My job as a professional sports Twitter person alters the way I look at a weekend slate of college football. I don't look for the games that will be most meaningful as the season heads towards the College Football Playoff. I don't look for the most intriguing potential upsets. I just look for the games with the potential funniest end result.
Sometimes, finding them is simple -- This weekend, I think it would be funny as hell if Mississippi State blew the living doors off of Alabama this weekend -- sometimes, they're more difficult -- any time Florida State matches up against a team that isn't very good, I am rooting for that not-very-good team to win.
At this point, Northwestern's 2014 is a wash. We had a brief moment of joy when the Wildcats beat Penn State and Wisconsin, but this has been the least fun season I've ever witnessed as a fan. Sure, the 2013 team didn't live up to high expectations, but those were high expectations, and the team was competitive pretty much every week.
This year we expected mediocrity and were given a team that couldn't deliver. I mean, we're at the point where we're debating not *if* someone should be fired, but *who*.
I see three roads for Northwestern's final three games:
1. Northwestern loses to Notre Dame and beats Purdue and Illinois. This is not funny, because it makes sense. It also leaves the Wildcats in the position of wondering whether preventing any of their easily preventable failures in the first nine games of the year could have led to a bowl game.
2. Northwestern loses to Notre Dame and loses to Purdue or Illinois or both. This would just make me feel sad, because, Jesus, guys, Purdue and Illinois. I'm not a fan of the word "failure" because it fails to capture the many delectable shades of failing to accomplish goals. There's getting a 64 on a test, and there's getting a 15 on a test. Both are technically failures, but one is a regular failure and one's a triumphant masterpiece of a failure. Going 5-7 is the former, losing to Purdue or Illinois is the latter.
3. The funny one.
The funny one, of course, is beating Notre Dame, and who cares what the hell else happens.
Here is why this would be funny:
1. Northwestern is bad, Notre Dame is good
Northwestern is a 17-point underdog, the largest line I've seen for a Northwestern game in years. There's less spoil-y potential than there should be. Notre Dame was a playoff contender until last week, but after getting blowed the hell out by Arizona State last week, Notre Dame's national title hopes are all but dead. (They're also probably angry about getting blowed the hell out.)
But still, there's one team that's fighting to the finish line of a really good season and one team that farts sadness.
2. Revenge for my inbox
On Oct. 18, Notre Dame played Florida State. If you're unfamiliar with how that ended: It looked like ND had scored with a few seconds left, giving Florida State their first loss since 2012, but the play was called back due to a textbook offensive pass interference call. The task fell to me to quickly explain why the call was made. (Receivers aren't allowed to shove players trying to defend a pass. It's pretty cut-and-dry.)
As a person who writes about sports on the internet, I am used to getting feedback from fans angry that I've slighted their team. Most of the time, it's just angry comments. More enterprising fans will see an article I've written, find my Twitter handle, helpfully included in the top of each story, and take to Twitter to harangue me. True weirdos find my email address and take the time to write notes to me, a total stranger. (This week, we hit a new landmark -- a complaint written to SBN's support inbox about this post, claiming that referring to a 305-pound person as fat was equivalent to calling someone a "faggot," which... same letters, I guess?)
Notre Dame fans, I learned, use email. Some actually tried to contest my interpretation of what had happened.
Others tried before going off the deep end:
This is not the first, nor will it be the last time I have received a slew of unsolicited feedback in my personal email inbox. Thus far, though, it's the largest group I've ever gotten.
I was casually rooting for Notre Dame to beat Florida State, and thus casually disappointed when they lost. But yo! That wasn't a touchdown! And the onslaught of semi-coherent criticism kinda made me wish bad things on Notre Dame.
3. That history thing
Conference rivalries are fun, but they're transient. When you play a team every year, your bragging rights only extend 365 days into the future. Right now Northwestern-Illinois seems like a joke, because Illinois is bad. But it isn't so long ago that Northwestern had lost back-to-back games to the Illini, the Wrigley blowout and a game where the Wildcats blew an 18-point lead. Hell, the switch could flip back Illinois' way in a few weeks.
When you play a team rarely, though, these things can extend indefinitely. NU won a pair of games over Vanderbilt, then the Commodores cancelled the series. This will stand as a bragging point against any Vandy fan you meet until the two teams play again, which could be decades away. The Wildcats could've had the same thing with Cal, but failed to win this year, and as such the series goes down as a bummer of a split, inconclusive for any arguments.
Notre Dame and Northwestern are not rivals. Not by any means. They do not care about Northwestern, which is half of what a rivalry is.
But here's an excerpt fromthe New York Times' awesome college football fandom map:
The gray is Notre Dame (or NIU, closer to DeKalb). That little patch of purple directly surrounding Ryan Field is Northwestern.
Northwestern is nearly outnumbered by Notre Dame fans the areas nearest its own stadium, and considerably outnumbered in Chicago, the city Northwestern pretends is part of its fandom circle. Northwestern is in a rivalry with Notre Dame in the same way someone trapped on a desert island is in a rivalry with water.
For 20 years, Northwestern has had something over Notre Dame. The Wildcats played the Fighting Irish year after year after year, serving as the whipping boys as Notre Dame got into shape to play good teams. They had lost 14 straight games. Then in 1995, Northwestern won, and Northwestern remained decent-to-good for a while, and Notre Dame decided it wasn't prudent to play Northwestern anymore.
If Northwestern loses Saturday, that story -- the YOU SCAAAAAAAAAAARED narrative -- disappears in a flash, and the 1995 win will remain an odd legend. We'll celebrate it the way us Jews celebrate Hannukah, a holiday commemorating the 25 minutes somebody wasn't directly ruling over Jews.
If Northwestern wins, that storyline lives on. In spite of the fact that Notre Dame is much better than Northwestern at football and has been year-in, year-out, that storyline will live. And that, to me, would be funny.
I won't be disappointed if Northwestern loses Saturday, because that's what will probably happen. But if Northwestern wins, I will laugh, and I will laugh a lot.