Medline: It's really bad.
Let’s be real: Venric Mark probably did something real. You don’t suspend your best player—coming off of a medical redshirt—for two games based on nothing. This had to be some repeat offense, something important, or certainly something that warranted a suspension. And Mark had to know that. Regardless of what “team policy” meant here, no fifth-year senior should break the rules and jeopardize the team’s chances at winning the opening two games.
And on the field, it’s not nice. Mark will miss two competitive games against Cal and Northern Illinois. You could argue, like Steven does, that Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley are viable backups. I agree there. As for the numbers, losing Venric Mark will automatically hurt their chances no matter who backs him up. Plus, you can’t really replace a former All-American who rushed for 1,366 yards in 2012. No one on the team, you could say, has his talent. If the Wildcats lose to NIU on a late field goal—with the running game struggling—what do we say then?
Worse, I argue this has a domino effect. Venric Mark could have used meaningful reps before the start of Big Ten play. Instead of running the ball against worthy teams, he’ll get his start against Western Illinois before traveling to Penn State for a season-defining game. Also, Pat Fitzgerald really does stand for morals—and for putting the team first. Where will Venric stand to him even after the suspension? Could you see more of a running back-by-committee style moving forward?
A lot of these thoughts are speculative. But, most of all, Venric did something that caused a setback to his teammates. He’s a fifth-year senior who knows better than that. He’s the best player on this team. It hurts his reputation to have broken “team policy,” whatever that might have entailed.
Goldstein: It's not that bad
Venric Mark's two-game suspension is frustrating, to say the least. Mark hasn't played a full game in 18 months, and after hearing him talk after practicesz Monday, one could discern that his focus was in the right place — "I feel like I'm starting high school again," he said. "There's butterflies."
That seems like a lot of bullshit at the moment. Mark's absence obviously crippled NU's offense last year, and his medical redshirt was not only good fortune but a chance to define a legacy. Throwing away a fraction of it shows immaturity and NU fans have a right to be disappointed.
What I will argue, however, is that there's not much of a long-reaching impact of this suspension. Yes, Cal and Northern Illinois are both losable games, but I don't think the running game falls off that much without Mark. Treyvon Green torched the Golden Bears a year ago for 129 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Nine of the 11 starters from the Cal defense return. Northern Illinois' average run defense won't be a significantly greater challenge. Pat Fitzgerald has rung the praise of the core three backup backs, and two certainly winnable games offer a good chance to gauge what the team has with them. If Northwestern does lose to either Cal or Northern Illinois, it won't be because of Mark's absence alone.
The idea of Mark losing momentum and a needed warmup run is fair, but not entirely convincing. A fifth-year senior so brazenly violating team rules to the point of suspension very well may benefit from punishment, and that punishment will make a point to the rest of the team. Mark will still be able to practice with Trevor Siemian and the rest of the first stringers, and unless NU loses both of its first two games, the pressure to dramatically improve the offense with Mark in the fold will be diminished. Proving that the Wildcats can win without him will boost the confidence of the rest of the team. In all likelihood, Mark comes back in Week 3 and sees a slightly more modest but equally effective role in a system that's becoming all about the short pass in camp.
We'd like to think that Mark had Opening Day circled in his calendar, and that every day of practice played out like some motivational sports movie montage. Maybe that was happening; maybe it wasn't. What we do know is that something was at least slightly off, and getting it out in the open as early as possible should prove beneficial by season's end.