Kentucky vs. Louisville: rivalry t-shirt wars (photos)

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Don’t think Louisville vs. Kentucky is a hard-core rivalry? Check out the Final Four smack-talking t-shirts after the jump. This is NASTY. Brutal, like Duke vs. North Carolina.

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NORTHWESTERN ENDS BOWL DROUGHT! What Chicago team is next?

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Today, the Northwestern Wildcats ended their 64 year old bowl drought. They upped their record in bowl games to 2-9. And they did it over an SEC team no less, the once 11th ranked Mississippi St Bulldogs. In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks ended their 49 year old Stanley Cup drought. In 2005, the Chicago White Sox ended their 88 year World Series drought. So now that leaves only two: Northwestern basketball, who’ve never made a NCAA Tourney. Well, with how they’ve played at home lately, their injuries and a RPI of 105, I’d say they have to wait a year- at least. And the Chicago Cubs 104 year Sahara like drought? They lost 101 games last year, so don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Let’s get back to what the Cats accomplished today.

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New Northwestern helmets for Gator Bowl vs. Mississippi St.

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When the Northwestern Wildcats look to end their bowl game drought tomorrow (you might have heard a thing or two about it in the local media) they’ll do so with these new helmets on. Expect to see a lot of running with Venric Mark and Kain Colter at the Gator Bowl vs. Mississippi State, MSU has a cornerback named Johnathan Banks who will be a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft.

So they’ll be less passing with Colter and Trevor Siemian.

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Northwestern Linemen “Jugs Machine” Challenge (video)

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Get ready for the Jugs Machine! Sounds like a nickname for Pamela Anderson. Wait, she’s kind of a gross thought today, sounds like 1993 Pamela Anderson.

Being a punt returner is serious business. Fielding a high kick is no small task by itself, but it’s made that much harder when you have to concentrate on the ball, and be aware that very large men are speeding towards you with the sole intent of destroying you. But what happens when instead of a fast, low center-of-gravity back is returning a punt, you get the big boys in the trenches doing it?

check out the video below of a linemen jugs machine challenge at Northwestern.

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#1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals: everything you need to know

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It’s a bluegrass, bourbon, basketball battle. The biggest meeting ever between the two rivals from the state of Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken and his secret recipe. It’s the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the Louisville Cardinals at the Final Four in New Orleans. Sounds very Southern (and drunk) to me.

Let’s get to it!

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Northwestern 2012 Recruiting Class has Some Top Notch Prospects

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Happy National Signing Day. Northwestern’s 21 commits (the largest class of the Pat Fitzgerald era) hail from 10 states. The Wildcats signed 13 of their 21 players from three states—five from Pennsylvania, four from Illinois and four from Ohio. Scout ranks the class 5th in the Big Ten, 44th in the nation. Those numbers are higher than usual in Evanston.

In addition, Northwestern announced this past weekend the addition of highly touted wide receiver Kyle Prater (Maywood, Ill./Proviso West), who is transferring to Northwestern from USC. More on Prater here. His presence beefs up the class quite a bit. And there’s some top prospects in it, we’ll highlight the highlights of it.

Let’s start with the jewel of the class.

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Indiana Hoosiers Are Back After Beating No. 1 Kentucky

Welcome back, Indiana University basketball.

It’s been way too long.

Fans in Bloomington and across the nation have been longing — aching — to utter those words after the fallout from the Kelvin Sampson fiasco and the subsequent 28 wins over the first three seasons of the Tom Crean era.

And what better way to usher in the Hoosiers’ resurgence than with an epic 73-72 upset of long-time rival and No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall with a last-second 3-pointer by Christian Watford?

After what might have been one of the best games ever played in the famed basketball arena, fans legitimately can say their program is relevant again.

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Indiana Hoosiers Take Program’s Buzz into Kentucky Game

The week leading up to the Indiana University basketball game against No. 1 Kentucky at 5:15 today at Assembly Hall has been, in actuality, a rather controversial one in Bloomington.

IU Athletics sustained a bit of a public relations hit in reprimanding a group of students who planned to camp out in front of Assembly Hall for the entire week so that the fans could be first in line for the student section’s best first-come, first-serve seats on game day. The group dubbed itself “Camp Crean.”

The move initially was aimed at preventing the group from setting up a tent as the “Occupy” movement has hit Bloomington hard and heavy, but the students stayed a bit longer into the week before being encouraged to return home with front-of-the-line vouchers courtesy of the school’s athletic department.

While this saga has sparked a good bit of debate among social media, the overarching message is undebatable: The fact students were willing to stay in front of the storied arena is clear evidence that the buzz surrounding Indiana Hoosiers basketball is back.

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Illinois 38, Northwestern 35: Rapid Reaction

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It was a game that could have changed the Northwestern season. The Wildcats had Dan Persa back, had an 18-point lead on the road, and had momentum. Then, it all fell apart.

Northwestern did everything in its power to lose on the road at Illinois. So did the Fighting Illini. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, fate appeared to be favoring orange over purple in the Big Ten season opener. Northwestern fell to Illinois 38-35, allowing the Illini to keep possession of the Land of Lincoln trophy. [Read more…]

Minnesota vs. Northwestern Tips Off Big 10 Tourney: Injuries Aplenty

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In this corner, you have the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a tean that’s been a train wreck ever since losing their starting point guard Al Nolen.

And in this corner, you have the Northwestern Wildcats, a team missing one of their starters in Jershon Cobb, a key reserve (and fill-in starter) in Mike Capocci. Not to mention their star player, John Shurna is still not even close
to 100%.

Something’s got to give in the Big Ten Tournament opener, the #8 vs. #9 game. Someone will be healthy enough to advance to take on #1 (in both the league and the nation) Ohio State.

By Paul M. Banks

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Badgers Destroy ‘Cats; Wisconsin Crushes Chicago in 1st Part of Sun Doubleheader

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As extremely lopsided as the college football meeting was between these teams, the Northwestern vs. Wisconsin college basketball contest was even more one-sided.

As you might have heard, there is a “little football game” between the two NFL franchises overlapping the Badgers and Wildcats fan bases. In fact, this game was even moved up a half hour to accommodate those wishing to watch the Green Bay Packers take on the Chicago Bears for the right to reach the NFL title game.

The game was such a complete route, they were given plenty of extra time to leave Welsh-Ryan Arena to find their NFC Championship viewing destination.

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Business of a College Football Program, part one Marketing

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By Paul M. Banks

In the world of revenue-producing collegiate sports, what goes on in the boardroom is just as crucial as what takes place on the field in determining success. Since the mid 1990s, Northwestern University has been a very respectable middle-of-the-road Big Ten football team. Since 2003, Northwestern has compiled a 25-25 record in conference play, good for 6th place of 11. Since 1995, when the Cats won the first of their three recent Big Ten championships, only four Big Ten programs have managed to compile a winning record against Northwestern: Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue. Against the other six schools, NU is .500 or better the past 14 years. Northwestern has also won six or more in eight of the last 14 seasons (six bowl appearances). Clearly, they’ve been a very respectable program, if not yet a dominant one on the field.

At the gate however, is a different story entirely. Last season the Wildcats finished just one win shy of the school record and qualified for the Alamo Bowl. But that breakout season, the best during the young tenure of Pat Fitzgerald, hasn’t boosted ticket sales. In their four home games this season, NU’s Ryan Field has been more than half-empty each time. They’ve failed to draw even 20,000 fans to their 47,000 seat venue for any of the first four.  Paid attendance reports yield more optimistic figures, but as anyone who has been to Ryan Field will tell you- the football stadium has unfortunately been 60-75% empty for each game.

I recently made a visit to the office of someone playing a crucial role in fixing that scenario, Tracie Hitz, Associate Athletic Director Sales and Marketing.halloweeen08-085

“We’re doing a lot better job doing research, tracking and being more targeted instead of just doing a mass marketing plan to television, radio and print. We’re more of niche than trying to blanket out Chicago, we don’t have the resources to do mass marketing,” she stated.

So what are some of the specific initiatives Hitz and company are working on? “We did a ton of research and found out that young alums don’t have anywhere to tailgate, they don’t have anywhere to go. So just going back and creating an area for them with beanbag tournaments and live bands, TVs running the pre-game and post-game and they can just sit there all day and watch college football if they want to,” Hitz said.  The Cats offer many amenities to complement watching football, and there are a couple of  big things in the works: a Wrigley Field match-up with Illinois is in the early stages of planning and the program also hopes to hold a post-game rock concert at Ryan Field soon.

One way to always help sales, especially in a dismal economy like this is to cut prices. It might also when considering how ticket prices for the local professional team, the Chicago Bears are so high they are intelligence-insulting. Would price cuts help?

“Lower prices- that’s what everyone says in the recession. From the research we’ve done, it’s not the prices that are a problem, that’s a knee jerk reaction. But they did want a youth price, some variable pricing, and we have lowered prices for non-conference games.” In addition to the reduced ticket rate for pre-conference games, you can find a deal just about anywhere to get a further discount on a non-conference game, making admission extremely affordable.

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Perhaps NU is haunted by the ghosts of the past. Even though they’ve been fairly successful over the past 15 years, the program experienced a historically epic level of losing in the 1960s-80s, and many Chicagoans remember this. The Wildcats failed to record a winning season from 1972-1994 and there was an especially putrid period in 1976-1981, when the Wildcats went 3-62-1. Exaggeration and hyperbole aren’t required for describing that era.

“You don’t find a lot of people who just grew up Northwestern fans yet. I’m hoping they’re coming, people who grew up in ’95, ‘96. We have so many people and so many great fans that do love us, so when you talk to them, their friends want to come. And you need to have some sort of connection- like your neighbor is a season ticket holder, that’s enough. We have so much big ground to make up, so every little bit helps,” Hitz opined.

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Of course, Chicago is a town filled with many people who possess an obsession with sports on a dysfunctional level. And since they’re in the third largest market, perhaps NU should take an angle marketing themselves as Chicago’s college football team. They don’t have a rival for that position, do they?

“We’ve tired to crack that nut for years. Coach Fitz was just placed into the Hall of Fame and it was a blurb in the Chicago media, but if you’re in South Bend or the hometown of all the inductees, it was a big deal in all their hometown papers, even if they haven’t played football in 50 years. And here we got nothing. The top stories are Notre Dame and Illinois and we’re down here,” the associate A.D. said.

I’ll be the first to admit that the local Chicago media routinely drops the ball in their college football coverage. But the more the Cats make public appearances, the more publicity they will receive. “That’s why you see Coach Fitz out in the community as much as possible, that’s why you see the Cats caravan out there every weekend. Having football players there makes a ton of difference,” Hitz said.

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It’s true that star power makes a difference, and when that star power moves on to the next level, it’s an added boost to the program on multiple fronts. NU is lucky to have one of the best young coaches in the game with Pat Fitzgerald, and there are quite a few Cats currently playing in the NFL. One of which, is a good friend of Fitzgerald’s and is currently making a name for himself with the local team. I recently asked Fitz about the play of Nick Roach with the Chicago Bears

“I’m very proud of Nick. I’m not surprised that Nick is having a great career with the Bears. Number one he’s an extremely intelligent football player. I’m assuming he knows all three (linebacker) positions and he’s also been playing in the kicking game for them. That’s what he did here for us. He’s really bright, understood concepts, fundamental and technique and he did what he was coached to do. Number two, he’s really athletic and he plays football the way you want guys to play. He plays with passion and emotion. He’s a great teammate, he doesn’t speak a whole lot but when he does guys listen. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room and I know the Bears are proud of how active he is in the community giving back the way he did when he was here. We couldn’t be more proud to have a Northwestern graduate with the Bears, the team we root for and love every Sunday. Am I surprised? No. I`m just really proud of him and I know he’s really happy to have an opportunity.”

More success stories like that will help the program tremendously. It will inspire more fans to head to Evanston on Autumn Saturdays, hoping to see the next big thing.