Point-Counterpoint: Looking at Jackson, McIntosh’s Northwestern careers


Daily file photo by Alec Carroll for Jackson, Daily file photo by Colin Boyle for McIntosh

Justin Jackson (left) carries the ball, while Bryant McIntosh drives to the basket. The seniors have each had illustrious careers for Northwestern.

Garrett Jochnau and Jonah Dylan

Watching senior running back Justin Jackson and senior guard Bryant McIntosh lead their respective teams for the past three seasons got The Daily sports desk thinking: who’s had a more memorable Northwestern career?

Garrett Jochnau: Last year’s Northwestern men’s basketball team ended a historic NCAA Tournament drought, and will go down as the group that changed Wildcats basketball.

It was also Bryant McIntosh’s team.

As such, he deserves recognition as NU’s definitive senior athlete.

McIntosh enters his final season as one of 20 players on the watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, which annually recognizes the nation’s best point guard. He won’t win, but it’s confirmation he’s more than your average veteran leader. And it only scratches the surface of what he means to this school.

McIntosh logged 30 starts as a freshman and averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 assists. His stat line was solid — enough to earn Big Ten All-Freshman recognition — but nothing too splashy. But after setting the program record for first-year assists, McIntosh proved that, alongside second-year coach Chris Collins, NU had a floor general to carry it into the next era.

And so he did.

McIntosh improved statistically over the next two seasons, and the Cats’ success followed. Even without eye-catching numbers, he established himself as the face of the program. Though others bolstered the scoring attack, it was McIntosh’s brilliance that carried the Cats down the stretch of the definitive 2016-17 season. He paced NU in its February upset over then-No. 7 Wisconsin, and after the Cats ended their drought, it was on McIntosh’s shoulders (a game-high 25 points and a pair of go-ahead free throws) that they won their first tournament game.

McIntosh won’t be the best player to ever pass through Evanston, but he anchored a team that will go down in history. For the foreseeable future, his name is synonymous with that gold standard team.

Jonah Dylan: Walk up to any student at Northwestern and ask them to name one athlete on this campus. The answer will almost always be the same: Justin Jackson the ball carrier. After four years as the bell cow running back for the Wildcats, Jackson has cemented himself as a mythical figure at NU, not just now but for the rest of time. So how did we get here, and why is Jackson so beloved?

Jackson burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2014, taking over for the departed Venric Mark and rushing for over 1,100 yards to go with 10 touchdowns. Sometime during that season, the student section adopted the “Justin Jackson the ball carrier” chant and his star was born.

In 2015, despite subpar quarterback play from Clayton Thorson, Jackson helped lead the Cats to a 10-3 record after carrying the ball a ridiculous 312 times, third in the country behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. He also finished second in the Big Ten in rushing, behind only Ohio State superstar Ezekiel Elliott.

But even after a successful 2015 season, Jackson broke out in 2016, rushing for 1,524 yards to finish 13th in the country and win the Big Ten rushing title. The two players right behind him? 2017 Heisman frontrunner Saquon Barkley and NFL Rookie of the Year favorite Kareem Hunt. Again, Jackson took on a heavy workload, carrying the ball 298 times. He capped the season with a dominating performance in the Pinstripe Bowl against No. 23 Pittsburgh, rushing for 224 yards and three touchdowns to power NU to a win. And despite the physical toll that 1,005 career carries have surely taken, Jackson hasn’t missed a game in his four years with the Cats.

Jochnau: Jackson is the superior athlete and rightfully more relevant in this moment in time. But fast forward 20 years, and he’s nothing more than another star on a collection of quality NU teams. We’ve seen players like him before. Darnell Autry was Jackson before the Cats’ current rusher could walk, let alone carry a ball. And Autry led NU to a conference title and a Rose Bowl appearance. Jackson isn’t even the definitive face of modern-era Cats football. After all, it was Anthony Walker, not Jackson, nicknamed “The Franchise.” McIntosh isn’t the national superstar Jackson is — though he’s no slouch — but he’s the face of NU’s most important basketball team, a title he’ll likely never relinquish.

Dylan: Sure, there have been players like Jackson. But don’t you remember just over three weeks ago, when Jackson broke the NU rushing record? He’ll always be remembered for that, while McIntosh won’t come close to breaking John Shurna’s scoring record. Sure, McIntosh has the assist record, but overall his stats aren’t anywhere near as impressive as Jackson’s. And while McIntosh helped lead the Cats to their first tournament appearance, Scottie Lindsey was the best scorer on the team and Vic Law was the best all-around player. Jackson, though, is easily the most memorable player on the football team and is probably the most recognizable NU football player of all time behind Otto Graham and Pat Fitzgerald.

Jochnau: If we’re comparing apples to apples, McIntosh’s assist record shouldn’t be discounted. As mentioned, he’s no statistical marvel, but he’s accomplished plenty, and his crowning achievement can’t be replicated. Meanwhile, Jeremy Larkin appears ready to shine as the Cats’ next rusher. He won’t eclipse Jackson, but eventually, someone will. Even when McIntosh wasn’t NU’s best player, he was still the face of an iconic season. Perhaps Jackson could equal his legend if the Big Ten fell apart and the Cats returned to the Rose Bowl. But don’t hold your breath.

Dylan: Even if Jackson doesn’t hold the rushing record forever, he’s had a plethora of memorable moments in just this season. Remember that 23-yard reception in overtime against Iowa where he hit the right stick on Iowa’s whole defense, basically putting the team on his back when it needed him most? And let’s not forget what happened on his first career passing attempt Saturday against Michigan State. As Jackson threw a touchdown to sophomore receiver Ben Skowronek to give NU a late lead, a new legend was born. Jackson isn’t just the ball carrier, he’s the ball thrower. And we’ll never forget it.

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Twitter: @garrettjochnau

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @thejonahdylan