Tag:Northwestern
Posted on: January 14, 2011 12:29 pm
 

5 Down: Potential 2011 disappointments

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Earlier today, our own Dennis Dodd posted his pre-preseason top 25 for the 2011 college football season. We here at the College Football Blog wouldn't dare disagree with our esteemed colleague's opinions ... but every year there's teams that vastly exceed the expectations of even the wisest prognosticators (like, say, Auburn in 2010) and some that disappoint despite some seemingly major advantages (like, say, Iowa in 2010).

So later today we'll name five more teams we think can crack Dodd's top 25 next season, and right now we'll name five that are in his top 25 that might slip out ... or, at least, fail to live up to where they're currently placed. Without further ado (and in no particular order):

1. Auburn (15). Slipping from first to 15th already seems like quite a slide, but the Tigers' losses are so major they could easily fall even further. The offensive line loses four starters representing approximately 200 collective career starts; Nick Fairley's departure is only the capper for an entire defensive tackle rotation that must be replaced; Auburn's two best linebackers are graduated, along with the best corner and best safety; and, oh yeah, that Cam Newton guy will be replaced by either a redshirt junior who's never started a game (Barrett Trotter) or a true freshman (Kiehl Frazier). The schedule also turns nasty, with this year's home dates against South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia all on the road. Gus Malzahn's continued presence means Auburn will have a fighting chance of getting back to eight or nine wins, but a bad break here or there could leave Gene Chizik's bunch outside the top 25 entirely.

2. Michigan State (9). The Spartans lived on the margins somewhat in 2010, needing big late comebacks to beat teams like Northwestern and Purdue while stumbling badly against more talented teams like Iowa and Alabama. And now Mark Dantonio loses three senior offensive linemen, soul-of-the-defense All-American linebacker Greg Jones, and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who took the vacant Miami (Ohio) head coaching position. For a team that may have already been not-quite-as-good as their record, those are big blows.

3. South Carolina (17). Their appearance on this list isn't necessarily about the Gamecocks themselves, though the losses of end Cliff Matthews on defense and guard Garrett Chisolm on offense will be larger than people think. It's about their SEC divisional rivals at Florida and Georgia bouncing back from subpar seasons, and a schedule that hands them tough road trips to Athens, Knoxville, Starkville, and Fayetteville. It's the sort of slate that likely has four losses on it lurking somewhere.

4. Northwestern (24). We love the plucky Wildcats as much as anyone, but the way the 'Cats were memorably run over at Wrigley by Illinois, it's hard to see them being physical enough to make that much headway in the new-and-improved Big Ten. Five of their seven 2010 wins came by a total of just 15 points, and for a quarterback whose underrated running skills are as much a part of his success as his throwing accuracy, Dan Persa's Achilles injury is a killer.

5. Oklahoma State (7). OK, so with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon back and the Big 12 South not yet back to its 2008 glory days, it's not likely for the Cowboys to slip all the way out of the top 25. But the Cowboys haven't always done well with the kind of expectations they'll be dealing with in 2011, the defense still needs major work, and without Kendall Hunter the Pokes will have to work to ensure the running game can keep opponents from simply blanketing the Weeden-to-Blackmon connection. But the biggest loss by far is Dana Holgorsen, without whom the 2009 Cowboy offense was shut out by Oklahoma even with weapons like Hunter and Zac Robinson around. If Mike Gundy doesn't find a quailty replacement, the Cowboys may wind up as 2011's most overrated team.

Posted on: January 14, 2011 12:29 pm
 

5 Down: Potential 2011 disappointments

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Earlier today, our own Dennis Dodd posted his pre-preseason top 25 for the 2011 college football season. We here at the College Football Blog wouldn't dare disagree with our esteemed colleague's opinions ... but every year there's teams that vastly exceed the expectations of even the wisest prognosticators (like, say, Auburn in 2010) and some that disappoint despite some seemingly major advantages (like, say, Iowa in 2010).

So later today we'll name five more teams we think can crack Dodd's top 25 next season, and right now we'll name five that are in his top 25 that might slip out ... or, at least, fail to live up to where they're currently placed. Without further ado (and in no particular order):

1. Auburn (15). Slipping from first to 15th already seems like quite a slide, but the Tigers' losses are so major they could easily fall even further. The offensive line loses four starters representing approximately 200 collective career starts; Nick Fairley's departure is only the capper for an entire defensive tackle rotation that must be replaced; Auburn's two best linebackers are graduated, along with the best corner and best safety; and, oh yeah, that Cam Newton guy will be replaced by either a redshirt junior who's never started a game (Barrett Trotter) or a true freshman (Kiehl Frazier). The schedule also turns nasty, with this year's home dates against South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia all on the road. Gus Malzahn's continued presence means Auburn will have a fighting chance of getting back to eight or nine wins, but a bad break here or there could leave Gene Chizik's bunch outside the top 25 entirely.

2. Michigan State (9). The Spartans lived on the margins somewhat in 2010, needing big late comebacks to beat teams like Northwestern and Purdue while stumbling badly against more talented teams like Iowa and Alabama. And now Mark Dantonio loses three senior offensive linemen, soul-of-the-defense All-American linebacker Greg Jones, and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who took the vacant Miami (Ohio) head coaching position. For a team that may have already been not-quite-as-good as their record, those are big blows.

3. South Carolina (17). Their appearance on this list isn't necessarily about the Gamecocks themselves, though the losses of end Cliff Matthews on defense and guard Garrett Chisolm on offense will be larger than people think. It's about their SEC divisional rivals at Florida and Georgia bouncing back from subpar seasons, and a schedule that hands them tough road trips to Athens, Knoxville, Starkville, and Fayetteville. It's the sort of slate that likely has four losses on it lurking somewhere.

4. Northwestern (24). We love the plucky Wildcats as much as anyone, but the way the 'Cats were memorably run over at Wrigley by Illinois, it's hard to see them being physical enough to make that much headway in the new-and-improved Big Ten. Five of their seven 2010 wins came by a total of just 15 points, and for a quarterback whose underrated running skills are as much a part of his success as his throwing accuracy, Dan Persa's Achilles injury is a killer.

5. Oklahoma State (7). OK, so with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon back and the Big 12 South not yet back to its 2008 glory days, it's not likely for the Cowboys to slip all the way out of the top 25. But the Cowboys haven't always done well with the kind of expectations they'll be dealing with in 2011, the defense still needs major work, and without Kendall Hunter the Pokes will have to work to ensure the running game can keep opponents from simply blanketing the Weeden-to-Blackmon connection. But the biggest loss by far is Dana Holgorsen, without whom the 2009 Cowboy offense was shut out by Oklahoma even with weapons like Hunter and Zac Robinson around. If Mike Gundy doesn't find a quailty replacement, the Cowboys may wind up as 2011's most overrated team.

Posted on: January 13, 2011 12:53 pm
 

Pat Fitzgerald to get 'lifetime' contract?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Pat Fitzgerald has accomplished quite a bit as the head coach at Northwestern.  No, the Wildcats haven't won any Big Ten titles or made any BCS bowls under Fitzgerald, but given the school's football history, the fact that he consistently puts together winning seasons is nothing to take for granted.  Plenty of other programs have noticed what the 36-year old head coach has done, and his name pops up quite a bit when it comes to coaching searches. 

In fact, the word is that Fitzgerald was on Michigan's short-list to replace Rich Rodriguez, but he turned down an interview request.  He's turned down a lot of interviews in recent years, showing a loyalty to the school he attended that Northwestern has noticed.  Now it seems the school is looking to return the favor, as according to the Chicago Tribune, Northwestern is working on a lifetime contract for Fitzgerald.
Toward the end of his Northwestern tenure, Ara Parseghian felt underappreciated — even though his final two teams spent time ranked among the nation's top 5.
Top NU officials are so determined not to let the same thing happen with coach Pat Fitzgerald, they are working on a lucrative and comprehensive contract extension that they hope will make him a Northwestern lifer.
It is expected to be formalized in the next few weeks.
Fitzgerald already has a deal through 2015, but athletic director Jim Phillips met with him in November and told him the school wanted to enhance it after the season — plus address any issues Fitzgerald had regarding NU's commitment to the program.
Fitzgerald, who played linebacker for Northwestern during its last trip to the Rose Bowl in 1996, took over the program after the unexpected death of Randy Walker in 2006.  Since then he's gone 34-29 in five seasons, leading the Wildcats to three bowl games.  
Posted on: January 1, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 7:20 pm
 

Bowl Grades: TicketCity Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

Texas Tech withstands a late Northwestern charge to win the inaugural TicketCity Bowl 45-38


TEXAS TECH

Offense: Senior Taylor Potts spent most of his career at Texas Tech in the Air Raid system that basically hands the keys of the offense to the quarterback. When the Red Raiders hired Tommy Tuberville as Mike Leach's replacement, that system left with Leach. But when Northwestern shut down the rushing game early, Potts was given the green light to fire at will. Using accurate throws on intermediate passing routes, the Red Raiders marched up and down the field all day on the Wildcats. Potts finished his career as a Red Raider with one of his finer performances of the season, completing 43 of 56 passes for 369 yards, and five total touchdowns. GRADE: A-

Defense: A matter of days ago Texas Tech found out that not only would defensive coordinator James Willis be leaving after just one season, but he would not even coach the Red Raiders in their bowl game. Considering the disruption this must have caused in the unit's preparation, the Red Raiders put together a pretty impressive performance in the first half. Unfortunately, when Northwestern got their dual-QB offense going in the second half the defense was caught on their heels. GRADE: C-

Coaching: When the rushing game failed, head coach Tommy Tuberville was forced to do the one thing he truly distastes: airing the ball out. But Tubs was able to come to terms with abandoning the running game because of how accurate Potts appeared, particularly early. Tuberville even let a trick play go down on the double-pass that set up Potts' rushing/receiving touchdown. The Red Raiders came into the game with basically no defensive coordinator, and yet still held the Wildcats to just one score in the first half. GRADE: B

NORTHWESTERN

Offense: In the first half, Northwestern looked helplessly lost without quarterback Dan Persa and running back Mike Trumpy. Their offense was stagnant, and their defensive counterparts could not do anything to stop the Red Raiders either. Needless to say, things looked bleak. But after the break, the Wildcats were able to utilize their two-quarterback package to move the ball down the field on Texas Tech. Running a scheme that utilized both Evan Watkins and Kain Colter, occasionally on the field at the same time, the Wildcats were able to keep the defense guessing and take advantage of some open field to score quickly and get back into the game. With Watkins primarily throwing and Colter primarily running, the two freshmen combined to do their best Dan Persa impression. Unfortunately, it was not enough to overcome the 24-6 halftime deficit. GRADE: C

Defense: Northwestern's defense was their one consistent flaw throughout all four quarters of the TicketCity Bowl. Time and time again, they were unable to create the big third down stop to keep the Red Raiders from moving the ball, and eventually, burning up the clock. The best chance the Wildcats had was when they cut the lead to 38-31 early in the fourth quarter. When Texas Tech got the ball back, Potts put together a 10 play, 69 yard touchdown drive that temporarily deflated the Northwestern sideline. Were it not for Jordan Mabin's pick-six two minutes later, the final result could have been much worse for the Wildcats. GRADE: F

Coaching: Preparing for Texas Tech team was a challenge for Patrick Fitzgerald and the Northwestern coaching staff, particularly on offense without Persa or Trumpy. Luckily, they had plenty of time to put together the scheme for Colter and Watkins. The Wildcat-esque package they ran was not anything groundbreaking, but it was good enough to create some quick scores to give Northwestern a chance at the end of the game. GRADE: B-

FINAL GRADE: Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since 1949, and for a moment in the second half it looked like this COULD be their triumphant moment. But no Persa and no Trumpy really hurt the Wildcats in the first half, falling into a deficit that was just too much to overcome. For Taylor Potts, it was good to see him air it out one last time. Not often this season has he gotten to complete 40+ passes now that Mike Leach's Air Raid offense is gone. At halftime, this snoozer was an F. But thanks to a furious comeback by the Wildcats, the game ended up being quite entertaining. GRADE: C+
Posted on: December 31, 2010 11:36 pm
 

CBS Bowl Bonanza: TicketCity Bowl

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Why to watch: Why, Northwestern is playing in the Cotton Bowl for the first time in the program's history! Sure, by that we're referring to the venue and not the bowl game itself (that's in Cowboys Stadium) but this is Northwestern's first game in Dallas, period. Isn't that enough? Doesn't history mean anything to you? Of course, it would be nice if Dan Persa -- the man who almost single-handedly put Northwestern in the postseason to begin with -- were healthy and able to play, but a fully Persa'd Northwestern team wouldn't have slid all the way to the TicketCity Bowl. As for Texas Tech , the nation can witness Tommy Tuberville and his neutered, lobotomized version of Mike Leach 's Air Raid offense. That won't be fun, per se, but not every play's a comedy.

Keys to victory for Northwestern: The Wildcats lost a lot when Dan Persa ruptured his Achilles' tendon, but heart appears to be the chief missing ingredient. Even though Persa never played a snap of defense (to the best of our knowledge anyway but you really can't rule this out), when he was out, Northwestern began giving up points in bunches. Illinois roughed the Cats up to the tune of 48 points at Wrigley Field, then Wisconsin rolled up 70 points in three quarters -- the fourth was nothing but random Wisconsin students from the crowd taking snaps on first down, then the Badgers punting on second down out of pity. If Northwestern wants even a fighting chance, it'll need to get its mojo back first. That means Evan Watkins will need to put together a good game under center, and tailback Mike Trumpy will probably have to get 100 yards or close to it just to keep the Northwestern defense off the field. Also, not giving up like 50 points would be ideal.

Keys to victory for Texas Tech: Obviously, step one is getting Taylor Potts off and running (or throwing, anyway); Potts is something of a relic of a bygone era considering his upbringing in the Leach offense, but he still threw nearly 500 times for 31 scores this year. Most of those scores went to Lyle Leong , who is downright lethal in the red zone: 13 of his 17 touchdown catches came in the red zone, with three more coming within 26 yards. MORE OF THAT PLEASE, obviously, but if Northwestern sells out to limit Leong's availability like Oklahoma , Oklahoma State , and Texas all did (all Tech losses), Potts is going to have to figure out how to spread the wealth successfully between the 20s and in the red zone. He did that against Baylor, so it's not as if this is an impossible task.

The TicketCity Bowl is like: Church. You may not enjoy it, but that's not the point and it never was to begin with. This is the first game of the New Year, kicking off at noon on the East Coast and in the morning everywhere else in the States, so odds are that most people watching the game are going to be wishing they were still in bed. Ah, but this is the institution you worship, this combat on this sacred acre of grass, and if anything's going to drag you out of bed with a brain still spitting up champagne and gasping for air, this is it. Get up, get in your seat, and get back to the real world as you watch the first snap of 2011.

Posted on: December 27, 2010 11:43 pm
 

This may be why James Willis left Texas Tech

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Earlier on Monday we told you how defensive coordinator James Willis had left Texas Tech and was pursuing other job opportunities, including the opening at Florida.  Of course, there was some question as to why Willis had suddenly decided to leave Texas Tech, and the school would give no clarification as to whether Willis had resigned from his position or had been fired.

Well, the school still hasn't said what caused Willis' sudden departure, but I think we've found the reason why.
FOX 34 News has learned that a domestic dispute is reported to have taken place at a Wolfforth home, that according to several sources, is the residence of former Texas Tech football defensive coordinator James Willis. 
Wolfforth Police Chief Rick Scott confirms that police were called to a home at 305 North 10th in Wolfforth at 3:15, the morning of December 22.

According to Scott, the victim was a 33-year old female and the suspect is a 38-year old male.  James Willis turned 38 back in September, so do the math.

Call me crazy, but I believe this may be why Willis is no longer with the team, and odds are that it will affect his potential candidacy at Florida or any other job for the time being.  Texas Tech is currently in Dallas practicing in preparation for its game against Northwestern in the Ticket City Bowl on New Year's Eve.
Posted on: December 27, 2010 11:36 am
 

Red Raider coordinator James Willis to Florida?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

If you've kept up with the AP headlines, you know that Texas Tech defensive coordinator James Willis has left Tommy Tuberville's Red  Raider staff a week before the Raiders' appearance in the TicketCity Bowl. But according to this report from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal , there's a lot more to Willis's departure than in your run-of-the-mill firing or resignation:
The Avalanche-Journal learned Sunday night Willis was talking about a job with the University of Florida and Tech coach Tommy Tuberville found out through third parties. The two came to a mutual agreement Willis should leave Tech ...

“I wish James the best of luck, but it is important for (the) football team to keep pressing forward,” Tuberville said in the statement. “We have a great defensive staff here that will carry the load along with my assistance as we prepare for Northwestern .”

Tech spokesman Blayne Beal said Tuberville would not discuss the situation further until Monday in Dallas ... When asked whether Willis’ departure was a resignation, Beal declined to say.

If Willis does wind up making the move to Gainesville, it will come as a surprise (even to parties who aren't the apparently blindsided Tuberville) no matter how it happens. If Willis has agreed to become a position coach on Will Muschamp's staff, it'll mean a step back down the coaching ladder and away from what looked like a secure position on his longtime colleague Tuberville's staff (not to mention a likely pay cut). If Muschamp is planning on naming Willis his own defensive coordinator, he's bringing aboard a DC with only one year's experience at the coordinator position, and a fairly lousy year's worth of experience at that; Willis's Red Raiders finished 116th (out of 120 teams, you'll recall) in total defense and a slightly-less-horrific 85th in scoring defense.

As auditions go, that's not the kind that usually lands a gig as plum as defensive coordinator for the Gators. But you can't accuse Muschamp of not knowing what he's getting into; he and Willis worked together under Tuberville to forge some frequently dominant Auburn defenses in 2006 and 2007.

So Willis-to-Gainesville does make some sense, if not a lot of it. In any case, this is not how anyone would have foreseen Willis's time in Lubbock coming to an end, as the pairing of Tuberville and his longtime assistant seemed destined to be a fruitful one. Instead, Willis spent his only season in the coordinator's chair trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to patch various holes and wrapped it up going behind his employer's back to look for something better. It's fair to say it's not what anyone -- Raider fans, Tech brass, even Tuberville himself -- would have ever expected.
Posted on: December 23, 2010 3:47 pm
 

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Alamo Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen as part of the blog's Bowl Bonanza series. For tonight's Poinsettia Bowl preview, click here .

The Basics: Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5), Dec. 29, 9:15 EST

Why You Should Watch: Because it's the Alamo Bowl, silly, the same game that gave us Texas Tech's stirring comeback against Michigan State last year, that saw Northwestern just miss out on their first bowl win since 19-dickety-two against Missouri in overtime, that unleashed this madness on us at the end of Michigan-Nebraska ... all in the past five years. And this year, we've got maybe the bowl season's best matchup of wide receivers in Justin Blackmon vs. Juron Criner, the carnival-worthy facial calisthenics of Mike Stoops, and one final chance to see Dana Holgorsen's flying circus at Oklahoma State before he takes his act to Morgantown. That ought to be enough.

Keys to Victory for Oklahoma State: More than maybe any school in the country other than Michigan, the Cowboys win by simply outscoring their opposition. With Holgorsen's unit ranked No. 1-with-a-bullet in the FBS total offense (and a robust third in scoring) but the Poke defense coming in 90th (and yielding a combined 98 points in their two losses), the pressure is permanently on the Cowboy attack to put points on the board. Anything less than 30-35 points, and the Cowboys will be cutting it awfully close.

The good news is that with arguably the best running back-wide receiver combo in the country in All-Americans Kendall Hunter and Blackmon (not to mention revelatory quarterback Brandon Weeden and his 32-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio), even the well-coached Wildcats may not be able to stop from Oklahoma State from hitting that mark. The bad news is that with as much time to prepare as Stoops and his staff will have, it seems unlikely the Cowboys will manage a 40- or 50-point explosion, either. That means the Cowboys will have to come up with at least a few stops, and that starts up front with a run defense that actually finished an impressive 27th in the country in yards-per-carry allowed at 3.57. Leading that charge was first team All-Big 12 senior linebacker Orie Lemon, who led the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss, but he was helped by an experienced (three senior starters) and deep defensive line that had four different members record at least 4 tackles-for-loss.

The front seven will have to be at its best to keep the pressure off of a secondary that ranked 115th in the country in defending the pass, but if the Cowboys can force just a handful of third-and-longs,even their defensive backs (particularly senior corner Andrew McGee)   should be able to make enough plays to let Weeden, Hunter, and Blackmon win the game.

Keys to Victory for Arizona: On paper, the Wildcats don't have a whole lot going for them in this game. They come in riding a four-game losing streak that dropped them to 7-5, with the Cowboys at a stout 10-2; they have further to travel and will do so with dramatically less fan support; their last bowl "effort" was the 33-0 debacle against Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl.

But they do have Criner, a 6'4", 210-pound beast who quietly racked up 1,197 yards to finish as the nation's seventh-leading receiver. They also have Nick Foles, who equally quietly led the Pac-10 in passing yardage at 291 yards per-game, completed 67 percent of his passes, and finished in the national top 30 in both yards per-attempt and QB rating. And there's plenty more targets where Criner came from; eight different Wildcats finished with 20 or more receptions. Given the weakness of the Cowboy secondary, a huge night from Foles, Criner, and the rest of the 'Cat passing game could allow Arizona to keep up with an offense even as explosive as the Pokes.

And defying the West Coast stereotype, the Wildcats are also perfectly competent on defense, finishing as one of only 27 teams to allow fewer than 5 yards per-play. The triumvirate of Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed, and Justin Washington (23.5 combined sacks, 33 tackles-for-loss) give them a dynamic defensive line that should be capable of slowing Hunter's interior running. If they can do that, a well-prepared back seven plays over their heads against Blackmon and Weeden, and Foles goes off, the Wildcats could very well pull off the upset.

The Alamo Bowl is like: the onslaught at the Alamo itself, at least when either offense is on the field; the overmatched and outmanned secondaries are going to come under a hail of football fire from their better-armed opponents, and will hope to simply survive until their compatriots on the offensive side of the ball can come to their rescue. If the quarterbacks and receivers play up to their capabilities, this year's Alamo Bowl will -- like its namesake -- definitely be something to remember.


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com