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MAILBAG: Football, memes and basketball hypotheticals

Seems about right.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

All Northwestern sports during the 2020-21 academic year have ended, which means it’s speculation season for the foreseeable future. Let’s get the summer started right with a red hot May Mailbag!

“Why were expectations so low for football last year (short offseason, 2019, etc.) and where should they be going into this fall?” — @john__riker on Twitter.

I honestly don’t think the expectations were “low” per se. Everyone on our staff save for one predicted a .500 record or better, and most people thought they’d at least return to acceptable level of play in 2020. What caught everyone by surprise was just how large the gap was between Peyton Ramsey (probably a top 50-ish quarterback out of the 130 starters in the FBS) and the 2019 NU Quarterback room (which is in the running for producing the worst non triple-option passing game in the 21st century), as well as how solid safety Travis Whillock was replaced by a potential all-time great in redshirt freshman Brandon Joseph. Both those things went much better than expected, Wisconsin and Iowa performed below expectations and all of a sudden the ‘Cats were 7-2 and the second best team in the Big Ten.

Going into fall 2021, I’ll go with the cop-out, tale as old as time answer that they’re going to regress back to their acceptable-but not elite 7-5, 8-4 level. It’s just hard to imagine everything working out as perfectly as it did in ‘20 save for the game in East Lansing, and given that there’s exactly one proven season of play among all six of the quarterbacks on the roster with Ryan Hilinski’s 2019 campaign, I’m not expecting to see an NU-Ohio State rematch in Indy this year.

But I’m also very not smart guy writing on the internet, so who knows???!!!

“What’s your all-time favorite meme?” — @john_riker on Twitter.

Like asking a father to choose his favorite son, or Derek Carr to choose his favorite check down on a route tree, this is an arduous task.

If I were just to pick a meme of my own creation, it has to be my heat-check tweet from the night of the national championship, a work in photo editing that was #greatforthebrand.

But if we’re talking just general, useable for many meme templates, two personal favorites of mine are the classic “Sickos” cartoon, as well as the “It’s unnecessary, there’s no reason for this,” still shot from Action eats Hot Wings.

They convey the opposite feelings, one of cruel delight and one of cruel suffering, but for similar scenarios, often used when watching such bizarre happenings occur during a sporting event that you’re left either laughing maniacally like the true sicko you are, or crying like poor Action after those hot wings hit his mouth. Both are hilarious every time and have no quota on usage.

“What would your dream non-conference football schedule look like [for Northwestern]?” — @PAndres2001 on Twitter.

If we’re rooting for content (which best believe we always are here at INU, #journalism #MedillMafia), it’s Notre Dame, Duke and Tennessee. The ND vs NU rivalry is well documented, the on-again, off-again relationship between Northwestern and the Blue Devils is fun and gives a plethora of great academic school jokes, and as for Tennessee, all the INU lifers know exactly why it’s on the list.

If the objective is solely what’s best for the program, keep Duke and swap out the other two for an FCS school and an opponent from either the MAC, Conference USA or the Mountain West. Duke potentially gives you a solid enough win to avoid an enormous amount of slander for the schedule strength, while the other two should be nearly guaranteed home wins that make that end of season win-loss record look pristine.

“Who has been your favorite NU athlete to watch/cover?” — @Bradley_Locker on Twitter.

A lot of great options for this one. Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Greg Newsome are two of the funniest athletes that have ever talked at a media availability. Joe Spivak’s impression of Pat Fitzgerald will never leave my head.

But personally, there’s only one answer for this. It’s the player I’ve devoted three separate pieces to, simply because she embodies everything I love about basketball.

Veronica Burton.

Thinking through the game and has every finishing counter in the book once she knifes into the teeth of the defense. A point of attack defensive savant who must have a magnetic pulse geared toward the basketball in her hands with her ability to rip the ball away from any living thing that dribbles. And a fantastic person who has worked tirelessly her whole life to become the superstar she is now.

She rules.

“You get to pick one current NBA player (besides LeBron) and put them on Northwestern MBB’s current roster. Who are you taking and where does NU finish in the Big Ten?” — Mac Stone, Deputy Editor-in-chief at Inside NU.

A fantastic question that is geared 100% toward me and me alone.

Nikola Jokic is rightfully going to win MVP, and watching him run the NU offense as the fulcrum, turning all of the theoretical shooters into cutting weapons with his passing acumen, would be an absolute joy. I’m a Sixers fan, writer, podcaster and member of the Joel Embiid national support group, so I’d obviously love seeing him ball out in Evanston. Steph Curry also comes to mind as a choice.

But I can see counters to them all (Curry dependent on having above average short roll passer to pair with, the ever-present injury concerns for Embiid, the bad narratives that will be plastered on headlines incorrectly labeling Jokic as a bad defender after any game Northwestern loses).

The answer is Giannis Antetokounmpo simply because he would physically annihilate any and all poor college kids that you could throw at him. He’s a monster who makes grown men that get paid full-time to play this game look like Lilliputians on regular occasion, sprinting and extending around them at all angles. Add on top of the fact that it would be impossible for a skinny college big to ever score on him in the paint, and he’s the answer as to who Chris Collins and Co. should “sign” for the 2021-22 season.

“Can Izzy Scane follow the Pat Spencer route and lead Northwestern women’s basketball to a national title next year alongside Veronica Burton?” — Ben Chasen, Managing Editor at Inside NU.

Probably not, simply because she’ll be busy winning the lacrosse national championship and breaking Charlotte North’s season scoring record of 101 goals once she gets the chance to play in as many games as the superstar Boston College attacker did during 2021. All aboard the Scane train.

“Will football ever develop a starting QB it has recruited as a freshman or will it continue to pluck starters from the transfer portal?” — @jimcarper on Twitter.

***Dramatic pause for effect***

I kid, I kid.

But in all seriousness, it’s not out of the question that Northwestern can develop a quarterback who was recruited as a freshman. They’ve done it plenty of times before with Clayton Thorson, Trevor Siemian, Mike Kafka and others. But while all of those guys were fine, enjoyable signal callers, none were so good that I think it outweighs the “Transfer, Plug and Play, Rinse and Repeat” philosophy.

Northwestern has proven that they can be nationally elite along across all of their defensive units as well as the offensive line (given the year and personnel). It’s the passing game that is always kind of good but not quite where anyone wants it to be. Going for experienced transfers looking to game manage a solid team in their final year of college eligibility is a smart move in my estimation. Doesn’t mean that’s the new method and there can be no adjustments should a special recruit come to Evanston, but I think embracing the transfer QB school reputation has merit.