It’s been a long summer, and I’ve been licking the scraps from the bottom of the sports entertainment barrel. As I channel surf, I find myself deciding between some late night drone racing on ESPN 2, or competitive cornhole over on ESPN U.
But now it’s (almost) fall, and football season is (almost) back, and all is (almost) right in the sports world again. I can pull myself back from the sketchy outskirts of cable, and back to the safety of major network television. Instead of trying to watch Austin Carr get a chance in a Patriots preseason game against the Jags, I can watch the 2017 Wildcats take the field against some actual competition.
How will the ‘Cats fare in 2017? I’ve got no damn idea, but I’m going to try and make a prediction here. Northwestern historically is good when we expect them to be bad, and vice versa – they love to zig when we expect them to zag. The media narrative is that we’ll be a competitor for the B1G West this year – we’re returning our 3,000 yard QB and a 3,000 yard career rusher, and may have the best secondary in the B1G. We’ve got a pretty easy schedule and some manageable crossover games against the B1G East. It’s a bit silly that the winner of the B1G West will likely come down to who in our division got the least difficult crossover games against the other side.
On the other hand, we lost Austin Carr and Anthony Walker – two key players at positions where we don’t have a lot of depth. I think Carr will be a huge loss – Clayton Thorson had a nice year last year but Carr was by and large his go-to target, with 90 catches. We’ll see how Thorson does this year without that AC80 crutch – Flynn Nagel is waiting in the wings and would expect him to have a big year. Skowronek was also a nice security blanket last year for Thorson, and expect that to continue this year.
I’m predicting a 9-3 year for the ‘Cats in 2017. I see us getting through the non-con unscathed, splitting @ Wisconsin and Penn State on Homecoming, dropping a game at Nebraska, and then dropping another game to either Iowa or Michigan State at home. If we do beat Wisconsin, we’ll have an outside shot at taking the B1G West.
Player to Watch:
Clayton Thorson. Kind of an obvious one, but am very curious to see if he can continue the success he found towards the end of last year. The importance of losing Austin Carr cannot be understated – Thorson will be without his go-to target who accounted for about a third of his completions last year. If he can take a step forward, the ‘Cats will be legitimate B1G West contenders…but if he regresses without AC, we could be in for a long year.
Game to Watch:
Has to be Wisconsin. Our first game against a B1G opponent is a huge one. If we can get the win against the Badgers, we can afford to lose 2-3 games and still have an opportunity to get to Indy by winning a tiebreaker. If we lose @Wisco, there is no margin for error the rest of the way. The Badgers always seem to grind out 9-10 win seasons year in and year out, but now having lost TJ Watt and now Jack Cichy for the year, two of their best players on D, they do seem due for a down year. We shall see.
I will say this is the best chance the ‘Cats have had in years to win the West. Our schedule is about as easy as you could ask for in the B1G, we’ve got a proven starter at QB and a star RB in JJ. I know we’ll be able to put up points, but I’m worried about our defense. It was porous at times last year, and that was with Anthony “Cakes” Walker holding down the middle of the D. I do feel good about our D line getting QB pressure, and our secondary covering on the back end – for me it comes down to how well our LBs can play without Walker in the mix. Expect a lot of 33-30 type games.
CFB Final Four Picks:
- Oklahoma State
- Ohio State