Mississippi State First Look; Plus ‘Cats Land Pair of 2013 Commits!

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

  • 84Grad

    I wanted to go the Outback Bowl, but we’ll be in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl win. The way to change the perception of NU is for Wildcat fans to show up and for the team to beat Miss. State.

    • Amen.

    • Rhode Cat

      Ditto. NAA package, game tix, flights…done. Really good feeling that it’s all going to be worth it because THIS IS THE YEAR!! Go ‘Cats!

    • JP

      Do you ever remember it being this expensive to fly to a bowl destination? Somehow, I got to El Paso, of all places, WAY cheaper than what fares to JAX are showing. $600-800? Forget it. I’ll watch it at home.

      • gocatsteve

        Drive. That’s what we’re (wife and 4 kids) doing from Chicago. Flights to Florida in December are always atrociously expensive. We flew to the Texas bowl games but drove to the Outback Bowl. When you do, bring a healthy supply of NU car flags. (Going 85 through Georgia will tear them apart.)

  • Spurrier is such an ass. If I didn’t have my sights set on Pasadena or better in 2013. I’d hope for a chance for Fitz to stomp the ever-loving shit out of him in the CapOne/Outback/Gator next year.

    • wcgrad

      Aiming a bit low, aren’t we? While Spurrier is getting his butt kicked by a Motivated Ohio State sqaud, NU will be taking home the Crystal Football.

  • NUOtter

    Spurrier’s comments are even more strange given he gave us our highest ranking in the Coaches Poll (#14) and had Michigan down at #21. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/coaches-poll12

    • Dave

      If that’s the case, I guess he just meant national perception. By that account, I agree with him.

    • Matt

      I live in SEC country and have to say I hear him say a lot of stupid stuff. Sometimes it’s not just the point he’s trying to make but the way he says it. He’s received some media attention this year for talking about Alabama being able to beat an NFL team, and for Georgia’s easy schedule.

      But on this quote, it does actually seem like he is complimenting us, just in an odd, Spurrier-esque way. I read his comment (and Coaches Poll rankings) as NU and Mich are roughly equal opponents (or perhaps NU even has a slight edge), but that due to program history and national perception, South Carolina looks better beating (or losing) to Michigan compared to NU. I totally agree with that. Time to beat MSU on Jan 1 and start changing some minds going into next season!!

    • zeek

      No, that makes more sense.

      Think about it like this; go and look at the rankings that coaches give their “expected” bowl opponents.

      Over the past 7 days, all of the talk was Northwestern-South Carolina in the Outback bowl.

      His ranking simply reflects that; a lot of coaches give better rankings to their expected bowl opponents (probably so it looks better when they play against them).

    • robpollard

      Steve Spurrier probably had as much to do with that particular ballot as you or I did.

      It was likely filled out by his nephew or some flack in the Ath Dept. All polls are suspect, but the Coaches’ Poll is beyond ridiculous: no coach has time to look at, or even think about, any team except who they’ve played and who they play next. That’s a universe of about 12 teams. How they would come up with a meaningful ranking of 25 is impossible.

    • Chasmo

      NIU is ranked above NU but it is strange to say that beating NU (of the Big 10) means more than beating NIU (of the MAC)? Most coaches would feel better about beating a major conference team AND most coaches would feel better about beating one of the winningest programs in NCAA history. The team’s record in any given season doesn’t erase the fact that NU has more status than NIU and Michigan has more status than NU>

  • Hudie

    Am I the only one here who agrees with Spurrier?
    He’s basically saying that a win against Michigan means more nationally than a win against NU. How is that news to anyone? Or insulting?
    Michigan is a storied program. NU is on the rise, but we also lost to UM in a dramatic, heartbreaking way. When we start appearing regularly in the top 25, we will avoid comments like Spurrier’s.

    • timc

      Agreed. He’s an A-Hole, but it’s understandable albeit unnecessary what he said. He could have just talked about their actual opponent, and not the one they didn’t get. Situation reversed, and Fitz would never say that.

    • Noah

      Agreed. I hate that it is true, and it is something that should have been left un-said, but we all know in the highly politicized world of college sports, history and reputation are important. And Mich is a more storied program, even if they aren’t a better team.

      But for good measure, if we dont go to Pasadena next year, let’s kick his ass!

    • I don’t disagree with the basis of Spurrier’s comments. But, begin at South Carolina, he should know how difficult it is to break perceptions about your program. My complaint was why single out Northwestern? Maybe it was asked in the question and that is why he answered it the way he did.

      If Northwestern just wins, none of it matters.

      • zeek

        Er, he singled Northwestern out because we were likely to be their opponent in the Outback Bowl under the conventional wisdom. The unexpected Wisconsin Rose Bowl is why it didn’t happen.

        He didn’t single us out randomly; also, he had us up at #14 on his coaching ballot because he expected us as an opponent and wanted us to have a higher ranking without a doubt.

        It makes sense. I don’t think he was picking on us at all.

      • ‘Catatonic Tim

        Agreed. South Carolina has no tradition or reputation either so he shouldn’t be badmouthing us for a lack of the same. One conference championship (in 1969 as a member of the ACC) and a dismal historical record against their main rival Clemson (40-65-4).

    • cece

      it did not need to be said. file away for future reference.

    • Scooter

      Yeah, I agree with you. What he said is 100% accurate. Michigan is the winningest football program in CFB history. A win against them means more than a win against us. Regardless of who is a better team this year between the two schools, you get more recognition nationally for playing Michigan than NU.

  • JM

    I can’t remember a Fitz-coached bowl where we had more to win: Prospect of top-15 finish and preseason ranking, all-time wins record for Fitz, great storylines about program momentum and a 2-0 mark against bowl-eligible SEC teams, and of course the end of a certain streak.

    And this is a good matchup for us, with an opponent that struggles to stop the run.

    • zeek

      You can’t because it’s not possible to…

      This is by far the best opportunity that our program has had to take the “next step” in this streak of bowl games under Fitz’s tenure.

      The upside is enormous starting with the fact that we’ll end the season ranked AND likely start next season ranked because of how many players will be returning to this squad along with the uptick in talent. That’s a 9 month window of being ranked essentially (November 2012 to September 2013).

      We’ve never had an opportunity like this under Fitz.

  • bandcat

    Fill the sky with Monkies! Just Do It Cats!

  • DarkSide

    Plan, Work, Execute, Finish. Beat the Bulldogs. Go Cats!

    Fitz needs to expect a Laking when he returns victorious from Jacksonville.

    • Wildcats99

      Yes, Great idea!

      Since they won’t let us Lake the Posts any more, let’s LAKE THE FITZ!

    • River the Posts!

  • Left out of LTP’s post, but worthy of a mention, is that Fitz is one game away from passing Pappy Waldorf for NU’s all-time win mark. There is a lot of history on the line in Jacksonville. Should be a very fun time!

  • Catatonic Joe

    As if the Cats need any more motivation, the early line has us as 2 point underdogs. See you in Jax! Go Cats!

  • More needs to be said about these recruits…..McShepard is an absolute speed demon, Fuessel has a ton of talent, and we’re still in the mix for some other REALLY good players (WR James Clark from Florida, DB Jaleel Hycythe from Ohio), plus we could pick up others due to coaching changes/instability (see: Purdue, Cal, etc.)

    • Chasmo

      Agreed. Overall team speed is something NU has always lacked and it is something Fitz has been trying to remedy of late. These two lads are fast and may turn out to be good players for NU.
      However, Cat fans probably would be more joyous about these two commitments if their lists of offers including more big time programs. Signing more kids that Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin want is what NU needs to do if it is to have a chance to win another Big Ten title.

  • Mark

    Welcome aboard Marcus and Tommy! We are psyched about your arrival and the program’s ability to attract increasingly strong recruitment classes. Take advantage of everything NU and Chicago offer. There are great college towns in the Big Ten, but Chicago offers opportunities not available in those places. Go Cats!

  • Henry in CT

    What Spurrier meant is that it is worth more if you beat a team like Michigan and it costs less if you lose than if you are playing Northwestern because you are playing the reputation. That is not a slam; it is a statement of fact. I’m sure that Spurrier has respect for NU and is thankful that he doesn’t have to play us.

    • Db


    • I agree – Michigan has a higher national visibility during most years – right or not.

      I have family in South Carolina. They have noted that Spurrier is “…a bit of a nut…” and “…when he opens his mouth you never know what’s going to come out…” Spurrier is generally cheerful and funny and not prone to being mean. He was just being himself – don’t take it too seriously.

      Let’s hope that the Wildcats take care of business against MSU. If NU can’t beat the Bulldogs, then everyone will figure that they wouldn’t have won against the Gamecocks. Blow out the Bulldogs and let *that* be the reply to Coach Spurrier.

      Go Cats!

  • chitown2424

    Need to make a few corrections about Tommy Fuessel first he’s a senior and second he runs a 4.3/40 either way Happy to have him. Got to watch him he’s going to be a great player!