Thursday, September 1, 2011

And So It Begins

Here we are people. At long last, the fall is here. Well, not technically, but the calendar has turned to September, there are far fewer opportunities to BBQ and most importantly football is starting, which is refreshing after mostly being consumed with seasons that aren't real. So as far as I can tell, it's fall now and once the leaves start to change colors I'll have that confirmed for me. In the case of football, I am about as excited as I am every year, which is very, and even though the New York Giants won't be starting the regular season for 10 more days -- they actually have a preseason game yet to be played tonight in New England -- I am still ready to defend their underrated postseason chances.

I won't be doing that here, after all with this much time until the NFL season kicks off and my propensity for procrastination, my NFL preview will have to wait until next week. I will however opine on yet another season starting for my beloved Northwestern Wildcats. And next week you just might here me talk about the Geelong Cats' hunt for a third premiership in five years, but we'll get to it when we get to it.

Back to Northwestern. College football was never my biggest thing growing up, but covering it for and attending a Big Ten school dramatically changed me in my undergrad years and now I really can't get enough of it. In fact, it's almost downright upsetting to me that there are only 48 hours each Saturday and Sunday in the fall with which I can jam in my football viewing. There needs to be more. Either way, college football technically starts tonight when my sister's alma mater, Wisconsin, hosts UNLV and Mississippi State takes on Memphis, but for me it all comes down to Saturday, the opening for my Cats at Boston College.

The town of Evanston is getting particularly excited this year, so much so that they probably should clean out the water supply, and why shouldn't they? Northwestern continues to be on the upswing under coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has built on the foundation laid by the late Randy Walker -- and to a lesser extent Gary Barnett -- to make the once moribund program consistently competitive. No, we haven't touched a Big Ten title in about a decade or so now, but NU has played in more bowl games in the past decade than it had in the previous century. In two of the last three seasons Northwestern should have won an Alamo Bowl matchup with a team that nearly played in the BCS National Championship Game the year before, and should have won an Outback bowl against a team that won a BCS National Championship a year later.

Northwestern has also managed to play in January 1st bowl games the last two seasons. Really. Look it up.

This season in particular is bringing about quite a bit of excitement because Northwestern was 7-2 last year and fresh off a big upset of Iowa when their season hit a three-game tailspin before a TicketCity Bowl loss to Texas Tech. The big difference between Northwestern before and after was that the last four games of the year featured a team without starting quarterback Dan Persa, who had developed into a duel threat with the highest passing efficiency in the nation until he tore his ACL while tossing the game-winner touchdown pass against the Hawkeyes.

In 2011 hopes are high for another strong season and Persa, while not yet at full strength, is back and being heavily pushed by Northwestern for a potential Heisman shot. The chance is unlikely but it hasn't stopped the campaign from getting into full swing, taking the form of billboards, twitter hashtags and a very peculiar but inventive dumbbell campaign to sportswriters around the country.

Word is that Persa may not be at full strength for the opener this Saturday and that Kain Colter may be getting some or most of the snaps, which could have a deleterious effect on Persa's already slim Heisman hopes, but Colter looked decent in limited time last season using a very similar skill set to Persa, and even if Persa isn't at full strength this Saturday in Chestnut Hill, I can tell you one person who will be. Me.

Ok, so I may not be completely at full strength come game time after several hours of tailgating in the Alumni Stadium parking lot, but the point of the matters is that, as I said earlier this week, I will be in the stands and ready to cheer at Northwestern's opening game of the season at Boston College. Many other Wildcats, as well as a high school friend and B.C. alum, are traveling up to the Hub this weekend for the action and verily, there will be much rejoicing. Some of you may be familiar with that friend, Christian, whose curling exploits were detailed here in February of 2010 and whom I traveled to Philadelphia with in February of this year to see the Knicks play the 76ers.

He should know what he's getting into, but he may be overwhelmed by the sheer nerdery that will ensue amidst a bunch of drunken Northwestern alums calculating the rate of change of volume of their Miller Lite cans as they empty into a funnel. Then again, I'm not really sure anyone is prepared for that. The main point is that college football is back and hot damn will it be awesome.

Also, this trip here marks the start of my fall of sporting adventures that will also take me to West Point in two weeks, to San Jose and San Francisco in November, and possibly to Foxboro, Mass., and Pittsburgh. The possibilities are endless.

The great thing about the start of college football season, of course, is that right now for my Wildcats, too, the possibilities are endless. Hopefully come Saturday night, they still will be.

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