True story: On Friday, December 20, 2013, Steven and I began an e-mail exchange without knowing about many of the things that would follow. The side notes, discussion and commentary are all here in the inaugural PurpleWildcats.com email exchange. It commemorates one of the best days in Northwestern recruiting history.
I know you were very excited for a bowl game in Detroit. Instead, Northwestern went 5-7. I'm sitting at home, you're probably sitting at home, and I can't pretend that we have anything to write about aside from Parrker Westphal choosing between two schools — one of which is afraid to play the other. (Too bad that one also qualified for a bowl game.)
The last time we traveled together, though, Northwestern lost to Iowa. The time before that, they didn't take the field against Wisconsin (worst NU game I've ever seen). And the time before that, we went to California, ate really bad Chinese food *and* took three Delta flights that ranged from somewhat dangerous to very dangerous on the way back home. So I'm just going to smile and start an e-mail exchange.
I don't know if you noticed, but yesterday, Tom Dienhart trolled me after I tweeted the following: "Darrell Hazell should win Coach of the Year for convincing real human beings to sign with Purdue." He responded: "NU had 1 more B1G win than Purdue."
Okay, yeah. But some other facts:
1) Purdue's best player was almost inarguably its punter.
2) The Boilermakers were way more horrible at losing eleven games than NU was at losing seven.
3) Their rebuild is predicated on signing unranked recruits that no one has ever heard of... Stars are for losers?
So, am I allowed to make fun of Hazell? Purdue? Can I play the "Northwestern was good in 2012" card? Would I want to sign with Northwestern? It's a crisis.
P.S. I had a dream in which Pat Fitzgerald actually went to Texas and it was funnier than the BCS.
It’s been some two hours since we’ve last spoken, and hopefully you haven’t drowned in maple syrup or been chucked by Demar DeRozan in that time (yo, you’re from Canada!).
Nah, Northwestern didn’t make a bowl, but you upgraded to an iPhone, which is equally surprising. Here’s hoping your transition moves more like Buckley than Trumpy.
Parrker Westphal’s commitment is still in question, but the Wildcats did add Hamilton Anoa’i shortly after extending an offer. He’s easily the least-heralded prospect in its 2014 class, but NU has never concerned itself much with star rankings or other offers. Fellow underrecruited linebackers Damien Proby and David Nwabuisi turned out more than okay.
#FactsOnly, Tom Dienhart. Yeah, Purdue lost just one more conference game than Northwestern, but the Boilermakers lost a ridiculous eight games by 20 or more points, and five by more than 30. Northwestern took four of its seven losses by one score, five if you discount the worst back-door cover ever against Ohio State. Injuries of course hit the Wildcats far worse, and we’ll end this asinine debate in next year’s Chris Emma Bowl. I can hear the punts already.
I must let you know, Nick, I took a trip to Rivals the other day. No sweat, just a “standard drop-in.”
I'm going to ignore most of that because you cheer for a team that puts Andrea Bargnani on the floor. So nice shot.
I was actually in the Verizon store "upgrading" my Blackberry when Anoa'i committed. I called him and wrote his answers on the margins of the New Yorker I was carrying around. So I'm winning the award for the yuppiest, worst person ever. Going to curl up in the fetal position now.
I'm hearing the Westphal decision is coming soon, but I'm more interested in the worst rivalry ever: Vanderbilt versus Northwestern. Remember when Vandy cancelled games with NU because James Franklin lost and had a temper tantrum? Now, they're fighting for an in-state recruit that NU has been going after for, like, seven years. And Vandy was actually decent this year.
If I had to guess, and this is purely speculation, James Franklin would be somewhere between "Kirk Ferentz" and "Every Iowa Assistant" on the list of coaches Pat Fitzgerald secretly despises. I don't really hate on other teams, but I'll be pulling for Houston in their game against Vandy — another bowl that no one cares about.
Frankly, I hadn't heard of Anoa'i much before today's commitment, so I'm shocked that Purdue missed him.
NU will beat the Fighting Chris Emmas by 30 next year with Matt Alviti throwing for 350 yards. Book it.
Please send Kyle Lowry as soon as possible.
I think the NU/Vandy thing is mutually beneficial. Both programs are on the definite upswing (remember how much fun it was to say that without smirking this summer?), and without much longstanding in-conference rivalry for either program, I endorse a rivalry here, no matter how forced. Westphal is huge for both teams, especially considering the Commodores started two seniors at corner this season.
Aside from choosing a starting QB and asking McCormick students to build an O-line, I think the cornerback situation is the no. 1 thing to watch this offseason.
You have to understand: I cover a team that starts Dave Sobolewski at point guard – in most games – so Kyle Lowry seems like prime-Steve Nash.
I wrote another of my "incredibly stupid in retrospect" columns sometime in 2012 about how the arrow was pointing "upward" for Northwestern, adding that Vanderbilt was terrible.
I'm just excited for the non-conference schedule in and of itself. Next year, NU is playing Sonny Dykes Round Two, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, and a team with the nickname "Leathernecks." That's tough, but it makes considering they're playing Purdue, so they have a couple of wins in the bank.
I was going to suggest *playing* three McCormick students alongside Geoff Mogus and Brandon Vitabile. I was also going to suggest "Jayme Taylor for Superback" because I'm pretty sure we've overrated Dan Vitale. Enough controversy for today?
Holy Leathernecks. Westphal's commitment comes right as we speak of how huge it would be. Adding him and Dickerson – even after the Season From Hell – obviously solidifies the Wildcats trending upward, and it gives the program huge recruiting momentum this winter.
Westphal becomes the first commit in recent memory to enroll early, and I think he becomes an early contributor too. He obviously had offers at MSU, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio State, among others, and he chose to bring 4.4 40 speed to a secondary that was gassed throughout the fall.
Big get. The class of 2014 rounded out better than any of us could have expected. If we're talking symbols, this is one of turning a corner.
Oh, and Northwestern landed another Purdue offer. BOOM.
"Season from Hell." I like that. I really do. I called it many things but never that. Maybe I did.
Regardless, the Northwestern Safety Factory continues. Ibraheim Campbell, Traveon Henry, Parrker Westphal, hopefully to be continued.
And by the way, guys named "Hamilton" and "Parrker" committing on the same day? This is something. It's a new era.
This feels more and more like the class that will define Fitzgerald's time at Northwestern. It's not ranked incredibly highly – given that they only take 15 scholarships – but has the sort of "program-turning" talent that could define this team moving forward.
I loved that Westphal not only talked about coaching stability, but also mentioned Jerry Brown's stability. I feel like I've written his announcement to retire in my head 40 times. Now, he's my favorite ever. A true Northwestern legend.
Jerry Brown and Adam Cushing both came up clutch here. This class is program-turning, and it's also program-defining: a winning culture coming in despite such a lost season. NU was able to hang on to prized recruits even after winning one Big Ten game.
I'm calling partial garbage on that one.
Relationships with recruits – especially guys like Westphal – are formed during the prospect's junior season in most cases. So I can imagine that Northwestern would come off as some sort of tragic hero during the Season of Hell.
But let's play "Fun Parrker Westphal anecdotes." The first time I interviewed him was in September 2012 — which was, oddly enough, a few days after or a few days before NU beat Vanderbilt.
After the Michigan loss that season, the Gardner-to-Roundtree one, Chris Emma and I incidentally ran into Westphal (who had attended the game) at a gas station just outside of Ann Arbor.
Emma had interviewed Westphal several times and knew him fairly well, so he's filling up his car and chatting with the already very highly touted recruit.
I'll never forget the most awkward interaction I've had in the past couple of years. I exit the vehicle, disheveled, wearing a ripped Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt and a press pass, and Emma goes: "Hey Parrker! This is Nick! He called you once. Do you remember him?"
Maybe you had to be there. I'll introduce myself to him in class, maybe, and he won't remember me then either.
By the way, what a horrible day for Hamilton Anoa'i to choose NU. He's doomed to be "The Other Guy" on the day Westphal committed.
Any Anoa'i feature ideas to give him proper due? Maybe: "A History of Underrecruited Guys Who Turned Into Stars at Northwestern?" Is it too soon to begin that article with a history of Tommy Fuessel's scout team development?
Make that The Other Other Guy with Johnnie Vassar. The scout.com gods clearly have some time to kill today.
Vassar rounds out a statement first recruiting class for Chris Collins, and his pledge is a stealthy win for a staff that needed a point guard. Despite grading poorly on some websites, Collins continues to win — hey, I won't convince the kid who once dropped a 30 percent on a final that grades don't mean much.
And sorry, but your Westphal story pales in comparison to my triumphs of awkwardness this year. See: calling Evan Boudreaux from the bathroom of a Flat Top, breaking the news to Khari Blasingame that Northwestern was on a seven-game losing streak.
Chris Collins is so cool.
"Rounds out" is one way to put it; that's excluding the immense likelihood of transfers on the current team. They always know more than we do.
So they discovered Vassar in Philadelphia when he played alongside Northwestern commit Vic Law, monitored the prospect as he played in California, brought him to campus, and closed with no one knowing.
Once again, Chris Collins is so cool.
I'll always blame you for Blasingame committing elsewhere, and #Hamilton will always thank you.
Losers of today: James Franklin, Dave Sobolewski.
No doubt. Winners: Armon Gates for excellent recruiting, Keith Watkins and Matt Harris for getting Westphal on the other sideline down the road, Bryant McIntosh for getting a stable backup at the 1, and us, for staying busy if nothing else.
It was a hell of a day for both sports, and though the Collins era has endured a slow start and the football team didn't complete the program-defining season we expected, both of these recruiting classes are comparatively historic. And it feels like today was too.