Friday, April 6, 2007

Closing time

When NU released its spring practice schedule, one thing stuck out like a sore toe on a starting quarterback: Only four practices would be open to the media, and none to the public.

Previously, about twice as many were open to the media and all of those were open to the public. On some Saturday practices, the Wildcats would run drills in Ryan Field, and a few of Evanston's die-hards would take a seat in the stands and watch.

Not this year.

But amid all the grumblings about young coach Pat Fitzgerald's strictness and paranoia (some admittedly coming from myself), the fact is this: NU still is pretty lenient. Just look no further than West Lafayette, Ind.

According to the Lafayette Journal and Courier, Purdue coach Joe Tiller became fed up Wednesday and decided to close not only his spring practices, but his fall ones as well -- both to media and the public.

Why? Tiller said there are "a lot of reasons," but mostly he appears to be blogged down by Internet postings.

"I'm tired of blogging and guys talking about our practices, and postings, and all that (B.S.)," Tiller said. "All's it is is more problems than it is value."

Tiller's hardly the first to feel this way. College coaches everywhere are just as bad -- or worse. Texas Tech's Mike Leach in 2005 decided to allow only two -- two! -- players talk to the media all season. And no, the Red Raiders weren't going native and playing six-man football, like many West Texas high schools. They were in the Big 12, thank you, with Big 12-sized rosters. Still are.

So, with Purdue, another football program's media friendliness bites the proverbial dust. Here's hoping Fitzgerald remains closer to the accessible Randy Walker than the restrictive Leach, Tiller, Nick Saban and Co.

After all, it's not as if you can't succeed with a relatively open program. Walker did.

--Patrick Dorsey

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Thompson's comeback attempt on hold

A tweaked leg that didn't seem like much Saturday turned out to be a small fracture, meaning senior wide receiver Kim Thompson will miss the rest of the spring. Still, an NU spokesman said he should be healthy in time for camp in August, meaning the embattled Thompson will get one more comeback attempt after injuries, a suspension and a leave of absence.

Read about it here:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

It's football season (2007 preview: non-conference schedule)

With Florida beating Ohio State for the basketball national championship Monday night, it's now just 282 days until Florida beats Ohio State for the football national championship.

Or something like that.

Point is, from Columbus to Gainesville and all the way to Evanston, football season essentially is here.

And in Evanston, it's pretty welcome. For many reasons.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald's redemption year. Tyrell Sutton's revenge year. C.J. Bacher's starting year. And so on.

But if anything sticks out about NU football in 2007, it's something even simpler: the schedule. And, particularly, its non-conference slate, the Wildcats' easiest in recent memory.

Let's break it down, opponent by opponent.
  • Sept. 1 vs. Northeastern

Northwestern vs. Northeastern. Get it? Well, that's about all that'll be interesting about this matchup between the Cats and the Division I-AA Huskies. Sure, NU had that dreadful 34-17 loss to I-AA New Hampshire last season, but at least New Hampshire was a playoff team in 2006. Northeastern went 5-6. Still, the Huskies bring back their top two passers, rushers and receivers, for whatever it's worth.

  • Sept. 8 vs. Nevada

The Wolf Pack beat NU 31-21 last year in Reno. But that was with quarterback Jeff Rowe, running back Robert Hubbard and wide receiver Caleb Spencer. All are gone, and an already mediocre Nevada team (which went 8-5 as a member of the weak WAC and lost to lame duck Larry Coker's Miami in its bowl game) must replace these three contributors, and then some.

  • Sept. 15 vs. Duke

Duke is a real threat to NU. No, not in this game. In the loss column. The Blue Devils have dropped 22 games in a row, and are one winless season shy of matching the Cats' 34-game losing streak. If Duke drops its first two (at home against UConn and at Virginia), NU would be a tad embarrassed to lose to such a dismal team -- and to allow its streak to live on.

  • Oct. 20 vs. Eastern Michigan (at Ford Field, Detroit)

Time might be running out on Jeff Genyk. The Eagles are 9-25 since the former NU assistant took over the Eagles' head coaching job, including an abysmal 1-11 last season (with a 14-6 loss to NU in Evanston). So for a "road" game, this isn't as treacherous as NU's previous trips to TCU, Arizona State or even Nevada. Still, NU is 0-1 at Ford Field, dropping the 2003 Motor City Bowl 28-24 to Bowling Green.

... In short, 4-0 isn't just possible here. It's expected. These teams went 9-28 against Division I-AA opponents last season -- and eight of those wins belonged to Nevada.

But remember this: The last time NU went undefeated in non-conference play was 1963, when Ara Parseghian's Cats won both their non-Big Ten matchups en route to a 5-4 finish.

Coming next: An analysis of NU's conference schedule, which also sets up well for the Cats.

--Patrick Dorsey