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Mailbag: Clayton Thorson, Matt Mooney and bottled water preferences

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Lots of great questions this week.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone, thanks so much for your questions. We included the best of the bunch here, and answered them as best we could. We really appreciate you guys reading the site and interacting with it — it’s much more fun when the readers are engaged in what we’re doing. We’ll try to have mailbags like this one periodically. Here goes nothing...

“Which will be higher next year: NU football win totals OR NU Basketball Big Ten wins?”— @D_Sandros

Davis Rich: I’ll go with Northwestern basketball Big Ten wins, because I’m probably more bullish on the basketball team than most, and because Clayton Thorson’s knee injury throws a big wrench in any football predictions.

We don’t have any news on Thorson’s progress, except that he’s, well, progressing. For now, let’s say he misses two games, against Purdue and Duke. Thorson’s replacement will be tossed into the fire with a road Big Ten game as his first career start, and then will turn around and face a Duke team that eviscerated Northwestern by 24 last year. There’s a very real chance that even with Thorson back for the Akron game, Northwestern could enter October 1-3, with Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Iowa, and Michigan State still left on the schedule. Getting to five wins in that scenario would be tough.

Even assuming that Thorson doesn’t miss any time, and he’s ready for the season opener, I think Northwestern will probably max out at seven or eight regular season wins. A bowl win would raise the ceiling to nine, so we’re looking at a range of five to nine wins for the basketball team to surpass. If I had to wager, I’d say the football team wins six games this year.

Obviously, getting Matt Mooney would make answering this question easier, but I still think the Wildcats should have no problem surpassing last year’s total of six conference wins. Picking up Ryan Taylor was huge, and I think he’ll be able to be about 80 to 85 percent of what Scottie Lindsey was for the Wildcats. The talent coming into the program is unmatched, and if Miller Kopp, Jordan Lathon, and Pete Nance develop into rotational pieces at the rate Anthony Gaines did last year, this could be a pretty good Wildcat team by the end of the season. Don’t forget about A.J. Turner, who was productive in his sophomore year at Boston College, either. For now, I’m anticipating seven to nine conference wins. Let’s call it eight.

Caleb Friedman: Basketball. Northwestern should be able to win at least eight to 10 conference games with the Big Ten moving to a 20-game schedule. With the addition of Ryan Taylor, I expect the Wildcats to improve from last season, especially if Chris Collins can land Matt Mooney. I think football probably wins seven games with a tough schedule.

“Do you think northwestern is a tournament team next year if we land Matt Mooney?”— @ChicagoStation

CF: I think it’s close, and it’s hard to say without knowing Northwestern’s non-conference schedule, but I’m going to say yes. Getting Welsh-Ryan Arena back helps a lot, and, if Taylor and Mooney are as good as advertised, Northwestern’s backcourt would have a ton of firepower, especially with Miller Kopp and A.J. Turner in the mix. It might take some time to gel, but Mooney would add stability to the point guard spot that won’t really be there without him. A rotation with Mooney starting at the one allows Jordan Ash to play situationally, a role he is better suited for, and would allow Jordan Lathon to come off the bench and ease into college basketball, which is ideal. I’m hesitant to say Mooney would make the entire difference between making or missing the Tournament, but that’s the way it feels right now.

“Will Northwestern have a running back who breaks Justin Jackson’s records in the next two decades?”— @tristanjung0

DR: The short answer is no. Justin Jackson carried the ball 1142 times as a Wildcat. That’s the sixth-most carries of any FBS running back since 1956.

Durability was, among other things, what made Jackson so exemplary. Jackson played banged up at times, ceding carries to his backups, but he never missed a game. In 51 career games, he carried the ball ten times or more 48 times.

In order for a running back to break Justin Jackson’s records, he’d have to be a four-year starter who literally never got injured, remained productive, and didn’t leave early for the draft. That’s a confluence of factors that seems unlikely to me.

“What is the latest medical update on Clayton Thorson? It was encouraging to see him on the field during spring ball. Will he be ready to go for game one?”— @Bobjnorris

“How is Thorson’s recovery coming along?”— @Jeff_Heinzmann

“What gameplan/strategy is Fitz most likely to employ to avoid another slow start like ‘16 & ‘17? Purdue will be hostile environment, so heavy Larkin & mobile QB (*Smith?), simplified offense?” — @bweiny

CF: Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for you. The program is hardly disclosing anything (surprise surprise), and Thorson didn’t participate in any real drills during spring ball. There seems to be a feeling of optimism inside the program regarding Thorson’s recovering, but that’s merely speculative based on limited access.

If I were forced to bet, I’d say Thorson plays Week 1, but I really have no idea. We’ll know a lot more once summer practice gets underway.

“how do I midterms”— @danibarlavi

CF: I just finished three midterms in three days. The best advice I have is this: trust yourself. You’ll find a way, especially if Darren did.

“how will NU tennis fare in NCAA tournament?”— @alextheneum

DR: Northwestern has a pretty favorable draw for the first two rounds. The first team they’ll see in Evanston is Buffalo, who went undefeated in MAC play, but also lost 6-1 to a Penn State team that Northwestern beat 6-1. Should Northwestern advance, it will play either Kentucky or Kansas State (75 percent Wildcats in a subregion could be a record). Kentucky was a pretty middle-of-the-road SEC team this year, going 6-7 in conference play and 14-10 overall. Moreover, Northwestern beat their Wildcat counterparts 4-0 back in January, in Lexington. Kansas State actually beat a Baylor team that Northwestern lost to in March, but Kansas State has also lost five straight matches so take that as you will.

The point is, Northwestern has a pretty nice path to the round of 16, but that’s where No. 3 Duke looms. The Blue Devils have won 17 of 19 matches and beat Michigan, the Big Ten champs, back in February.

“If you couldn’t sleep... what would you do with your eight extra hours a day?”— @keith_bohrer

DR: Presuming I wouldn’t be tired, I would read a lot more. It’s hard to find time to pick up a book as a college student and there’s a lot of good stuff to read. Yes, only a Northwestern student would opt to read when given more free time.

This is actually the correct take.

“What’s your favorite brand of bottled water? What IM sport would you add? And what’s the most inspiring class you’ve taken so far at Northwestern?”— @MartinOppegaard

DR: Everyone should use reusable water bottles, but I’ll go Dasani. I can’t say I really know what I’m talking about.

In terms of IM sports, I’d love to see handball in the mix. I won’t bore people with a monologue about how good Americans would be at the sports if they picked it up (seriously, imagine Anthony Davis or Noah Syndergaard playing handball). It’s kinda similar to basketball and also kinda similar to hockey or soccer, and handball players are crazy athletic.

I would love to see Northwestern students try to make some of those plays.

The best class I’ve taken at Northwestern so far has been the American Presidency. Ask me about Stephen Skowronek’s Presidential Leadership in Political Time. The most inspiring class I’ve taken is probably Journalism 201-1, which is an objectively crazy answer but it solidified my passion for the major. Journalism is cool, y’all.

CF: I’m not really a huge bottled water person, but I’d say Smartwater, I guess. The bottles are sleek.

As for a new IM sport, I’d love to get Speedball in the mix. Basically, speedball is soccer mixed with handball. If the ball is in the air, it’s regular handball — if it’s on the ground, it’s soccer. You can drop the ball down to play soccer if it’s in the air, and you have to flick or kick the ball from the ground to either your own or somebody else’s hands to play handball. Throw or kick the ball in the goal for one point, and volley or head the ball in for two. Speedball combines a bunch of different skills we don’t usually mix, which is awesome.

The most inspiring class I’ve taken was probably Sports Media History, mostly because it aligned very closely to my interests as someone who covers sports in my free time. Really studying and understanding the evolution of sports journalism from the days of Grantland Rice and Red Smith all the way to the Hot Take era was a process I know I’ve kind of taken for granted. The best class I’ve taken is History of the Modern Middle East, though. The geopolitics in the Middle East is complex and often misunderstood, so it was really cool to learn about why things today are the way they are there. College is great. You get to learn about how real things work.

“Why didn’t they call the goaltend?” —Liam Sunde

DR: I don’t know, man.

CF: They were fed up with the Northwestern media contingent on Twitter.