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Bowl Game Time MAILBAG

The big day has finally arrived, and we’re here to talk everything on your minds.

Ian Maule / ESPN Images

Happy Holidays! With the Las Vegas Bowl finally here, it’s a great time ton answer questions about all things Northwestern (and non-Northwestern). Here they are:

@yyanli1: How do you think Northwestern women’s basketball will fare in Big Ten play, and what do they need to do to stand a fighting chance?

David: It is not going to be pretty for the ‘Cats in Big Ten play. To have a fighting chance, NU needs to play clean basketball, but I just don't see that happening.

Iggy: If the non-conference slate showed any indication, it’s not going to be great. Most of the younger returning starters from 2022-23 just haven’t shown enough improvement overall to warrant a ton of optimism.

Competing in the Big Ten consistently starts with playing defense, which NU has struggled at mightily. As of Dec. 22, its defensive rating is the sixth-worst in all of Division I. While Hailey Weaver and Mel Daley have solid steal totals, it’s not that reflective of the team’s perimeter defense from the eye test. Someone like Rutgers’ Kaylene Smikle, who is coming to Evanston next Saturday, could easily light up the ‘Cats by beating defenders off the dribble (which Northwestern has often failed to do). Limiting turnovers and paint points from the opposition could go a long way as the competition quickly gets stiffer.

Bradley: It’s hard to say anything other than what David and Iggy have already posited; I don’t have much faith in Northwestern to earnestly remain competitive against conference competition. The ‘Cats don’t appear to really have made any substantive progress through their first 12 games of the season, with turnovers and shooting remaining critical issues. Another slate finishing 2-16 or so seems likely unless NU gets significant contributions from Caroline Lau and Caileigh Walsh.

@_kaylacohen: If you had to buy one NIL merch item from a Northwestern player, what would you choose?

David: I want a Gus the Bus jersey so badly.

Iggy: Give me a Kelsey Nader jersey. Buy stock now, because that price is gonna explode fast come February.

Bradley: I’d spend ungodly amounts on Jack Olsen’s Milkman shirt, donned by Marshall Lang on the way to Sin City.

@dejecteddat: Who will play the most snaps at quarterback for the cats in the ‘24 season?

David: I think Bradley and I agree that Northwestern’s starting quarterback in 2024 is not currently on the roster. Northwestern’s most successful seasons in the last five years were guided by a grad transfer, so I think David Braun looks in that same direction this offseason. After the last two seasons, I do not believe that Brendan Sullivan is a viable option to keep the ‘Cats competitive in the new Big Ten. Unless Jack Lausch or Aidan Gray ball out in spring ball, I expect a transfer to start under center next season.

Bradley: For as much as I think Sullivan has legitimate dual-threat talent, he really has not been able to put it together across two seasons of sizeable starting experience. His outings against Nebraska, Howard and Iowa do not induce much confidence in a full-time starting role whatsoever. I fully expect NU to look to the portal — if for nothing else but depth — moving into the start of the 2024 season yet again.

@wildcatsnetwrk: What is the spark that northwestern basketball is missing this year?

David: Someone who can grab a rebound without fouling.

Iggy: It’s the answer that most know, and don’t want to hear: a lockdown perimeter defender. Having one makes it so much easier for Northwestern to play its slow-paced brand of basketball and not just win, but thrive. Many of these non-conference games have been close because opposing guards have been able to score at high clips early in the game, which prevents NU from often running away. Whether it’s Ty Berry or Ryan Langborg (and frankly, Berry has a much better chance of becoming that guy), a wing player is going to have to become a consistently great wing defender for NU to be competitive in the Big Ten.

Bradley: In a lot of ways, it’s the same as last year: a consistent, reliable No. 2 scoring option. Boo Buie will pretty much show up and contribute on a nightly basis, but outside of him, Brooks Barnhizer has probably been the largest Robin — posting 10+ points in 10 of 11 games. However, when Buie is made the focal point by a defense in a big moment, it still doesn’t seem as if someone is to be counted on to drill that game-leading shot. As Iggy noted, the game-to-game variance of Langborg and Berry will decide much of the season, because it seriously feels like NU will need one or two of its Core Four to flourish if it wants to contend down the stretch.

phatcat: Is there any timeline as to when we will learn where the FB team will play home games next year?

David: There is so much still in the air with Ryan Field. Opposition movements filed a lawsuit to prevent the zoning from going into effect. If the lawsuit is successful, the project is dead. Otherwise, I would expect to hear something in the spring.

Sloth Astronuat: odds we got the NDSU OC since he was passed over for HC?

Bradley: I would say they’re not zero, but probably somewhat unlikely. According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, NDSU still wants to keep Tyler Roehl, though an offer from fellow Bison assistant Braun and Northwestern would almost definitely be too gilded to pass up. You can’t argue with production, either, given that Roehl’s unit has exceeded 34 offensive points per game over the last three seasons.

At the same time, for as much as Braun loves his FCS guys, I don’t know if Derrick Gragg would fully endorse having multiple coordinators jumping from the FCS to Big Ten level. Additionally, I feel that one of the top traits that both Braun and Gragg will pursue is a coach that can adequately develop a young quarterback, because that has been sorely lacking in Mike Bajakian’s tenure. Trey Lance and Cam Miller both ended up being solid for North Dakota State, but neither was a true world-beater — plus Roehl oversaw tight ends/fullbacks and less so QBs.

NU ‘06er: My mailbag question is: Can you offer some insight into how you interpret site moderation? (Frankly, the commentariat seems like it needs a refresher.) Best I can tell, the rules nominally include categorical prohibitions on: Personal attacks, discriminatory/derogatory language, wishing harm on athletes, disinformation, illegality, NSFW images/commentary, excessive profanity, multiple accounts, trolling, and spam — summarized as:

  • Be respectful in your interactions with contributors and fellow fans.
  • Don’t be a jerk, and don’t call other people jerks.
  • We’ll remove anything we see that jeopardizes our communities.

That all seems good on paper. But it doesn’t seem like there’s actual clarity as to what constitutes trolling, what constitutes a personal attack, or what constitutes being respectful/being a jerk. Is it trolling to keep repeating the same arguments for more than a half-dozen threads? Is it a personal attack/disrespectful jerk-ishness to respond to that familiar talking point with ad hominem?

I’ve pretty purposefully not included citations to any specific individuals doing either of those things here, but I suspect it will fit too close for comfort for some what I am referring to.

I can tell you from my own experience, I was surprised that my telling NSCat he should try Twitter if his attention span wasn’t greater than 140 characters wasn’t a violation (it was a jerkish thing of me to say, even if mild for an online flame war, if we’re honest) — but quoting what NSCat said to me back to him somehow was.

The specifics of any past thread matter less to me than an understanding of what the rules are here going forward. Might not be a bad conversation to revisit with this mailbag in the spirit of turning a page to the new year.

David: To be honest, I avoid the comment section like the plague. My only thing is be nice to each other, do not call each other names and be respectful. At the end of the day, everyone in the comments cares about Northwestern, whether you agree with their opinion or not.

Iggy: I personally find the trolling here hilarious and annoying at the same time (yes, getting to 100 comments on an article off one thread is trolling). The simplest answer to this without copy-pasting guidelines is that we can’t stop it unless lines are crossed. I think we all know where that generally is (going from the sports intelligence side to the very personal side). Don’t approach that line.

Bradley: Fully second what David and Iggy said, but I will add that that even though we as EICs largely don’t have an active role in monitoring comments, we’re always amenable to questions that may arise about comment categorization by Vox’s system (and pretty much any other topic, too).

NUDave: Does NU get serious about getting on the NIL train for any of its sports?

Bradley: The superficial answer is, one can only hope so. Football is the clearest-cut sport in which Northwestern is actively not competing as well as it could be because of its NIL structure. Monitoring pretty much every other Power Five team in the country, it’s hard not to think that NU is still light years behind in NIL and how it’s implemented.

At the same time, the principle of TrueNU — Northwestern’s NIL collective — is to allow athletes to maximize their compensation opportunities while actively benefitting surrounding communities. It feels improbable that TrueNU would suddenly pivot from that altruistic perspective to one fostering pay for play — especially in football, where Braun clearly delineated that he wants NIL and football to be separate. My best guess is that we may see a more proactive NIL approach in sports like field hockey and lacrosse, where a) NU is consistently dominant and b) athletes have already explored sponsorships.

AyanKB: 1st off - Happy Holidays. To see how many writers from Sippin On Purple and InsideNU have gone onto success at Washington Post, Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, ESPN, etc is incredible. Thank you for your coverage and avenue for the 1% of NU fans to have an online community.

What is the plan with NU WBB’s HC position? Joe McK has been awful and some new blood is needed. Is there an Assistant Coach on the staff that could be a successor?

Iggy: First off, a sincere thanks, and happy holidays to you and yours. As many know, Joe McKeown’s contract runs through 2024-25. Barring a worse season than last year, I think McKeown stays in Evanston for the full two seasons. While Northwestern finds itself in the depths of a rebuild, his recruiting has remained solid (i.e. getting two top-60 2024 recruits in Xamiya Walton and Tayla Thomas). McKeown’s assistants have had a history of earning head-coaching jobs, which suggests that there’s a good chance NU can hit on his potential successor. Look no further than Kate Popovec-Goss (Bradley) and Allison Guth (Loyola). Tangela Smith, as the associate head coach with a great deal of experience (and a coaching member of that 2020-21 team), seems to be the clear No. 2,

What is the plan for NU WVB HC I? A current B1G Assistant Coach?

noah_weintraub: “Thoughts on the Northwestern secondary this year?”

Bradley: Overall, relatively strong. Devin Turner had a really good second season in defending both the pass and run, notching an 84 run defense and 82 tackling grade from PFF — though his few dropped interceptions were an area for growth. When healthy, Coco Azema was his usual thumping, run-stopping self, and his interception of Taulia Tagovailoa was monumental in sealing the win over Maryland. At corner, Garnett Hollis Jr. was pretty solid, notching an 87.7 NFL passer rating allowed — though his five penalties were somewhat costly; I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a decent number of NFL looks given his frame and experience. Theran Johnson still has room to grow on a down-to-down basis, but he had bright moments, including against Iowa. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the contributions of Jaheem Joseph, too: he was major against Wisconsin and made impact plays in other games as a relief safety.