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December Mailbag: Football and basketball seasons collide

The next few weeks are chock full of Wildcat sports.

For the first time since March, multiple Wildcat sports teams will be competing at the same time with football’s regular season coming to an end and both men’s and women’s basketball starting up this week.

To answer your questions about the fate of Northwestern football in its final few games and expectations for both basketball teams, co-editors-in-chief Lia Assimakopoulos and Eli Karp shared their perspective.

@RLins12: What’s your take on best and worst case scenario in terms of record for men’s basketball this year?

Lia: Worst case scenario, Northwestern wins just three games this season against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Chicago State and SIU-Edwardsville. NU should be able to take down those three, but Pitt could pose a problem in the nonconfernce. Then, there is a legitimate shot the Wildcats don’t win a single game in the Big Ten. Best case, I’d say 10 or 11 wins — four nonconference, three against fellow bottom feeders Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota and somehow a few other upsets against ranked opponents. I don’t think that’s likely, though.

Eli: Best case is double-digit wins, and by double-digit I mean 10. The Big Ten is simply ridiculous this year. The worst case is one conference win.

@Cyan220: What is the highest ranking the football team has gotten and then followed up with a win?

Eli: The Wildcats in 1995 (surprise, surprise) beat Iowa and Purdue as the fifth-ranked team in the country.

@jacobmurphey22: What’s up with Raine? Was he active Saturday? If so, why no involvement?

Lia: Raine was active, but the program said just in case of emergencies. To our understanding, he was battling some unknown injury, but he was listed on the depth chart again this week and should be back in time for the Illinois matchup.

Eli: I just hope he didn’t get hurt running into Lake Michigan during that incredible WOW! segment.

@shuisel29: When is Cam Porter gonna get a chance to be the lead back? Bowser has been struggling, and Anderson is a change of pace/third-down back.

Lia: Porter is slowly working his way into the lineup and earned himself recognition with his first career touchdown against Michigan State. He has been consistent and delivered whenever his number has been called, so I would expect a lot more of him, especially if the running back room continues to struggle.

Eli: The coaching staff is high on Porter long term, but he probably wouldn’t have played much this year if it wasn’t a free season of eligibility. But clearly they’ve been giving him more reps in practice, and they’re going to have to find some kind of consistency at the position in the final weeks of the season. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more Evan Hull, since he’s a physical runner, and Fitz loves to talk about his work ethic.

@MissouriMule3: Why not try Coco Azema at running back?

Lia: I’ve always been a huge fan of Coco, as he was my breakout player of the year in 2020. While he hasn’t seen the field a ton, he has been one of the most efficient defensive backs in his limited time and has been a difference maker on special teams. I think the team will turn to Cam Porter before moving Azema back to RB, but maybe he’ll get another shot on offense against the Illini this year — it certainly worked out for NU last year.

Eli: There are too many indistinguishable options at running back right now, they’re just trying to find what works. I don’t think adding another back to the mix is the answer, but they’ve got two weeks to get things figured out, so we could see some wrinkles. Fitz said there would be competitions at positions he thought needed it.

@sportsjimdoc: If Rocky Lombardi is the Sparty QB next year, will the cats spy him on third downs?

Lia: The ‘Cats open their 2021 season with the Spartans, and you better believe they will be hungry for revenge. If Lombardi is starting under center again, the NU defense will be all over him and not let what happened Saturday happen again.

Eli: NU will need to make sure it contains Draco and his dark magic draw.

@FakeCoachFitz: How mad should I be about that picked up PI flag? Just regular mad or BIG MAD?

Lia: Big mad for sure. I’m not one to blame the refs, especially based on how badly NU played this past weekend, but some of those PI calls or lack of penalties were atrocious.

Eli: B1G mad. But credit Ramsey for tracking down the corner and saving a touchdown.

@dan_olinger: Do we have an official track record of how many times Lia’s name has been misspelled and/or the the number of times the press box cards have said, “Inside Northwestern”?

Lia: Thank you for asking the most important question of this season. So far, Northwestern misspelled my first and last name Week One against Maryland, and Iowa butchered it too and called us Inside Northwestern. Otherwise, everyone else has somehow gotten it right since — maybe they’ve been seeing my tweets. We’ll see how the Big Ten and bowl game media staffs do in a couple weeks.

@MattAlbert14: How should I fill my Saturday now that NU isn’t playing?

Lia: Watch Northwestern men’s basketball in its matchup with Chicago State, duh!

Eli: By modeling out the various ways the Wildcats’ Big Ten season could end and the resulting bowl projections.

@TCMalik96: Why would Northwestern schedule another opponent this week? They basically locked up the West and scheduling another opponent would risk a loss, thus losing the West.

Lia: I’m not totally sure on the rules here, but if Northwestern were to schedule another game this week, it would have to be against a non-Big Ten team (which probably isn’t even allowed) or a team they’ve already played like Michigan State if the Ohio State game gets canceled. I agree, it is unnecessary, not worth risking because of COVID and better to use the time to rest and prepare for Illinois.

Eli: As far as I know, Big Ten teams can’t play nonconference opponents. So stop with the BYU talk. There could be other cancellations in the conference this week, but the most likely teams to be freed up are Michigan State and Maryland, two teams that missed their previously scheduled meeting with one another. So, if there’s a fourth cancellation, maybe we can talk. But rest is good now.

@katthedame: Where has JJ Jefferson been? Did he get injured or deferred or something and I missed it?

Lia: Jefferson has been listed on the inactives list every week this season. I’m honestly not sure why he hasn’t seen the field, but my best guess is that he was just out-played but Riley Lees, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, Kyric McGowan and Malik Washington in camp and practice and hasn’t earned the minutes this year.

Eli: It’s unclear! What Lia said.

@dbr0675own1: Thoughts on ‘seniors’ returning next year for the extra year of eligibility?

Lia: While I would love to see this talented senior group return, especially the wide receivers and defense, I think the decision will be split among players. Some may return, but I find it unlikely that draft prospects like Paddy Fisher will spend another year in Evanston, especially if he continues to play strong this season. We’ll see, though.

Eli: If the school extends scholarships for another year, I bet we see a bunch of seniors trying to run it back. Why not? Aside from Paddy Fisher, there aren’t many NFL-aspiring prospects on this team. They’d certainly be a popular pick to challenge for the division.

@CaseyVickstrom: Why can’t we have nice things?

Lia: You come to learn can only have so much when supporting Northwestern sports.

Eli: We do have nice things. We have the HAT.