Friday, November 24, 2017


Northwestern has won now won six consecutive games, a rare feat not accomplished in more than 20 years by going repeatedly to overtime, outlasting coaches and adventure quarterbacks and receivers whose hands have turned to stone at precisely the wrong time, by living impossibly long in a zone between winning and losing and beating Purdue but also letting them hang around and so it makes sense that they went out on a cold, wet, and miserable day and let the Earth envelop the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Teams can no longer run on Northwestern's defense and Minnesota could not pass or hold onto the ball or do much other than stand around in the rain and write beleaguered civil war letters to their loved ones.  This has somehow become par for the course.  The Gophers haven't scored a point in Evanston since 2013.  Two years ago, the Gophers could not stop Northwestern from eating almost an entire quarter on a single drive.  Saturday, Gopher quarterback Demry Croft managed only two completions on the day while throwing three interceptions.  And a week after Purdue shut down the Northwestern running game, the Wildcats steamrolled the Gophers as Justin Jackson continued piling up yards and moving up in the Northwestern, Big Ten, and college football record books. 

P.J. Fleck rues forgetting to instruct his 
team in the art of S.C.O.P.R. (Score Points in Rain)

This game's theme was misery as rain and later sleet pounded the stadium.  Though it made the gameday experience unpleasant as the wind roared through the north endzone and rain seeped through saturated gloves and everyone involved wanted to go home and clutch at a mug of warm cocoa, it appears that Northwestern has found a winning formula to stem the tide of visiting fans from overwhelming the stands by largely making the entire stadium uninhabitable, much like how the Russian army destroyed their own cities to slow down the advancing Napoleonic forces.  Next time a Big Ten opponent rolls through, be it Iowa or Wisconsin or Michigan, Northwestern should consistently spray water at spectators, hurl small ice chips at them, and bring in gigantic fans to blast them with howling, frozen winds to empty the stadium of all but a handful of Northwestern supporters jumping around on defense in order to feel their limbs (this would not work on Nebraska fans who would somehow bud off each other to form ever-larger chains of red-sweatered colonies that would engulf the entire stadium while talking about how many more of their buds there are in the stadium and also yelling "let's go shirts").

Northwestern's largest ratio of Northwestern fans during a Big Ten 
home game this season

The Wildcats now have eight wins.  They are heavily favored over a truly wretched Illinois team trying to salvage a miserable season with a Hat and a deathblow of Northwestern's hopes to play in a higher-ranked bowl that will invariably skip them over for a better Football Brand school anyway at stake. 

Northwestern has had a truly bizarre football season that has played out like a higher-stakes sequel to last year.  While the 'Cats certainly could not match the original's shocking home loss to a bad FCS team, they raised the emotional stakes by looking shaky against crappy non-conference teams and dead in the water against a Duke Blue Devils team that has spent the ACC season getting repeatedly exorcised.  But the highs have been higher with a preposterous and literally unprecedented three-overtime winning streak, eight wins, and even a narratively satisfying blowout over the very same P.J. Fleck who had beguiled them in 2016 with a Big Ten roster to boot.  There is no way they can top this rollercoaster unless the team is literally disbanded in August, forfeits at least one game, and then reconvenes in time to inexplicably beat an Iowa team that is contending for the West title and also P.J. Fleck has now taken over at Alabama.  

There is no reason why Northwestern should not beat a young Illinois team whose best days are surely ahead of it.  Yet there is no telling what the promise of the Hat does surely makes madmen of anyone, and the Illini will certainly come out mustering all of the offensive firepower and Jeffs George that they can in this storied Rivalry Contest.


The following column was mailed to BYCTOM's North American Headquarters stapled to a crude, papier-mache Abraham Lincoln head and a flip book indicating various karate moves that would be inflicted upon the editorial staff of this website and the corporate hierarchy of the VIL Network, an entertainment and sports portal presented by Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants.  

They sent me out with a cardboard box
Full of orange ties and laminated cards
With OSKEE acronyms
But what those bureaucrats will never know is
I took the Hat.

The current hat's a crude replica
I had done in the trophy underground
The very shop that made
The Civil conFLicCT for Diaco
He disavows

I wear the Hat around the house
And when I watch the Illini lose on TV
Yes it's quite heavy 
And my neck aches, hunched and stiff
Hamstrings are fine

Look at the woeful Illini now
On the eve of this Rivarly
Winless in the con'frence
Imagine how they'd do with signs that said
"No Northwestern"

Or Northwestern pinatas
Or plush Willie Wildcats mauled by trained falcons
Or shredded to fluff as I run them down in a combine harvester
While I yell over the roar to the team THIS IS WHAT WE WILL DO TO THEM
And then I light myself on fire in a special suit
And run around screaming and making a scene
It's a metaphor for the team
To get Fired Up

Admit it, you miss all of this
With Lovie Smith and his placid dignity
Instead of signs and clocks
And literally falling and while I'm prone on my behind
Getting flagged

Here's my prediction for the game
I don't care at all

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Win Streak

After 15 minutes of game time or approximately Lawrence of Arabia in real time, neither Purdue nor Northwestern had scored.  It was a cold, endless, inexplicable night game so perfunctory that Northwestern did not even bother to break out its Night Game Gothic alternative uniforms but instead paraded around in a ridiculous industrial camouflage.  The game was marred by strange penalties, an unending aerial assault (Purdue asked backup quarterback Elijah Sindelar to throw the ball 60 times).  By the end of the game, Northwestern looked fairly certain to win, but Purdue hung around enough in the fourth quarter to theoretically tie it-- by the end, I was hoping they would, that they would get their 15 points or whatever they needed to even the game and send it to overtime where I am pretty sure the remaining dozen Northwestern fans deranged enough to stay through all 19 hours of this game would have immediately smeared themselves with hot dog condiments, constructed cardboard capes, and chanted as Northwestern ceased being a football team and immediately became a bizarre overtime cult.
Remaining Northwestern fans prepare for The Overtime by performing 
their profane ritual of putting their hands in the air, putting their hands up in the air

The Wildcats hung on for their seventh win and fifth straight by maintaining their fearsome run defense, daring Sindelar to beat them.  Purdue, though, refused to allow the 'Cats to bash them with Justin Jackson.  They plugged every running lane, bringing in safeties and linebackers and Purdue fans with the most robust Joe Tiller mustaches to crowd the line of scrimmage.  That seemed to work until Riley Lees unleashed a brilliant punt return only to have the officials call it back-- with no clear footage of the infraction, a confused Ryan Field crowd unleashed a torrent of abuse screaming out SIR YOU WILL HEAR FROM MY LAWYER in disgusted unison.  The Wildcats responded with a quick drive and did not look back; a blistering 94-yard drive after a near goal line stand just before the end of the first half further increased the lead presumably because Pat Fitzgerald was unable to signal in his traditional end of half play to take the ball and tunnel underground.
Riley Lees gains a new nickname the Aggrieved Punt Returner

Wisconsin's win over Iowa ended any hope of Big Ten insanity somehow leading the 'Cats to a near-impossible berth in the championship game.  Northwestern will now try to avenge last year's defeat against the Gophers, who spent last Saturday sending the Nebraska Cob Nobblers to the Harsh Realm and extend their win streak.  It's all bowl positioning and hat trophies now, and the possibility of a nine-win season that would have seemed impossible after the Duke game.


More than any sport, college football nurses cults of personalities around charismatic coaches, none more so than Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, who is charismatic enough to start his own cult.  The Gophers nabbed Fleck from Western Michigan where he led the Broncos to becoming a MAC powerhouse that may have also been no less than the third best team in the Big Ten West last season.  He also invented the greatest football slogan of all time in "Row the Boat," a motivational mantra he developed after the tragic loss of a child.  "Row the Boat" became inextricably linked with Western Michigan football, a horse team that somehow became confusingly adorned with all manner of nautical symbolism.

Western Michigan puts up a hippocamp statue of its Martime 
Horse theme outside Waldo Stadium

Last year, I wrote about Fleck being trapped by his popular catchphrase, tiring of rowing the boat but constantly harangued by those who want to hear about boats and rowing.  But that was a deranged fantasia written on the the world's final blogspot website.  Fleck has gone beyond rowing the boat to a host of ludicrous motivational acronyms.  Here for example is Fleck explaining F.A.M.I.L.Y. (Forget About Me I Love You) and H.Y.P.R.R. which is somehow an acronym for How Yours Process Results Response, which is a completely insane thing for an acronym to stand for.

Fleck is an acronym savant, the kind of person who would blast into a 
room prepared to tell a group of people about A.L.U.M.I.N.U.M. 
(Always Leave Unused Melodicas In Numbered Utility Modules) and then, 
finding himself in Canada, improvising to Actually Lackadaisical Ungulates 
Make Intolerable Neighbors In Unkempt Meadows without blinking

I normally think ludicrous motivational acronymeering is ridiculous and insipid, but it works for Fleck because he comes across as completely sincere, as someone who believes wholeheartedly in whatever HYPRR is and is ready to HYPRR with you and your entire family for months if necessary.  It also works for Fleck because he works in an insane business, the business of asking large young persons to smash into other equally large or sometimes even larger people while literally a 100,000 people scream at them and point at them accusingly with foam #1 fingers. Maybe Fleck hopping around in a rented hotel conference room with a wireless microphone telling his players about the revolutionary SCOMPTT Method (score more points than them) can bring the Gophers back to contention in this hilarious and miserable football conference; maybe his slogans will collapse in on themselves and remain plastered on the walls as ironic icons of football ineptitude like Butch Jones's Champions of Life rhetoric or Tim Beckman's numerous propaganda posters.
Illinois locker rooms are dedicated with the
 tattered remains of Beckman's information campaigns

I am not predicting anything about this season because Minnesota and the non-Wisconsin and non-Illinois Big Ten West is completely inscrutable.    


The single defining fact of Northwestern basketball had been its absence from the NCAA Tournament.  College basketball exists in a strange netherworld where teams play what seems to be like hundreds of games on frozen, anonymous weeknights and flash through on the ESPN score crawl in obscure, indecipherable initials before finally emerging in March as a fully-formed sports product kept aloft by buzzer-beating triumph, crowd-sobbing heartbreak, and a vast and technically illegal gambling apparatus.  There is winning those endless games, rising through the various arcane rating systems, and getting the team's name on one of those brackets and there is nothing, and for the entire history of the NCAA Tournament Northwestern did not exist.
And then there they were.  They appeared to clinch their tournament appearance with a miraculous, last-second heave.  Then, buoyed by the emergence of Northwestern's vast alumni network of sports personalities that have somehow cornered the market on the world's dumbest profession, by Celebrity Moms and Dads, and through a tournament run that included The World's Least Advised Foul, a Goaltending Rules Controversy, and A Child-Meme, Northwestern became ubiquitous and almost instantaneously overexposed and despised.

This year's Northwestern team arrives in a different universe.  For years, every Northwestern team just wanted to make the tournament, to appear on that bracket, and to return to getting dunked through the Earth's core.  Now, the team has expectations to make the tournament.  The transformation of the team from a desperate also-ran to a very good team is welcome but the experience is totally different.  The Wildcats will be favored in several games.  Every win comes with the question of how it affects the Tournament Resume instead of being judged on the traditional Northwestern metric of how angry opposing fans are to lose to Northwestern.  A failure to make the tournament this year would be disappointing instead of a soothing swoon into the embrace of a sports curse.

Northwestern basketball will be unrecognizable because they are playing in an airport-adjacent monster truck and wrestling arena.  The school is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an awful and bullshit renovation of Welsh-Ryan arena that will have things like seats and lighting and ways for players to enter and exit the court without having to get all fired up and do their IT'S GAME TIME chants and then politely wend their way through the hot dog line, but this is a mistake as grave as the grave digger that plies its trade regularly at the All State Arena.  Welsh-Ryan was a glorious shit dump that turned into a bona fide home court by the end of the season, when Northwestern fans-- more than the other team even-- packed the cramped stands that floated on top of the court and turned it into a raucous thunderdome and now that the school has had like three games of this atmosphere they are off to play in front of a quarter of an arena filled with the skeletons of hardy explorers who attempted to sit in the top deck during a DePaul game and were never seen again.     
Northwestern saved money on Welsh-Ryan Arena renovation costs by 
making the NCAA Tournament and therefore opening a hole to other 
dimension from which energy flowed and destroyed the site of this unholy occurrence

The administration is trying to build Northwestern sports into brand that doesn't have anything to do with historical lousiness.  They've got a football team that makes bowl games.  They've got a basketball team in the tournament.  They've got the facilities and arenas from exorbitant amounts of money raised by top-hatted boosters.  And, as befitting a college sports program, there's even a discomfiting scandal complete with a disturbingly inept attempt at a cover up that looks like someone in the athletic department tried to run off a player by framing him for not performing in the bullshit make-work program they invented by forging his signature and repeatedly misspelling his name.

The Wildcats return nearly every key player from last year's run, bring back a few more from injury, and add additional recruits.  But last year's run was on a razor's edge-- McIntosh's dagger against Rutgers saved them, the Mighty Heave of Nate Taphorn got them in, and no one is as aware of the precariousness of NCAA qualification than the team that watched that Juice/Shurna team miss it by a combined total of  like five points spread over several agonizing games.  There's nothing guaranteed this season; they won't take anyone by surprise, they are playing in an arena on Mars, and they still rely on their starters to do nearly everything.  Northwestern basketball has cleared its greatest hurdle, but now, after the ecstatic excitement of filling out a bracket and seeing Northwestern players in One Shining Moment, the question is what can they do to follow up. 

Friday, November 10, 2017


We live in overtime now. The strictures of regulation football no longer exist to constrain the Northwestern Wildcats; they start now at the 25 yardline, the clock no longer moves, there is no longer field position or quarters or movement of the sun across the horizon. Here in this dimension beyond time and space and logic and reason the Northwestern Wildcats are unstoppable, indomitable, also receiving votes.

Northwestern has won three consecutive overtime games, a feat that has literally never been done by any other team. This record reminds me of the people who decide that they're going to break the record for skijumping off a mountain into a basejump and then landing on a jetski and that is also on fire in that sure they are doing something unprecedented but it's only because no one else in their right mind would even think to do it.

I just watched the movie McConkey, which details Shane McConkey's
career from extreme skiing to BASE jumping and then combining
them with wingsuit flying after designing a mechanism to release his
skis midair and you learn that like 90% of extreme skiing stunts exist
because of Roger Moore

The Wildcats are 6-3 and ranked #25 in the Playoff Poll even though no rational person has explained to me why the Playoff Committee, which solely exists to pick the top four teams in the country after entire college football season including the Lucrative Conference Championship Games have finished, has a full set of rankings going down to #25 weeks beforehand other than to thrust us further into a chaotic world where we now have three sets of more or less meaningless top-25 ranking systems between warring factions of Playoff Bureaucrats, reporters, and graduate assistant coaches who are all as we speak publishing their own newspapers and pamphlets attacking each other.

Literature sent to discerning college football bloggers by
various rankings including the Playoff Committee's
"Have You Gone Mad?" and the Coach's "A Diffent
Against the Affociated Preff"

Northwestern is bowl eligible. Their previous overtime victories came against teams that spent last Saturday opening a black hole in the Big Ten, creating a swirling vortex that may well suck the entire conference out of the playoff picture and has already destroyed the entire Big Ten East. Michigan State, which fell to Northwestern in an insane three-overtime denouement that ended only when their quarterback panicked after fumbling, grabbed the ball, and Rex Grossmanned it into the ripped and bloody hands of Nate Hall, outlasted Penn State in a seven-hour rain epic where the Spartan Stadium field might as well have turned into quicksand for the Nittany Lions and devoured the entire team. Iowa annihilated Ohio State from the surface of the Earth. No one knows how it happened. The Buckeyes went into Kinnick Stadium and got rampaged upon by a team that had spent the entire season treating the scoring of a twentieth point like Moses searching for the Promised Land. They dropped 55 on them. They did a fake punt, a religious desecration in the House of Ferentz. The result was so baffling that football archaeologists have begun excavating Kinnick stadium in search of proof.

Both of those teams would have prime playoff positioning now, with Michigan State able to seize control of the East with a win against the Buckeyes and Iowa heading into a showdown with Wisconsin except they made the mistake of traveling to Ryan Field to get overtimed and now I want nothing more for them to win out, for them to miss any chance at playoff glory under the triumphant cackle of Northwestern's Generic Wildcat Growl #15 sound effect.


When Thorson's hail mary got batted down, I relaxed knowing that the game had shifted from hostile Memorial Stadium to the Realm of Overtime, a fissure in time-space where the laws of football no longer exist and Northwestern becomes a dominating football force.
The game featured much of what Northwestern has brought to bear against the Big Ten-- tough run defense, an offense that moves in fits and starts like an old pull-to-start lawnmower, Justin Jackson. This week, the Wildcats got a tremendous performance from Kyle Queiro, who picked off Tanner Lee twice and nearly ended the game on a third that just slipped out of his grasp. Pat Fitzgerald added to his increasing museum of avant-garde clock management by basically running out the clock for no apparent reason at the end of the first half when the team had a decent shot to at least give Charlie Kuhbander a better shot.

Once again Northwestern played well enough to win; a team that does nothing but go to overtime has, in fact, discovered how to be literally the exact amount of better required to beat another team.

when you win three straight games in overtime

Nebraska fans have reached their breaking point. They demand that Mike Riley be fired, removed, and arrested, and 90% of Nebraska football sportswriting is just Scott Frost fanfiction where all Hypothetical Scott Frost dialogue has been hastily repurposed from the 1997 film Batman and Robin.

STANDAHDT," says the lede from the Lincoln Journal-Star
in a column entitled "The Ice Man Hiredeth: Eighteen
hypothetical columns about hiring Scott Frost"

It is impossible to tell how good Northwestern is. Part of that is the chaotic nature of college football, where all rankings and formulas are ridiculous because the entire season is 12 games of unpredictable chaos dictated by an oblong ball and dependent on the emotions and consistency of teenagers and grown adults who have decided on a career path that depends a lot on yelling and also blowing whistles at people. The Wildcats, left for dead after a listless victory over a putrid Nevada team and a complete dismantling at the hands of what turned out to be a fairly crappy Duke team, now have six wins and will be favored in their three remaining games. It is not impossible that they could somehow win nine games or for them to lose all three or to play Purdue to so many overtimes that they manage to cross over into Sunday when they are still going for two-point conversions and Ryan Field is converted into an Overtime death cult where fans cut the North stands tarp into robes and demand more overtime periods to slake their overtime lust.


Purdue is here. Purdue under Jeff Brohm, which has transformed itself from the hapless punching bag of the Big Ten with its sinkhole-riddled field and despondent fanbase of train spotters watching a postmodern art installation of football despair to an actual, frisky, scary team that let's not get ahead of ourselves here they still lost to Rutgers.
Purdue and Northwestern is the essence of an 11:00AM Big Ten game, one to be played and forgotten as soon as humanly possible, and the lunatics in charge of college football television have moved it for some reason to a night game. Night football, prime time, national broadcast on ESPN2 no doubt under the strictures of some arcane Big Ten/ESPN contract that prevents them from moving it to ESPN: Handball where all channel descriptions are written in English phonetically but in Cyrillic. Under the lights, where Northwestern and Purdue will inspire millions of college football fans in the Chicago area to stand around anxiously as bar staffs fumble around complicated satellite television systems to get the Notre Dame game while Purdue Pete peers ominously from the preview box.

Purdue actually has to apply for a waiver to allow Purdue
Pete to be used at night. Here is what Purdue Pete originally
looked like before it was destroyed, buried, resurrected,
buried again and burned, resurrected again while taking a
human host who transforms into Purdue Pete when in
proximity to certain brands of train engine, and finally
defeated in combat by Ross and Ade, who trapped it in
a concrete slab from which it has only escaped four times

Purdue comes in with a much-improved defense and a coach who likes to do things like call reverse flea flickers while scanning a playbook taken from NFL Blitz. The Boilermakers, though, will be without one of their quarterbacks after David "That Name Again Is Mister" Blough suffered a gruesome ankle injury against the Illini. Elijah Sindelar will take over as starter, although Brohm had been rotating both this season in order to sow chaos and terror among opponents. Northwestern will hopefully be able to figure out how to beat Brohm's squad instead of the usual method of intimidating Purdue by wearing helmets, repeatedly confusing Purdue's linemen by convincing them of radical changes to the rules of football moments before the snap, and doing nothing and watching the entire Purdue football team walk one by one in to an open manhole.

Northwestern sits as a consensus top-30 or so team in all the rankings and will probably be ranked should they keep on winning through the soft part of their schedule. But there are no guarantees with this team, which has risen to stonewall some bizarrely good teams and struggled against decidedly mediocre ones, with the status of those teams constantly fluctuating through this insane Big Ten season. The Wildcats have been riding a razor's edge for the past three weeks where a single play could have beaten them in all three previous games, and Purdue hasn't rolled over for anyone. They're on their way up. But all I can say to them is that if the Boilermakers want to win this game in Ryan Field under the towers and the weird, emaciated blow-up Wildcat tunnel and night sky they need to do one thing: for their own good, they had better not let the game go into overtime.

Friday, November 3, 2017


Maybe they should just skip straight to overtime, the pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, thrust and riposte style of maniac football instead of requiring us to sit through an entire Northwestern football game to get there.  Once again, Northwestern played a Big Ten opponent in a Festival of Stereotypical Big Ten Football, an ugly punts-and-fumbles act that exists in a universe where it is impossible to score more than 17 points.  And once again, that game yielded to a lunatic touchdown spree that ended on the world's least necessary hail mary, delivered a fifth win to the 'Cats, dethroned a ranked opponent, and led to all-out delirium among the 58 people at Ryan Field rooting for Northwestern.

In 2004, Northwestern played an unfathomable four overtime games, including the program's only win against Ohio State in the Cenzoic Era and somehow overtime wins against both Indiana and Illinois.  The Wildcats celebrated by unleashing the greatest piece of Northwestern football-related art we've ever seen, a poster where Wildcats players pretend to hold various construction implements like miniature chain saws and toilet plungers.

This is also the box art to the world's grisliest Clue knockoff

Northwestern managed to hang on through solid run defense and through some lucky breaks-- the Spartans turned the ball over, fumbling once deep in Northwestern territory, and their kicker had two bounce off the crossbar as the Spartans learned of Ryan Field's true home advantage, the disguising of Northwestern fans as human goal posts that swat their kicks back onto the field with a resounding thunk.  Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, meanwhile, caused problems all day, setting a Michigan State record for single-game passing yardage and leading the Spartans on a last minute game, tying drive that involved him somehow evading all of the traps in the Raiders of the Lost Ark temple and heaving the ball downfield to a wide open receiver before falling in overtime by trying to do that again then getting simultaneously getting crushed by the a giant ball, getting impaled by 800,000 poison darts, and watching Alfred Molina scamper away with the rope.

Northwestern salutes Big Ten Special Teams Player of 
the Week An Inanimate Carbon Rod

The Michigan State game provided the Wildcats' third consecutive Big Ten win and has changed the trajectory of the season from despair at the type of bowl game that could happen to them to elation at the quality of crappy bowl game that awaits against the largely crappy teams left on the schedule.  Given Northwestern's dedication to reviving the Cardiac Cats this season and winning in heart-stopping overtime periods. anything is possible.


Nebraska is reeling.  They're 4-4, they just barely eked out a comeback win over surprisingly feisty Purdue, and Nebraska fans are already tracking the flight patterns of coveted Central Florida coach Scott Frost.  They go into a game against a Northwestern team that is streaking through the Big Ten West the way that a loose-wheeled shopping cart can be described as streaking through the produce aisle.  The result should be absolute chaos. 

A screenshot from Nebraska football's official website shows scant information about the upcoming game against the Wildcats

Nebraska and Northwestern have been more or less alternating road victories (Nebraska's lone home win in this series came on a hail mary) and grimly menacing each other.  This is not what Nebraska signed up for.  They came to the Big Ten to meet Wisconsin every year in an unwatchable sumo wrestling match to determine who gets to get annihilated by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game and not grit their teeth against a Northwestern team that few of them had probably recognized as an actual football program before joining the conference.  

Nebraska may be having a down year, but it still represents a tough matchup.  Only fools and monomaniacs should try to run on Northwestern, a team that has Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall ready to knock over any running back that tries to sneak his way undetected past Tyler Lancaster.  But Nebraska can't really run the ball anyway and have heralded quarterback Tanner Lee and star receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. to torture the Wildcats' injury-riddled secondary.  On defense, Northwestern will be relying on Justin Jackson, who is basically a load-bearing pillar supporting the offense, and hoping that Thorson's overtime heroics and the emergence of receivers like Riley Lees and superback Cameron Green can continue against a defense that should not be as rough as the non-Maryland Big Ten units the Wildcats have faced.

Nebraska is favored but barely.  Nevertheless, I am pretty sure that no Nebraska fan has contemplated for a moment that the Huskers could possibly lose to Northwestern. Based on my own diligent and frankly insane and disappointing life choice to occasionally venture into websites maintained by rival fans, only two Big Ten teams exist whose supporters will ever believe it is possible to lose to Northwestern: Illinois and Purdue (Northwestern has yet to play Rutgers; if you are a Rutgers fan, please feel free to write in or leave a comment and let me know whether you think your team can ever lose to Northwestern).  For every other fanbase, Northwestern lost a bunch of games in the 1970s and 80s and therefore they can never win a Big Ten game again.  I am reasonably confident that nearly every Big Ten team could be destroyed by the NCAA Death Penalty for extremely Big Ten infractions like wooing fullbacks by promising agricultural sabotage that is exposed when a number of Midwestern corn mazes become poisoned and easily solved by disappointed nine-year-olds, fans of the resulting teams now made of frail walk-ons who have been training by practicing cowering will be certain that they will nevertheless crush the full-strength Wildcats and if they lose it will be because the offensive coordinator needs to get fired or because of all the uncalled holding penalties.


There's a small crisis brewing in sports that has nothing to do with work stoppages, sports leagues deciding to embrace broad investigative powers, the endless stadium war between those who want us to clap clap clap clap our hands or for everybody to clap ya hands clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap.  It's a division between the naked eye and the camera's eye, the widening gap between observed physical phenomena and sports rules, the unmooring of objective, empirical truth from the authority of sports officials.  It's video replay, and it is making everyone a maniac.

In football, video replay has reduced everything to pixel.  We no longer know what a catch is-- when the Michigan State receiver came down with the ball in the waning seconds of the game, I held onto a fraction of hope because even though he clearly caught the ball in any reasonable definition of the term, football fans have by now trained ourselves to wait for an Official Explanation to celebrate, for some beef-armed referee to come out and get on a microphone and explain in the stilted institutional argot that every person with any modicum of authority now uses whenever addressing more than three people to explain that the receiver did not properly secure the ball through the process of the catch or the League will not at this time comment on the ongoing investigation as per policy or the Team and its sponsors will be reviewing its safety policy in light of the incident in question when the Jacksonville Jaguar drove its pyrotechnic motorcycle device into three or four individuals.

The League understands fans' concern over the expansion of seating 
into the Meineke Wheelie Zone Fan Area and Play Zone and will be 
reviewing its safety policy, pending a full investigation of the incident 
in question

But baseball is the most vulnerable because every single play depends on the judgement call of a single person.  Umpires' strike zones are not perfect-- we know that since the first person bellowed at them you flat brain-panned hog-fellow, that was a striked-pitch and threatened them with nineteenth-century fisticuffs-- and an entire branch of baseball analysis has discovered that the a catchers' most valuable defensive skill may well be his or her ability to fool umpires with various chicaneries in order to bamboozle them into calling more strikes.  Now, though, every single pitch is run through a computer processor to determine the calls' accuracy, pitch tracking technology tracks each pitch, and entire twitter accounts show how often a pitch is called a ball or strike and exist specifically to be quote tweeted with a caption about how that anthropomorphic wattle Cowboy Joe is fucking us over again.

In this way, the "K Zone" or whatever the broadcaster is calling it has quietly undermined the entirety of baseball.  Baseball now exists in a tense battle between parallel realities, between the empirical location of the pitch as determined by technology and presented on an ever-present Umpire Tattling Graphic and the umpire's decision on whether the pitch is or is not a strike.  MLB has long insisted on accepting the umpire's word as law on balls and strikes largely because of baseball's traditional love for postmodern literary theories that accept reality as constructed by the vagaries of language shaped by power structures.  And fans have always protested calls throughout the history of baseball by suggesting that umpires need pince-nez, monocles, glasses, and prescription rec-specs.

Baseball broadcasts have dedicated themselves to unraveling the umpires' already suspect authority by presenting viewers with an alternate reality that runs counter to officials' pronouncements for the entire game.  To watch baseball now is to be asked to parse two simultaneous realities, one of which technology has been telling us is objective fact and one of which is the interpretation of a beleaguered, masked functionary.  Either the strike zone is a term of art subject to interpretation with a flexible structure that smart pitchers and catchers work around or it is a rigid zone established firmly in physical space, but it is odd and disconcerting that baseball presents us with both simultaneously in a way that is designed only to confuse and frustrate viewers and enrage players and managers whose only recourse is to waddle out of the dugout and theatrically yell at the umpires in an unhinged way that is bereft of the dignity we expect from septuagenarians bursting out of their baseball pajamas.

Here, this is what you look like doing a Karloff impression look at me 
look at me I'm the shitty mummy 

Replay has changed baseball's rules.  Now, every close play at a base ends with a three-minute headphone conference.  In the Cubs-Nationals NLDS Game Five fever dream, replay officials provoked the Baseball Online into a frenzy when they ruled that José Lobatón had strayed off of first for a millisecond while still in the clutches of Anthony Rizzo's tag.  That play offered three competing truths-- the evidently veritable physical fact that Lobatón had left the bag for some quantifiable segment of time, the question of whether baseball's slow-motion, high-definition replay cameras injected a bizarre pedantry into rules that originated from a time when it was legal to slide into a base while menacing fielders with a blade concealed in the runner's side-whiskers, and the spiritual truth of the Nationals' propensity to shit themselves in playoff games paired with Dusty Baker's seemingly cosmic attraction to impossible baseball mishap.

Sports leagues have implemented video replay, they say, in order to get calls correct, in order to prevent them from perpetuating egregious sports injustices, but replay has also ushered in an epistemological crisis.  Video replay has undermined and complicated fundamental and basic sports activities: What is a catch? What is a strike?  Was that foul a level one technical or a level two technical with malice and forethought?  What we have now has not necessarily clarified the rules but brought to bear on them competing rules discourses one of which depends on the subjective judgement of people who have chosen to go into a line of work that involves them getting screamed at more or less constantly and one that depends on physical phenomena all but invisible to the human eye without technology and thrown them against each other for fans to argue about.  I don't know what the solution is other than if it involves repeatedly taking touchdowns away from Wisconsin for no apparent reason then it should be allowed because that is extremely funny, to me.