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Spring Mailbag: Musings on the state of Northwestern athletics

As the transition from spring to summer begins, our editors delved into queries about Wildcat football, basketball and a host of other related topics.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern spring sports are over, so with some time to kill before launching into three months of summer football preview content, your editors here at Inside NU thought it would be a good time to hear from our readers and address some of the most burning questions lingering out there in the Northwestern Wildcats community.

We got all sorts of questions from fans in these past few days — ranging from which NU program we think is the closest to winning a national championship to one fan who wanted to know what Pat Fitzgerald had for breakfast yesterday morning. While we can’t claim to have the answers to everything Northwestern-related, we’ll do our best to unpack it all together.

Here is your pre-summer 2019 mailbag:

@FakeCoachFitz on Twitter: Whatever happened with that financial advisor guy who said he paid players to hire him after they went pro?

Noah: With the college basketball trial ending three weeks ago, we haven’t had the opportunity to hear much from Marty Blazer recently. Merl Code and Christian Dawkins, the two defendants that Blazer testified directly against during the trial, were each convicted of some but not all of the crimes they were accused of.

Meanwhile, Blazer, who committed multiple felonies, will still be going to prison. Northwestern told us that they would be undergoing an internal investigation, and we have heard no results from that yet, but there’s no reason to think anything major will come out of it (at least in Evanston).

@CBB_Central on Twitter: Food item most needed to be added to Ryan Field and over/under on Northwestern football players drafted next year?

Joe: Chick-Fil-A sandwiches (which they have at Indiana, Oklahoma, and probably other schools) would be a game changer. Plus, this Northwestern team has a history of playing well when Chick-FIl-A is on the table

Avery: Seconded.

Noah: I happen to think the food options are pretty solid as they are, but the powers that be definitely need to make it so that there is more than just one place selling every non-hot dog item. I suppose if I had to add something it would be my favorite ballpark food: Elotés, which are a staple at Guaranteed Rate Field. The dish consists of corn, butter, mayonnaise, cheese, lime juice, salt, and cayenne pepper. In other words, perfection.

With regards to the second part of this question, it will depend heavily on whether Paddy Fisher has a successful enough season to leave early. I’ll put the line at 1.5: Joe Gaziano seems like a near-lock if he continues his recent success, and Fisher would probably be picked if he left. Other seniors who would put themselves into the conversation with a great year are Bennett Skowrownek, Alex Miller, and Trae Williams.

@TheBoothReview3 on Twitter: How upset should we be if NU gets to the Rose Bowl this year? With Hunter Johnson at QB I feel like the Cats should be a lock for the playoff.

Avery: Alright, I think this is where I make my cameo in this mailbag.

It would be an absolute disgrace if Northwestern didn’t qualify for the playoff, and heads would most certainly roll. Fitz constantly preaches that the ultimate goal for Northwestern football is to win championships, and there is no better opportunity than a transfer quarterback in his first year with an offensive line in transition. It’s playoff or bust for the ‘Cats.

Thank you for your time.

TJ Tomaso on Twitter: Which NU sport will next win a national championship?

Noah: Given that Northwestern women’s lacrosse has a championship pedigree and just reached the national semifinals, it’s tough to pick against them. Throw in the returning Big Ten freshman of the year and top recruiting classes on the horizon, and Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad is the easy pick. The future is bright for them.

But the Wildcats have plenty of other teams on the brink of serious national contention! So for more on this topic, stay tuned for the weekend, when the Inside NU staff will answer a slightly altered version of this question at length.

Former EIC @calebfriedman on Twitter: Evanston summer activities, ranked, and what would your ideal Ryan Field renovation look like?

Joe: While I can’t claim to be an expert on all Evanston summer activities, I can tell you that the July 4 Parade down Central Street is a must-see event for the holiday. I’ll also throw in a plug for Canal Shores Golf Course for anyone who wants to work on their stroke for a reasonable price. The course offers great views of the North Shore Channel/Baha’i House of Worship and boasts a nice student Wildcard discount.

As for my ideal Ryan Field renovation, the first change that comes to mind has to be moving the South End Zone bleachers closer to the field. Those bleachers feel like their own world out there as it stands, so moving them in would provide a more intimate stadium experience for all parties involved. While I’m a fan of the main curved West Stand of the stadium as I think it provides the field a trademark look, I’d like to see some remodeling done with the Eastern side of the stadium in addition to also moving those bleachers closer to the playing surface.

Also more bathrooms, please add more bathrooms.

@Nuttle_Shuttle on Twitter: Why isn’t Chase Audige allowed to play this year? Other schools request hardship waivers for similar reasons. Or have they not decided yet?

Noah: From all available reporting, Audige has not applied for a hardship waiver. There are plenty of factors that play into that decision. In this case, because Northwestern probably won’t be ready to seriously compete in the Big Ten for at least a year, it makes sense to align Audige with the class of 2019 in terms of graduation. This allows him to take a year to get comfortable within Chris Collins’ system without being thrown into the fire, and makes it so that an additional year of his eligibility falls within the Wildcats’ likely contending window.

@dharmon on Twitter: Is our offensive line going to be able to keep Hunter Johnson vertical?

Noah: That’s the big question! The group certainly seems to be buying what Kurt Anderson is selling, the move of Rashawn Slater to left tackle should help with the blind side, and Jared Thomas brings stability up the middle. There will certainly be an adjustment period for the line as a whole, but with a potential improvement at the quarterback position solely in terms of avoiding sacks (never Clayton Thorson’s strong suit), there is at least room for hope.

@angrysteveworld on Twitter: How many scholarship players will the men’s basketball team have for the upcoming season?

Noah: As of this writing, the Wildcats have nine scholarship players who are eligible to see the court next year (excluding Audige). That leaves three available scholarship slots, which Chris Collins and his staff are in the process of attempting to fill. If I had to guess, I’d say two of those spots go to either grad transfers or incoming recruits and one to a sit-one transfer, leaving the Wildcats with 11 scholarship players for the season.

However, with a few of the top potential grad transfer guards already finding other homes, NU will have to move quickly if they want to fill out those spots in a manner of their choosing.

Mike Deneen on Facebook: Why doesn’t our men’s basketball team play Loyola? We play them a lot in other sports.

Noah: Loyola is a bit of a no-win opponent for a team like Northwestern. Porter Moser’s Ramblers grind games out, allowing them to take down higher-profile, power conference squads even when they are outclassed in terms of talent.

The two teams do reportedly meet for preseason scrimmages, and Moser and Chris Collins seem to be on fine terms. In general, though, Collins has shown that he wants to tailor his non-conference schedule towards tuneups with the occasional semi-marquee matchup instead of tests like Loyola, especially given that the Ramblers don’t give the same resumé boost as a comparable power-conference opponent.

@NUfans14 on Twitter: Is Jalen Brown still a part of the program? And do you think any of the incoming freshman WRs will make an impact this season?

Noah: Unfortunately, after two injury-ridden years, Jalen Brown’s eligibility has run out. The former four-star transfer will always serve as somewhat of a what-if for a Northwestern receiving corps that could have used an athleticism boost at times over the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, given how Pat Fitzgerald and his staff handled the new redshirt rule last season, it would be shocking if Genson Hooper-Price and Bryce Kirtz, Northwestern’s two best receiver recruits in the rankings era, didn’t get a chance on the field. Kirtz, especially, with his past experience playing alongside likely starter Hunter Johnson, seems like a good candidate to at least become a part of the offense for a few games.

The Wildcats have every receiver returning except for Flynn Nagel, so it’s a crowded group, but Hooper-Price and Kirtz should each get a shot. Both have the talent to emerge and make a significant impact, but thanks to the group’s depth I’d say it’s not likely that either do much beyond flashing their potential for a couple of plays at a time.

@irsultan14 on Twitter: What did Pat Fitzgerald eat for breakfast today?

Joe: Fitz declined to reveal the status of this morning’s meal.