Pat Fitzgerald has created something special in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern has had 3 straight winning seasons and 2 straight bowl wins. Last season we saw Northwestern start 2-3 with losses to a mediocre Duke team, #10 Wisconsin and #6 Penn State. But the Wildcats turned it around and ended the season on a 8-0 run including a 39-0 win over Minnesota, 42-7 win over Illinois and a 24-23 win over Kentucky.
Northerwestern added 18 new recruits for the 14th best ranking in the Big 10 and good for 59th in Division 1 Football. The freshman are led by 4 star defensive end Devin O’Rourke out of Frankfort, Illinois. O’Rourke was the only 4 star recruited by Northwestern.
The obvious choice for QB is Clayton Thorson who completed 60.4% of his passes for 2844 yards, 15 TDs and 12 interceptions, which was a down year from his sophomore season. Thorson is recovering from an ACL injury from last year’s Music City Bowl, but should be good to go when the season kicks off against Purdue. The only other QB that has thrown a pass is Junior TJ Green. If Throson is not ready, the Northwestern offense will surly take a step back.
The 2017 Northwestern offense was one of the best at moving down the field. Northwestern with 69% of their plays coming inside 10 yards. The offensive line has a total of 103 combined parts, with 4 seniors and 7 total returning players. The biggest loss will be that of Justin Jackson, who finally graduated. He will be replaced by Jeremy Larkin who had 503 yards on 84 carries, which was a whole yard per carry better than Jackson. The Wildcats return Bennet Skowronek and Flynn Nagel but from there it is a steep drop to a group of freshman, of whom only 2 caught more than 10 passes. If Larkin can step up to the challenge in early matchups, Northwestern should be able to compete once the young receivers grow into the position.
The Wildcats return 8 linemen and 5 linebackers but has to replace two starting safeties and a cornerback. The Wildcats should be a top 10 run defense again due to the sheer number of returning players in box. But the secondary last year ranked 101st in the NCAA and gave up 3244 yards and 18 TDs but had 17 interceptions, which means new players will need to step up to the competition and not allow big plays.
Northwestern has been underwhelming out of the gate and will not have a break until they play Minnesota in November. The Wildcats have a tough schedule out of the gate and with a young team, this may be another rebuilding year for the Wildcats. If the defense doesn’t give up big plays and Larkin steps into the shoes of Justin Jackson, Northwestern may be able to get more than 6 wins. The Wildcats have alternated 10 win seasons in the last 4 years and will continue the trend with another 6-6 season.