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Friends of the Blog: Northwestern Q&A

The ‘Cats have won two out of the last three B1G West titles but they basically have a brand new team this year. What does that mean????

Michigan State v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Wisconsin welcomes the Northwestern Wildcats to Camp Randall Stadium on Nov. 13 to start a three game stretch against division opponents to end the season. Since the game is at home I’m fairly confident that the Badgers will win, but you never know what sort of Northwestern Black Magic Pat Fitzgerald will conjure up.

We have two guests from Evanston’s Big Ten School this weekend to tell us all about NU. Our first guest is Daniel Olinger, the editor in chief at our SB Nation cousins Inside NU. Daniel and I have bonded over our love of bad Big Ten men’s basketball as well as bad professional men’s basketball. That’s right, he is a Sixers fan too (and hosts a good podcast on Liberty Ballers, the SBN Sixers site).

Here are Daniel’s answers to our questions!

Who is your player to watch on offense?

Stephon Robinson Jr. — Our own Bradley Locker wrote a great film breakdown of him here and he’s certainly talented, but more importantly what he has is opportunity. Northwestern was already lacking a returning receiver with even 10 receptions during the 2020 season, and with Cam Porter, the team’s returning leader in both rushing and receiving, now out with a season-ending injury, the accomplished transfer from Kansas could easily become the go-to pass catcher for the ‘Cats, similar to the role Ramaud Chiahkiao-Bowman took a year ago.

Who is your player to watch on defense?

Adetomiwa Adebawore — If we were just saying flat out best, I could leave you with a JPEG of Brandon Joseph and say nothing else, but I’m too great of a sicko to leave you with just that. I’ve spread ‘Tomi propaganda on the Inside NU timeline on many occasions, as he’s one of the fastest defensive linemen in college football, most famously chasing down Purdue’s Zander Horvath from a 10-yard deficit.

Nebraska v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Even though he didn’t rack up monster box score stats, Adebawore was a menace in opposing backfields, racking up hurries and disruptions aplenty and in one of just four returning starters from last year’s all-time great defense.

Why will Northwestern beat Wisconsin this year?

I don’t assume that they will!

That confidence is reserved for Illinois (HAT). If they manage to take down the Badgers once again, it will have to be coupled with a poor performance from one Graham Mertz. Save for some opening series fireworks, NU really couldn’t move the ball at all against Wisconsin during last year’s battle.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It just didn’t matter because Mertz was flustered by both pressure and Northwestern’s talented secondary all game. If Mertz plays like the QB who dominated in his early season performances and was hyped up as the greatest recruit in UW history, Wisconsin will win. Should he struggle, the ‘Cats could pull it off two years in a row.

God, isn’t Iowa just the worst?

Yes, Io_a and X-ichigan both.

Our next guest is my internet pal, beng. He describes himself as “Enfant terrible of the northwestern sports internet” and...that fits. Beng is a big tennis fan and ::double checks notes:: this can’t be right...he’s ALSO a Sixers fan? Jesus, what is wrong with us?

Here are beng’s answers for our questions!

Who is your player to watch on offense?

Between Drew DMing me about this content series on Tuesday afternoon and me pumping out some half baked thoughts, Northwestern’s offense has:

-Shocked the world and announced it’s starting QB (ex-Clemson uber recruit and avatar of Mick McCall’s incompetence, Hunter Johnson)

-Lost its only proven past contributor for the year with an unspecified injury (running back Cameron Porter)

-Lost a projected competitor to start on its offensive line (Zachary Franks)

-Declared a crusade on 5G technology (I assume)

As such, there’s only one answer to this question. All eyes will be on Hunter Johnson. I still think Johnson could be great. I’ve never seen a ball come off a Northwestern’s quarterback’s hand quite like his. Reports from Those Who Know are perhaps a little more mixed about whether or not he has The Goods.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s keep it a buck about what Hunter Johnson getting the nod means: Ryan Hilinski must not be all he was cracked up to be. You don’t bring Hilinski in from South Carolina without giving him every single opportunity to claim that starting job. That he couldn’t claim it seems to be a very big and very red flag.

Johnson then enters the season in the unenviable position of being the man at the helm of one of the bleakest skill position rooms in the Big Ten. With Porter on the shelf, the only proven commodity is Kansas grad transfer receiver Stephon Robinson Jr. Robinson could well be extraordinarily good. Do I feel comfy about the best skill position player being a Kansas Jayhawks expat? Reader, I do not.

Johnson is in an tough position and Pat Fitzgerald has already made it clear he’s on a short leash. As such, I would put the odds of him playing 51% of the snaps against Wisconsin at somewhere between 30 and 40%. But the bottom line is that if Northwestern’s offense is going to be not awful, Johnson is going to have to not only be great himself, he’s going to have to raise the level of a motley crew of unproven youngsters.

I’m going to dig a hole and scream into it really quick, BRB.

Who is your player to watch on defense?

I’m not going to pretend to spin you a yarn about how Northwestern’s fifth defensive lineman deserves your attention, or about how the WILL linebacker could be the next Devin Bush, or anything like that. Let’s stick with the headlines.

Brandon Joseph is The Guy.

He is astonishingly good at football, and he knows that he is good at football, which makes him extremely cool. The aesthetics of a center fielder who can hit people in the mouth and make insane one handed diving catches resonate deeply with in my soul.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

There are pieces to replace (Paddy Fisher and Greg Newsome come back please), I have some concerns over the defensive line, I think the new defensive coordinator could gigasuck, but I know for a fact that Brandon Joseph Has The Sauce, and for that reason, I am unconcerned about the defense.

Mostly. Let’s talk about something else.

Why will Northwestern beat Wisconsin this year?

Northwestern will beat Wisconsin because the base state of the universe is entropy. Northwestern is, objectively, probably a bad-to-mediocre football team. They are replacing more than any team in the entire country, and they won every game last year on the margins of the margins. That doesn’t portend success often. Or ever.

But it also doesn’t matter, because this is Northwestern, and you are Wisconsin, and we all know exactly how this game is going to go. Both teams will conspire to kill football on a wind-swept, wet, 28-degree afternoon. Neither team will score 20 points. Neither team will do anything resembling “good football,” no one watching the game will have anything resembling “fun,” there will be a turnover review that has a stupid resolution, and Northwestern will win 16-12 and we’ll all need to take a 30-minute shower.

Enjoy everyone!

God, isn’t Illinois just the worst?

Bill Cubit and Tim Beckman should host a podcast so I can cyberbully them off the internet with rude mailbag questions.