The bowl speculation became a full-time sport this weekend and thanks to our Brett Kurland, we were able to provide you with constant updates (thanks Brett – GREAT job). By now you know we’re heading to Jacksonville, Florida on New Year’s Day to face Mississippi State (8-4) of the SEC in the Gator Bowl (Jan 1., noon, ESPN2). We’ll be all over this today, this week, and this month. However, lost in the bowl insanity was Northwestern’s huge recruiting weekend. While the headlines on ESPN were about NIU getting the Orange Bowl date with Florida State and the talking heads screaming about the need to rewrite the rules again, Northwestern had its very own connection to NIU pay off big time.
Tommy Fuessel, a 6-3, 180-pound QB from Franklin (Lincoln Way East), IL was an NIU Huskies commitment just a week ago. The super athletic junior was on the wrong end of the IHSA state championship score. However, he decommitted early last week according to WildcatReport.com, received and offer from Northwestern and committed to Pat Fitzgerald this past Saturday. Fuessel projects to be a safety or WR in Evanston and locals laud his speed and athleticism (runs a 4.6/40 and has a 37 inch vertical). We’re thrilled to have Tommy on board. But, that wasn’t all the good news this weekend. Marcus McShepard, a 5-11, 185 pound CB from Cleveland Heights, OH also pledged his future to Fitz and the ‘Cats this weekend according to Scout’s Chris Emma. McShepard was being courted by Illinois and Penn State and had a slew of MAC offers, but Jeff Rotsky, his coach, has been lauding NU as the “perfect fit” for his senior. McShepard runs a 4.4/40 and we’re thrilled to have him as a Wildcat. Congrats to the players and the coaching staff for a great weekend.
Mississippi State – Quick Look
There were all kinds of emotion being bantered about online yesterday among ‘Cats fans. There was frustration that the B1G and SEC officials would step in to pit Nebraska and Georgia against one another in the Capital One Bowl. There was excitement that despite “dropping” to the Gator Bowl, our match-up with Mississippi State couldn’t have been a better one in terms of SEC opponents and our ability to end the bowl streak. Oh yeah, and everything in between. We’ll have much more on that later, but first, here is why I believe that ‘Cats fans should be very excited about the possibility of winning on New Year’s Day. Here is my caveat – I will be going in depth in to the cronyism, old boy network that is the outdated current bowl system during this week. It deserves post(s) all on its own, but now isn’t the time for that. Today it’s about focusing on getting ‘Cats fans in the know about Mississippi State.
Let’s look at MSU’s 8-4 schedule. The good news is they have really only beaten the bottom of the barrel in the SEC and have been blownout by any teams of note in the nation’s best conference.
|09/01/2012||JACKSON ST. *||56 – 9||W|
|09/08/2012||AUBURN||28 – 10||W|
|09/15/2012||@ Troy *||30 – 24||W|
|09/22/2012||SOUTH ALA. *||30 – 10||W|
|10/06/2012||@ Kentucky||27 – 14||W|
|10/13/2012||TENNESSEE||41 – 31||W|
|10/20/2012||MIDDLE TENN.||45 – 3||W|
|10/27/2012||@ Alabama||7 – 38||L|
|11/03/2012||TEXAS A&M||13 – 38||L|
|11/10/2012||@ LSU||17 – 37||L|
|11/17/2012||ARKANSAS||45 – 14||W|
|11/24/2012||@ Ole Miss||24 – 41||L|
You don’t need to be an SEC expert to know the Bulldogs four SEC wins were far from “big wins”. The combined win total of ALL four opponents they beat in conference was a whopping three games. The scores against the upper tier SEC teams say what you think they say.
Mississippi State also is below average against the run, ranking 70th in rush defense, giving up 166 ypg on the ground, which you know bodes well for our run first game plan. They do pass the ball fairly well, as QB Tyler Russell, a pocket-type passer, leads a passing game that puts up 249 ypg through the air, an obvious concern for our defense. On the ground, they average 147 ypg and are led by RB Ladarius Perkins (84 ypg). They give 390 ypg on the ground, so this D is hardly the MSU of the B1G, and a team we should expect to move the ball against.
Why This Game Matters So Much
In the big picture, few people outside of the CFB media and NU fans will remember who we played in what bowl and what the result was. Candidly, if you’re not in either the national championship or your conference championship, everything else is kind of window dressing. However, what it really means is setting the program up for next year. A win against Mississippi State would put NU at 10-3, a top 15 across the board finish and as Fitz said last night on BTN, sets you up big for next year. Every pundit would have us as a preseason Top 15 program, and as you all know, starting high has HUGE benefits. You get 9 months of preseason media love and recognition and it’s much harder to fall than it is to climb the rankings ladder. You get momentum of season tickets and sponsorships. You get recruiting image boosts and a competitive advantage over many of the schools we’re competing against. Of course, the fact we’ve been brutal outside of 1996 when we’ve had ANY level of expectations is a different matter. This game is a big, big game for the program.
BRIEF Historical Context
The Bulldogs are coached by Fitz’s “good friend” (as he said last night) Dan Mullen, who is in his fourth year at the helm in Starkville, Mississippi. MSU does not have an illustrious football history, although they are 10-6 in bowl games. They have not won the SEC since 1941 and their lone conference “champion” anything since then was an SEC West division title in 1998. Their alltime record is 514–546–39 (.485) and they play in Davis Wade Stadium (55,000), a field about the size of Ryan Field (47,130). They sport maroon and white and have a mascot named Bully.
What They’re Saying About The Match-Up
ESPN’s team of analysts gushed about Northwestern last night giving props to Kain Colter and Venric Mark, while Lou Holtz was highly complimentary of Fitz saying “every year he finds a way to win”. The crew wasn’t so kind on Mississippi State saying they started 7-0 and then…they started playing real teams. Check it out below:
I watched the BTN crew last night and both Gerry Dinardo and Howard Griffith were like most of us, saying this is a great draw for NU as our run first game plan and this opponent are as good as we could have wanted. Fitz was interviewed by Dave Revsine and I thought it was one of his better interviews of the year – he was relaxed and embraced the bowl losing streak in a much more rationale way then going crazy with the monkey and the like. He said he’s not going to shy away from the streak and the fact is he feels we’ve competed and represented well, but have to finish. He also was reflective on the learns he’s had and how he had overpracticed guys before and has seen tired legs in games and is working on a more balanced approach. I’ll try and find it if I can to share with you.
An AP wire report painted this bowl game as pretty negative lacking the “marquee” names and referenced teams not known for filling seats. It’s hard to argue with the “name appeal” argument, and well, if we’re serious about making a statement to bowls and the media, then find a way to get to Jacksonville on January 1.
And…Now I REALLY want to play South Carolina…
In case you missed it, Steve Spurrier pissed off Wildcat Nation yesterday, openly dissing Northwestern as he talked about facing Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Presumably he was asked about the match-up vs Northwestern, which was very much still in play yesterday, when he responded with this quote, we’ll never forget:
“If you beat Northwestern or you get beat by Northwestern, you don’t achieve as much as you do against Michigan.” – Steve Spurrier, South Carolina head football coach.
Man, can we storm Park Ridge and demand an NU-SC game?
The Bowl Survey Said…
Well, based on the LTP survey, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people.
Where Do You Want To Be On January 1, 2013?
- Outback Bowl in Tampa, I want payback against the curse of the pirate ship! (40%, 438 Votes)
- Capital One Bowl in Orlando, even if it means Alabama (37%, 412 Votes)
- Gator Bowl, the lower the SEC pecking order the better (23%, 253 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,103