After one of the more active off-seasons in recent memory - and, boy, do we Husker fans enjoy our off seasons - we are less than 24 hours away from finally getting to watch some damn football again. Husker Nation has picked this opener apart and come to the conclusion we should win but will brain farts, bad luck and whatever red-ass baboon demon cursed us drop another season-opening “L” in our lap?
That’s all fine and good but what’s the thinking on Northwestern side? For help on that, we reached out to Sarah Effress of Northwestern’s Inside NU, who was more than generous in taking time answer our questions.
Sarah was willing to take a shot at naming the Wildcats’ starting QB even if HC Pat Fitzgerald would not, is an Evan Hull believer (as am I - I do hope we can put their game in the air) and revealed that Coach Fitz could damn near fill a 1-AA roster with his travelling party.
Thanks much again to Sarah and on to the Q&A:
1) So Fitz said, “I’m not gonna tell you anything,” when I asked him who was going to start at QB (that’s a lie, of course, I wasn’t even there). So, anyway, it’s up to you then - who’s starting at QB - Hilinski or Sullivan?
Ah yes, in typical Fitz fashion we are left wondering who will start on Saturday, but if it were me calling the shots I would give Hilinski another chance. After transferring in the middle of spring practice last year and not having a full offseason under his belt at Northwestern, word coming out of the program was that he wasn’t really supposed to play at all. So to that, I say give Hilinski a chance to show what he can do with all of that preparation behind him. Hopefully, he really does have what it takes to plug the holes 2021 brought to light.
2) Searching around various sites for a Wildcat season prediction, the record 3-9 keeps popping up - and just stop right there! We are the greatest 3-9 team of all time, so don’t even think about it!! Just kidding, since you’re picked to 3-9, you’ll probably win the division. What has to happen - both tangibles and intangibles - for you to challenge for the West title again?
This one is going to bring me back to the quarterbacking question because the most glaring commonality between Northwestern’s 2018 and 2020 B1G West title runs was a consistent leader a the helm. Peyton Ramsey filled that role in 2020 and Clayton Thorson in 2018 — the ‘Cats need someone strong to captain the ship if they’re going to seriously contend for any kind of title or even a bowl game. Having someone able to lead physically and mentally will be a difference-maker for sure, not to mention a defense capable of stopping runners like the Badgers’ Braelon Allen. If neither of those happen we’re just going to rely on the very nice football Gods who for some reason chose to bless us only on even years.
3) In his first season as the lead back, Evan Hull didn’t disappoint rushing for over 1000 yards and 5+ YPC, despite being forgotten at times even when running well. Does he expand on that performance his senior year or does Cam Porter take carries or even the overall job from him?
I am such an Evan Hull fan and stand behind my belief that he was so extremely underrated last season. What he was able to accomplish on that offense is beyond me and I don’t expect his usage to decrease much. It wouldn’t surprise me if Porter is used sparingly at the beginning of the season just to let him get his bearings in game situations, and then I would bet Fitz finds a way to use them both because of how different their running styles are. Not to mention Andrew Clair is returning and sophomore Anthony Tyus still has yet to break through with the huge amount of potential he brought in. The one thing I am extremely confident in this season (and I hope this doesn’t bite me) is our running back room, and I’m excited to see how all of them work together.
4) How many Northwestern fans have made or are making the trip to Dublin and what percentage of those do you expect to make it home alive and not incarcerated?
I cannot give you a specific number of Northwestern fans attending but I can confirm that around 50-60 of Pat Fitzgerald’s own family members will be making the trip. (Andy’s note - “DAMN!”) As to whether they will be incarcerated I leave you with no comment, much like Fitz did on the QB situation. For other Northwestern fans, the number of people making it back might as well depend on Saturday’s outcome. Or maybe not come to think of it. Win or lose there will be no shortage of booze because that’s the Irish way.
5) Prediction time: Nebraska won 56-7 last year in Lincoln but can’t be any farther away from there this Saturday. The line is Huskers by 13 or 13.5 and the squads have combined to go a combined 0-10 in each of their last 5 games in 2021. Who is going to win this one and will Irish fans in attendance be able to tell?
I would pay a lot of money to experience what watching American football is like as an Irish fan. I’d assume it’s much like me watching rugby right now and not knowing what the hell is going on 95% of the time but still being really excited when some dude gets hammered. Except the no helmet or pads thing really does make me nervous. But now here is the prediction I have procrastinated for three sentences, well, now four. I am going to play it safe and not jinx myself — I’m handing this one to the Huskers in an offensive shootout 42-35. With that many scores I don’t think Irish fans will be able to tell but here’s to hoping they cheer for them all, and may the best NU win.