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June Mailbag: Quarterbacks, Commits and COVID

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You asked. We answered.

With June coming to a close and college football players return to campus, we wanted to answer your most pressing questions about Northwestern’s future.

From college football’s return to the newest basketball recruits, here are our editor’s answers to your questions:

@CBB_Central: What have your deeply intrenched confidants been telling you about the quarterback room?

Lia: When it comes to the quarterback room, obviously a lot is still up in the air, but all signs are leading to Peyton Ramsey as the starter. When Bajakian addressed the media back in May, he sang Peyton’s praises and seemed especially excited about bringing in the grad transfer. He didn’t have much to say about Hunter or Green besides commenting on their health. It looks like Bajakian is team Peyton for now, but as we’ve seen in the past, that doesn’t mean much. With this team, injuries are inevitable, and it’s next man up. It will be especially interesting to see how that plays out this season.

Eli: I echo Lia’s sentiments about Ramsey, and it really did seem like Bajakian was enthused to have an experienced, Big Ten-tested talent like him. But, voluntary workouts have only just begun, and it would be naïve to say the job is secured. The most practice anyone has had thus far has been teammates meeting up in Evanston or nearby to run routes or casual drills. Hunter Johnson was a lock to win it last year, right?

@kicknyrgios: Are there any wide receivers on the roster who are actually good yet?

Lia: The wide receivers are definitely a group of concern this season, but I do think there is some talent in that room. It’s just a question of if they step up this year. Riley Lees has been reliable over the past couple seasons and will step into an even larger role this year. He was thrown into the No. 1 receiver spot mid-season, so now with some more experience under his belt, I expect more from him. I also think RCB and Kyric McGowan have a lot of talent and can be big assets for whoever starts under center this year. McGowan is especially versatile and can be used in a number of different ways, which will serve the ‘Cats well. RCB began to come out of his shell in the post-season of his sophomore season and will hopefully do the same this year.

Eli: Yes. I agree there’s talent, but I’ve wondered how much it has been inhibited by both scheme and coaching. Most of the complaints about the receivers center on their inability to get separation. We’ll see if they can create more plays of, I guess like 10+ yards, this fall with a new offense in place. Riley Lees is a serviceable slot receiver, and Kyric McGowan is a versatile deep threat who needs to be featured more creatively. JJ Jefferson is someone else who can fly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Malik Washington turned some heads. No, their stats don’t necessarily all back it up, but last year was exceptionally bad, and let’s see what they can do in a new system. I think there’s potential, but so far they haven’t flourished into “good” players under previous coaching.

@yungdatt: When do you see the ‘Cats getting back to the dance?

Lia: If this recruiting class turns out to be as effective as expected, I could see the ‘Cats making another run during that class’ sophomore or junior years — 2023 or 2024. For now, though, some serious rebuilding is still in store.

Eli: I’d love to see them make it before I leave campus, which is 2022. There are crazier thoughts. That heavily depends on player development. Miller Kopp is making the necessary strides, but so far he’s the only one. I think the pieces are there, and clearly the impressive recruiting classes agree — but Collins has to develop the talents and put them together better than he has done the last three years. Northwestern should not miss the NCAA Tournament for a lack of talent, that’s for sure.

@ChicagoJoe20: % odds of PBJ committing to NU, % odds of Max Christie committing to NU, if we hit the lottery what moves are possible outside of Gaines going elsewhere for his fifth year?

Lia: 20 percent for PBJ. 10 percent for Max Christie. After Casey Simmons committed, I think it’s pretty hard to see either of these cherished recruits coming to Northwestern. I think that was Collins’ way of showing he knew it wasn’t likely. If Northwestern were to win the lottery and get both, they would be banking on the fact that Gaines would go elsewhere for his fifth year as well as the fact that someone else would transfer between now and then. But the question is who?

Eli: I’m pretty low on both. It’s funny how the tables have turned, though, since we wondered how Chris Collins would fill scholarships after a flurry of transfers this offseason. Now we’re here wondering if there will be room for Northwestern to land one of the big fish. It would be incredible, yes, but I think fans have got to be pretty excited by who’s already committed. While Gaines transferring for his fifth-year could definitely happen, it would also be foolish to assume someone won’t transfer, even if it’s one we don’t expect right now.

@ChiNeoliberal: From 1-10 how confident are you that there’s going to be a season?

Lia: Personally, I am pretty confident there will be football in some capacity. I may be more optimistic than most, but I’d say 7-8/10, especially if the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL return as planned. However, I don’t know how that will play out, doubt there will be fans (at max capacity) and am sure there will be some pretty intense distancing and testing protocols in place. At the end of the day though, in my personal opinion, I think there will be some form of a season in the fall — whether it’s shortened or adjusted.

Eli: Since April I’ve been of the opinion that I’ll believe college football will be played when I see it. Maybe that confidence shot up toward the end of May and has reached its depths about now, but there are powerful forces supporting the season. So right now I’ll say about 5.5. What would make me feel better is if there was some kind of central leadership or organization setting protocols for the season, even if it’s just the Big Ten. It’s clear that sports and leagues with clear, uniform policies have a better chance of holding seasons than those who are just letting schools try to handle it on their own and get by patchwork style. That’s basically the way the US has responded to the virus: no coherent policy and leave things to states and local governments. We see how that’s worked out thus far. Since schools in the Big Ten have different protocols, how will that affect things in-season? I would not be surprised if this season becomes shortened and limited to conference games. Buy games make no sense now for these Power 5 programs since everyone’s in a cash crunch.

Terry Parker: If we don’t have a full season, is there any chance seniors get another year?

Lia: If there is a shortened season played in the fall or the spring, I doubt seniors would get another year. If there is no season at all, I would expect the NCAA to grant them another year, but many schools may deny them that opportunity like Wisconsin did to spring athletes this year.

Eli: I agree with what Lia said, especially if there is no season. The NCAA can open up its rule book, but that doesn’t mean schools will be aided by it. Scholarships are precious, and for athletic departments it’s easier to scrap one year than affect many years going forward.

Mike Deneen: Who decides if the season is cancelled? Could football be moved to the spring in 2021? If there is no football season, what impact would it have on non-revenue sports? If there is a season, what testing protocols would be in place? If there is a season, would there be fans in the stands?

Lia: While the NCAA and Big Ten can make an overarching decision on the season being canceled, individual schools can also make decisions respectively, just like we saw Morehouse College do last week when it opted out of the season. Football could be moved to the spring, but I think it’s unlikely and would overcomplicate things in terms of injuries and recovery time. If there is a season, I suspect the testing protocols would be extreme and potentially even daily as it would be hard to regulate quarantine measures on a college campus. Having no fans in the stands is a likely option, but Northwestern claims to pursue limited capacity options before removing fans altogether.

Eli: Mike, you ask all the good questions, and as I mentioned two questions up, the answers are unknown since conference leadership is fairly quiet. The tone among athletic administrators has definitely shifted, though, from “we’re having a season starting the first week of September” to “we’ve got to be flexible.” Part of that flexibility may be moving the season to the spring, and that would happen — as all of this would, during the middle of a pandemic — purely for financial reasons. Football, along with men’s basketball, is the main contributor of revenue to the athletic department from its various TV contracts and ticket sales. Schools are clearly willing to live without much ticket revenue, but losing the TV rights money would really be tough, and you’d have to expect Olympic sports that bleed the most cash may take a hit. Testing-wise, that’s anyone’s guess, and each school is doing it differently. The process is costly, and based on the knowledge that shows testing in certain time windows misses the virus, it’s not perfect either, which complicates things further when it comes to containing cases, especially in a demographic in which many infections are asymptomatic. I’d have to bet, though, that if games are being played, you’d see ~20 percent capacity in the stands.

Nick Lux: With Bajakian, what do you guys think the offense will look like? Will it be a lot of two TEs? QB under center a lot? 4 wide? What does it look like for this team?

Lia: There are two important facets to note in a Bajakian-style offense: an established run game and emphasis on the tight ends. Given Northwestern’s recent track record, it will be interesting to see how he fits that in with the personnel he is given. He consistently relied on the strong run game at BC, something Northwestern fans were lacking last season but hope to see revived with Isaiah Bowser this year. As for the tight ends, Bajakian consistently ran a two tight end set, but I find it hard to see him doing that at Northwestern given the personnel. John Raine is the only member of the tight end corps with ample experience but hasn’t even played in the Big Ten yet. It will certainly be interesting to see how Bajakian translates his style to the NU offense.

Eli: One word: uptempo.

Jordan Clark: Any rumors of QB transfers? Or in the future?

Lia: As of right now, no rumors on QB transfers. It could happen in the future, but I find it unlikely. With two graduate-year quarterbacks and a few like Marty and Smith who probably wouldn’t be hot enough commodities to transfer, I don’t see it as a likely option.

Eli: Northwestern just offered five quarterbacks a few days ago. I think they’re trying to corner the market.