Northwestern Football Predictions
Pat Fitzgerald has led Northwestern to four consecutive bowl games, which is quite impressive considering the school hadn’t made more than two straight bowl trips prior to his arrival. Fitzgerald, however, has been unable to lead the Wildcats to their first bowl victory since 1949.
The Wildcats were fortunate to be bowl bound last season as they lost five consecutive games following a 2-0 start. An improbable win at Nebraska was the one that got them over the hump. They finished 6-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play. It was the third straight season in which they saw their win total drop.
If Northwestern is going to contend for a Big Ten Legends division title any time soon, something must change on the defensive side of the football. The offense was among the best in the league last season, but the defense was one of the worst.
An offense that ranked second in the Big Ten with 420.9 yards per game will once again be the strength of the team. Dan Persa will be missed, but Kain Colter has the look of a star.
Colter, a ridiculous athlete, is the team’s top returning passer, rusher and receiver. He completed 55 of 88 passes for 673 yards with six touchdowns and one interception last season. He also rushed for 654 yards and nine scores on 135 carries and hauled in 43 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns.
Northwestern doesn’t have three Colter’s to play quarterback, running back and wide receiver, which means other playmakers much emerge.
The Wildcats like their receiving corps, which is headed up by returning starters Demetrius Fields and Christian Jones. The running back spot is less settled. Mike Trumpy, Treyvon Green and possibly even incoming freshman Malin Jones will be asked to take some of the pressure off Colter as a runner. Don’t get me wrong, the Wildcats must have him carry the football to be successful. Overusing him, however, leaves him more susceptible to injury.
Up front, the good news is three lineman return. The bad news is they were part of an offensive line unit that allowed 42 sacks last season.
The stop unit ranked dead last in the conference against the pass in 2011, surrendering 230.4 yards per game through the air. Overall, it ranked 10th in scoring defense and 11th in total defense with 27.7 points and 407.7 yards allowed per game.
Poor pass defense left the Wildcats susceptible to the big play. In fact, they allowed nine touchdowns on drives of three plays or less. The defensive backfield must improve, but the back four received little help up front by way of a pass rush. The Cats ranked last in the Big Ten with 17 sacks. Quentin Williams recorded three sacks last season, the most of any returner. He’ll be counted on to bring more heat this season, as will Tyler Scott.
The linebacker corps has plenty of experience with starters David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis returning.
Safety Ibraheim Campbell, the only returning starter in the secondary, will be counted on heavily to fill the big shoes of first-team All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters. Campbell had 100 tackles and two interceptions a year ago – the most of any returning player.
Big Ten Legends Prediction: 5th Place
The Wildcats will have an opportunity to record six or seven wins and march into a fifth straight bowl game. It will be up to the defense as to whether they exceed those expectations.