Just Sayin’: Northwestern football joins Cubs, Bears on preseason dis list
Baseball Prospectus sold the Cubs short. Sports Illustrated has no use for the Bears. Then there are Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, widely projected at around .500. They’re the Alabama of being overlooked, mainstays in the Top 25 of the pay-no-mind list.
An army of Cubs believers swelled with righteous fury back in February, when Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections pegged the team at 79-83, in last place in the National League Central, for the coming season.
The very thought of the Cubs swooning to such depths rattled cages and boggled minds. It was lunacy, wasn’t it? As it turns out, the 2019 Cubs aren’t the 1927 Yankees — a shocker, no — but they certainly aren’t sweep-up-after-everybody-else bad.
Sports Illustrated sure as heck touched a nerve this week with its projection that the Bears — weren’t they 12-4 just a year ago? — will plummet to the NFC North cellar at 7-9. The magazine sees a struggle-filled season for quarterback Mitch Trubisky and a step back by a defense that dearly will miss former coordinator Vic Fangio.
SI ranked the Bears’ defensive front seven as the best in the NFL, but as for the rest of the team? Seventeenth in the secondary, 21st at quarterback, 22nd at receiver and running back — run-of-the-mill hopelessness, it seems.
This, too, has gotten fans’ dander up in a big way. Sport-talk radio is in a tizzy. Such ill regard cannot stand!
And then there’s Northwestern’s football team. It’s being PECOTA-ed yet again, if you will. Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s program is the Alabama of being overlooked. The Wildcats are mainstays in the Top 25 of the pay-no-mind list.
The Wildcats’ projected regular-season victory total listed by online sports books and Las Vegas casinos is either six or 6½. That’s the same neighborhood in which Fitzgerald’s teams have been placed heading into each of the last two seasons.
Does it need to be pointed out that the Wildcats finished with nine regular-season victories in both 2017 and 2018? For crying out loud, they’re the defending Big Ten West champs.
‘‘We’re not great clickbait, I guess, so picking us first isn’t real sexy,’’ Fitzgerald said at the Big Ten’s annual summer media event downtown. ‘‘But we’ll just earn it. We’ll just earn it. That’s what’s so great about football. . . .
‘‘That’s what I tell our players: Enjoy it, and you’ve got to go out and earn it on the field. That’s what makes our game so great. We’ll just continue to do that and control what we can control. But, yeah, it’s always fun to read this time of year how we stink.’’
A Cleveland.com poll of 34 Big Ten media members picked Northwestern fourth in the West, behind Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin. Not for nothing, the Wildcats’ record against those schools in 2018 was 3-0.
That 3-0 thing shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Northwestern has — hello — won 15 of its last 16 Big Ten games. Their only league loss during that span was by three points to Michigan, a game the Wildcats led 17-7 at halftime last season. You can’t fake 15-1, can you? Even if all 16 of those games had been against Rutgers and Illinois, it would be impressive.
Yes, the schedule is a bear. The Wildcats open at the Associated Press’ No. 25 team, Stanford, on Saturday. They host No. 18 Michigan State in Game 3, visit No. 19 Wisconsin in Game 4, visit No. 24 Nebraska in Game 5, host No. 5 Ohio State in Game 6 and host No. 20 Iowa in Game 7.
From there, the possibilities of winning open up wide — assuming the Wildcats are still standing.
Clearly, a lot of experts see those six games mentioned above as a gauntlet of L’s. Fitzgerald, his staff and his players undoubtedly have a bunch of LOLs for that.
Seriously, the Bears in last place? The Vikings have yet to prove they can block anybody. The Packers are too busy walking on eggshells around Aaron Rodgers. And have you met the Lions?
If the Bears finish last in the division, I’ll don a sandwich board with ‘‘Trubinsky’’ on the front and ‘‘kick me’’ on the back and walk backward to Ford Field. Or I’ll eat a Coney dog with extra ketchup on it. Whichever is more dehumanizing.
• Speaking of delightfully unhealthy meat products, it occurs to me that $1 Hot Dog Wednesdays and Free T-shirt Thursdays have been on the promotional schedule at Guaranteed Rate Field all season.
I’m wondering which feels worse, overindulging on a Wednesday or not being able to fit into one of those shirts on a Thursday.
• Andrew Luck vs. all the really tough guys who played high school football, live in their moms’ basements and dimwittedly are taking shots at a man who wants to walk away from the game while he can still, you know, walk. Discuss.
• Two of the scariest words facing the Cubs these days: Dakota Hudson. The 24-year-old Cardinals pitcher has made three consecutive scoreless starts to run his record to 13-6. Isn’t he supposed to be their fifth starter? That’s just not fair.
By the way, the Cards entered play Tuesday on a 13-3 tear, with a three-game lead in the NL Central. To Cubs fans who are counting on the cream rising to the top eventually, here’s a thought: Maybe it just did.