Weekly Wildcat Watch

In this edition of the Weekly Wildcat Watch, Purple Reign rounds up articles about the retirement of an NU linebacker, the importance of winning a bowl game this year, plus some basketball recruiting news that any NU hoops fan can't do without. Articles come from ESPN, Chicago Tribune, Sports Network and more.

This day-late release of the Weekly Wildcat Watch has a distressing side effect: It allows for news of Northwestern linebacker Chris Jeske's retirement, announced Monday, to be included.

It was confirmed by both NU Sports and ESPN.com that Jeske, a senior linebacker, is calling it quits due to myriad injuries. Despite being a big-time recruit when he arrived in 2005, Jeske has battled knee and back problems, and has only played in four games in his four years in Evanston.

This news shouldn't have too big an impact on the logistics of NU's defense this season – Jeske wasn't likely to be a huge contributor – but it is nonetheless unfortunate that Jeske's career at NU was marred by health problems. He will reportedly stay with the team as a student assistant.

Moving on, ESPN's Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg looks at what winning a bowl game might do for NU's program. A bowl win was something that Fitz talked about at the team's media day last week, and Rittenberg takes a closer look at the legitimizing effects of a bowl win. He quotes Fitz saying,

To eliminate the questions, that's what you have to do, win bowl games. We've been on the national stage a bunch the last 13, 14 years. We've won our share and we've also come up short.

It's definitely a mountaintop we want to get over.

The Chicago Tribune – which has been decidedly lacking NU coverage this summer – takes a peek at the upcoming season, asserting that the defense will be integral to the team's success. (In similarly shocking news, it's being reported that the sun will rise tomorrow.)

From the Tribune article:

In 2007, Northwestern's defense ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring by allowing 31 points per game and gave up 243.4 passing yards per game. It grabbed just nine interceptions.

Under new defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz last season, the Wildcats improved vastly. They cut opponents' scoring to just 20.2 points per game. They intercepted 13 passes and gave up about 30 fewer passing yards per game than the previous season.

If you've been reading much here on Purple Reign, you know that Wildcat players and coaches are saying all the right things about how the offense won't miss a beat despite the exodus of skill-position players from last season. Still, the defense will definitely have to come up big. (Luckily, there is no reason to think it won't.)

There were also some season previews that came out this week, including this one from the Sports Network and this one from the AP. The AP article includes this quote from Fitz, which pretty much sums up what the team's feeling is heading into '09:

To have the experience we had a year ago and get to an outstanding bowl game and play against the Big 12 North champion and not get the job done, we've turned the corner at our place. No longer is it, 'Hey, we made a bowl game. What a great year.' That's driven our young men the entire offseason.

Where there are predictions, gambling is never far away. And here, Sports-Odds.com takes a gambler's look at Northwestern in 2009.

The secondary gave up 214 yards per game in the air, but what was once an inexperienced group is now a veteran secondary led by safety Brad Phillips. Sportsbook.com has college football picks on the Northwestern Wildcats to win the Big 10 Conference at a +2000 odds….

Odds makers at Sportsbook.com have the Northwestern Wildcats at 200-1 odds to win the BSC 2010 National Championship.

This was one of my favorite article of the week. Not because it had anything groundbreaking contained within, but because it included a killer picture of Fitz from his playing days (right), and a well-done (NU-slanted) YouTube video of the 1995 game at The Big House.

And I don't know if this will get me fired, but here is an article from the (gulp) Rivals Network taking a look at whether or not NU has any "staying power" in the Big Ten. The author starts off by conceding that a year ago he didn't think so, but now he's not so sure. (Turns out that article with the Fitz pic and YouTube video embedded is also from Rivals, but hey, at least they're not subscription articles.)

I did a guest spot on a Big Ten podcast not long ago, and the hosts asked what I thought of Northwestern's staying power after last year's nine-win campaign, which was one overtime away from becoming only the second ten-win campaign in school history. Will the Wildcats be able to compete at that clip on a consistent basis? I said, "No," and there was a long silence; I figured that's all there was to it. We are talking Northwestern. Staying power?...

And on the heart-warming front, this article takes a look at Fitz's return to Orland Park.

Finally, I wanted to quickly recap the full-throated NU coverage that Purple Reign brought last week. I am particularly pleased with this article about NU grad Chris Hayes. The former NU walk-on is now a minor-league pitcher with a fastball that only reaches the high-70s. But despite his lack of "stuff," Hayes is in AAA and on the cusp of the majors. Indeed, he has had an interesting baseball career, and you can read all about it here.

Also, in basketball news, PR had a pair of articles relating to a recruiting visit that took place a few weeks ago when four big-time recruits -- who all play on the same AAU team -- made the trek to Evanston. This one ($) discusses how one of the four ballyhooed recruits to visit Northwestern is originally from Chicago, so the trip was a return home, of sorts. And this article ($) includes an interview with one of those players' AAU coaches.

What else...oh, this article looks at Chicago-area product Duje Dukan, who is being recruited by NU but has yet to receive an offer. According to his coaches, Dukan, a 6-8 wing, will be rolling in offers. Just not quite yet.

And last, here you can find an article about Griffin McKenzie, an increasingly popular prospect who told Purple Reign that he is visiting NU.

To reach David Vranicar, publisher of Purple Reign, please write to northwestern.scout@gmail.com.

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