The Baylor Bail Out & Wildcat Bowl Bits

We’re going to flip from football to men’s basketball for a bit today. Don’t worry, we’ll be cranking out all kinds of Northwestern football content ranging from NU alum travel guides to Jacksonville to interviews with all sorts of CFB media on NU and Mississippi State, along with a deeper dive in to the history of the Gator Bowl. We’ve got a full month of content lined up and simply not enough days to cram it all in. Northwestern basketball, meanwhile, is in a non-conference freefall after a horrible week which included a nationally televised butt-whooping by Maryland and an embarassing home loss to suprising UIC (6-1) on Saturday.

Now, Northwestern has the return Baylor game from exactly a year ago and must go to Waco, Texas tonight (ESPN2 8pm ct) to try and get back on track. Talk about a tall order. The Bears are coming off, oh, just the first road win at Kentucky by ANYONE in55 games in that arena.   The Bears (5-2) are unranked, but don’t let that fool you. We saw last year just how athletic this team is when they pasted the ‘Cats in Evanston. Granted, several key players are gone, but the Bears are loaded with athletic above-the-rim talent. Let’s do a quick preview, shall we?

If They’re That Talented Why Aren’t They Ranked? Well, they were. The Bears were ranked in the mid-teens, but after opening the season 3-0 with wins over Lehigh, Jackson State and BC, they lost at home by a deuce to Colorado, blasted  St. John’s, and then lost againto College of Charleston in their tournament.  That will knock you from the rankings. They dominated then #8 Kentucky in the 64-55 win in Lexington on Saturday and were pretty responsible for Kentucky’s record-setting drop from the Top 25. Make no mistake about it, this is an upper tier team and a NCAA Tournament level team. A win by Northwestern here, highly unlikely, would be a resume statement game.  Baylor is very much in the “Also Receiving Votes”, seven back from the Top 25 in the AP Poll and eight back in the Coaches’ Poll.

I’ve blocked last year from my memory, who should we be concerned about? Let’s start at the point, where David Sobolewski will have his hands full. Pierre Jackson is not only a stud PG, but he’s the Bears leading scorer. He led the way with 17 points at Kentucky, but he’s averaging a Shurna-esque 19.9 ppg. Oh yeah, did we mention he’s the preseason  Big12 Player of the Year? Gulp. I’ve got three words for you “1-3-1” (OK, those are numbers, but you get the, uh, point).

Is that it? Hardly. Cory Jefferson is a beast in the post and puts up 13.7 ppg and 8.4  rpg, but he’s the kind of guy who puts back thunderous slams on missed shots and eats up space in the low post. He’s a huge mismatch issue for us down low based on his size, strength and foot speed. Then, they’ve got Brady Heslip who is a thicker version of ‘ol Wildcat Todd Leslie. OK, for you younger pups, think Kale Abrahamson in game one, or Alex when he’s on his best night ever. Heslip is 11-13 from THREE so far this season. He tends to hit dagger shots and from deep.

If we lost to UIC at home, why would I think we can beat Baylor? Well, perhaps you’re in to random things like the fact we’re playing well in Texas? This isn’t Indiana, Duke or Michigan, but they are the next level down from that. I point to the Illinois State win as one that should give you hope. That ISU team nearly knocked off Louisville on Saturday, so we’ve shown we can play at that level, but this is a Maryland-like match-up issue. In Carmody-ball, it is pretty simple. You live by the three, die by the three and if you don’t rebound well (like we normally don’t do) we’ll get crushed. This Baylor team is nowhere near as good as what we saw in Evanston last year, but then again, we may not be either. It’s two losses, so don’t overreact quite yet, however if we get thumped tonight, Butler becomes an early season must win or it could be a very, very long season in Evanston. Simply put, NU has to make FTs (we shot 50% on Saturday, missing 10!, TEN!!!) and we have to shoot better from three.  We held UIC to 30% shooting from the field – and lost. R-E-B-O-U-N-D.


We’ve already been in contact with both the Gator Bowl execs and reps and several LTP readers who are NU alums from the Jacksonville area. We’re in the process of putting together an insider’s guide to how to bowl down there and it’s already been brought to my attention that the St. John’s River feeds in to the city and we might want to rename the blog River The Posts, just for this month. What I’ve already learned is the city is VERY spread out and you need a rental car to max out on enjoyment. If your plan is to just stay in the city by the team hotel, you’ll be pretty disappointed after a day or two.

The first travel tidbit came down yesterday from the very proactive Gator Bowl folks, who shared the following info as it relates to bookding hotels:

Call 1800-888-8292. Tell them you want the Gatorbowl.
I just checked  and they can get you booked.  Do not use the web.  Don’t ask me why  it’s being run over the phone because I honestly don’t know.  I think this  is only for the downtown hotels.  The resorts and beaches hotels do not  seem to be using the MTS system.
I hope this  helps.

Wildcat Awards
Fed up with the lack of honors the 9-3 ‘Cats aren’t getting? Good, me too. Tomorrow, we’ll have the LTP Wildcat Awards so we can break down every conceivable honor that this over-achieving team accomplished. The more I read about the lack of respect for NU in the media and the more I read just how little Mississippi State has done, the more I believe we can not only win this bowl game, but put on a show.

Recruiting Promise

Chris Emma has a nice story on Galion, Ohio’s Dareian Watkins, a 3-star athlete who has Northwestern atop his favorite list for 2014. Watkins attended the ‘Cats win over Vandy and has been getting a weekly dose of Fitz contact and as you’ve read about so many recruits before, the description of the close-knit factor and the appreciation for Fitz seem to read like a script out of every past commit’s path. Watkins is a two-way stud and has offers from NU, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Purdue and now has Wisconsin and Ohio State courting him as well.

Separately, James Clark, a 3-star WR from New Smyrna Beach, Florida – just down the coast from Jacksonville – has narrowed his pretty incredible offer list down to five finalists. Yes, Northwestern made the cut. The ‘Cats will have to beat out Florida, Texas, Rutgers, and Duke for his services. Let’s hope a huge purple turnout in Jacksonville influences a guy who is sure to be at the game. Oh the reasons the purple out en masse matter.

  • Frank


    Any info on charter flights to the Gator Bowl like the ones to the Rose Bowl? Non-stop Flights to Jacksonville are not common.



    • Rhode Cat

      Northwestern Alumni Association has a charter from Chicago as an option included with its Bowl packages.

    • As Rhode Cat said, has packages both charter flight packages and/or land only packages.

  • CatInTheHat

    The more I learn about MSU, the better I feel about this matchup (and I felt pretty good about it to begin with). I just don’t think they have the ability to stop both the Kain Colter triple threat AND Venric. It is imperative that Fitz not try to get cute or conservative and just sticks with the gameplan that worked when we won this year–commit to the option, use Kain Colter effectively as a QB/HB and sparingly at receiver when we want to open things up through the air, plus get Venric Mark 15 touches, and we win. Period. I also think Venric rips a punt return for a TD in this one. O-line play needs to stay strong as it has all year, and they need to keep their heads about them (not get tight because it’s a chance to make NU history) and just play their game. Secondary needs to step up as it has many times this year. MSU can put up points, but I’m confident that we can put up more and that we can get a couple of key defensive stops/turnovers.

    Also, LTP–a humble request: Can you keep us up to date to the best of your ability on how we’re doing with our ticket allotment? The ticket office has been frustratingly tight-lipped with that info until close to game day the past couple of years, but it would be great to know where we stand every week or so. Thanks, as always, for everything you do!

  • Bob Parkman

    Jacksonville has a lot to offer the visitor: beaches, fishing, food, golf, sailing, nightlife, history. St Augustine is less than an hour down the road and the amusement park capital of the world is about 3 hours away (or you could spend the week in Orlando and drive up for the game).
    Weather can be cold or warm. I’ve been at the beach in nice warm weather on New Years Day, and I also recall a Gator Bowl game decades ago where it was below freezing.

  • Alan Casey

    Is that river navigable? Does it pass near the stadium? :)

  • My hotel in Jacksonville has been booked since shortly after the end of our victory over Michigan State. My tailgate/game ticket package has been booked since this morning. I already had plans to be on Tybee Island, just outside Savannah, for the holidays, and JAX is a rather easy drive from there. I’ll be sitting with two friends from Atlanta and another from Dallas!

  • DarkSide

    Deadspin thinks Mississippi State’s season is the second most shameful this year in the SEC.

    “Shamed in secret: Mississippi State
    Middle Tennessee State. That’s the only team the Bulldogs beat to finish the season with a winning record, but we are not putting MSU here simply because its wins were unimpressive. All four of Mississippi State’s losses were by at least two touchdowns, and in all four, the Bulldogs failed to run for 100 yards. Dan Mullen’s team went 8-for-47 on third down in those four games. Two hundred forty minutes of football were played in those games, and Mississippi State led for only about 38 of them.”
    We better beat them. I hope they do not use this game to figure out how to remedy their underachievement.
    Go ‘Cats.

  • SJ Wildcat

    Big win for the Cats. Truth be told, I felt like I was watching Penn State, Nebraska or the Michigan football games as the Cats kept missing free throws and letting Baylor back into the game.

  • PDXCat

    Just wondering if Stephen Bardo could be more anti-Cat. If you were only listening you’d swear the Cats were losing. And his sidekick was playing along with him. Luckily this game counts on our record as a W, not a Baylor L.

    Big Alex thumbing his nose at the Hack-O-Lah. Nice win.

    Go Cats!

    • Jbonz

      @pdxcat @sj Wildcat. What was the line on this game? Great win for Cats! I didn’t like the rim violation on craw, but at least swop was more aggressive . Olay stepped up. And we closed! Fitzitis didn’t bite us an the 4th!