“Rivalry” Week Is Here & So Much More…

I want this one. I want it badly. Ever since Illinois AD Mike Thomas stepped up to the podium in his very first press conference after taking the helm I’ve been wanting to pound the Illini on the field. Thomas replaced the very likable Ron Guenther in Champaign and proclaimed that the Illini would really take back the state. Over time he even claimed he wanted the Illini to be the “Kings of Chicago” – an obvious retort to Northwestern’s “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” marketing slogan. The Illini unveiled an entire campaign that looked, felt and smelled of reactionary marketing with their “Our State. Our Team.” motto. Thomas then went and hired “his guys” in the main revenue sports including Tim Beckman, the former head coach of Toledo.  Beckman came in and in essence HELPED the Northwestern brand by barring purple from the Illini wardrobe and putting a red slash through a Northwestern logo outside of the Illini lockerroom. In essence, these motivational tactics seemed to mirror a program that was aspiring to be Northwestern and not the team that has beaten us in back-to-back years. And that’s the only part that really gets to me.

In 2010, the Wrigley debacle saw Mikel LeShoure run roughshod on us with a Dan Persa-less team that had just seen its season take a tragic turn. This bowl game atmosphere gave the game a huge stage as ESPN College Gameday paid a visit to our “home” game.  After owning this series for the past 20 years, the Illini stole the spotlight from what was supposed to be a Northwestern brand building exercise. Then, in 2011, we saw Mike Trumpy injure his knee and the momentum changed with the injury as AJ Jenkins became a one-man wrecking ball and sparked a crazy comeback that involved us taking the lead with a minute to go and still losing. The Illini went so far as to play Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town”  in reference to the fact that they think they are Chicago’s Big Ten Team.

Before this season I said this is the one game that I want the most. Beating Iowa is fun and gives us all a lot of laughs at the expense of our “friends” in Hawkeyes Nation who have little hair left these days after pulling it out every season watching Northwestern simply  find new ways to win. This year, I wanted to thrash the Illini. Despite multiple decades now of subpar play, they still manage to give us trouble and even win bowl games now and again.  The Illini now enter the season finale with a B1G losing streak of 13 games. Boosters are calling for Thomas’ head by locking up their checkbooks. Beckman has become loathed by his B1G colleagues for sending a 8-man triage team to try and pluck Penn State players in the wake of the scandal. Simply put, this program, in just one year post Ron Zook, has put itself on the ropes.

Fitz is well known for being the antithesis of a coach who runs up the score, however, if there was one game, one year to do it, this would be it. A Northwestern trouncing of Illinois to keep them winless in the Big Ten (currently the Illini are 2-9,0-7 as you know) begs the compare and contrast profiles from the Chicago media that Thomas has been aiming to own. It signals to the high school audience the difference in program trajectories between the two, although, it’s rare that we go head to head with many Illini recruits.  It’s been three years since we’ve beaten the lone team we have a trophy game with, and the Land of Lincoln trophy has already been parodied by many to be the LOL trophy (as in shorthand text message lingo “Laugh Out Loud”) in reference to the Illini. This game also will be the freshest in the minds of bowl officials and you’ve got to believe we’ll have more credentials then we ever have had for this team considering we could land in one of four different bowls ranging from the Capital One Bowl to the Outback, Gator or even the BW3 bowl in order of prestige. It also sets up the potential for a rare 10-win season, which would really be the make or break on the success bar of this season. You get the point, there is a lot on the line and it extends well beyond bragging rights.

I use the word “rivalry” in quotes in today’s headline simply because this game rarely features a situation where it is a big game for BOTH teams – it is usually one or the other.  While fans may not feel the rivalry factor as much as other programs (ie Iowa for us), the series has featured a host of upsets in scenarios just like this one. Both teams have been knocked off their perch in games in which there was seemingly no way they could win. Northwestern enters the game as a 17-point favoite. Whoa. I do believe that is the highest point spread for a conference game since I’ve been following NU (1991).  Any of you out there with access to this info that can rank the last time we were this heavy of a favorite, let me know.

I don’t need to caution ‘Cats fans about overlooking this game, as you know what I stated above. Furthermore, the health of our two biggest star players – Venric Mark and Kain Colter – is uncertain as of this  moment.   Playing Trevor Siemian for four quarters would be quite an adjustment for us and a huge personnel advantage for the Illini as eliminating the option attack is a huge bonus for them.  We’ve got a chock full week of content that ranges from a deep dive on the Illini game, its history and context to LTP playing travel guide as we wade through the bowl game scenarios. Buckle up folks, it is time to really dig in and have a week we’ll be thankful for.

Soccer Props

Congratulations to Northwestern men’s soccer for advancing to the NCAA quarterfinal round after upsetting 7-seed Marquette 1-0 this weekend. The ‘Cats will face 10-seed Louisville on Sunday. Check out the details here.

Trouble in Gopherville

This looks ugly. Star WR AJ Barker quit the Minnesota football team this weekend. Oh yeah, he also publicly exposed his displeasure on his Tumblr feed detailing his account of how Jerry Kill degraded him.  This is going to be a pretty big mess as the Gopher’s AD has formally responded to the matter. To check out the ongoing saga, be sure to check out www.TheDailyGopher.com .   You wonder how much the distraction will impact this week’s finale against Michigan State.

Back Meet Pat

Several of you sent me notes congratulating me on my prognostication skills. I called a 24-20 win for NU and was obviously off by a point. Two games ago I nailed it with a 28-17 exact score pick in the win over Iowa. I’m feeling a ton of pressure for Saturday!

 

The Big 14?

Obviously, one of the biggest stories of the week is the potential expansion of the B1G to include Maryland and possibly Rutgers. I’ve put a poll up to capture your thoughts on this mammoth move and the results are so far what I expected. We’ll be digging in on this as it effect Northwestern in multiple ways – from new competition on the field to the financial impact to the ‘Cats coffers.

 

 

 

 

  • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting

    No letdown, gentlemen. I don’t remember much about majoring in math at NU, but I think all of us could answer this question:
    “What is the next letter in this sequence? W-L-W-L-W-L-W-?”
    Can’t let it happen. This will be Illinois’ bowl game, if there is any heart left at all in that locker room. Having been at Wrigley and Champaign for the last two debacles, I join LTP in revealing my urge to have this win above all others. Don’t focus on “no letdown”, focus on thrashing these guys. It’ll be cold out there, but nothing will keep me warm better than a 3-4 TD lead (and a foot still on the pedal, Fitz). Go Cats!

  • NUARANINETYFIVE

    It’s official:
    http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/65679/maryland-regents-approve-big-ten-move

    I am in full support of this move…considering we are looking at a 16 team superconference landscape moving forward. Maryland and Rutgers football are programs that have been ‘stuck’ in the wrong conference. Looking foward to seeing a good turnout from our east coast alums at games. Question: Who would you like to see as the last two members? My choice would be UVA and ND.

    • CatInTheHat

      I’m genuinely curious as to why you think that these two teams in particular belong in the Big Ten. I was very happy with the Nebraska add, as they are a strong geographic fit. However, I’m just not sure that college football is as big in the mid-Atlantic as the B1G brass seem to think it is, and I don’t believe that the Big Ten brand(s) will be as significantly impacted by those big markets as the conference believes. ND is never going to join a conference, so we can forget about that possibility. Strange as it sounds, I wonder if NIU isn’t a better fit than either Maryland or Rutgers.

      • UVA Cat

        I agree. The “fit” is clearly in terms of $$$$. Let’s not kid ourselves here. Maryland and Rutgers primarily represent big TV markets to the B1G brass. On a side note, calling the conference the “Big Ten” is even more laughable now that we’ll be far beyond 10 teams…

        • NUARANINETYFIVE

          An idea that has been thrown around is to expand the conference schedule to 9 games and the tenth (title game) represents the ‘Big 10′ .

      • Doug

        My sense from reading multiple boards, is that the only Big10 fans who like this move live in DC/NY. Personally, having grown up in DC, and just moved back here, I hate it. It goes against everything that Big Ten football is about. We claim we’re about doing things the right way, but making a move just for more money is NOT the right way. Its the pathetic way and it undermines all our credibility. And to join some other voices, I too am highly skeptical of the idea that this is going to increase revenues by MORE than the two new mouths to feed will drop them on a per team basis. I was only 10, but very upset when Penn State joined. I was okay with Nebraska because of their brand and “fit” (yes, this undefinable “fit” does matter). I am really freaking pissed off about this. And for what its worth, UMD fans seem to feel the same way and would prefer to stay in the ACC.

        • Henry in CT

          I actually don’t live in CT anymore and I agree about the DC-Baltimore metro area and I would add Maryland is not a school I would like to go to. UCONN is on the rise in every possible way and I believe it is a terrific opportunity for the B1G. The advantage recruiting for UCONN as one of only a handful of schools playing in an FBS conference (not called the Beast) in the entire northeast would be great so I would expect them to do very well in the B1G in FB as well as BB. And it would finally bring quality college FB to New England.

      • NUARANINETYFIVE

        I am for it because I want the Big 10 to be the LEADER of the inevitable expansion of four 16 team superconferences. Of the teams that are available for such an expansion, Delaney is focused on AAU membership and demographics. If you care about non-revenue producing sports and academics…this move is both a financial success and an academic one. Rutgers and Maryland add great leverage to the CIC for research and looking at their football history…I strongly believe that their programs have been saddled in the wrong conferences. Both schools have football stadiums immediately are in the middle of the pack in terms of size and attendance…and have room for expansion to over 70K.

        • cs93

          Firstly, Notre Dame will not join the Big Ten. There is no way Notre Dame would allow its football program to join a conference and have to share that cash cow. It doesn’t make sense for them. And their deal with the ACC doesn’t make sense to me. I’m glad the Big Ten didn’t take up the same deal with ND. You’re either all in or you’re not.

          In terms of athletics, I don’t like either school joining the conference. But you’re argument is about money, so . . .

          What makes you think that the addition of Maryland will make the shared revenues for the conference jump that much? Maryland is not a football school. It’s questionable whether or not the annual visits by the likes of Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State will increase attendance there and that BTN viewership will get much of a bump in that region. If anything, this might be a good move for basketball. Maryland has a fairly rich basketball history that has been overshadowed by Duke and UNC in the same conference. Will the basketball-related revenues help out the Big Ten conference much? Maybe, but not like the addition of a powerful football school would.

          Rutgers, on the other hand, makes a little more sense from a business standpoint (though not from an athletics competition standpoint). The football team has been decent lately so I guess you can call it more of a football school than Maryland. Regardless, it’s that NY market that the Big Ten is after. With all the Big Ten alumni in that area, you can bet Rutgers home games will look like NU home games: about 40% of seats will be sold to opposing fans living in the area. Plus, I disagree with the critics who think no one in the NYC area cares much about college football and basketball with all the pro sports around there. They just love their sports around there and it is such a huge market. There’s room for BTN in that market and not because of all the Rutgers fans there. It is because of all the Big Ten fans and alumni there. I think BTN will do well there.

          • http://www.northwesternmix.com/ NUMBSpiritLeader

            Maryland needs the B1G money and the respect. The B1G picks up a good bball school as well as some good women’s programs. And the move might enable UMD to reinstate the various non-revenue sports they cut the past couple of years. Research money? Yeah…everyone wins with that.

            Downside for the B1G brand? Look through the news and YouTube for the various student riots and “incidents” the past several years. They are still straightening out the legal issues from the last student riot – MD defeating Duke in basketball (2010). I don’t think Maryland is quite the behavioral disaster that is Illinois, but they aren’t going to be as polite and nice as Nebraska. (IMO)

            I’m happy to have the opportunity to see more NU games in the DC area. I’d like to see NU vs MD as a new rivalry. But I’m waiting for the trash talk to begin in MD.

          • http://www.facebook.com/j.r.mcc JR McCullough

            This has nothing to do with ticket revenue. It has everything to do with BTN revenue. It is estimated that BTN can charge $200 million per year to cable companies that serve those media markets.

          • Ron

            Agreed about ND. But the TV impact is, i think, at least as much about ESPN than it is about BTN. The Big Ten is in a negotiation with ESPN, and the new teams and new markets drives up the value of those rights.

        • Henry in CT

          This works out for UCONN because the ACC will want them if the B1G doesn’t. (The only reason they are not in the ACC is because of a BC blackball.) Either way they escape the Big East. UConn BTW would dominate the B1G in women’s BB and be near the top every year in men’s BB and would be competitive in football. UCONN has much more fan interest in the NYC metro area than Rutgers and is a top 20 public university better than Rutgers academically and most of the B1G (but not NU). UConn woud give give the B1G the NYC metro area, CT which has the highest per capita income in the US and all of New England including Boston which could care less about BC.

          • Henry in CT

            One more thing that very important that you might not think of. The HQ of ESPN in Bristol is just a short drive from UCONN and the XL center in Hartford. This proximity to ESPN is an advantage not lost on college recruits some of which might want to get into broadcasting when their playing days are over. In fact the feud between Pat Summit (Tennessee women’s BB coach) and Geno Auriemma was at least in part due to a tour of ESPN that was arranged for Maya Moore when she was being recruited by Uconn and Tennessee. When it comes to big time exposure in BB both men and women, UCONN is the best. It is big time. Bigger than anything in the B1G.

          • CliffG

            UCONN is rated slightly above Rutgers by US News, #21 among publics as opposed to #25. Not a significant difference.

    • NorCalCat

      I’m not a fan of bringing Maryland or Rutgers into the B1G or of conference realignment in general. It used to be that conferences had something to do with regions, rivalries and tradition. Now, it’s all about money. And just when realignment seemed to have settled down the B1G stirs the pot all over again. Remember it was the B1G that started the dominos in the first place with the addition of Nebraska.

      I understood the addition of a 12th team, which allowed us to have a conference championship. And I would understand adding additional teams that fit from a footprint/rivalry standpoint such as ND or Mizzou. But adding Rutgers and Maryland just to expand the geography of the conference and put BTN in more TV markets? The benefits aren’t all that clear to me and it just doesn’t seem right. I’m certainly not going to be too excited to play either team and the addition will mean we have less games against traditional B1G teams.

      • http://www.facebook.com/j.r.mcc JR McCullough

        As I heard on my local sports radio program today, the benefits are purely monetary. By moving into these two major media markets, BTN is now allowed to charge a premium to the cable companies in those markets. The estimated revenue growth is $200 million a year.

        Not a bad business decision, but in my opinion a horrible decision for the B1G.

        Oh, and don’t think Delaney wasn’t thinking 16 teams when he approved the new logo. I have always thought that the 1G in B1G represented 16.

    • Dave

      The only upside of this move is that the B1G can abandon the mess that is the “Legends” and “Leaders” division names

      • CliffG

        can, but probably won’t; report is that Illinois will shift to Legends, with RU and UM in the Leaders

        • Jpklock

          Awww, hell– with your post, it now occurs to me that the Big 14 will have *three* U of M teams… (Michigan, Minnesota, and Maryland).

          *sigh*

  • cs93

    This game has all the trappings of a letdown for the ‘Cats. We’re coming off a great win against the conference’s toughest defense. The Illini stink. We’re heavy favorites. It’s easy to think of this game as a cakewalk. Over the last two years, the Illini have played their best game against us and beaten us. Let’s hope the team remembers that and treats this game as a “revenge” kind of game against our in-state rival. I wanna see Illini nation pounded on Saturday (I’ll be at Ryan Field for this one).

    • fullfathomfive

      God no please no letdown!!! I am sure Fitz, who feels the same way about Illinois as we all do, will make sure that does not happen!! Unfortunately business commitments will keep me away from Dyche — please cheer louder for me!

  • Alumdad

    The Wildcats holiday feasting should end on Saturday, not Thursday. Stuff those downstate turkeys! Crush the Frightened Illini.

  • cece

    don’t get caught up in the hype nonsense the Illini have exhibited. don’t create anything in return. put all the effort into what happens on the field. the players, the plays, the coaches. do the actual football work. the best revenge for all the Illini nonsense is to break their spirit on the field. BEAT ILLINOIS! GO ‘CATS!!!!!

  • http://www.hailtopurple.com/jhodges/ Jonathan Hodges

    Spread is now at NU -18.5, which is the most NU has been favored in a Big Ten game since 1995 (previous top 3 were -16 vs Minnesota last year, -15 @ Illinois in 2005, & -14 vs Illinois in 1998).

    Also, I’m excited to be back in Big Ten country after moving to Maryland last year!

    • David

      We are 10-1 against the spread…..so, I guess we will win by three TDs or more.

    • NUARANINETYFIVE

      I see 5-10K NU fans at Byrd. Do you?

      • Jonathan Hodges

        I’d say there will be a solid contingent (especially given NU brought a 10,000 or so crowd to Army), and I will certainly be there (I’m hoping MD becomes NU’s protected rival so I get an easy commute to an NU game every other yr).

    • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

      How did I know you’d come through! Great stuff..thanks for the info.

  • Doug

    Well…this is the worst thing thats ever happened to the Big Ten. FUCK YOU DELANEY! (sorry LTP, I try to keep it clean around here but occasionally an explative is warranted!)

  • UVA Cat

    Congrats to the men’s soccer team on making it to the NCAA soccer “sweet 16″. They had a tough loss to Michigan in the B1G tournament, but bounced back well to win their first two matches in the NCAA tourney. Go ‘Cats, beat Louisville!!!

  • NorCalCat

    ESPN’s B1G Blog has quotes from various sources about the expansion.

    http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten

    The following statement sums up the situation fairly well:

    Yahoo!’s Dan Wetzel: “In flat-out terms, the Big Ten would be weaker than it currently is. Potential growth is still all about potential. Much of which never is realized.

    “And sure, Big Ten Network money is nice, but at what is a lightly watched, if highly profitable, cable channel determining the direction of the Big Ten itself? This seems like the tail wagging the dog. It’s not like Big Ten programs were hurting for revenue or resources. When is enough money enough? Does it really matter to students and fans if the athletic director’s already opulent oversized office gets remodeled … again?

    “Is that worth not having Ohio State come to town very often?”

  • cece

    oh, and then there’s N.I.U. in the top 25 and in the face of all with that full page ad touting “the best team in Illinois.” more incentive to win.

  • David

    One interesting tidbit is that the WAC became the first 16 team conference. It ended up failing as a group of Presidents met behind the scenes to break off and form the Mountain West. It seems that unity may become more difficult to maintain as more teams join a conference. Now a 30 million dollar pay check from Delaney each year may be a powerful incentive to work out your differences. It seems we are headed to 16 team conferences. Maryland and Rutgers seem to strengthen our hand. Perhaps destabilizing the ACC, put more pressure on ND to join the B10.

  • Kevin W

    Anyone else considered about this addition of Maryland in the B1G affecting NU’s relationship with Under Armor? NU would no longer be marketed as the B1G’s only Under Armor school, and could potentially lose some some favorably treatment.

  • NUMBalumDave

    I hate to post a “me too”, but defeating the Illini is job 1. This senior class has got to get the job done, for themselves and for the program.

    With the possible exception of 1995’s squad, I think this may be the most evenly talented group of Wildcats in my memory. Beating Illinois is a punctuation mark on the conference season. Get it done, ‘Cats!

    • fullfathomfive

      I too like LtP have been looking forward to this game since the 2011 horror show. I detest everything Illini-related and hope NU puts an old-fashioned beatdown on them. Wouldn’t the first Big Ten shutout since 1995 be great???

      • NUMBalumDave

        Yeppers. I was there. 35-0 over Bucky. Let’s do it again over the ILL-ini.

  • David

    President Loh from Maryland said that Maryland and Rutgers will join the Leaders division. Illinois will be moved to the Legends division. Maybe we can parlay this expansion into two more seasons of not playing Ohio State.

  • Scott Feeney, Class of 87

    I think that sometimes you underestimate the number of people at Northwestern that consider the Illini as our main rival and number of people that hate the Blue and Orange. For people are a bit older than you the images of Mike White’s team beating us to lock up their first Rose Bowl birth in decades and then watching the classless Illini fans go onto our field and tear down our goals posts still burns bright. Watching the Illini get its butt waxed by UCLA in the Rose Bowl provided no relief to this affront. Although I like watching us beat Iowa, it is hard to hate Iowa and consider them a rivalry game. Frankly MSU or Wisconsin feels like more of a rivalry than Iowa. I want this game against the Illini for all the same reasons I have always wanted it. For tearing down our goal posts and for beating a team that has always gone about recruiting idiots and criminals.

    • David

      I also wonder if the NU fans raised in IL or close by B10 territory may feel more strongly about this game than one raised in So Cal cheering for the Bruins. I know LTP for years has talked about the lack of passion for this rivalry…but I don’t see it that way. For me, this game has mattered long before they played My Kind of Town or planted knees in groins between plays. When you look at B10 rivalry games, many of the perceived great rivalry games…they are historically lopsided. NU-IL is as close to even after 100+ matchups as any rivalry out there.

      • Scott Feeney, Class of 87

        Good point. What does the series stand at? I would guess something like 54-46.

        • fullfathomfive

          54-46-5. It is the one Big Ten series I think NU can go over .500 in my lifetime to give NU two such with Indiana. David, I agree. This is the game.

          • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

            Don’t forget Nebraska. Well within reach with such a short history. Plus Now Maryland and Rutgers.

    • fullfathomfive

      well said sir. My hat’s off to you. I have been following the ‘Cats since 1984 and Illinois has never dropped from the No. 1 rival spot. The Illini helmet on our cat and the flag planted in our field are another massive affront. Crush the Orange! Baste the Blue! Eliminate the Illini!

  • jason

    BBall #1 in the country in assists per game

  • Jimgocats93

    If this expansion is going through I hope they just split the league east and west:
    NUL, IA, MN, WI, NU, IL & PU

    MI, MSU, IN, OSU, PSU, RU, & MD

    Gocatsgo! Crush IL

  • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

    Regarding B1G expansion…busy day at work so will be leading with the LTP perspective tomorrow. As Chris Martin said, Delany is playing chess while others are playing checkers. This is move 2 of 3 and I’ll explain why this now, what’s next and how it all impacts NU. Hopefully will start an engaging conversation.

  • PBRCat

    Regarding the ugliness in Gopher Prairie, it reminded me of when one of Barnett’s blue chip quarterback recruits quit the Wildcats all of a sudden (in 1994 or before 1995). Steve Schnur ended up picking up the starting position.

    Fast forward a couple of years, and the same fellow ended up singing to the Sun-Times about how great a prospect he was and how Northwestern fans never had the opportunity to witness his greatness on the gridiron. It was one of the stupidest anti-Northwestern rants that I ever read (outside of Jay Marriotti). As if a substandard QB like Schnur and his team mates never managed to accomplish anything other than two consecutive conference titles.

    Of course, we all know Schnur was an effective quarterback unlike the crybaby that he replaced.

  • Henry in CT

    I assume we are going to get by Illinois and if so we will get a tough opponent in our bowl game so we are going to have to have Siemian to beat a team like (say) South Carolina. I hope we start Siemian this week and play him the whole game and throw it at least 40 times to get him as much experience as possible. We will not beat a top team with Colter with or (especially) without Mark. Read what everyone else is saying about Siemian. We wouldn’t have beat MSU if Colter had played the second half instead of Siemian. I think that we have seen the best we can expect from Colter but we have to know by now that he doesn’t have the arm and he is always hesitant to throw the ball and everybody knows it. I think Siemian has terrific potential and with him and a little luck we can beat just about anybody.