Will Northwestern ever get out of its own way?

Plus: Illinois’ unblockable Jer’Zhan Newton, transfer QBs all over the Big Ten and the college game’s top five coaches.

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Northwestern quarterback Brendan Sullivan plays against Wisconsin in 2022.

Northwestern quarterback Brendan Sullivan plays against Wisconsin in 2022.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Northwestern can thank the preseason-opening Bears for owning most of the real estate in our football brains this week. And maybe the dysfunctional White Sox and malfunctioning U.S. women’s soccer team, too, for sucking up a lot of negative oxygen while the Wildcats were in their own corner of the sports world in Evanston behaving like ninnies.

Did you hear about the T-shirts some Wildcats football coaches and staff members were wearing during camp? The ones that said ‘‘Cats Against the World’’ and featured the No. 51, a nod to recently fired coach Pat Fitzgerald?

Some of you probably missed that. The Wildcats should have missed those embarrassing shirts. But maybe there are a bunch of grown men in the program who are too busy feeling like victims to concern themselves with making sure problems such as, oh, sexual hazing have been eradicated. It wouldn’t be the first time they missed the boat on that, would it?

At least athletic director Derrick Gragg expressed that he was ‘‘extremely disappointed’’ and called the shirts ‘‘inappropriate, offensive and tone-deaf.’’ Finally, Gragg took a strong stance on something, anything. Then again, this, too, happened on his watch.

Who’s in charge in Evanston? Is anybody?

With that, let’s get on with the rest of a big 10, where 10 actually means 10.

2. Here’s Johnny: Pro Football Focus ranks Illinois’ Jer’Zhan ‘‘Johnny’’ Newton as the No. 1 returning defensive tackle in the country. Newton led all Power Five interior linemen in quarterback pressures last season — by a wide margin — and is one of only seven players on the preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Award, given to the best player in the country at any position. Not that any non-offensive player has much of a shot to win it; the only ones to do that since 1980 were Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o in 2012. Still, Newton’s value to the Illini is enormous.

3. Total guesses: Season victory totals (not counting bowl games) are out at most sportsbooks, with Notre Dame’s over/ under most commonly at 8½, Illinois’ at 6½, Northern Illinois’ at 5½ and Northwestern’s at three. Irish over, Illini over, Huskies over and Wildcats under are my gifts to you. Unless, of course, they’re curses.

Michigan State v Illinois

Newton and the Illini in a bowl at Yankee Stadium?

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

4. Bowl picks: CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, a friend of the column, predicts NIU will face UNLV in the Arizona Bowl, Illinois will get N.C. State in the Pinstripe Bowl and Notre Dame will end up against Oklahoma State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl. Yes, Pop-Tarts. As in: playoff hopes toasted.

5. Postseason madness: The College Football Playoff still is expanding to 12 teams in 2024, but the format calls for the six highest-ranked conference champions to qualify automatically and — with the Pac-12 having all but disappeared — there’s no way there’ll be six leagues strong enough to deserve that distinction. If the format is revamped simply to include the ‘‘best’’ 12 teams, as many expect it will, it’ll favor the ever-growing SEC and Big Ten to such a degree that the sport will cross some serious lines that can’t be uncrossed.

6. Changes at the top: Two-time defending national champion Georgia has passed Alabama as the SEC’s top program. Michigan arguably has passed Ohio State — which it has beaten twice in a row — in the Big Ten. Is Florida State getting ready to pass Clemson in the ACC, too? All three of these things would’ve seemed impossible just a couple of years ago.

7. Musical QBs: The most compelling trend in college football is transfer quarterbacks, who are everywhere — and nowhere more dramatically than they are throughout the Big Ten. To name five, we have Cade McNamara (from Michigan) at Iowa, Tanner Mordecai (SMU) at Wisconsin, Luke Altmyer (Ole Miss) at Illinois, Hudson Card (Texas) at Purdue and Jeff Sims (Georgia Tech) at Nebraska. It’ll be wild how much fortunes rise and fall depending on their fits and performances, which certainly will vary.

8. The 30-year itch: Kudos to Alex Hickey of the Big Ten site Saturday Tradition for cleverly predicting Wisconsin’s Mordecai will have a 400-yard passing game in the Air Raid offense under new coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Phil Longo. The Badgers’ last two of those were in 1993 (Darrell Bevell) and 1963 (Ron VanderKelen). I’ll eat my Wisconsin diploma if Mordecai pulls it off, but still — clever.

9. Fortnights: Both Illinois’ Bret Bielema and Northwestern’s David Braun intend to announce opening-game starting quarterbacks two weeks out. If it isn’t Altmyer for the Illini, that means trouble. Can Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant beat out returning Wildcats Brendan Sullivan and Ryan Hilinski? That might be worth a modicum of hope.

10. Five for fighting: It’s that time of year when outlets are revealing their annual coach rankings. Should it be Alabama’s Nick Saban or Georgia’s Kirby Smart at No. 1? Is Clemson’s Dabo Swinney still a top-three lock, or is No. 2 where Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh belongs? Who’s better, Ohio State’s Ryan Day or LSU’s Brian Kelly? USC’s Lincoln Riley or Utah’s Kyle Whittingham?

My five, in order: Smart, Saban, Harbaugh, Swinney, Kelly.

Look, you’re just going to have to deal with it.

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