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End of July Mailbag — Let the football predictions commence!

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Pretty clear that everyone is itching for the season to start.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We’re no longer flying solo on these mailbags, as Daniel was joined by Mac and Ben on this end of July to answer a whole slew of questions ranging from campus life at Northwestern to Joe Spivak prop bets for 2021. Enjoy!

With 2022 recruiting, who is still in the mix as far as possible commits? - Catatonic Joe

Ben: First off, I am by no means the expert on Northwestern football recruiting, so I can’t give you the full picture of all of the prospects the ‘Cats still seem to be in the mix for.

But there are a few key names that Fitz and Co. would love to add to the class for sure, and it starts with a guy who would become the highest-ranked addition yet in Alex VanSumeren. The Wildcats are going to have to beat out some big name programs for the 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive lineman, as it looks like Clemson, Texas A&M and Penn State are all still in the mix as well, as is Michigan State, where his brother Ben, who initially started his college career at Michigan, has since transferred. Still, VanSumeren took an official visit to Evanston in June and appears to be interested, so be on the lookout for his announcement when it comes.

The next big name that NU would for sure love to add is Selah Brown. He is also a four-star defensive lineman who, and he took his official visit to Evanston in June. If the ‘Cats want him, they’ll have to beat out both Illinois and his hometown school in Louisville.

The last name to watch on the radar from my perspective right now is Davin Wydner, a quarterback from Florida that 247Sports has ranked as the 40th best prospect at the position nationally this year. Wydner told 247Sports that the chance to commit to NU would be pretty hard to beat, and he’s supposedly visiting campus soon (or already has). That said, it’s not yet clear whether Northwestern has offered him a scholarship yet, and that would likely be a requisite for a commitment.

That’s all I’ve got for now from the recruiting end of things. Certainly an already strong class for the ‘Cats, and there’s a chance that it could get even stronger.

What have you learned in relation to Coach O’Neil’s defensive approach / strategy as compared with Coach Hank’s? Will it still be a “bend but don’t break” type of defense, or will it be more blitzing / attacking? - wildcat6

Dan: While not knowing the specifics of O’Neil’s scheme or exactly what he desires to turn this defense into, I’d bet on the defense maintaining that “bend, don’t break” mentality moving forward. Brandon Joseph said during Big Ten Media Days that O’Neil has implemented a lot of new NFL schemes, and while that most definitely means fresh techniques and variations of schemes, it does not mean that the philosophy will change. The best NFL defenses also adhere to “bend, don’t break”, such as the New England Patriots of yesteryear and as recently as the 2020 Los Angeles Rams who loaded up with defensive backs on most snaps, taking deep pass options away from their opponents and forcing them to pick up four to five yards consistently on runs and short passes. Of course, that’s in part spurred by how successful NFL defensive linemen can be at generating pressure, and I could see more of an emphasis placed on that attack mindset, but I’d say the 2021 defense will largely resemble what all Northwestern fans have grown close too during the Pat Fitzgerald era.

Is Izzy Scane more LeBron with overpowering athleticism or more Steph with out of this world hand-eye coordination? Either way can we agree she’s going to be the greatest show in the Big Ten this year? - DVDNW1995

Ben: With my limited knowledge of NBA and my diehard Chiefs fandom, I’d much rather simply compare Izzy Scane to Patrick Mahomes in that they both routinely do things that are so ridiculous that you can’t help but watch them over, and over, and over again... and yet you’re never shocked when it happens, because you’re aware of just how good they are. That said, if I had to give an NBA comparison of the two options you’ve listed, I’d say Curry, if only because women’s lacrosse is such a heavy finesse game, and on the scoring end (where Scane excels most), that requires insane hand-eye coordination. And yes, just as she was this past year, Izzy Scane is going to be the biggest highlight machine across all sports in the Big Ten this upcoming academic year.

Daniel: Being the resident basketball die-hard of the site, I can definitely compare LeBron and Steph, though my limited knowledge of the mechanics of lacrosse could result in a problem here. From what I do know in watching Scane, I’d lean toward a LeBron comp. Watching her in the NCAA Tournament, especially against the overpowered Denver squad Northwestern took on in the first round, opponents were terrified of giving her any direct line of sight toward the goal, in fear that she’d either speed by them or fire off a missile at the goal. LeBron dominates with his insane cross-section of muscle and movement skills, to the point that he inevitably racks up seven to 10 layups a game. Scane feels inevitable just the same.

Mac: Why not a mix of both? I’m saying this as someone who cannot decide between the two comps you offered up. I agree with the both points brought up by Ben and Daniel. Not only does Scane possess insane hand-eye coordination to help score at the rate she does, but opponents are downright afraid to get in her way. Ever seen LeBron driving in for a dunk? Nobody wants to get put on a poster by him. That’s exactly what happens with Scane — she has that fear factor.

What is the average NU student nightlife like these days? Are there bars worth going to? House parties? Are fraternities even A Thing anymore? We olds range in experience from The Keg to the 1800 Club to the graffiti that GTom and his ilk did with chisels and stone back in his day — love you, GTom — but it feels like there’s nothing left in Evanston that would qualify as “a night out drinking.” What do you youths do when you’re not skateboarding and listening to your raps music? - MNWildcat

Ben: Loaded question, and a tough one to answer coming out of a year where most nightlife (as in parties, bars, clubs and the like) was incredibly (and rightfully, I should add) limited due to COVID-19.

To start, yes, fraternities and sororities are still a thing. I’d once heard that 40 percent of NU students are involved in one form of Greek life or another, but for a while, it seemed like the Greek system could’ve essentially vanished from NU entirely.

That’s because last summer, in the midst of the wave of protests surrounding racial injustice and systematic inequality across America, an Instagram account called @abolishgreeklifeNU started and rapidly gained much attention when it posted dozens of stories of individuals currently or formerly affiliated with Northwestern fraternities and sororities calling for the abolition of the Greek life system at Northwestern due to issues with racial biases, sexual assault and sexism, national organization spending and financial barriers of entry. These posts forced some tough conversations on individual chapters, many of which held votes to disband and some of which did. Many active members (full disclosure: myself included) left their chapters. But those who remained were effective in recruiting new member classes, and it seems like, for better or worse, Greek life is here to stay at NU.

As for bars: there really isn’t a main one in Evanston, but ask any active Northwestern student about The Deuce and they’ll at least be able to tell you what it is. The real name of the bar is the Mark II Lounge, and for those unfamiliar, it’s a dumpy little dive bar on the far Northside of Chicago. That said, there are rumors that The Deuce is done as a college bar, either because the city finally caught up with its reputation for not even really trying to stop underage drinking or because it operated at and sometimes beyond full capacity during the latter parts of pandemic-restrictions.

What I’ll say is this: those who want to go out while at NU will. The city isn’t far, and there’s a plethora of options within it. Where exactly will students go? That’s somewhat impossible to know or predict, and certainly not everyone is involved in the Northwestern nightlife scene. But it exists, and I don’t think that’s bound to stop anytime soon.

Mac: Ben answered the question about Greek life well. As for the bars? No clue. I play too many video games man.

Dan: No clue on the bars either, I watch way too many basketball games man.

Brandon Joseph came out of nowhere last year to be an All American. Who’s your pick for NU’s breakout football star of 2021? - J Wood

Ben: For starters, I don’t think we’re going to see anyone come out of the blue to become a shock All-American winner like Brandon Joseph did last season. But I have my eye on Malik Washington — who has been quiet in his NU career thus far and seemed likely to transfer for a while this offseason — as a guy who will be a major contributor despite never having been before. He’s got the physique and skillset, the coaching staff raves about him, and with Lees and RCB gone, there’s more than enough room for him to step up and show that he can shine.

Dan: I might be falling victim to recency bias here, but blame our own Bradley Locker for writing a banger of a piece on Stephon Robinson Jr. earlier this week, because he’s my choice as the breakout star. The transfer out of Kansas has more receptions than all the other players on Northwestern’s roster combined and can fulfill a multitude of roles with his over the top speed and route running precision. Someone has to catch the passes Ryan Hilinski throws this season, and I don’t see many pathways to other players having huge receiving totals, so I’d bet on a big year from Robinson in 2021.

Mac: Cam Porter broke out near the end of the 2020 season, so would it be a cop-out answer to pick him? Regardless, I’ll go with the second-year running back out of Cincinnati. He won the starting job over Isaiah Bowser, Drake Anderson and Evan Hull last year and I expect him to only improve from here. I highly doubt he’d receive something like All American honors, but he’ll be a constant threat out of the backfield for the ‘Cats.

What are the betting odds that Joe Spivak scores an offensive touchdown this season? What are the odds Joe Spivak scores (a) a defensive TD, (b) a rushing TD, (c) a receiving TD, (d) a passing TD, and (e) all of the above? - PurplePrideGuy and C.E. Bell

Mac: I’m going to preface this with a warning that my math will probably be terrible, but I’ll do my best to provide a good answer. Joe Spivak saw the field a decent amount offensively last year, however, that was nearly all within the opponent’s three-yard line. Having gone back and counted, I can confidently say the ‘Cats ran 19 plays within the opponent’s three-yard line last season, which comes out to an average of just over two per game.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll round that number down to an even two plays ran inside the opponent’s three yard line per game. So, if all games are played as scheduled this year, the ‘Cats should run 24 plays of these kind over a 12-game season. Unfortunately, I don’t have exact numbers for how many times Spivak saw the field offensively last year, which is where this gets complicated. Let’s say he sees the field in a third of these scenarios, that means he has eight opportunities to score an offensive touchdown. If there are at least six other weapons on the field at this time, and let’s give them all an equal opportunity to score on these plays, then I’d say Spivak has 1/56 odds to score an offensive TD this year.

As for which kind of touchdown he could score, considering he lined up only in the backfield offensively last season, I think a rushing TD is the only one on the table. But just for fun, I’ll put the odds for a receiving TD at 1/100 and the odds for a passing TD at 1/500. Place your bets now.

Oh yeah, you asked about a defensive TD too. He’s recorded 1.5 sacks on his career, so who’s to say with his tremendous hit power that he won’t force a fumble? I’ll give it 1/40 odds.

All of these odds are probably too high and the math in this answer probably makes no sense, but I’m a journalism major for a reason. My head hurts.

Does anyone have over 40 receptions for the cats this year? If so, who? RCB did last season. - PurplePrideGuy

Ben: Yes. For frame of reference, in the putrid passing season that was 2019, Riley Lees — NU’s leading receiver that year — hauled in 51 receptions for 430 yards. If the passing game is better than it was then — which I firmly believe it will be — then it should be no sweat for a receiver to get past 40 receptions. My prime suspect is Stephon Robinson Jr., but I wouldn’t be shocked to Malik Washington or Bryce Kirtz accomplish the feat either.

Mac: I’m with Ben here. The ‘Cats have a far better offense coming into this year than 2019, so my guess is at least one receiver will bring in 40 catches. Stephon Robinson Jr. had 45 receptions his sophomore year for Kansas, so it will most likely be him, but I could see Bryce Kirtz getting there this season as well. I think he’s poised for a breakout year.

Dan: I already named Robinson as my favorite for being a breakout star in 2021, while Mac and Ben just went that direction in their two answers above. He’s the pick.

I imagine things shift depending on kickoff, but curious what the kids do for pre-game, post-game, etc. these days. - Wolverine’s Name is Biff

Ben: Fraternities usually host tailgate parties at some of the off-campus houses their brothers occupy, and in my experience, those tailgates are the prime go-to spot for students pre-game regardless of kickoff time. As for after, all three of us are rising juniors, which means the only thing there was to do after games during the one season we got to attend as students (2019) was the following:

Mac: I’ve mentioned this briefly before in other articles, but I am an Evanston native, so I’ve been going to Northwestern games since I was a little kid. As a result, my view of how other people spend their time pre-game and post-game has shifted drastically. Mine really hasn’t though. Tailgates are thrilling, but have you ever downed two hot dogs and a large fry from Mustards in under five minutes for your pre-game breakfast, lunch or dinner? Now that’s exhilarating.

Given conference realignment and the fact I’m one of the old guys, I’d love to hear the InsideNU writers who are all 20 years younger than me opine on what they would like to see the B1G do going forward in realignment, and what they think is important in terms of a “conference.” - C.E. Bell

Dan: The sick part of me that craves chaos and content really wants the Big Ten to just go for it and try to rack up whoever they can in expanding the conference. The more kind-hearted soul within is still nostalgic for the Big Ten he was raised on and feels like college football as a whole is just losing something with all this shifting around. At the end of the day, money rules all, and turbo-charging the best conferences and College Football Playoff itself as a subsequent action is the best way to do that, so it’s going to happen.

As for what the Big Ten should do in their inevitable conference realignment, I understand the interest in Kansas and Iowa State. Both make sense geographically, KU immediately becomes the flagship basketball program of the conference and the Cyclones have established a Big Ten West-ish level of consistency in the revenue sports programs. In terms of cultural hand-in-hand fits, West Virginia would fit quite nicely, offers what ISU does in revenue sports programs but with a longer track record and can provide a solid rival for the East Coast schools in Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers.

Though, if the conference simply wants to follow the successful Sun Belt route of “add good football teams and figure out the rest later”, the two best options are probably Oklahoma State and the Horned Frogs of TCU. Year after year, these two can be relied upon to go anywhere from 6-6 to 8-4 with the occasional 10-2 breakout in store, and you can’t tell me they wouldn’t boost those ever important viewership ratings.

Mac: From what I’ve been seeing, the most likely scenario for Big Ten conference realignment would be the additions of Iowa State and Kansas. If that were the case, the Big Ten would be up to 16 teams, and rather than split into two divisions for something like football, I think it could be really interesting to do four “groups”. These groups could be divided up however you want, but the way it would then go is each group winner would be seeded 1-4 depending on record and we’d enter a Big Ten playoff where the winner is crowned Big Ten champion.

However, if you were to look at the basketball side of things, Kansas is the only school of those two to add any real value, so maybe the Big Ten would pass if the only option was to take them as a package. I’m somewhat with Dan on the chaotic idea of the Big Ten snagging any school that seems to be remotely available, but that’s likely not feasible. We could also just go with the absolutely brilliant idea that I tweeted about a few days ago.

Are we overlooking Albright as possibly the biggest impact freshman given the lack of depth and established productivity among returning TE’s, and Bajakian’s reliance on the position? Mangieri morphing into a Raine-level receiving threat seems far-fetched. As a point of reference, Phil Steele is bullish enough on Albright to rank him as his #28 frosh TE. He only had Skoronski as his #20 frosh O-lineman last season (Tyus is 39, Tiernan 49, Story & Mosley outside top-50, Sullivan 42, fwiw). - bweinbe2

Ben: Maybe this is a cop-out answer, but I’m not expecting too much out of Albright in terms of pass-catching this year, simply because I don’t think Bajakian feels the need to force that production out of the tight end position if he can get it elsewhere. Essentially, I think that without Raine, the wide receivers as a whole will get more targets. Mangieri will still probably see an uptick in his use as a pass catcher, but I’m not counting on much more from the rest of the TE room, Albright included. What’s more, I simply believe the offense will be more run-centered than it was last season.