College Football Live Blog Week 3, Nighttime games!

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Welcome to our nighttime version of the college football live blog!  There’s a few great matchups tonight, starting with Northwestern at Syracuse, and to be followed by Texas Tech-Texas and Arkansas-Georgia.  Should be a fun night, and we’ll kick it off with some musings from my guy PB about one of his many alma maters, Northwestern!

Syracuse 3, Northwestern 0 (12:33 left 1Q)
Is it too late to call an upset here for Syracuse? They are up 3-0, and just recovered a fumble on NU’s 1st off play from scrimmage. They set up shop inside the Wildcats 15.

Thats not why I think Northwestern is going to lose though. When I found out all the “probables” to “questionables” were out with injury. They’re best and 3rd best RBs, along with the top two corners, I knew. I just knew. –Paul Banks

Syracuse 10, Northwestern 0 (9:00 left 1Q)
Syr qb and douchecock supreme greg paulus scores and its 10-0 cuse. -PB

Maybe my man PB won’t be ok, lol…-Paul Schmidt

Georgia at Arkansas (KICKOFF)
Dawgs and Hogs on ESPN tonight…should be a great game.

Of local interest, it’s the first major home game for a certain transfer QB named Ryan Mallett, who some readers may remember abandoned Michigan and condemned them to crappy QB play from freshman last season instead of from a 6 foot 8 sophomore…

On the plus side, it’s SEC football, and the atmosphere is INSANE right now, and they haven’t even started the game…-PS

Arkansas 7, Georgia 0 (12:23 left 1Q)
What a scattershot first drive for Mallett…he looked bad until the Razorbacks had to punt, and then they recovered a muff.  THEN he started throwing darts, and let me tell you, on the 25-yard TD pass he just threw, while rolling out…into coverage no less…well, it looked good.  It looked real good.

Maybe Michigan WILL miss this guy…-PS

Syracuse 17, Northwestern 7 (2:00 left 2Q)
Mike Kafka scores from inside the ten. 17-7 Syracuse, just inside the 2 qtr. NU threatening to make a game of this…after what the announcer called “the best total quarter in Syracuse football in about 5 years.”

Be proud Purple hearted, be proud.-PB

Georgia 7, Arkansas 7 (9:56 left 1Q)
I had a feeling this could be a barn-burner, and it’s looking like it.  Joe Cox just fired a bullet to the endzone for a TD.  So far this looks like defense will be missing, and Arkansas just did a nice reverse on the ensuing kickoff to get across midfield to start.-PS

Arkansas 14, Georgia 7 (9:37 left 1Q)
Remember what I said about that great starting field position?  Well, they used it well in one play, as Mallett just went long to Jerrious Wright and hit him in stride for the lead.

Terrible play by the safety, who froze up as Wright went by him, and that pretty much made the play.-PS

Syracuse 17, Northwestern 7 (12:00 left 2Q)
NU is actually moving the ball because Fitz has finally realized, Kafka should run, let him run. He is a runner. They kept him under wraps for the couple games. Yes, we all want him to pass, but dont get away from what works. The first couple games they did that.

Watching ESPN360 is quite a trip, they run the saem 3 ads the ENTIRE game. I’ve memorized all their spots and its just the 2nd quarter…-PB

Texas Tech 3, Texas 0 (7:31 left 1Q)
So far, the Red Raiders’ D has looked good, solid amount of pressure on Texas QB Colt McCoy, and they forced them to punt.

Now, granted, they’ll be starting from their own one-inch line, but still, they lead and Texas didn’t score.  That’s a plus, right? –PS

Northwestern 21, Syracuse 17 (8:00 left 2Q)
Two bits from Paul Banks, but I needed the second one to figure out why he was ejaculating with joy via email:

“What a difference a qtr makes! My last minute pregame prediction of syr 31 nu 21 may be inaccurate!”

OK….how about some actual info, then PB? Calm down and type, and breeeaaaaathe….

“Kafka complted his first 16 passes! And takes the lead!!! Kafka is on fire 21 pts in 11 min for the cats. His 1st 2 td passes all season. Nu 21 syr 17 8 min till half.”

I’ve been a big Mike Kafka critic, but he’s apparently picking apart the Syracuse secondary in a way that I didn’t see Darryle Clark of Penn State or Adam Weber of Minnesota — both better QBs — do.  That’s saying something.  Ok, Kafka…maybe I’m “Metamorphosizing” into a fan of yours….-PB and PS

Texas 7, Texas Tech 3 (7:02 left 1Q)
A nice stop by the Longhorns, and then Texas Tech punted to Jordan Shipley.  I mean, that’s fine and all, but they should have tackled him.

Couple missed tackles and nice cutbacks by Shipley later, and the Longhorns lead. jordanshipley

Also, Shipley freaked Bevo out after the score…not the cuddly mascot, the actual bull…which really could have turned into something funny or awful, depending on your viewpoint…-PS

Arkansas 21, Georgia 10 (12:08 left 2Q)
Ryan Mallett, much to the shagrin of Sports Bank contributor Bosch, I’m sure, has simply looked fantastic. It looks like they are punting for the first time, but the story has been all Mallett.  With 18 minutes of football played, he’s 8 of 12 for 197 yards and 3 TDs, and is on pace for some kind of a record setting day if he keeps that up…-PS

Arkansas 21, Georgia 17 (10:56 left 2Q)
This is getting a little ridiculous…after Arkansas had to punt, Richard Samuel took a handoff up the middle and scampered largely unmolested 80 yards for the TD.  Just a great run, and it sort of looked like Arkansas’ defense didn’t see the handoff and half-followed QB Joe Cox as he rolled out to “pass”.

This one looks like it’s going to come down to whoever has the ball last, and that could be 60 points away…-PS

Florida State 37, BYU 14
Maybe we can finally end this BCS buster talk.  I’m almost as sick of that as I am of the BCS itself…-PS

Texas 10, Texas Tech 3 (14:52 left 2Q)
Interesting start to the game, as both defenses are really playing well.  That’s actually somewhat surprising, given what we know about the defenses in the Big 12.

McCoy has looked ok so far, but if Texas is going to get the revenge they so very much want, they are going to need to get the passing game going.-PS

Syracuse 24, Northwestern 21 (9:57 left 3Q)
The Orangemen took the lead with just a minute  to go in the first half, and has had a continuing success with the Wildcat formation.

The interesting thing about that is they had the same success a couple of weeks ago against Minnesota and arguably could have won the game had they used it more. The same appears to be somewhat true here tonight as they continue to pick up chunks of yardage with it.-PS

Georgia 24, Arkansas 21 (:50 left 2Q)
Great job by the Dawgs going for it on 4th down and 2 at the Hogs’ 31 yard line, and converted that chance.

Joe Cox then completed a beautiful 25 yard TD to AJ Green to give them their first lead of the game.

Georgia just extended that lead — MAYBE.  It was a pretty questionable fumble return for a TD, but it looked as though what was called a fumble was most likely an incomplete pass. –PS

Georgia 27, Arkansas 21 (HALF)
Really nice looking…uhhh…let’s call it a 35 second drill by Cox and the Georgia offense.  Two relaly big passes, the biggest being a 28-yarder on 3rd and 18, set up a field goal as time expired.

This one is far from over, however.  Neither defense has shown a ton of interest in stopping the opposition, so it would be surprising to see them suddenly start in the second half. –PS

Texas 10, Texas Tech 3 (HALF)
I’ll be the first in a long chorus of people to ask, “What the heck is wrong with Colt McCoy??”

He looks the opposite of sharp (un-sharp?) and the defenses of both teams, improbably, have taken control.  I can’t fathom that continuing as the game goes on…but…-PS

Northwestern 28, Syracuse 27 (:17 left 3Q)
Remember when Paul Banks earlier said that Mike Kafka was a runner, and to let him run?  He just put the ‘Cats ahead with his legs, scampering 28 yards for a huge score.

The thing is, the NU defense has really bent a lot tonight…they haven’t completely broken, but they really have had trouble with the multi-faceted Cuse offense. This game is most likely far from over…-PS

Arkansas 28, Georgia 27 (10:00 left 3Q)
The back and forth continues for the Dawgs and Hogs.

This time, Mallett AGAIN goes long, and strikes gold with his 4th TD pass of the game, hitting Greg Childs for the TD.

It was a great catch by Childs, though — he overcame GREAT coverage, and then threw a GREAT straight arm on the defender before being hurled into the end zone by Brandon Boykin.-PS

Northwestern 34, Syracuse 27 (9:04 left 4Q)
Mike Kafka is having an unreal football game right now, as he is currently 32 of 35 passing for 354 yards and 3 TDs, having just hit Demetrius Fields for a three-yard score.

Kafka is really showing off some skills tonight, and I’d love to say more about him, but it must be mentioned that Stefan Demos missed the extra point, and that keeps it just a seven point game.  Something, hopefully, that won’t bite the Cats in the butt later in the game.-PS

Georgia 34, Arkansas 28 (7:51 left 3Q)
This game won’t quit, as Joe Cox just went 50 yards deep to Taverras King to get the lead back for the Dawgs.

They even made the 2-point conversion before being called for holding and settling for the extra point.  This game is stressing me out…-PS

Syracuse 34, Northwestern 34 (6:03 left 4Q)
And this one is trying to keep up with the SEC.

Paulus the douche tied this one up with a 13-yard score to Mike Williams…presumably not the former USC standout…

It seems perfectly safe to assume that the ‘Cats will get a shot to win, right?-PS

Syracuse 34, Northwestern 34
Here’s some thoughts from Paul Banks, our NU guy, but due to technical difficulties these got missed:

“How’s this for a box score Mike Kafka 23-26 284, 2 TDs o INT. how’s that QB rating? the polar opposite of Rex Grossman. Then again, 9 carries for -5 yards for Kafka..yeesh. And Arby Fields (yeah, I’m thinking Arbys man) has a 25 yard run. everyone else is in single digits or negative…yeesssshhhhhhh”

“Syracuse Mike Williams WR (no, not the same WR Mike Williams at USC from a few years ago) has over 150 yards and a TD already. he’s pretty good. no doubt helped by a 3rd string CB covering him tonight.”  Haha — the same joke I made!!

“SU kicker Ryan Lichentenstein (isnt that a micro-state? my favortie microstate is montenegro, or san marino) kicks fg, cuse extends lead to 6.

nu’s feature back tonight is jacob schmidt. aren’t we missing a john and jingleheimer there in his name?”  Yes we are…and he’s also my long lost twin brother from another mother….

“trick play. kafka to wr andrew brewer, who throws a 25 yard td rec to kafka. its tricky tricky tricky tricky. all these former qbs on the roster are paying off. is there anything kafka cant do.

I like your metamorphosis allusion Paul S. I was going to make reference to “the misanthrope” “a man apart” but I can think fast enough to analogize the works of Czech intellectual Franz Kafka…yes yes harrumph.”  Yes, that’s right….the Misanthrope just got referenced on a sports website….-PB and PS

Georgia 42, Arkansas 35 (4:34 left 3Q)
OK, this is getting crazy. In trying to post what was going on in the Cats/Cuse game, I missed two touchdowns.  It took like 3 minutes.  I don’t even remember the Arkansas TD at this point.  They are all blending together…I do know it was a TD pass from Ryan Mallett, because he set Arkansas’ school record for TD passes in the game with over 20 minutes of game left.

Georgia managed to get teh 2-point conversion, this time, with a pretty little pass from Cox to A.J. Green in the corner.

Incidentally, both QBs have combined to make a total of 5 starts in their careers heading into tonight, and they’ve combined to throw 9 TDs and something like 5,000 yards in this game.  –PS

Northwestern 34, Syracuse 34 (1:38 left 4Q)
The Cats had to punt, then forced ‘Cuse three-and-out deep in his own end, and now, with 98 ticks left, have pretty good field position at their own 40 yard line.

How much more magic does Kafka have left?  Can he turn into a dung beetle? –PS

Northwestern 34, Syracuse 34 (:52 left 4Q)
And Mike Kafka’s first mistake looks like it is going to cost Northwestern the game.

He was darn near perfect…and maybe being so perfect in a game gives you the confidence to make any throw. Of course, maybe that means you make throws you shouldn’t.

Kafka just threw to an open receiver — at least he appeared to be, but Syracuse was sitting back in a soft zone waiting, and got just a HUGE interception, and returned it 35 yards back into Northwestern territory.  A couple of short passes later and it looks like they are in field goal range….-PS

Syracuse 37, Northwestern 34 (FINAL)
Roy Lichtenstein, or whatever his name was, just hit the game winner from 42 yards out.  Kafka’s an unfortunate loser in this one, but at the same time, when your D played like Northwestern’s did tonight, you have to be nearly perfect to win.  Tough loss for the Cats, and it will be interesting to see how they rebound. –PS

Texas 24, Texas Tech 10 (2:26 left 3Q)
The offenses woke up when I wasn’t looking, and Texas Tech is driving.

Texas’ ground game has picked things up a little, while McCoy has looked pedestrian at best tonight.

New Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts is doing Texas Tech type things, going 36 of 48 for 313 yards through essentially three quarters of play. In fact…

…Potts just capped off a nice scoring drive to get the Red Raiders back into things a little bit, and now the score is
Texas 24, Texas Tech 17 (1:35 left 3Q) –PS

hogGeorgia 42, Arkansas 38 (14:47 left 4Q)
ARKANSAS JUST PUNTED ARKANSAS JUST PUNTED!!!!  WOOHOOO!!!! WE FINALLY HAVE SOME DEFENSE!

Texas 24, Texas Tech 17 (12:40 left 4Q)
Not an inspiring start to the fourth quarter for either offense, with Texas Tech QB Potts throwing an awful pick (in front of a hold in the end zone that wasn’t called and should have been a safety), and then, with great field position at the Red Raider 20, all McCoy can do is continue to throw the ball too high to his wide receivers which led to a tipped-ball-interception.  Just kinda ugly. –PS

Texas 24, Texas Tech 17 (11:48 left 4Q)
WOW…Taylor Potts just got crushed by this Kindle kid from Texas.  He mauled him.  Texas recovered the fumble and should actually get some points here.

One reason I hate instant replay, though, is that huge hit was tainted now…because there’s no way that shouldn’t have been called helmet-to-helmet to the QB…At the very least Kindle led with his head…-PS

Georgia 49, Arkansas 38 (9:38 left 4Q)
These two teams have slowed down just a little bit, no doubt because they were tired from scoring so much (that’s what she said).

Cox just tied the Georgia school record for TD passes in a game with his fifth and A.J. Green scored — again — and the Dawgs are up 11. I’ll be back posting about this game soon, though, because Arkansas is already driving.  Of course they are…-PS

Georgia 49, Arkansas 41 (7:41 left 4Q)
…and there it is.  Mallett couldn’t get his 6th TD pass of the night, but the Hogs were down two scores and needed to get the field goal at some point, so they might as well have gotten it there.

Of course…now they need a defensive stop.  Umm…-PS

Texas 31, Texas Tech 17 ( left 4Q)coltmccoy
Well, McCoy finally made the Red Raiders pay for a mistake. He hit Dan Buckner in the back of the end zone for a three-yard score, and it was a REALLY great catch by Buckner.

I don’t know what it is about McCoy, but he hasn’t looked sharp at all tonight.  You have to think that he has better days in front of him, but he really, he is not the reason they are winning this prime-time, nationally televised game. –PS

Texas 31, Texas Tech 24 (6:51 left 4Q)
Blown coverage got Taylor Potts his third TD pass of the game, and his numbers are crazy gaudy right now — 43-58 387 yards. This Red Raider offense is just insane.

Also, I hate them, because I think they blew up my -18.5.  Not only that, with this kind of time left, with a stop they could tie the game. -PS

Georgia 52, Arkansas 41 (2:10 left 4Q)
That may have iced it.

Arkansas actually got the stop they needed, but were pinned deep in their own territory, and couldn’t manage anything other than a three-and-out. They then got an awful punt that gave Georgia first down inside the Arkansas 30…

They didn’t have to go very far to get in field goal range, but they used about 3 minutes of clock, gained about 20 yards, and with the chip-shot field goal, made it a two possession game.

Interesting fact — Arkansas only has 4 road games remaining this season, which is good.  They are ALL FOUR against top ten teams, unfortunately…BAD-PS

Texas 34 Texas Tech 24 (3:49 left 4Q)
And Texas just did the same thing.  Nice long drive, took over three minutes off the clock, and kicked a field goal to pretty much put the game out of reach barring a miracle.-PS

Georgia 52, Arkansas 41 (FINAL)
In the end, much like Northwestern’s Mike Kafka, Ryan Mallett used up all his magic early in the game.  Rarely are nearly 400 yards passing and 5 touchdown not enough to win a game, but then again, when your defense gives up 52 points, would 5 or 600 yards have been enough?  Hard to say…

Still, Mark Richt has made his bones in the SEC as being an unbelievable true-road-game coach, and he proved it again tonight.  I can’t imagine Georgia winning a ton of games in this fashion, bur Richt proved that he’ll go anywhere, play any kind of football you want, and more than likely beat you at it.

Plus, Bobby Petrino lost.  And that’s ALWAYS a good thing. -PS

Texas 34, Texas Tech 24 (1:18 left 4Q)
This one is just about wrapped up, with Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster’s son, a safety at Texas, making a great play in the secondary on 4th and long to seal the win. -PS

Texas 34, Texas Tech 24 (FINAL)
I missed this game in my picks, and I’m still surprised at the defensive nature of the first half, and the poor, inconsistent play of Colt McCoy.

You can’t say a stat like of 24 of 34 for 204 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions is Heisman material, and that’s all I can say about McCoy.  I’d been impressed by him in the past, and thought that of the triumverate of QBs in college football this season (McCoy, Bradford and Tebow), he was the most likely to make an impact in the NFL.  After tonight, I’m just not sure.

And say this about Taylor Potts: 46 of 63, 420 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT.  He played well enough to win.  And looked REALLY good. Texas Tech is going to be a tough out in the Big 12 this season, something I didn’t realize coming into this game.

That pretty much wraps things up today, THANKS FOR TUNING IN EVERYONE.  I might be getting a little punchy at this point, after 9 hours and somewhere around 6,000 words, but hey, it was fun.  See you all next week!

Area College Football Teams Need to Step it Up

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By Paul M. Banks

If you follow college football, you know by now that Illinois was pretty much the biggest disappointment coming out of the gate in week one. Of course, that’s another story for another post, but they did get some redemption tonight when they throttled Illinois State 45-17. And they did that pretty much entirely without their star combo of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn.

More concerning for the Big Ten conference could be the unexpectedly impressive showing by “Directional Michigan,” who gave the conference numerous problems on Saturday. 15 point underdog Central Michigan upset Michigan State 29-27. (Usually, MSU screws up mid-to late season, and dominates in September. Guess they got started early this season)

Eastern Michigan, a 20 point dog to our hometown Northwestern Wildcats, took NU down to the final seconds before junior place-kicker Stefan Demos nailed a 49 yard field goal with 6 ticks left. And Western Michigan lost to Indiana by just four. Maybe it’s a good thing Northern Michigan is a D-II school in the GLIAC conference. And yes, I did have to look that up. And I’m not sure Southern Michigan University exists, but if they did, they’d likely be a thorn in the side of the Big Ten as well. Although other local favorites, Ohio State and Michigan, have looked impressive at times in this young season.

There’s an old football saying claiming, “you improve the most as a team from week one to week two.” If true, it could be a long year for the Big Ten, and maybe a very productive year for the MAC (Mid-American Conference).

“To win a game they way that we did is worrisome across the board. We need to execute better in all aspects. It’s easy when you see the ball run the way it was today, to point the finger at the defensive line. But I’m not prepared to do that yet. I need to watch some video. It is disappointing. We should be better than that,” Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the game. To their credit however, they were missing their top DB (CB Sherrick McMannis) and best DT (Adam Hahn). And their best overall player (DE Corey Wootton) may not even be 100% yet.

Another positive to take away is the fact that Northwestern posted its seventh straight victory versus a Mid-American Conference foe, and they avoided their traditional early season slip-up at the hands of a vastly less talented team. Beating EMU by 3 in ’09 is a lot better than losing at home to D-1 laughingstock Duke in ’07 or to D-1AA opponent New Hampshire in ’06. So, the program has shown some growth, at least in the month of September.


Northwestern 09 Season off to Fantastic Start

 

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By Paul M. Banks

Chicago’s hometown Big Ten team, the Northwestern Wildcats, began the season in a manner that most predicted they would. Granted it was against Towson, an FCS (formerly I-AA) opponent, but a 47-14 win is still a 47-14 win.Quarterback Mike Kafka made a lot of plays, starting 7-8 passing and finishing 15-20 for 192 yards. The strength of the team, the secondary had a good day picking off Towson QB Peter Athens twice and holding him to just 140 passing yards. Senior safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith led the way, as their experience helped them make the proper reads and coverage adjustments into what the opposing offense was doing.

The NU air attack was led by senior Andrew Brewer, who caught a 72 yard TD pass from backup QB Dan Persa, and finished with 6 catches for 145 yards. Since NU lost all their starting receivers from last season, the faithful dressed in purple were glad to see somebody step up. “Everyone talks about our no-name receiving corps, but now you guys know Andrew Brewer, so that’s one,” Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

But it wasn’t just Brewer, as many receivers got in on the act. “It’s always exciting to spread the ball around on offense, I heard 8 different guys caught the ball,” Brewer said.
The spreading the wealth around philosophy also translated to the running back corp, where three of the tailbacks rushed for 30 yards or more, and three of the backs saw at least six carries.

Expect most of the trends from this game to carry over to the rest of the season.

Note: today marks the first installment of The Sports Bank’s new Saturday Live College Football Chat. Check it out here.

Each and every week, we’ll have numerous writers blogging from the press box, at home on the couch, the sidelines, sports bars etc. all around the Big Ten and Midwest. Our comment boards are lighting up with over 60 comments so far, so please join in on the discussion by clicking here.

Senior Safeties Lead Way for Wildcats

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By Paul M. Banks

Watching Illini football closely for the past couple of decades (wow did that sentence sound masochistic) I’ve noticed that the seem to have a good season, at least defensively, when they have to good senior safeties. When they don’t have that talent and experience at that position, they struggle mightily on defense. I wonder if that can be extrapolated across college football? One thing’s for sure, their rival Northwestern has that luxury this season. So it will be interesting to see how their D performs with two excellent seniors playing the safety position.

Free Safety Brendan Smith ranks ninth on NU’s career list for interceptions with seven. He was elected a captain this fall, becoming just the eighth player in NU history to earn repeat captaincy. “Smitty” discussed the importance of playing the safety position.

“They’re the guys that have to be the vocal leaders. they’re the guys that have to make the checks, formation variation if the offense goes into motion. If they (opposing offense) come out in a certain formation, we have to make a call to the corners and also to linebackers. They’re the deepest guys back there, the ones who are the safety valves. With them out there, it maybe gives a confidence level to the rest of their team,” he said before discussing how he’s dealing with all the accolades the team secondary and defense is receiving.
“Once you get ahead of yourself, or think you’re too good for something, that’s when they get ahead of you, or throw a double move on you to catch you off guard. The key to football and the key to our success is when every guy does their job. It’s when I want to make that play, and want to do too much that I mess up.”

At the strong side of the safety position, NU has Brad Phillips, tabbed a first-team preseason All-Big Ten selection by Sporting News and Athlon Sports. In ’08 he was the recipient of the team’s Marcel Price Award (given to player who best exhibits enthusiasm and dedication to the Wildcat program and is symbolic of the former NU player’s desire) He was also named to ESPN’s “All-MayDay” postseason team. I asked him about how important is to have experience at the safety positionNorthwestern Michigan Football

“The most important thing is- the experience slows down the game for you, you’re able to see things more, you’re able to make your reads better, it helps you with checking coverages…Brendan Smith helped me out a lot when I was younger, now it’s kind of me and Brendan are the old guys and we’re helping out the young guys now.”
In the Alamo Bowl, slowing down a powerful offense like Missouri, who averaged over 40 points a game last season, helped the team prepare for the powerful passing offenses that they’ll face later in the season.

“I think it was a big confidence booster, we didn’t finish the job, but I think the guys that are coming back, it gave us the confidence that we can play with the best of the best. The Big 12 North Champion, All-American at tight end, receiver being drafted in the first round, and in the off-season it gave us the hunger to finish the job, hopefully with a bowl win this year,” Phillips said.

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Northwestern led by Stellar Secondary

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By Paul M. Banks

With the college football season set to kick off on Saturday, time to forecast how I think Northwestern will finish. But before that, I’ll profile the team’s biggest strength: the DBs. Very few secondaries in the nation return four starters, who each earned postseason recognition in 2008. Northwestern has both its cornerbacks (Sherrick McManis and Jordan Mabin) and safeties (Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith) returning in 2009, along with several key reserves.
McMannis, Phillips, and Smith each earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors while Mabin was tabbed a Freshman All-American by several outlets. In 2008, Northwestern’s secondary helped the Wildcats rank 25th in the nation for pass efficiency defense with a 111.8 rating. ESPN.com ranked NU’s secondary as the second-best in conference.

“I think we’re finally as a program at the level where we can consistently compete year and year out for the Big Ten championship. This year we have a lot of good experience on defense and a lot of young athletic guys on offense who can play,” said Phillips said Phillips before continuing. “We have three guys who have been starting for three years or more, and then Mabin, who’s been starting for a whole year last year, and it’s really helped us to be able to build that trust together to be able to play as one.”

McMannis also discussed the unit’s strength as a whole “I feel that we have a lot of leaders on this team, and in the secondary we’re perhaps the most experienced group on the field, we’ll use that as an advantage and help out the younger guys.”

But perhaps the most colorful aspect of the secondary is their hairstyle. Senior captain Brendan Smith sported a Mohawk at training camp last year, and plans to do so again this year…at times when his public presentation doesn’t have to be conservative. “Guys had Mohawks, but they had to get rid of them for today (Northwestern Media Day) the defense was supposed to all have them last year, but then they bailed on me, so it was just me and Brad, but I think 3 or for 4 guys have it, but I think they shaved them now,” Smith said before adding that he couldn’t sport his Mohawk for his Leadership council duties. “I’m excited. There’s not many times that a Northwestern defense gets praise or compliments, but we just go out, do our jobs and take it back to the basics. Not get ahead of ourselves, do what we do,” Smith added.smithrobiskie

Prognosticating 2009:

I see big lopsided wins Towson, at Syracuse, Indiana, Eastern Michigan, at Purdue, so we’ll begin with a 5-0 template.
Since there’s no Ohio State on this schedule, I’m not predicting any big lopsided losses, but I do see narrow-to-decisive losses at Michigan State, at Iowa (why are they playing there in consecutive years? Shouldn’t that one be at home this season?), an upset to Miami of Ohio (remember 1995?) which makes them now 5-3.
I do forecast the Wildcats to pull of an upset at home over Penn State on Halloween, and also take the remaining three games on the schedule that are close and could easily go either way (at Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin) which gives them a final season record of 9-3. And yes, I do think this will finally be the year the Bowl game victory drought ends. I think they’ll get passed over for a better bowl that they deserve to be in (like last year with the Outback choosing Iowa over them.

And being able to drop down will make them able to get past some overrated SEC team. Thus ends the “wait till next year” attitude in Evanston as the Cats will get their first bowl since 1949.

By the way, 9-3 is where they finished the regular season last year. I predicted them to be 8-4 in August of ’08.