College football is back, and what better way to open the season than a pub crawl in Dublin right to Aviva Stadium for the Aer Lingus College Football Classic between Northwestern and Nebraska? Who would’ve thought? And, to top that off, we have the lucky fortune of being able to watch defending national champions on the lakeshore this fall alongside two soccer teams poised for breakthrough years. I was just as excited to answer these questions as I’m sure all of you are to settle down on the couch this Saturday for kickoff, so I bring to you some answers in this Week Zero mailbag:
“I think we’ll almost for sure see two QBs play meaningful snaps this year, any chance for a 3rd QB to enter the fray at some point?” - @nicklux33
This is a good question for which I can only offer speculation, but given how turbulent last season was rotating through what was at times a trio of quarterbacks, I can’t say Fitz would be keen to try it out again. Unless Carl Richardson, Cole Freeman or Jack Lausch show extra promise in camp or the early goings of the season, I don’t see them getting into the rotation much save for injuries interrupting like they did last year.
“Lots of our young WRs have yet to make an impact and per the OurLads depth chart, some haven’t made the two deep. We saw Cam Porter come on late in 2020 after starting the year low on the depth chart — who’s got the best chance to come on?” - @nicklux33
“How much run do you expect Reggie Fleurima to get this season? And who, if anyone, do you expect to establish themselves as the WR1?” - @bklynmarketer
I’m going to answer these two questions in tandem, and to be honest, it’s difficult to answer many questions about new receivers coming in, and here’s why: Cam Mitchell has been absolutely lockdown in camp, according to my lovely editorial staff in Evanston who has had opportunities to attend a few summer practices. What they have noticed is Malik Washington looks to be as solid as last season, if not better, which could absolutely put him in a position to solidify WR1.
The OurLads depth chart, though just an estimate of what the actual depth chart will look like, reflects my thoughts that Bryce Kirtz and Ray Niro III will get significant minutes. But, the rest of the squad is one that hasn’t seen a ton of time on the field and is itching for a breakthrough. My insiders did not see much of Fleurima at camp, but it looks as though Illinois transfer Donny Navarro III will be in a position to make an impact much like Stephon Robinson Jr. last year. I also think it’s about time players like Wayne Dennis Jr. and Genson Hooper Price make the steady rotation and see time more regularly as the season progresses.
“Will the fan base be calling for a FB coordinator to be replaced at the end of the season? Or will both steady their respective ships after an abysmal season?” - @Cyan220
Jim O’Neil’s seat is definitely a slightly warmer temperature after his defense’s performance last year. It will be extremely telling what he can do this season, especially with the evident loss of Northwestern’s best defensive player in Brandon Joseph. There is definitely pressure on O’Neil to muster some kind of improvement this year. As far as Mike Bajakian goes, if the quarterbacking situation smooths out I have high hopes for his offense. There is clearly a lot of talent between the running back and receiver rooms along with Skoronski leading the line, so success really depends on if Bajakian can use those weapons to their fullest potential.
“Who ends up being the most impactful transfer on the NU football roster this year?” - @RLins12
Keep an eye on Duke transfer Ryan Johnson on the defensive line. Once again thanks to my editorial staff that attended camp, Johnson has been putting together some great reps at DE and could absolutely help stymie runs that last year’s defense struggled to contain and keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Wendell Davis Jr. at linebacker could also be an impact player in a position where Northwestern most definitely has holes to fill.
“Which running back do you think will outperform expectations?” - @BenChasenINU
The obvious answer here would be Cam Porter coming off his injury, but I think many people are still underestimating the impact Evan Hull had for this Northwestern team last season. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and motored an often quarterback-less offense — I wouldn’t be surprised if Porter is used sparingly for the first few contests of the year which gives Hull the chance to reestablish himself as a real threat to opposing defenses. Anthony Tyus and Andrew Clair obviously will contribute to the RB room and could break out as well, but I think Hull is going to emerge strong once again.
“Football game you’re most looking forward to?” - @Bradley_Locker
Selfishly, I am looking forward to Wisconsin on October 8 because that does in fact happen to be my birthday, and I cannot think of any better way to spend it than watching the Badgers struggle to find a rhythm in the grassy depths of Ryan Field. It’s also a game I think many are brushing off as a surefire loss, but Northwestern’s track record against Wisconsin at home does beg to differ.
Fall sports hype!
“Who is a player to watch for @NUFHCats this season?” - @sarah_meadow
Can I say all of them? But seriously, if you haven’t heard the names Bente Baekers and Maddie Zimmer by now in conjunction with Northwestern field hockey, then get with it. Keep an eye on Kayla Blas and Ana Medina Garcia, both mentioned in our season preview, who could absolutely step up and contribute to the ‘Cats’ offensive production in big ways this season.
“Which NU team will surprise people this fall?” - @BreaLassek
Northwestern. Women’s. Soccer. In reality, both soccer teams will improve and I mentioned the men’s team in my end-of-spring mailbag as another team I was looking forward to watching. Having watched the women’s team show out in its first few games, it looks like something has finally clicked and the offense is flowing once again. The special sauce? Emma Phillips’ bicycle kick goal that needs to be on SportsCenter right this very moment. Everything about this play was unreal — the cross, the finish, the reaction — impeccable. If Phillips’ finish is any indicator of how exciting this season will be for Michael Moynihan’s team, I'm in.
Emma Phillips bicycle kick for the lead #SCtop10 | @NCAASoccer pic.twitter.com/YwvasXv7t1— Northwestern Soccer (@NUWSoccer) August 19, 2022
“2021 Field Hockey became the ninth Northwestern team (third program) to win a national title. Who’s the next NCAA Champ? Lacrosse? FH repeat? Softball? A dark horse?” - @gjdorsey7
I want Izzy Scane to win a national championship so bad. Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team is absolutely due for another title and after a year sidelined with injury, Scane is sure to be hungry for some hardware. Despite losing four core graduate students, three of whom have moved on to play professionally in Athletes Unlimited, Amonte Hiller’s teams always seem to bounce back to the highest level and compete. The Lakeshow is perpetually championship ready, and what better player to spearhead a title run than Scane?
“Is a hot dog a sandwich?” - @BenChasenINU
Honestly, I think hot dogs should just have their own category. Do sandwich shops sell hot dogs? Not really. And there are multitudes of ways to serve a hot dog on its own — Chicago style, with some chili on top, you name it. So no, I do not consider a hot dog a sandwich, but very good question.
“What NU team are you most excited to watch this year? Pick one men’s and one women’s team,” - @JWoodNU
Give me the Northwestern softball redemption tour all day. I cannot wait until spring to watch Danielle Williams and company ball out on the diamond again. Softball is just so fun to watch in general, especially with the players Kate Drohan has managed to pull to Evanston, so I encourage everyone who didn’t follow the team last year to keep it in mind as the season inches closer.
I’m going to shout out men’s soccer once again because the finale of their season last year was so exciting, and with a slew of top-rung transfers and recruits coming in, Martin Stadium will be rocking this fall. I will most definitely be keeping up with what Russell Payne can do with the talent he’s been able to pick up.