Max Gelman

2016 Football Preview: Breaking down Northwestern’s schedule, Part 1

2016 Football Preview: Breaking down Northwestern’s schedule, Part 1
(Daily file photo by Sophie Mann)

After a record-setting season, the Wildcats come into 2016 with high expectations for themselves. Despite a blowout loss in the Outback Bowl, their 10 regular-season wins arguably helped them achieve their second-best season ever. But expectations from the outside are not as optimistic. In the season’s first AP Poll, Northwestern went unranked and received just five votes even though the team spent most of 2015 in the Top 25 and finished at No. 23. So what’s really in store for the Cats in 2016? Here we take a look at their schedule, starting with the first six games.

Sept. 3: vs. Western Michigan. Last year — 8-5 (6-2 MAC), won Bahamas Bowl. Coach — P.J. Fleck (fourth year) 

Fleck has earned a reputation as one of the best recruiters outside of the non-Power conferences and has led the Broncos to back-to-back 8-5 seasons after going 1-11 his first year. In 2016 they return almost all of their starters on offense, including senior quarterback Zach Terrell who threw for over 3,500 yards last season and 29 touchdowns against nine interceptions. This is a team that NU should not underestimate, as starting off the season on the wrong foot will be detrimental in trying to forget about the blowout at the end of last season.

Best case scenario: Justin Jackson takes advantage of Western Michigan’s seeming inability to stop the big run play and rushes for two scores. Clayton Thorson also gets in on the running game, using his legs to keep the opposing defense off-balance. NU’s defense confuses Terrell and the Cats win by 17.

Worst case scenario: The absence of Keith Watkins II immediately burns NU and the experienced Terrell takes advantage of the non-Matthew Harris side of the field. Jack Mitchell misses a field goal, and Thorson throws at least two interceptions as the Cats look woefully unprepared to start the season and fall to the up-and-coming Broncos.

Sept. 10: vs. Illinois State. Last year — 10-3 (7-1 MVFC), reached FCS quarterfinals. Coach — Brock Spack (eighth year) 

As the only FCS opponent on the schedule, Illinois State is by far NU’s easiest game, but that doesn’t mean it’s a complete cakewalk. The Redbirds were consistently ranked in the Top 6 of the FCS throughout 2015, even reaching as high as No. 2 and drawing a few first-place votes away from consensus favorite and champion North Dakota State. Illinois State lost its quarterback and running back from last season, but the rest of its starters return looking to steal a win in Evanston.

Best case scenario: This won’t be as big a win as last year’s early-season victory over Eastern Illinois, but the Cats will easily handle their FCS opponent. NU gets a big enough lead where they can rest their starters and Matt Alviti actually throws a touchdown pass.

Worst case scenario: The Redbirds keep the game close to the end, but NU manages to pull out a win at the last second. It’s a startlingly close game where Jackson leaves with an injury in the second quarter, knocking him out for a couple of weeks.

Sept. 17: vs. Duke. Last year  — 8-5 (4-4 ACC), won Pinstripe Bowl. Coach — David Cutcliffe (ninth year) 

NU faced the Blue Devils a year ago in Durham and won by 9 in a game that was the perfect embodiment of Pat Fitzgerald football — dominant defense, field possession and working the clock. This year the programs face off under the lights in Evanston and Duke is looking to establish some form of consistency. After starting the year 6-1 the Blue Devils lost four of their final five games but salvaged the season with an overtime win over Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl. Their up-tempo offense sputtered against the Cats last year, and this matchup could determine whether last year’s close win was a fluke.

Best case scenario: NU again holds Duke’s offense to just one touchdown and Solomon Vault returns another kickoff for a touchdown. Thorson is responsible for three Cat touchdowns using his legs and arm and doesn’t turn the ball over, while Anthony Walker forces two fumbles.

Worst case scenario: The game is scoreless going into halftime. NU muffs a punt early in the third quarter and Duke takes advantage, but Thorson nearly saves the day by throwing a touchdown pass with three seconds left in the game. Fitzgerald opts to go for two instead of kicking the extra point to tie and the Cats fail to convert, losing the game.

Update: This post was written before it was announced Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk will miss the season with an injury. Without Sirk’s two-dimensional style of play, NU will have a much easier shot at winning.

Sept. 24: vs. Nebraska. Last year — 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten), won Foster Farms Bowl. Coach — Mike Riley (second year) 

The battle for “The Real NU” could end up as the Cats’ toughest home game on the schedule. Nebraska struggled mightily last year after firing Bo Pelini, failing to reach nine wins for the first time since before the Pelini era, and Northwestern barely came away with a win in Lincoln last season. The Cornhuskers have already won the battle of the uniforms for this game (those shiny red N’s are superb work) and you can bet Ryan Field will be stocked with opposing fans. Heading into this year, Nebraska’s biggest question mark is its secondary, and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Cats decide to let Thorson air it out to take advantage.

Best case scenario: The Cats appear much more comfortable on their home turf as Nebraska struggles to put together anything that resembles an offense. A team rated highly by many “experts” in the preseason, the Cornhuskers are unable to put together more than 200 yards on offense.

Worst case scenario: Nebraska brings back the memories of the 2013 Hail Mary and 2014 Homecoming games and takes advantage of the Wildcats in prime time. The Cornhuskers move to 4-0 on the season and first place in the Big Ten West in a loss that will burn the Cats for the rest of the season.

Oct. 1: at Iowa. Last year — 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten), won Big Ten West, lost Rose Bowl. Coach — Kirk Ferentz (18th year) 

NU’s loss to Iowa in 2015 was deflating for multiple reasons. First, the Cats got destroyed in the trenches, something Fitzgerald lamented following the loss and believes his team needs to be successful at in order to have a chance to defeat top-tier teams. Second, it proved the blowout loss to Michigan the week before was not a fluke and suggested the Cats were not as good as their record. Finally, it eliminated almost any chance NU had to win the Big Ten West, which had been one of the team’s goals from the beginning of the season and seemed within reach after knocking off a ranked Stanford team to open the season. The Cats need this win in order to have a shot at the Big Ten West again, but it’s unlikely they’ll get it.

Best case scenario: The Hawkeyes are not going to go 12-0 again in the regular season, but last year they managed to win a lot of close games (40-10 blowout over NU aside). That kind of run is unsustainable in any sport, and, with Iowa losing two elite offensive linemen, the Cats somehow, some way, eke out a win before their bye week.

Worst case scenario: NU limps out of Kinnick Stadium after another drubbing. The Cats are manhandled at the line of scrimmage. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Oct. 15: at Michigan State. Last year — 12-2 (7-1 Big Ten), Big Ten champion, reached College Football Playoff quarterfinals/lost Cotton Bowl. Coach — Mark Dantonio (10th year) 

The Spartans were a strange team last season. They won 11 games in the regular season, but some very unconvincingly. There was the last-second field goal against Ohio State and the ridiculous punt-return touchdown against Michigan last season. Michigan State comes into the season at No. 12 in the nation, and it is still a very good team that could win double-digit games again. A blowout loss to eventual-champion Alabama burst the Spartan’s bubble at the end of last year and the team comes into 2016 without a definitive answer at quarterback after Connor Cook was drafted by the Oakland Raiders. However, Mark Dantonio’s squad has a legitimate shot at being the best defense in the country.

Best case scenario: Fitzgerald has discussed ad nauseum in the past about October slumps, and if it starts against Iowa it won’t get any better against the Spartans. This game is one Michigan State should absolutely win, but, if the Cats can keep it close like the Hawkeyes did in the Big Ten Championship Game last year, they may have a shot. NU would have to play perfectly though.

Worst case scenario: Two weeks after being blown out in Iowa, the Cats are shut out in East Lansing. NU heads into its first game against Ohio State since ESPN came to Evanston, having been outscored by 70+ points in its previous two games.

Trevor Siemian starts third preseason game for Denver Broncos, plays entire first half

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Trevor Siemian starts third preseason game for Denver Broncos, plays entire first half
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

Ex-Wildcat Trevor Siemian started the Denver Broncos’ third preseason game Saturday night, solidifying his chances to begin the regular season as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.

Siemian started in front of rookie Paxton Lynch and veteran Mark Sanchez in the dress rehearsal, completing 10-of-17 passes with 122 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. Lynch took over after halftime with the Broncos leading 10-9.

The Broncos’ Week 1 starter against the Carolina Panthers will be announced at a later date, but coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week he would make a decision sometime after Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Denver began with a heavy run attack Saturday, as Siemian did not attempt a pass through Denver’s first two drives — both three-and-outs. Later in the second quarter Siemian got into a bit of a groove, hitting his targets consistently, but threw the interception on about a 30 yard pass by the front corner of the endzone, killing the drive’s momentum.

However, on the very next drive, Siemian completed all four of his passes to lead the Broncos down the field on a 67-yard scoring drive, capping it off with a one-yard TD pass to tight end Virgil Green. Denver went ahead 7-6 at the time.

Over the course of his Northwestern career, Siemian threw for 5,931 yards, fourth-most in NU history, in addition to 27 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. After relieving Sanchez in the Broncos’ preseason opener, Siemian started last week’s game and went 10-for-14 with 75 passing yards and one interception in four drives. Siemian had been announced as Saturday’s starter earlier this week, but Kubiak did not decide on the order behind him until shortly before the game.

Siemian was drafted by the Broncos in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft (No. 250 overall) and played one snap — a kneel-down to close out the first half against Pittsburgh on Dec. 20 — during Denver’s Super Bowl run last season. After Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans, the Broncos traded for Sanchez and drafted Lynch to compete with Siemian for the 2016 starting job.

Watch below to see Touchdown Trevor’s touchdown pass:

Northwestern releases trailer for “The Foundation”

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Northwestern’s football program has released a video preview for an upcoming show called “The Foundation.”

The show will give Wildcat fans a “behind-the-scenes” look at the team throughout the 2016 season, according to a press release. NU had previously produced “The Foundation” for spring football practices and summer basketball campaigns.

The first episode will debut Aug. 31 at 4:30 p.m. on CSN Chicago. Watch the full video below:

Trevor Siemian to start Broncos’ next preseason game, Week 1 role unclear

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Trevor Siemian to start Broncos’ next preseason game, Week 1 role unclear
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

After earning the start in the Broncos’ second preseason game last Saturday, Trevor Siemian will begin Denver’s next preseason game under center, coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday.

Kubiak added that all three QBs on Denver’s roster — Siemian, Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch — will see playing time in Saturday’s upcoming contest against the Los Angeles Rams. It remains to be seen who will start the Broncos’ season opener against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 8, but Kubiak said he will make a decision next week.

Siemian is also dealing with a sore shoulder, according to a report from the Denver Post.

In four drives against the San Francisco 49ers, Siemian completed 10-of-14 passes for 75 yards and also threw an interception, which the 49ers returned for a touchdown.

This post was updated at 2:43 p.m. with additional information.

Northwestern alum Matt Fitzpatrick qualifies for Ryder Cup

Northwestern alum Matt Fitzpatrick qualifies for Ryder Cup
(Source: NU Athletics)

Ex-Wildcat golfer Matt Fitzpatrick has qualified for the prestigious Ryder Cup tournament, he announced Sunday on Twitter.

The 21-year-old Fitzpatrick is one of nine golfers to automatically qualify for Team Europe in the once-every-two-years match play tournament, which will take place at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota at the end of September. Team Europe’s remaining three golfers will be announced at a later date.

Fitzpatrick made waves earlier this season after his performance at The Masters, where he tied for seventh place with an even 288. In his short Northwestern career, Fitzpatrick helped the Cats win two of five events in fall 2013 before departing to play professionally in Jan. 2014.

Team Europe has won the last three Ryder Cup tournaments and six of the last seven dating back to 2002.

Trevor Siemian starts Denver Broncos’ second preseason game

by Max Gelman 0 Comments
Trevor Siemian starts Denver Broncos’ second preseason game
(Daily file photo by Brian Lee)

As the 2016 NFL season inches nearer, Trevor Siemian finds himself closer to a starting job.

The ex-Wildcat QB earned the start in the Denver Broncos’ second preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, leading the first-team offense for a little over one quarter. In four drives, Siemian went 10-for-14 with 75 passing yards and one interception.

Siemian’s first drive resulted in a 19-yard touchdown run by running back C.J. Anderson after the QB went 5-for-6 with 55 passing yards, his best drive of the night. At the beginning of the second quarter, Siemian was picked off by 49er defensive back Eric Reid who returned the ball for a touchdown.

“Co-starter” Mark Sanchez took over with 11:13 left in the second quarter and San Francisco leading 14-7.

Over the course of his Northwestern career, Siemian threw for 5,931 yards, fourth-most in NU history, in addition to 27 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. In Denver’s preseason opener against the Chicago Bears last week, Siemian relieved Sanchez, going 7-for-12 with 88 passing yards. Rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch came in afterwards with the backups, going 6-for-7 with 74 passing yards.

Siemian was drafted by the Broncos in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft (No. 250 overall) and played one snap — a kneel-down to close out the first half against Pittsburgh on Dec. 20 — during Denver’s Super Bowl run last season. After Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans, the Broncos traded for Sanchez and drafted Lynch to compete with Siemian for the 2016 starting job.

Fall Sports Preview – Volleyball: With new coach, Northwestern searches for success

Fall Sports Preview – Volleyball: With new coach, Northwestern searches for success
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

Northwestern’s 2015 season was a roller coaster ride. Despite finishing under .500 for the first time since 2008, the Wildcats experienced some truly memorable moments. On October 10, NU took down defending national champion Penn State in front of a packed home crowd, by all accounts one of the biggest wins in program history.

However, the valleys seemed deeper than the peaks were high. There were numerous stretches last season when, on a long losing streak, the Cats failed to even win a set. NU went 6-14 in conference games, though that record can partially be attributed to the fact that the Big Ten is arguably the best volleyball conference in the country.

The Cats are hoping some changes will rectify these problems. Shane Davis was hired as the new coach, replacing Keylor Chan after Chan spent 16 years at the helm. Davis is coming off back-to-back national championships at the Loyola men’s program, and NU is hoping he can bring similar success to Evanston.

On the court, the Cats will be led by junior setter Taylor Tashima, who has started almost every game since arriving as a freshman. Tashima, who recently overcame a health scare, finished fifth in the conference with 10.89 assists per set and totaled more than 2,000 assists on the season, earning a Big Ten honorable mention for her efforts.

The front line will be comprised of juniors Symone Abbott and Gabrielle Hazen and seniors Kayla Morin and Maddie Slater. Abbott electrified as a freshman and improved as a sophomore, routinely notching double-digit kills. Slater and Morin were steady presences in the front last season, and Hazen contributed as well despite missing a few games due to illness.

NU will need to find a replacement for now-graduated libero Caroline Niedospial, the team’s best defensive player in 2015. The Cats have two liberos on the roster, sophomore Katie Kniep and redshirt-freshman Kaitlin Tavarez. Kniep will get the first crack at the starting job as Tavarez did not appear in a match last season, but it remains to be seen how the two will rotate, if at all, given the massive hole that Niedospial leaves behind.

Ex-Wildcat QB Trevor Siemian named Denver Broncos’ “co-starter”

Ex-Wildcat QB Trevor Siemian named Denver Broncos’ “co-starter”
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

A former Northwestern quarterback has (sort of) locked down an NFL starting job heading into the preseason.

Ex-Wildcat Trevor Siemian, who played QB for NU from 2010-2014, has been named “co-starter” for the Denver Broncos, according to the team’s first depth chart. Siemian shares the starting job with former New York Jets quarterback and 2009 No. 6 overall draft pick Mark Sanchez.

In his Cats career, Siemian threw for 5,931 yards, fourth-most in NU history, in addition to 27 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Broncos and spent almost all of his rookie season on the bench, though he did play one snap in 2015 — a kneel-down to close out the first half in Denver’s Dec. 20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers the Super Bowl in February and, following the retirement of Peyton Manning and departure of Brock Osweiler in free agency, have been searching for a quarterback. Denver traded for Sanchez in March and drafted ex-Memphis QB Paxton Lynch in the first round of April’s draft (26th overall) but so far no one has run away with the job.

Sanchez started his NFL career with the Jets, tagging along at QB as coach Rex Ryan’s defense led them to two straight AFC Conference Championship appearances. He underwent shoulder surgery during the 2013 season and, after being released following that season, spent the last two years as the Philadelphia Eagles’ backup.

At Memphis, Lynch passed for 8,865 yards over three seasons, tossing 59 touchdowns against 23 interceptions. In 2015, his 28:4 TD:INT ratio helped boost his draft stock and was the third quarterback taken, following Cal’s Jared Goff by the Los Angeles Rams and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz by the Eagles.

Denver begins its preseason schedule on Thursday against the Chicago Bears at 7 p.m.