Big Ten

Is Clayton Thorson leading Northwestern's quarterback competition?


Is Clayton Thorson leading Northwestern's quarterback competition?

With training camp now officially underway up in Evanston, the mystery of who will start the season opener at quarterback for Northwestern against Stanford on September 5 can only be kept for so much longer. 

The three-man competition of senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson is one the Wildcats haven't seen in a while because there's no clear successor to Trevor Siemian, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 2015 NFL Draft. 

Alviti and Oliver had the chance to play at the end of last season when Siemian went down with a torn ACL. But it wasn't the best first impression for both signal callers.

In four games, Oliver had a 52 percent completion rate while throwing two touchdowns and three interceptions. In his one start in the season finale against the Fighting Illini, Oliver's adjusted total QB rating was 4.7.

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Alviti, a former four-star recruit from Park Ridge, Ill., struggled to do much better. In four games, he only completed two of four passes and ran for one yard on nine carries with a touchdown.

Thorson, another top recruit from Illinois, may have benefited the most of any in the competition simply by redshirting his first year in Evanston. 

After spring practices, coach Pat Fitzgerald didn't feel like any of the three really separated themselves in the competition and is hoping that the winner of the competition naturally emerges from the group.

"We'd rather have it happen organically than to force something," Fitzgerald said. "And at this point, we're not ready and prepared to inject right now and be forceful either because all three guys have had a good summer from a leadership standpoint. I think they're all in really good shape, and now we're going to roll the ball out and let it play."

Fitzgerald and the coaches won't be completely alone in making the final decision. Senior leaders on the team will be counted on to provide their insight on who can help the Wildcats the most this year. Senior cornerback Nick VanHoose will be one of those that Fitzgerald will call upon, and VanHoose knows his opinion will weigh heavily with the coaching staff. While the defensive back says all three are great quarterbacks, there's one that has caught VanHoose's eye in practice.

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"I'm a Clayton fan myself," VanHoose said. "But at the end of the day, it's going to come down to camp, who wins it out there.

"Alviti's more of a run guy. He can pass too, of course, but we see him as a run guy. You look at Oliver, you see a pro-style quarterback. Kid's got a cannon. But then you look at Clayton and he's a balance. He can pass and he can run. I didn't think the kid could run. But he can actually run a little bit."

Over the past few years, Northwestern hasn't been afraid to use a two-quarterback system to keep defenses off balance. Siemian and Kain Colter were known for their differences in style of play. Siemian was much more of a pocket passer while Colter was more of a scrambler and a threat to run on every play. 

So if Thorson is a perfect blend of passing and running, it seems as if the mental challenges of playing quarterback is the only aspect holding the Wheaton native back from taking the job. Surprisingly, one player who could help Thorson with the mental side of playing quarterback could be senior superback Dan Vitale. In Mick McCall's offense, the superback and quarterback actually get the play calls and signals more in depth than other positions on offense.

"It's fair to say the superbacks and quarterbacks know the offense better than every other position group," Vitale said. "Being able to teach the two younger quarterbacks the little nitpick details of play calls or 'Hey, I'm going to turn my head around at this point' timing route, just little stuff like that goes a long way. Hopefully it can give one of them an advantage and let them take control."

Fitzgerald may not end up announcing the starter(s) until the Wildcats run out of the tunnel to face the Cardinal and that doesn't bother the players, so long as the winner(s) are ready on September 5. 

"If we’re winning games, it doesn’t matter to me," senior wide receiver Christian Jones said. "I don’t have a preference as long as we win. If we’re winning games, it could be three of them out there and it doesn’t matter."

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal


Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.