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MAILBAG: Fútbol is the new football

Forget Ryan Field for the moment and peruse Northwestern’s lakeside options — they’re pretty sweet.

Image courtesy of Josh Hoffman and Northwestern Athletics.

I don’t know about you, but I quite enjoyed my weekend sans Northwestern football. However, my time of rest and relative relaxation is now gone with the wind as I face the impending final weeks of the Wildcats’ conference slate with all of you. Thankfully, here in Evanston, we have teams that do know how to win too, especially this fall, that are keeping me sane.

Anyways, I was lucky to receive more questions this Mailbag than any other I’ve done so far — but, due to the unfortunate nature of midterm season at Northwestern, I wasn't able to get to all of them. Nonetheless, I present to you, a slightly delayed bye week Mailbag to kick off Week Eight of CFB and, if you’re a Northwestern student, Week Five of fall quarter:

Golazoooo (that means women’s soccer questions)

“NUWSOC is on fire lately, obviously. What do you think the postseason looks like for this team? A B1G championship? A deep NCAA Tourney run?” - @allynav12

This team is absolutely in the running for either a regular-season title or a B1G Tournament title given how they’ve played in conference competition. Despite their Sunday loss to No. 15 Michigan State, Northwestern still managed to blow through a solid Wisconsin team and tie Rutgers, a team that appeared in the College Cup last year. It’s clear their top 10 ranking is well-deserved, so I wouldn’t rule out a potential NCAA Tournament run which is a beautiful segue into my next question...

“Explain in 500 words why Martin Stadium should host an elite eight game come November,” - @JayJayPost

This question originally asked about WSoc’s No. 5 ranking, but after their 2-1 loss to the Spartans on Sunday, I’m not sure that’ll stick. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine they drop more than a few spots in the poll. And, if they capture at least one conference title, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get an Elite Eight matchup at Martin come November — of course, it depends a lot on seeding and what side of the bracket they end up on. At this point, I don’t see a way they don’t qualify to dance, so whether it be on the shores of Lake Michigan or across the country, the Wildcats are likely to participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018 next month.

A little bit of field hockey too, of course!

“Where do you see this NUFH going in the postseason? Similarly to last year, they’ve taken a few tough losses to strong Big Ten teams but obviously the postseason is anyone’s game. Will they repeat as national champs?” - @sarah_meadow

The Big Ten is about as tough of a conference as you can get in field hockey terms, so it’s no wonder the Wildcats are finally experiencing some bumps in the road. Like this question suggests, this isn’t something new. Last year, 13 of Northwestern’s 18 matchups came against ranked opponents — they won nine of those. This year, 11 of their 18 total opponents are ranked, with only three more unranked matchups to go. Guess how many ranked matchups they’ve won? That’s right, nine. Should they win out, they’ll have an even better record this year than last — so do I think they could repeat their title run? Absolutely.

Gridiron Gossip

“Who gets more wins? Northwestern field hockey from the 14th to the 21st, or Northwestern football for the rest of the year?” - @BrendanPreisman

Well. Considering field hockey has already won two of their three games (@ Michigan State and @ No. 21 Ohio State) scheduled during this short yet appropriate window of time, my bet is on Tracey Fuchs and her squad to eclipse Fitz and his for the rest of the year.

“Will Northwestern win another game this season?” - @zainbando99

Doubtful. Yet not entirely impossible? Maryland is the only game left where I can definitively say maybe they have a chance. Also, if the ‘Cats were playing Iowa at home I would be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt on sealing one more win just by virtue of how bad the Iowa defense is, but because they’re heading to Iowa City, I’m not sure I can put my money where my mouth is until I see it happen.

“The starting QB in 2023 will be whom? Lausch, Hilinski, Sullivan or another transfer?” - @Bklynmarketer

I actually liked most of what I saw from Brendan Sullivan against the Badgers after he shook off his first few drives. Notably, the sophomore showed he can use his legs and isn’t afraid to do what it takes to move the ball forward. He first needs more support from those around him to truly succeed, but Sullivan looked to me like the best option for next year, if not the rest of this season.

“Shapiro gone. Phillips gone. That leaves only Pat Ryan with long-term Fitz ties. How many bad losses will he continue to tolerate?” - @BrianOkon...and...

“What would it take for Northwestern to seriously consider moving on from Pat Fitzgerald?” - JWoodNU

I’m going to answer these questions in tandem, and my initial conclusion is it’s going to take more than two losing seasons for anyone in Athletics to pull the trigger on firing Fitz, that’s for sure. I think the fanbase has come to a mutual agreement that the first step in curing this team’s ills is replacing Northwestern’s OC and DC, because it’s not like Fitz hasn’t had success before with a different coaching staff. The school might feel they owe him at least a season or two in the new stadium, especially given his current contract doesn’t expire until 2030, but if he can’t pull it together by the end of season two at the new Ryan Field at the very least, I wouldn’t be surprised if a buyout laid in his future.

“With Colorado winning today, it should be asked: Are we the worst Power 5 team in the country?” - nufandan

At the moment, yes it does seem so. However, if we’re taking the entire season into account, we still can’t forget what happened in Dublin — comparing that win to Colorado’s 20-13 victory over Cal puts the two on a more even playing field. You know what the best way to find out is though? Northwestern vs. Colorado in the first ever Loser’s Bowl — that’ll get the sickos going.

“Matt Rhule to NUFB. Possible?” - NUDave

I can’t imagine Matt Rhule returning to CFB as anything other than a head coach, so until Fitz departs it doesn’t seem feasible to me. It wouldn’t be a bad look for Northwestern to hire a former NFL head coach despite Rhule’s midseason exit, but while he experienced success at the college level, recruiting and building a program at a school like Baylor is drastically different from what’s required to build and sustain a program here.

The basketball talk we’re all craving

“Who finishes with a higher winning % in Big Ten play - men’s basketball or football?” - JWoodNU

Would it be wrong to say I think they might be about the same? Unless MBB’s first years can come in clutch and revamp Collins’ frontcourt entirely from what he lost last season (RIP Pete Nance and Ryan Young, oh and also Casey Simmons), I can’t see them winning more than three or four Big Ten games at the most. If someone wants to do the math, so be it, but one win from Northwestern football in conference play and three to four for basketball sound equally bad to me.

“Does (or can) Chris Collins last the entire MBB season, or will the pressure influence Derrick Gragg to begin a search earlier than expected?” - @Bradley_Locker

The fact that Gragg kept Collins here in the first place after whatever the 2021-22 season was makes me inclined to think that Collins will stay for the entire 2022-23 season no matter what. That being said, there is definitely some hope that one of two new hires in Bryant Macintosh and Chris Lowery might be poised to take over if Collins does depart midseason instead of after the fact. That doesn’t leave out the possibility of hiring a new head coach entirely, but those two solid hires provide some good fruit for Gragg to pick from when the search does inevitably begin.

“Does WBB win more conference games than MBB does in total?” - @idowling11

Yes. Next question.

And even lacrosse?

“Lax fall ball is this weekend what are your very early predictions for their season?” - @BreaLassek

Izzy Scane deserves a Big Ten title and a Final Four run. Even after losing four seasoned grad students, especially Lauren Gilbert and Jill Girardi who fueled last year’s midfield and offense, this team is a bounce-back program that doesn’t let anything get in its way. The Scane-Erin Coykendall connection will be alive and well at Martin this spring, coupled with an all-star freshman class and underclassmen like Sammy White and Sam Smith poised for a breakthrough. Add Leah Holmes, Carleigh Mahoney and Elle Hansen into the mix, and you’ve got a championship squad in the making.

Finally, intro to economics, NU Sports edition

“Hypothetical scenario: I am a Northwestern alum who works in finance trading the stocks of collegiate sports programs. I must buy the stock of one NU team and sell the stock of another. Which teams should I buy/sell?” - @BenChasenINU

Women’s soccer is incredibly successful at the moment, and I think their success will continue into the future. A lot of this team’s scoring production is coming from its junior class, led by midfielder Josie Aulicino, who is as good of a distributor as she is a scorer. Coupled with sophomore Emma Phillips leading the back line and first-year Caterina Regazzoni manning the midfield, Michael Moynihan looks like he’s created a program that will run the top of the table for years to come. Buy it up. Honorable mention though is Shane Davis’ volleyball team — honestly buy that one as well, because that’s a team with tons of young talent with potential to make waves in the Big Ten in the foreseeable future.

Now, I wouldn’t have assumed you bought men’s basketball’s stock in the first place, but if you had, I would probably get rid of it for now. If someone wanted to run a case study on a team in desperate need of a rebuild, Collins’ squad is a likely candidate. It’s going to be a while before we see measurable success from his side at Welsh-Ryan. I hope I’m wrong, but unfortunately I don’t think I am with this one. Sell it.