NCAA Talk

Western Illinois in-state recruiting class recap

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USA TODAY

Western Illinois in-state recruiting class recap

EDGY's Western Illinois Leathernecks Grade: C

Western Illinois head coach Charlie Fisher was able to ink 24 names to his 2017 recruiting class, with five names calling the Illinois home. Western Illinois decided to go the variety pack route with this class, signing four defensive linemen but then spreading the class out over several positions.

Headliner Of The In-State Class?

Western Illinois was able to add some strong names on the offensive line. Galesburg offensive linemen Matt Ricketts, Simeon offensive linemen Fawaz Atoola (6-foot-4, 286 pounds) along with Montini Catholic Michael Ross (6-foot-2, 305 pounds). Ricketts was a four-year contributor and a three-year starter at Galesburg along with being an All-State player. Ross played both offensive and defensive line for Montini and showed well in college one-day camps. Ayoola has great size and length and is a a lean 286-pounder who will add more strength in Macomb.

The One Who Got Away?

Western Illinois was in on several in-state names. The Leathernecks had a very good shot with Freeport LB Zeke Vandenburgh, who also made an official visit to WIU. Vendenburgh ended up signing with Illinois State.

Final Thoughts on the Western Illinois Leathernecks Recruiting Class:

Western Illinois and head coach Charlie Fisher are looking to break out of the always rough Missouri Valley Conference "middle of the pack." The Leathernecks didn't finish well last season, losing four of their last five games to finish 6-5 overall and also missed a shot at the FCS playoff bid. However, WIU has also been a consistent winner over the past few seasons. This WIU Class of 2017 recruiting class does a good job of adding more depth to the roster and developing a few promising freshmen here.

Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

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Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

Loyola battles Valparaiso in a Missouri Valley Conference clash that airs on NBC Sports Chicago Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

The Ramblers (10-7, 3-1) are fighting for the top spot in the Valley with the Crusaders (11-6, 4-0) as the top two teams in the conference play an important early league game.

Coming off of an important home win over Illinois State on Saturday, the Ramblers are hoping to make another move by taking a crack at the Valley's only unbeaten team. Veterans Marques Townes, Clayton Custer and Cameron Krutwig are all having strong seasons for Loyola as the Ramblers attempt to position themselves for another potential NCAA tournament bid.

Valparaiso has put together a strong five-game winning streak, including a good road win at Southern Illinois over the weekend. The Crusaders have a balanced group of scorers, led by forward Ryan Fazekas, and center Derrik Smits -- the son of former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits.

These two teams will also play on Feb. 10 as the Ramblers will make a trip to Valpo for the rematch. For now, this matchup could provide an indication of the team to beat in the Valley.

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

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Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

It was a tale of two halves for Northwestern in Monday's Holiday Bowl.

After entering halftime trailing Utah 20-3, Northwestern mounted a huge second half comeback to knock off the Utes 31-20. Northwestern, which outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter, finishes the 2018 season 9-5 record.

Northwestern was just 3-of-14 on third down, though they forced six Utah turnovers (two interceptions) highlighted by an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety/linebacker Jared McGee.

Six turnovers forced is the most by Northwestern since Oct. 3, 2009 against Purdue, when the Wildcats also forced six turnovers.

Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson — who tore his right ACL on Dec. 29, 2017 in the Music City Bowl — finished 21-of-30 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. However, Thorson exited the game late in the fourth quarter after going down awkwardly near Utah's sideline.

Thorson is one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The win improves Northwestern's all-time bowl game record to 5-10. However, they have now three-straight bowl games; from the 1948-2012 seasons, they won two bowl games — the 1949 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Gator Bowl.

One of the biggest questions facing Northwestern is the future of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. According to a report, the Green Bay Packers are expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald for their head coaching vacancy.

Unlike Thorson, Fitzgerald leaving for the NFL is no guarantee. If he does leave, however, Fitzgerald would leave with the most all-time regular season wins (95) and bowl wins (4) in Northwestern history.

Fitzgerald's .576 winning percentage would also be best all-time by a Northwestern head coach, minimum five seasons. 

Fans likely will anxiously wait for news regarding Fitzgerald's future. Overall, though, fans should be appreciative of the job he has done into turning Northwestern into one of the better football programs in the Big Ten.

UPDATE: Here's what Fitzgerald said about his future after the game.