirate ship.  The Outback Bowl pits a surprise 10-2 Northwestern team gunning for a record eleventh win, continuation of a storied bowl winning streak, and the coveted Crystal Boomerang.

Much like the #WEARABLEHAT campaign, this blog site endorses the 
#DETACHABLEBOOMERANG because you should be able to menace a group of Kangaroos, 
which Wikipedia tells me can be called a mob, a troop, or a court

The most disappointing thing about the Outback Bowl is not its exclusion from the mysterious New Year's Six grouping or its noon kickoff time in the Eastern time zone; it is the lack of absurd and bogus Australian trappings.  The Outback people should have the game announced by a perplexed Australian Rules Football broadcaster who spends the entire time making fun of the teams for wearing helmets and padding and unable, under the rules of football, to jump on each others' heads.  The chain gang should should be replaced by a pair of taxidermied kangaroo hands like in this classic Australian television program.

Skippy's tiny paws signal fourth and inches


The 2016 Outback Bowl marks a return from a two-year bowl wilderness.  The Wildcats had managed to make five in a row, climaxing in the 2013 drought-snapping Gator Bowl that marked their first postseason win since 1949 and the savage demolition of a monkey stuffed animal, its head paraded to a press conference like it was a scene from Christopher Nolan's Curious George.  Now, the Wildcats not only return to bowl play but get a chance to exorcise the ghosts of Raymond James Stadium.

Five years ago, Northwestern played in its first Outback Bowl against Auburn. The opening kickoff shattered the space-time continuum and the rest of the game was played in an alternate dimension, one identical to our own world with the exception that football games become maelstroms of insanity.  Quarterback Mike Kafka was simultaneously the best and worst player in the game, in a performance that cannot be described with a literary reference.  He threw five interceptions but also scored five touchdowns.  His 47 completions (on 78 attempts! This would be remarkable, but remember this football game took place in an alternate dimension), 532 passing yards and also his five picks all set Outback Bowl records.  The 'Cats came back from 14 down twice in the second half and took to the game to overtime.  During overtime, Auburn hit a field goal.  As Northwestern attempted to tie it, kicker Stefan Demos was injured. Undaunted, the Wildcats lined up for another attempt as Fitz signaled in the the play, the World's Most Obvious Fake Field Goal.  It failed, Northwestern lost, and the hole in space-time sealed; no evidence of the game exists except for Kafka's Outback Bowl records and the existence of the 2010 direct-to-video Bulgarian Steven Seagal movie Born to Raise Hell.

According to an anonymous IMDB contributor
"Fueled with vengeance, he leads us on an action 
packed thrill ride while avenging his friend's death." 
If Northwestern and Auburn had played a normal 
football game in our dimension, Steven Seagal 
would have starred in a Bulgarian action movie called 
"Headbutt Mercenary" where a vengeance-fueled 
Seagal avenges his partner's death, vengefully

The 2010 Outback Bowl is somehow not the most insane way that Northwestern has lost a bowl game in the twenty-first century.

If the last Outback Bowl is not enough for you, then the Northwestern Wildcats have a bone to pick with the University of Tennessee.  They last met in the 1997 Citrus Bowl.  The '96 Cats repeated as Big Ten champions and returned Fitzgerald, Darnell Autrey, Steve Schnur, and many of the 1995 Rose Bowl mainstays.  The Volunteers had Peyton Manning, who went on to a glittering NFL career highlighted by several prominent commercials and getting to be on the same team as Trevor Siemian.  Manning strafed the vaunted Northwestern defense using his arm and the secret third eye hidden in his gigantic forehead, and Tennessee prevailed 48-28.  This is the only game these two teams have ever played so the stakes have never been higher; Knoxville-area Northwestern alumni are prepared to launch a "do you remember when you beat us eighteen years ago? No? Well, you did, and now we are even" parade at a moment's notice.


Tennessee football is a program on the rise.  They finished 8-4, with two losses to playoff powerhouses Oklahoma and Alabama.  They share with Northwestern a disdain for deceitful and unsporting passing offenses, ranking 98th in total passing yards to Northwestern's Roosevelt-era 122nd.

Northwestern's complex offense broken down

I have not watched a single second of Tennessee football this season and have no idea what to expect.  They have an excellent running back in Jalen Hurd, a quarterback who doesn't turn it over, and a good defense that will need to contain Justin Jackson from The Ball Carrying Northwestern into better punting position.  Though they are ranked below Northwestern, odds-makers favor them heavily over the Wildcats.  Northwestern has managed to bludgeon its opponents with its defense all season and eke out close wins.  The question is whether Anthony Walker, Dean Lowry, and the rest of the tackling horde can hold off the Vols even without injured star cornerback Nick VanHoose.  While the numbers people, the gambling community, and the general Knoxville area believes that Tennessee will win in a romp, there are several factors that can contribute to an Outback Bowl upset, according to the latest science.

The latest science

Clayton Thorson: Northwestern's freshman quarterback has not put up gaudy passing statistics this year, but he does have one thing that can tilt the game in Northwestern's favor-- the ability to take off on ungainly gallumphing runs that freeze opponents in disbelief at their majesty.  Here's how Northwestern media guides describe Thorson's runs:
The Thorson was sprinting down the High Street. He was running so fast his black cloak was streaming out behind him like the wings of a bird. Each stride he took was as long as a tennis court. Out of the village he ran, and soon they were racing across the moonlit fields. The hedges dividing the fields were no problem to the Thorson. He simply strode over them. A Purdue defense appeared in his path. He crossed it in one flying stride.
Big Kick Jack Mitchell

The Annexation of Tampa: Northwestern has declared itself Tampa's Big Ten Team, thus securing home field advantage, according to the age-old NCAA rule "Whatever Team first declares itself the Official Big Ten Team of that City, Village, Dwelling, or Post-Apocalyptic Thunderdome-adjecent Settlement becomes the Home Team for the Football Contest by proclaiming it on a Bus.  All otherwise-unaffiliated Residents of said City must comply with the Home Team Advantage for the duration of the Bowl-Game under penalty of Chop Block. This is the Law, we can really enforce this."

Northwestern unilaterally declaring itself the official Big Ten Team of a variety of indifferent 
cities is the greatest marketing gimmick of all time that would only be better if it were done 
by a cape-wearing administrator and his or her retinue of trumpeters and parchment-holders

An Unorthodox Travel Route to Tampa: Traveling west, across the continent, crossing the Pacific, taking the Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow and continuing across Europe and finally sailing across the Atlantic, rounding Florida to the Gulf of Mexico and into Tampa Bay, the Northwestern Wildcats mitigate the ruination of their body clocks.

General Northwestern Bowl Insanity: Northwestern does not play football in bowl games.  Instead, the team agonizes through a series of trials, calamities, and triumphs that I am currently selling as a Young Adult book trilogy called The Onsiders: A Sun Bowl Novel.  The 2010 Outback Bowl is just one small example the chaos-laden world that a Northwestern bowl game thrusts fans into.  By the end of the game, it is entirely possible that the game has, against all predictions, turned into a shootout, that the pirate ship has become fully operational and in the throes of a mutiny, that Pat Fitzgerald is pumping his fists at another Fitzgerald that is wearing an eye patch, or that Northwestern may even somehow win eleven games.


The Outback Bowl is the culmination of one the greatest seasons in the history of Northwestern football.  The Wildcats can, with a win, win two consecutive bowl games for the first time, win eleven games for the first time, win the Outback bowl for the first time, beat Tennessee for the first time, and win a bowl game without severing the head of a plush monkey doll for the first time since 1949.  This has been a season of outrageous fortune, reversing two years of seeming to be on the end of every bad break and bounce possible to continually seize close wins.  Perhaps it is possible that the 'Cats can pull out one more in 2016, hoisting that crystal boomerang to the sky, and putting it in its rightful place next to the Hat. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015


 at!  The Hat has returned to its rightful place in Evanston after the Northwestern Wildcats managed to pry it from the heads of the Illini.  Last year, a miserable debacle, the Hat game to end all Hat games with an appropriately miserable bowl berth on the line, the Illini won.  Northwestern turned the ball over four consecutive times and Northwestern's Hat-Nemesis Tim Beck Man stood in Ryan Field cackling as his three-year reign of madness in Champaign finally culminated in him hoisting the Land of Lincoln trophy to a horrified purple throng.  "Look upon this Hat," he bellowed defiantly.  "This justifies my ludicrous three year anti-Northwestern campaign.  This is normal! This is normal!"

In the year since, things have changed.  Tim Beckman became Shit Canman.  Bill Cubit, toiling as interim, took over the Illinois program in perpetuity, the Cubit name guaranteed to ring across Illini football for two entire years.  Northwestern rode a spectacular defense, a running game led by Justin Jackson-TheBallCarrier, and the sane and rational decisions of referees to a 10-2 record, a national ranking, and a bowl game.

Clayton Thorson came out firing in the first half as the 'Cats scored three touchdowns.  It appeared as though the Wildcats had spent the entire season refusing to throw before unveiling the Trojan Pass in the crucial Hat Game.  In the second half, though, Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall turned to their innovative Run 'n Punt offense, relying on Jackson The Ball Carrier to Carry The Ball while the defense took over.  All-Big Ten linebacker Anthony Walker terrorized the Illini backfield and the Wildcat secondary kept the passing game in check.  They were helped out by Illinois receivers who dropped an almost unfathomable number of balls-- Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt had a much better day than the box score indicates.  No sequence better sums up the snake-bitten Illini than their effective drive to a fourth-and-one near the Northwestern goal line.  The Illini lined up to go for it, then false-started.  Down ten, Cubit decided to kick a chip-shot field goal which then shanked wide right.  This series of plays will be displayed in the Van Pelt Museum of Football Cruelty.


Illinois fans seem disappointed with the Bill Cubit contract.  Cubit was certainly not one of the marquee names changing jobs during this Flight Aware season.  On the other hand, Cubit presents a few advantages to the University of Illinois:

1. Players seem to like him and he has weathered the storm of general administrative tumult.
2. Probably believes in hamstring injuries.

Illinois's interim athletic director seems less than excited about the hire.  Here is what Paul Kowalczyk has to say about Cubit:
"Obviously, it's not ideal but for now, I don't think it'll put a dagger in the heart of the program."

I am not an athletic director.  But I am fairly sure that is not a ringing endorsement.  And I am also sure that you should use the phrase "dagger in the heart" unless your profession involves antechambers.

It is disappointing to see Illinois fans disillusioned about their football program, even if the schools are sworn enemies forever destined to clash as foretold by Beckman's Clock.  There would be nothing more satisfying than seeing a Hat Game have actual consequences in the Big Ten West.  There would be nothing more exciting than seeing ESPN College Game Day come to a Northwestern/Illinois game not because it is an embarrassing one-endzone baseball stadium sideshow novelty act, but because the winner would be going to Indianapolis.

Both Northwestern and Illinois have had great seasons this decade, just never at the same time.  The Northwestern/Illinois rivalry is in that way like a seesaw, although most of the time it is more like a rotting plank of wood moldering in a dirt patch four feet from a rusted seesaw mechanism.  Yes the teams compete for recruits, for media coverage, and in a grimly farcical branding war futilely focused on the Chicago market that climaxed in Saturday's game at a well-nigh empty Solider Field.

But, in the larger Big Ten, both are traditionally moribund programs overshadowed by the conference's Football Brands that expect to effortlessly plod through them on their way to yet another Rose Bowl.  Despite the in-state rivalry, Northwestern and Illinois remain bound together in Big Ten also-ran solidarity.

Northwestern's stirring victory over the Illini not only gave them bragging rights in America's Greatest College Football Rivalry, but it also gave them America's Greatest Rivalry Trophy, the Land of Lincoln Hat.  But there is one thing about the Hat trophy that has bothered me and that is this: the Hat is permanently attached to the base and it cannot be worn.

Look this Wildcat sadly attempt to mime wearing the Hat.  He cannot.  There is a base in its way.  This is madness.  The Hat should be removed from its base and worn triumphantly upon the victorious heads of the hat-winners, not reduced to a grotesque locker-room burlesque.

Abraham Lincoln did not travel through Illinois carrying his hat on a trophy base.  That would be ludicrous.  The Lincoln-Douglas debates would have never helped publicize Lincoln enough to take Democratic nomination in 1860 because no one would consider voting for a hat-carrying maniac. 

LINCOLN: That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of 
                     Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these 
                     two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world.
DOUGLAS: Why do you carry around your hat on a base instead of wearing it on your head?
LINCOLN: At this time of strife and division, you wish to discuss my hat?
DOUGLAS: Your hat practices are discomfiting and peculiar.
ANGRY BYSTANDER:  Answer the question, Lincoln!
ANGRIER BYSTANDER: Go back to Kentucky, you hat-carrying scarecrow!

I urge you to write school administrators and your representatives about this travesty and to engage in pointless hashtag activism about this by tweeting #WEARABLEHAT at all involved parties.  I plan to publish a 3,000 page screed about this in a new screed format I have invented called the monomaniagraph. Together, we can unite and probably amuse ourselves for nearly 45 minutes.


By Monday, Northwestern will know its bowl fate.  The Playoff Committee awaits the results of Lucrative Conference Championship games.  The bowls begin their dance of selecting teams by trying to land the biggest Brand Teams allowed by their slotting.  The combination of bowl selection and playoff rankings have made this a week for the brandishing of advanced statistics, complex transitive property arguments, and the traditional claims that teams ain't played no one.  It's Recrimination Week.  Northwestern, for once, is in the middle of this because they are jockeying for a more prestigious bowl game and higher rankings.  This is exciting because it implies a small amount of relevance for Northwestern's football program and also because it is fun to complain about things on the internet and make snide remarks about body clocks.

Of course, bowl positioning does not really matter.  The entire hierarchy of bowl games after the playoffs is a meaningless system where older bowl games that have names that appended by ridiculous sponsors rank higher than games that are named completely by their ridiculous sponsors; thus, the Gator Bowl (now known as the Bowl) is more prestigious than the GoDaddy Bowl, the Quick Lane Bowl or the arrestingly bellicose Armed Forces Bowl.
The Beef O'Brady's Bowl, played at the decrepit Tropicana Field, was such a perfect shitty 
bowl game name that it burned out like a glorious comet.  Then, it metamorphosed into the 
BitCoin Bowl, which was somehow even more ridiculous before settling into the 
disappointingly stolid St. Petersburg bowl.  I have pledged $45.00 in naming rights for the 
bowl to be called the St. Petersburg Bowl. 
If you are a representative of the St. Petersburg Bowl, please contact me and let me know 
when to fly down a present the trophy.

The hierarchy of bowl games is, I suppose, a way to differentiate the bowl games that have multiplied across the nation.  This year, there are more so many bowl games that there are not enough teams that have reached the magical 6-6 threshold of Bowl Eligibility to play.  Therefore, 5-7 teams will receive invitations, in order of Brand Status.  This means that Illinois, despite dashing itself upon the rocks of Northwestern's defense for four quarters last Saturday can still go to a bowl (and I hope they are selected).  Nebraska, America's most prominent 5-7 team, will almost certainly receive one.  At this point, matchups and rankings and hierarchy are all that separate the bowls until the NCAA decides to thrust all of the non-playoff teams into a giant fishbowl and select bowl matchups by lot.

This is not a time to become stressed about Northwestern's ranking or bowl positioning.  The Wildcats have won ten games and they are ranked and I am still sort of dreading a flood of hail marys that will somehow take them all away.


Northwestern has finished off a season of the impossible.  In the past two years, the Wildcats won ten games combined, and lost in mind-bogglingly improbable ways.  In two games, Northwestern fell victim to passes bouncing off a defenders hands at the last possible second.  In one game, they lost to a field goal team that successfully assembled itself like they were in aBuster Keaton movie.  They lost in overtime and they lost in the final seconds of regulation attempting to prevent overtime when the quarterback fell on his buttocks.  They literally lost to Tim Beckman. 

This season, the Wildcats went an astonishing 8-0 in games decided by a ten points or fewer and every one of those weird breaks fell their way.  This season, Northwestern managed to stop the tying conversion.  This season, the winning field goal went through the uprights.  This season, the referees took an apparent game-winning touchdown off the board because the whimsical hands of fate have decided that Northwestern should have that win fair and square by redefining what the terms fair and square mean.  This year, the Wildcats got the Hat.

Northwestern won with ugly football.  They unleashed a defense rivaled only by the 1995 team and seemed content to score only as many points were necessary, as if by winning by more than the bare minimum would trigger a loss through an innovative Price is Right scoring system.
Coming this spring to Big Ten Network, contestants bid on Rotel, extra-large men's pants, 
and luxury vacations to Indianapolis

Fitzgerald and McCall were content this year to let Justin Jackson ball carrier at people until they got within scoring range.  If not, they were happy to punt and let the defense back onto the field.  Every once in awhile, Thorson would find a receiver or, more excitingly, find a lane to gallop down the field with gangly strides through a baffled defense.  This offensive approach was effective, but also kept Northwestern's games within terrifying range of Northwestern events at all times.  Wildcat football is not often going to roll into a Big Ten stadium and demolish the opposition, and good seasons thrive on plays designed for wild swings of fortune.  The head football coach doubles as the endowed Dr. Ray Arnold Chair in Butt-Holding. 

It is possible to look at the Wildcats' numerous escapes this season and see their record as dependent on luck.  Advanced statistics appear to think the Wildcats have wildly overachieved.  But college football is itself an anarchic scrum relying on young people, the bounce of an oblong ball, BODY CLOCKS, weather conditions, referees deciding on increasingly arbitrary and obscure definitions of a catch, and a host of a zillion other things that wreak havoc on a twelve-game sample.  No teams, not even the championship-caliber, coach-firing, juggernaut nightmare teams win all their games without weird bounces and luck.  Northwestern not only played lockdown defense and had an effective running game, it also enjoyed the favor of the football chaos deities for once.  They won ten games, went 6-1 at home (and 1-0 at Chicago's Big Ten Neutral Stadium), and will finish the season ranked and in a prominent bowl game.  And our reward is to get to watch them one more time without the pressure of a bowl drought that originated in the Truman administration.  Most importantly, we have The Hat.