1. If Persa is less than 100% do you think Northwestern can be as prolific on offense? What sort of schemes give the Wildcats the biggest problems?
JQ: I still have a few questions about Persa's health, so I'm curious to see how the offense will operate early on. While Persa's running ability is one of the more obvious things that had put him on the map, his ability to avoid bad mistakes last year was a bit underrated (and was exposed in a big way when Evan Watkins and Kain Colter took turns replacing Persa at QB). So even at less than 100%, Persa should at least make a bunch of plays from the pocket, although how many compared to last year is a big question. Thankfully, most of his receiving corps from last year is still around.
I'm also wondering how the running backs will fare, as that has been a spotty part of the offense the past couple of years. Sophomore Mike Trumpy had his moments last year and looks to be the guy worth watching heading into this season.
2. Last year teams ran all over the Northwestern defense. Have there been any adjustments this year? Do you think it will remain the Achilles heel?
JQ: Somehow, when Persa tore his Achilles last year, the defense seemingly did too, as their worst games of the season came after Persa's injury. I think the run defense can still be an issue this year, with a number of youngsters picking up more of the slack, especially at the linebacker position. As a whole, though, there is some optimism with this unit, given the experienced starters on the d-line and in the secondary.
3. BC fans often feel slighted by the Boston media. How would you rank Northwestern on the Chicago sports landscape? Do NU fans even care about respect and perception? Has Northwestern done anything to try to change that perception?
JQ: BC and Northwestern are very similar in the context of their cities' sports landscapes. They're both smallish private schools (at least in comparison to their conference mates) with high academic reputations in big cities dominated by major league sports, and thus they both lag way back in the pecking order. In Northwestern's case, the school definitely lags behind the five major league sports teams, but it also has to battle with Illinois and Notre Dame for attention among the local college teams. (Actually, the Northwestern blog Lake the Posts does a good job in showing how similar BC and Northwestern are in terms of citywide perception.)
I think there is a good segment of fans, especially the more diehard ones, that want a bit more respect, especially with regards to bringing more Northwestern fans into the stadium. When it comes to home games, the size of the crowds can depend on who's playing, because despite Northwestern's recent success, there are still huge swaths of fans from the other teams (especially during conference season).
Recently, the school has been marketing itself as "Chicago's Big Ten Team" (as seen on the Dan Persa billboards and on the new basketball court) to try to draw in more of the local Chicago audience. We'll see if it actually works, but at least it's a start. The recent "Persa Strong" Heisman campaign (complete with billboards in both Chicago and Bristol, Conn.), the new Pat Fitzgerald banner outside Ryan Field, and even the Facebook campaign to help choose a new basketball floor (with one of the choices being a Boise State-inspired purple court) are all ways to get the Northwestern name out there even more.
4. What is your prediction for the game?
JQ: I think whether or not Persa plays, this will be a bit of a slog of a game. If Persa plays, I see a Northwestern winning 20-17. If not, it's BC winning 17-14.