Monday, July 28, 2008

Big Ten Football Previews – Part III

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of my annual summer Big Ten football previews. Check back often to see who’s next...

Team: Northwestern Wildcats

Tidbits … The Wildcats are one of eight different teams to claim at least a share of the Big Ten title in the last decade (2000). Northwestern won two of its last three games in 2006.

Past Predictions/Results:

2007 Prediction/actual: 5-7, 2-6 (9th) / 6-6, 3-5 (T-7th)
2006 Prediction/actual: 4-8, 1-7 (T-9th) / 4-8, 2-6 (T-8th)
2005 Prediction/actual: 5-6, 3-5 (T-7th) / 7-5, 5-3 (T-3rd) – Sun Bowl
2004 Prediction/actual: 5-7, 2-6 (9th) / 6-6, 5-3 (4th)
2003 Prediction/actual: 3-9, 0-8 (11th) / 6-7, 4-4 (T-7th) – Motor City Bowl
2002 Prediction/actual: 4-8, 1-7 (T-6th) / 3-9, 1-7 (T-10th)
2001 Prediction/actual: 7-4, 4-4 (T-5th) / 4-7, 2-6 (T-10th)

*Note, bowl shown only from 2004 on as I did not predict the bowl berths prior to that season.

Returning Starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 kickers

Key Returnees: QB C.J. Bacher, RB Tyrell Sutton, WR Eric Peterman, DE Corey Wootton, DT Adam Hahn, CB Sherrick McManis, K Amando Villareal

Key Losses: OT Dylan Thiry, WR Kim Thompson, LB Adam Kadela, FS Reggie McPherson

Looking Back ... One game was the difference between a bowl berth and home for the holidays again - Duke. A flabbergasting home loss to Duke early in the season kept this potent offense home and wondering what might have been. Despite that disappointment, the Wildcats showed a flair for the dramatic in thrilling, back to back overtime wins over Michigan State and Minnesota and painted a picture of what we might expect to see in 2008. If the defense can come around and the offense can fire on all cylinders all year long, the disappointing end to '07 could be erased...

Outlook - Offense ... Northwestern can rack up yards and points in a hurry. Need proof? Look at the shootout wins over Michigan State and Minnesota. The 'cats also put up over 30 in two other wins. The good news? All of the leaders are back. C.J. Bacher is the unheralded leader of this attack. Tyrell Sutton seems to have been totting the rock for the purple and black for a decade, but he's back and ready to lead this team back to a bowl berth. There is plenty of talent and depth at wide receiver as well. The only potential roadblock to success is the front five. The line is young and thin, having lost three mainstay starters. If this group can gel early, watch out. If not, this fast horse may never get out of the gates...

Outlook - Defense ... Being able to rack up the yards and points is fun and all, but if this team wishes to go bowling, it must - MUST get a better performance out of the defense. The old read and react style has been replaced with a more attack oriented set of schemes, which often sees big plays allowed for every big play made. One thing is for sure, John Gill and Corey Wootton make up a solid left side of the defensive front. In fact, the entire front four is back and that is a huge plus for the Wildcats. It's the back seven where NU will need to make up ground. A few starters and players with experience return but no matter who is back there, this group MUST make plays and hold opposing offenses at bay in order for there to be success.

Outlook - Special Teams ... Northwestern has both kickers returning and a good option for either in the fold in Kyle Daley. The Wildcats are almost always strong in the return game and this year should be no different with McManis and Peterman back to build on last season's solid performances.

9/6 - at Duke
9/20 - OHIO
9/27 - at Iowa
10/18 - PURDUE
10/25 - at Indiana
11/1 - at Minnesota
11/15 - at Michigan
11/22 - ILLINOIS

Key Games:
9/6 - at Duke, 10/11 - Michigan State, 11/8 - Ohio State, 11/15 - at Michigan, 11/22 - Illinois

Prediction ... On one hand, I want to pick this team to burst into the top half of the league. On the other, I just don't see the all offense, very little defense style working out all that often in the Big Ten these days. There are plenty of toss ups along the way, and NU could certainly win a few more than I am predicting, but I'm generally pretty close with this squad from year to year.

OOC: 4-0 (no one here strikes fear into anyone!)
B10: 2-6 (win over Michigan State and Purdue)
Overall: 6-6, T-9th in the conference, potential AT LARGE bowl berth


Flakcatcher said...

Hi, Andy. Good job on my 'Cats.

The Purple faithful have high hopes that new D coordinator Mike Hankwitz will turn around the defense. I think we will see great improvement there, although my sense is that we'll give up some big plays in exchange for our aggressiveness. I don't think Fitzgerald will tolerate a mediocre defense, and he showed it by launching (finally!) Greg Colby.

The no-huddle wide-open offense that Mick McCall will bring to the table could be even more potent than our offense has been in recent years. Look for converted QB Andrew Brewer to make a name for himself at WR if he can stay healthy. The huge question, as you say, is the line.

As far as the non-conference schedule goes, Southern is probably the best team and no pushover. (See Appalachian State and, for NU, New Hampshire.) That's the trap game in the non-conference schedule that we always seem to lose.

Even with that, I can see 4 wins in the Big Ten if the O line stays healthy and is marginally better than adequate.

BruceS said...

I agree this team will go only as far as the defense takes it. I guess it's easy to pick NW for the bottom half of the league based on history. I think they will outscore a few teams this fall. I just hope one of those teams is not my beloved Spartans. I think they can beat IU, and Ill who I think will be down and out by then. Throw in Minny and one other and they end up with 3 or 4 conference wins.