Saturday, October 16, 2021

It's Time to Stare Into the Bleak Abyss and Realize Northwestern Could Lose to Rutgers

There comes a time in every person’s life when they must surrender to the darkness, stare into the abyss, and come to the realization that the football team they root for could lose to Rutgers.
Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014 with Maryland, two teams that appeared in a cloud of mutual confusion that had no reason to be here and that no one else particularly wanted except the one guy who shaved Rutgers welcome to the Big Ten into his chest hair; the best analogy I can think of is that Tom Hanks movie where the guy gets stuck in an airport due to a confounding visa problem and ends up just living there for awhile. Any attempt for the Big Ten to explain this while spewing its odes to Tradition and History as anything other than a ridiculous cash grab for cable television markets was farcical but given that then-commissioner Jim Delany’s job was to straight-facedly recite the pieties of Our Student Athletes’ Amateurism while everyone in the world knew he was blatantly lying as if he was a lawyer insisting on a procedural exception in a trial while the judge, jury, opposing counsel, and everyone else involved was one of those windup toys of a monkey playing cymbals is why he had the job.

Jim Delany makes a cogent point refuting the lion stuffed
animal but it is sustained by the judge, one of those leathery
wrestlers that are grown from a capsule in a glass of water

The result was Rutgers joining the Big Ten, getting placed in the absurdly unbalanced East Division, and spending the vast majority of its football games getting lifted up and thrown out into a back alley like a cartoon drunk. It was grim. With the exception of its opening season where they went 8-5, upset Michigan, and won the delightfully bleak Boxing Day bowl game in Detroit, they have not managed to win more than four games in any season, including a 1-11 season that somehow to me feels worse than losing every single game, the aesthetic difference between a catastrophic blizzard of freshly fallen snow versus that same blizzard three days later when it has become a slurry of grime and dog piss and is still causing heedless drivers to get stuck in alleys and futilely spin their wheels.  
As a Northwestern fan, I understand that teams have their ups and downs, and sometimes have stretches where they lose 34 consecutive games, for example.  But since joining the Big Ten, Rutgers has been the reliable butt of jokes as the litmus test of futility, even in years where they were not technically the worst team in the conference because they are new and because they have piled up hilarious lopsided losses like a stretch in 2016 when they lost 58-0 and 78-0 to Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive weeks (in 2018, their worst season when they lost eleven consecutive games, the closest game they played was against the West Division Champion Northwestern Wildcats who beat them 18-15).  It took an entire season of Scott Frost demanding to play against football teams that immediately annihilated the Huskers during a pandemic for them to temporarily lose the title of the Big Ten's Funniest Team, and they can settle into a less notorious version of malaise by winning games against, for example, a struggling two-win Northwestern team. 
The 2021 Wildcats are not favored at home for this contest. Northwestern’s defense has gone from being a comical novelty this season to a full-on calamity. Once again, they got shredded within a minute, and then a mediocre Nebraska team that has spent the last two seasons in an incomprehensible psychosis managed to run them over and I mean that literally. They handed the ball off and a bunch of Northwestern defenders started grasping at air or got manhandled by their running backs or got folded up into a small ball and then mailed back to the state of Illinois, and this has happened against every team they have played against where they have not been able to win because they are able to pick up and carry the opposing lines around.
Northwestern does not always beat Nebraska, but the game has traditionally been an utterly messy display of a football-like mush that tends to end on plays that are both miraculous and incredibly stupid. It is very rare to see an outright clobbering, and for Northwestern to go down like this as the Homecoming opponent in a stadium full of Nebraska fans deranged by the team's inability to beat Illinois stunk. Although Nebraska’s feisty showings against Oklahoma and Michigan State that may show that they are better than their record, this was not a game against Ohio State or even (and it is nauseating to even type this) an ascendant, undefeated Iowa. There is nothing more disturbing to note about this game than the fact that a Northwestern team that continues to struggle like this may put the Hat atop the bulbous head of Bret Bielema. 

Bielema has returned to the Big Ten as a Far Side character
Rutgers, on the other hand, is not particularly good but it may not matter. Rutgers has their secret weapon back. We have learned that Greg Schiano is not a particularly good NFL coach, that he refers to his favorite types of players as “Schiano Men,” that the specter of Looming Schiano coupled with allegations that he knew about Jerry Sandusky’s crimes at Penn State caused an open revolt when Tennessee tried to hire him, and none of that was enough to stop Ohio State from employing him as an effective defensive coordinator. Schiano has returned to Rutgers, his coaching powers seemingly gaining power from Piscataway in the same way that Superman gathers power from Earth’s yellow sun. 
In 2019, Northwestern and Rutgers managed to reach almost operatic levels of offensive futility.  Northwestern cycled through quarterbacks, desperate to find a successor to Clayton Thorson; Rutgers attempted to play football.  I wrote for Banner Society that even though the two schools were not slated to play each other, they were both so putrid on offense that they should be allowed to face each other directly after the Big Ten Championship Game in the ruins of the Pontiac Silverdome.  It was a crime that Northwestern and Rutgers could not play each other despite being two of the worst teams at moving the ball in the entire FBS, only because it was possible that they would invent avant-garde ways to lose yards such as by trying to tunnel into the bowels of the planet.  Unfortunately, the Big Ten once again would not listen to reason and put on what could have been the most perverse football game since the time Iowa and Penn State played a game with a final score of 6-4.  
This week's game will likely not be as depraved as a hypothetical 2019 contest.  Northwestern has some legitimately fun receivers and may be able to move the ball a bit more, and the defense has yet to show they can stop anyone.  As much as Fitzgerald has turned the Wildcats into an offense and defense that manufactures punts like he is operating a punting factory under a Stalinist Five Year Plan, it might be time to do things differently and embrace the tenets of Randy Walkerism by giving up as many points as humanly possible and somehow scoring a bunch of touchdowns.  We were promised and missed out on the spectacle of Northwestern and Rutgers moving backwards for sixty minutes in 2019.  I believe that fans and whatever truly disturbed people watch this game without any rooting interest and should probably be put on some sort of Federal List deserve nothing more than the mind-warping spectacle of a Northwestern-Rutgers shootout.

I am not going to pretend that I have been a Chicago Sky superfan over the season because the times I have chosen to watch sports during the summer I have largely decided to watch a Cubs team that has disappointed, infuriated, and made me cackle incredulously, but over the last few weeks I have gotten extremely into the Sky's march to the WNBA Finals because they are incredibly fun.  The Sky became an intriguing team in the offseason when WNBA legend Candace Parker decided to leave the Los Angeles Sparks and come home to Chicago to help bring something resembling a defense to what had been a run-and-gun squad known primarily for losing in the playoffs in heartbreaking manner and it actually worked out and here they are.
The Sky ideally have one more game left to polish off the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday afternoon and win their first title; otherwise they'll be forced into a do-or-die Game 5 on the road.  They've frankly looked much better than the Mercury for most of these games except for the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 2.  The Mercury are limping along-- Diana Taurasi is absolutely terrifying except she is battling serious ankle and foot injuries and is limited to shooting hideous, leaning 26-footers that might very well go in because she is Diana Taurasi.  Sophie Cunningham, a tremendous shit-stirrer, is recovering from an injury of her own but that did not stop her from repeatedly juking Diamond DeShields very rudely in Game 2, and the Mercury also have Brittney Griner who rampaged through the Olympics and seems like she should be able to win most games by herself.

While the Mercury desperately try to will themselves back into the series and while the Sun tried to dominate them physically through the basketball art of Legal Shoving, the Sky have gotten this far by flying around the court and passing the ball.  This is ultra-modern basketball, five players all of whom can shoot including backup center and 3 x 3 gold medalist Stefanie Dolson whose role on offense basically to set screens like one of those walls that spring up from nowhere to bedevil the Battletoads.  Courtney Vandersloot may be the best pure point guard on a team I have rooted for.  But while the Sky can occasionally reach heights of sublime ball movement, it does not always matter because they have Kahleah Copper.  The best way to describe how Copper plays is like a sentient tornado; she cannot be guarded one on one, she can score from any bizarre angle a person can invent under the basket, she can shoot threes, and she never stops running around and never appears to get tired.  No one has been able to stop her in the playoffs, and the Mercury are running out of bodies to throw at her.  
The Chicago sports landscape is otherwise bleak this weekend.  The White Sox were eliminated by the can-banging Astros, going out the way everyone anticipated with Tony La Russa sniffily litigating hit batter etiquette in the press.  Northwestern is locked in the most demented college football game on offer.  After several months of nineteenth-century parlor drama where not him but sources allegedly close to him said that we would be rid of Aaron Rodgers, he has returned to humiliate the Bears once again.  But fresh off a world-historical asskicking in Game Three, the Sky can clinch a championship Sunday to wash all of that away.  Until I noticed something about Kahleah Copper.

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