Know Your Opponent: Northwestern Wildcats


Welcome back to Know Your Opponent! Each week during the season we shed some light on the Buckeyes’ opponent, examining their record, traditions, mascot, famous alumni and anything else we think is worth making fun of. This week: The Wildcats of Northwestern University!

That game last week was brutal. I’ve read everywhere that our B1G championship and playoff hopes are still alive as long as we win out, which is great because I don’t have the willpower to survive another game like that. PSU owes the B1G schedulers a bottle of top shelf this holiday season, is all I’m saying.

I’m not sure if this says more about us Buckeyes fans or more about the sports media, but when Alabama loses a game most years and stays in the top four of both polls, everyone shrugs and says, “Going undefeated is hard!” When the Buckeyes lose a game, the sky starts to fall and zombies begin roaming the earth, eating the brains of anyone in Scarlet and Gray. We should chill out, Buckeyes faithful. The most enjoyable season for me in recent memory was 2014 and not just because we won the championship, but because the loss to VT took all the pressure off and allowed me to just enjoy the games for what they were, and not put all my unfulfilled hopes and dreams on the backs of a group of college kids.

Anyway, time to look to the future—and Northwestern. To start, here’s their 2016 season hype video to get you in the mood:

FBS Stats: Unranked (stats from Sports Illustrated)

  • Points per Game: 151st
  • Yards per Game: 153rd
  • Points Allowed per Game: 57th
  • Yards Allowed per Game: 153rd

I’m anxious about making a value judgement on these stats given last week, even though our special teams essentially gifted the Lions 10 points. However, looking at the difference between the Wildcats’ yards allowed and points allowed, their red-zone defense holds up. That may mean something, but I’m just here to make fun of these guys, not do actual analysis, alright?

Mascot: Willie the Wildcat

Northwestern first picked up the nickname “Wildcats” in 1924 when a Chicago Tribune writer wrote that the team appeared as “Wildcats in purple” even in a loss to the University of Chicago. The name was instantly popular, and the school administration adopted it officially months later. He should not to be confused with Kansas State’s mascot, also called “Willie the Wildcat.” Apparently, there are no other names beginning with “W” to choose from for wildcat-themed schools, so they all had to go with “Willie.”

Before Willie, the team was represented by a live bear cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo named “Furpaw.” During the 1923 season, Furpaw was driven to the field each home game to greet fans, which sounds rather dangerous. He was banished from campus after a losing season, the team deciding the poor little guy was bad luck, his ultimate fate unknown.

“Willie” is also the name of a taxidermy bobcat kept in the university’s library archives, a gift from alumni in the 1960s. Look at this thing – it’s horrifying. It looks like a Gremlin that kept its Mogwai fur. The rictus grin and large, piercing yellow eyes are a bit too much. Imagine working late in the Northwestern library, finishing a research paper, and having to walk past this monstrosity on the way out. Chicago is dangerous enough without having this nightmare factory lying around.

2016 Record: 4-3, second in B1G West

The Wildcats have wins over Duke, Iowa, MSU, and Indiana this season, with losses coming from Western Michigan, Illinois State, and Nebraska. Their games against WM and IS were lost by 1 and 2 points respectively. Northwestern is a solid team this year, though out of the national spotlight with teams like UM, OSU, Nebraska and Wisconsin in the conference. Shit, we can add Penn State to that list now, thanks to Urban Meyer not calling a timeout for that field goal attempt…the point here is this is no Rutgers, and the Buckeyes need to be ready to play. Not completely shitting the bed on special teams will go a long way towards a win, as well.

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is a Chicago native, and played linebacker at Northwestern in the mid-1990s. In 1995 he helped lead the team to a 10-1 record and the 1996 Rose Bowl, the school’s second ever bowl appearance and its first since 1949. He was unable to play in the big game, breaking his leg in the team’s second-to-last regular season game against Iowa. He returned in the 1996 season, helping the Wildcats reach a 9-3 record, a second straight B1G Championship, and the 1997 Citrus Bowl. He was twice named the B1G Defensive Player of the Year and was a two-time Consensus All-American. He is the first player to win both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award two times each, in 1995 and 1996.

Fitz, as he’s known to the Northwestern faithful, began his coaching career at Maryland as a graduate assistant in 1998. He then spent a year as a GA at Colorado, then moved to Idaho to coach LBs and special teams. He returned to Northwestern in 2001 to coach DBs, then moved to LBs from 2002-2003, before adding recruiting coordinator duties for 2004-2005. Fitzgerald was named the Northwestern head coach upon the sudden death of head coach Randy Walker from a heart attack in 2006. There’s a “Da Bears” fan joke to be made here, but I’m not going to do it.

Fitzgerald has an overall record of 74-59 at the helm of Northwestern, the winningest coach in school history, but has a sad bowl record of 1-5. Pat took over as Wildcats head coach at the ripe old age of 31, five years younger than any other coach in Division I football at the time. He notoriously sports the stereotypical square head, unnecessary flattop, and gleaming buckteeth of the average Irish-American, best exemplified by the Kennedy clan. If not for his lifelong ties to Northwestern, he would be perfect candidate to replace Brian Kelly at Notre Dame when Kelly is inevitably beaten to death by his own players at the end of this season.

Fitz is a huge Chicago sports fan, regularly tweeting out his support for the Bears, Blackhawks, and White Sox. Though he has expressed begrudging support for the Cubs this postseason, as a native Southsider he is a diehard White Sox guy first and foremost. This is enough to make me like the man, because I don’t know about you, but this week I discovered there are many Cubs fans in my office, who had not expressed any baseball fandom until now. Some of these people are originally from Texas, Iowa, Georgia and Virginia, so it’s nice to see a Chicagoan retain his self-respect and not jump on the Cubs bandwagon.

Silly Traditions:

Willie, the cheerleaders, and members of the marching band’s “SpiriTeam” all do pushups after every touchdown. While every single mascot in the universe does this, what makes Northwestern unique (so it says) is that the student section follows suit, hoisting up select students in the air to do pushups with the official folks.

Northwestern fans jingle their keys before every kickoff, which is meant to signify that regardless of the outcome of the game, the opposing school’s graduates will eventually be parking the cars of the Northwestern Graduates. I really like how they play against the whole Chicago-private-school stereotype of rich, unaccountable elitist shitheads. The only private school in the B1G, the fans sometimes chant “State School” to really show us yahoos who will eventually be the boss in life. And people wonder why a clown like Donald Trump can get as far as he has while being a complete and utter disaster of a candidate, merely by attacking “elites” in general.

Famous Alumni:

Apparently, every single sportswriter or broadcaster who doesn’t work at WFNY went to Northwestern, to include Rich Eisen, Gregg Easterbrook, Darren Rovell, Michael Wilbon, Brent Musberger, and Mike Greenberg. This is the list I would put together if someone asked me what national sports journalists I could care less about.

Rob Benedict is a graduate; you may remember him as the guy who can’t piss in a public restroom in the movie Waiting. Star of Scrubs and Garden State, Zach Braff, is an alum, as well as the actor Clancy Brown, best known as “The Kurgan” in Highlander and as the mean prison guard in The Shawshank Redemption.

Stephen Colbert is an alumni, as well as Billy Eichner from TruTV’s Billy on the Street. Saturday Night Live veteran and current late night host Seth Myers is a Wildcat, as well as former Daily Show correspondent Kristen Schaal. Friends star David Schwimmer went to Northwestern, as well as classic actor and gun nut, Charlton Heston.

NY Yankees GM Joe Girardi is an alumni, as was perpetual failed Democratic presidential candidate of yore, Adlai Stevenson II. Current Chicago mayor, former congressman and President Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is a Wildcat. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is a Northwestern grad. You most likely remember him from his failed attempt to sell President Obama’s Senate seat after he was elected to the White House. He’s currently in jail.

Fred Williamson is an alum, playing football for the Wildcats before going on to the NFL to play for the Steelers and Raiders. He was a fixture of blacksploitation flicks in the 1970s, but I know him best as badass Vietnam veteran Frost in From Dusk till Dawn.

Wildcats currently in the NFL (6 total):

Corbin Bryant, DT, Buffalo

Dean Lowry, DE, Green Bay

Sherrick McManis, DB, Chicago

Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver

Zach Strief, T, New Orleans

Dan Vitale, FB, Cleveland

We all discovered who Trevor Siemian was at the same time as John Elway did, when he called Brock Osweiler’s bluff and let BO go the Texans. While sitting back in his Corinthian-leather office chair behind his mahogany desk at Broncos HQ, his constant upper-lip dip and stacks of Skoal cans in stark juxtaposition to the gilded pens and tape dispenser, he put his feet up on the desk, revealing his sockless ankles, the fine Italian loafers having just enough shine to catch your eye. “Let Osweiler walk,” he said. “The guy is a bum. We won a title with Peyton Manning’s corpse, we don’t need someone unironically named ‘Brock.’” He looked to his assistant, quizzically. “So, do we have another QB on the roster?”

Dan Vitale is apparently on our beloved Cleveland football Browns, though the era of Italian-American fullbacks is long gone. In fact, does any team even use a fullback anymore? Why keep them on the roster with the designation “fullback?” Just calling all the backs “running backs” regardless of their primary purpose is much simpler, especially given current running schemes.

Noteworthy Players:

QB Clayton Thorson comes through with another perfect quarterback name. At this point I’m convinced teams are recruiting QBs based solely upon the quality of their name, and Thorson is a winner. He’s also on a bit of a streak, with nine touchdowns over the last three games with only one interception. He had three TDs against Indiana last week.

Their lead rusher is RB Justin Jackson, with 792 yards on 171 attempts, with six touchdowns. Their leading receiver is Austin Carr with 720 yards over 50 catches, with nine touchdowns.


Here’s how I stand for the year:

BGSU: Predicted 43-7, Actual 77-10

TULSA: Predicted 45-21, Actual 48-3

OKLAHOMA: Predicted 33-28, Actual 45-24

RUTGERS: Predicted 50-14, Actual 58-0

INDIANA: Predicted 48-14, Actual 38-17

WISCONSIN: Predicted 35-28, Actual 30-23

PENN STATE: Predicted 45-14, Actual 21-24

As I mentioned above, last week could not have gone more spectacularly wrong for our Buckeyes. I even started to get bored during the third quarter. What a complete cluster and total and unequivocal reversal of fortune the fourth quarter was….it was a true comedy of errors, and it sent me on a long and fruitless spiral of despair.

These night games are killing me. For noon and mid-afternoon games, I have society’s taboo against daytime drunkenness to shame me from drinking too much alone, but at night all the bets are off. So, thankfully, Northwestern meets us on the gridiron at a healthy and reasonable 3:30 p.m. I predict the Scarlet and Gray get the win, 34-10. If Urban and the staff cannot right the ship after a crazy loss like last week, then this team has bigger issues than receivers not getting open or linemen not blocking well. All I have to go on is the small sample size of the past few seasons and how they reacted to losses then, and I think they’ll be fine from here on out.

That’s it for this week, Buckeyes fans! Stay safe, have a good time, and go Buckeyes!