What you need to know ...
It's Garrick McGee's offense now taking over for Mike Dunbar,
but don't expect many big changes from last year with the
exception of more two-back sets to get Terrell Jordan in the
backfield at the same time as franchise runner Tyrell Sutton.
The offensive line will be one of the best in the Big Ten with
an anonymous group of rock-solid starters and helped by the
return of center Trevor Rees after missing last year with
academic issues. The receiving corps gets top-target Shaun
Herbert back to lead the young but big group that should allow
the offense to push it downfield a bit more. The real concern is
at quarterback where C.J. Bacher, Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka
will try to replace four-year starter Brett Basanez.
Passing: C.J. Bacher
6-15, 59 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Tyrell Sutton
250 carries, 1,474 yds, 16 TD
Receiving: Shaun Herbert
79 catches, 862 yds, 6 TD
Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Tyrell Sutton
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
QB C.J. Bacher
Unsung star on the rise: Senior OG Ryan Keenan
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Dylan Thiry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sutton, 2) C Trevor
Rees, 3) WR Shaun Herbert
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, running backs
Weakness of the offense:
Brett Basanez passed for 10,580 yards and 44 touchdowns
and ran for 996 yards and 14 scores, but it took him almost
three years before he became an efficient all-around playmaker
for the Wildcats offense. It also helped that Northwestern had
one of its deepest and most talented receiving corps ever. In
other words, don't expect the new starter to suddenly be the
ultra-efficient Big Ten leader in total offense like Basanez was
last year. C.J. Bacher will get the first look at the job mainly
due to his practice experience and familiarity with the offense.
Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka could be better fits, in time, for
what the attack asks for.
The key to the unit: Get a good competition going
among the three options all summer long. All three need practice
time and need to develop.
Quarterback Rating: 6
- C.J. Bacher, Soph. - 6-15, 40%, 59 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 6
carries, 25 yds, 4.2 ypc
Bacher knows the offense, has a good, accurate arm, and can run.
Now it needs to be seen if he can consistently direct the
offense as close to as well as Brett Basanez did. He has the arm to
push it deep and utilize his young, speedy receiving corps, but
he'll likely be the starter because of his running ability. He's
faster than Basanez and will likely end up running more early on
until his comfort with the passing game catches up.
- Andrew Brewer, RFr.
Brewer has all the skills to eventually explode in Randy
Walker's offense. He's a tall, big-time passer with sprinter's
speed. What he doesn't have is any experience. Even so, he'll be
given every opportunity to win the starting job throughout the
- Mike Kafka, RFr.
Kafka has good size and nice all-around athleticism and could
grow into the best runner among the quarterback options. He's
not a pure passer like Andrew Brewer, but he's every bit the
runner that C.J. Bacher is.
The healthy return of Terrell
Jordan gives the coaching staff several options to play with.
There might be a few two-back sets and there should be more of a
rotation with Jordan and Brandon Roberson seeing time to keep
Tyrell Sutton fresh. Sutton is a special back who has to be
accounted for on every play as both a runner and receiver. He's
not big, so his health and durability will be one of the keys to
The key to the unit: Getting Terrell Jordan and
Brandon Roberson meaningful carries and not wearing down Tyrell
Running Back Rating: 9
- Tyrell Sutton, Soph. - 250 carries, 1,474 yds, 5.9 ypc,
16 TD, 44 catches, 396 yds, 2 TD
Sutton took over in the first game of his true freshman season
and was unbelievable the rest of the way. Not only was he a
workhorse for the ground game with three games with more than 30
carries, and one with 29 carries, he was a reliable receiver
highlighted by a ten-catch day against Purdue. He's not all that
big at 5-9 and 190 pounds, but he's great at flying through the
hole with elusive open field speed.
- Brandon Roberson, Jr. - 37 carries, 171 yds
Roberson got the start in the opener against Ohio but got
knocked out with a sprained ankle and didn't get much work the
rest of the way with Tyrell Sutton emerging into a superstar.
He's a lesser version of Sutton with good quickness and
excellent speed. However, he doesn't have the special moves to take
over the stating role. He should play a role on special teams as
an occasional kickoff returner if he can get over his ankle
- Terrell Jordan, Sr.
It was supposed to be Jordan's show last year, but he suffered a
hamstring injury and missed the entire season. He's a little bit
bigger than Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Roberson and runs with
more power. He can make moves and crack off big gains when he
gets a good hole even though his game is about powering between the
There are concerns losing 115 catches and 1,217 yards of
productions from the team's second and third receivers, Jonathan
Fields and Mark Philmore, but top target Shaun Herbert is back
to be a steadying force for the young, interesting group. It's a
big corps with plenty of size and speed to allow the offense to
push the ball deeper than in year's past. This might not be one
of the team's strongest areas to start the season, but that will
quickly change game by game.
The key to the unit: Finding a reliable number two
receiver to complement Shaun Herbert while hoping for some young
talents to quickly emerge to provide some depth.
Receiver Rating: 6.5
- Shaun Herbert, Sr. - 79 catches, 862 yds, 10.9 ypc, 6 TD
Herbert was the main main last year leading the team in
receptions and will have to be even more of a star this year
with all the new starters in the corps. He was a steady target
all year with a fantastic two-game stretch catching 21 passes
for 234 yards in wins over Purdue and Wisconsin. He's a
good-sized receiver at 6-1 and 200 pounds who turned into a
scorer last year even though he's not much of a deep threat playing the
inside H position.
- Rasheed Ward, Soph. - 7 catches, 99 yds, 14.1 ypc, 1 TD
Ward has the potential to be the team's breakout receiver on the
outside X position. He's not as fast or as big as
Lane, but he's a tremendous athlete who looked good early last
year and was strong enough this spring to take over the starting
- Kim Thompson, Jr. - 19 catches, 326 yds, 17.2 ypc, 1 TD
Thompson needs to get the ball more. He was a reliable receiver
when he was on the field missing a little bit of time with a
broken finger and then getting suspended at the end of the year.
He's one of the team's fastest players and is also the biggest
receiver at 6-4 and 195 pounds.
- Tight end/R-Back Erryn Cobb, Sr. - 2 catches, 29 yds
The 255-pound Cobb is a bruising blocker used mostly as the
R-Back, or fullback. He's expected to play a bigger role in the
offense, possibly as a power runner, but his job will mainly be
to open holes for the quick backs.
- Sam Cheatham, Jr. - 3 catches, 37 yds
Strictly a reserve, Cheatham will be used mostly as possession
receiver at the H behind Shaun Herbert. He didn't do much
outside of a 33-yard catch against Wisconsin even though he saw
his playing time increase as the year went on
- Ross Lane, Soph. - 24 catches, 378 yds, 15.8 ypc, 1 TD
Lane had a breakout game in the Sun Bowl catching seven passes
for 136 yards giving hope that he'll be a reliable number two
target to take the heat off Shaun Herbert. He's a good deep
threat with 6-3 size to pose matchup problems on the outside at
the X position.
- Tight end/R-Back Frayne Abernathy, Jr. - 4 catches, 49
yds, 12.2 ypc, 2 TD
He didn't make too many plays, but he made his four catches
count with two touchdown grabs scoring against Purdue and
Illinois. The 245-pound junior is a bit more of a tight end than
a fullback, but he'll be a solid backup for both spots.
The line went from a concern to a major strength last season
allowing a mere 11 sacks and paving the way for 193 yards per game. Four
of last year's starters return with the big hole left by star tackle
Zach Strief replaced by center Austin Matthews so two-year starter
Trevor Rees, who missed last year due to academic issues, can return to
the middle. Depth is a little bit of an issue, especially at tackle
where there's young tackle, but no experience whatsoever.
The key to the unit: Develop the depth and hope for
Trevor Rees to be as good at center as he was in 2004.
Offensive Line Rating: 9
- OT Austin Matthews, Jr.
Matthews spent last year starting at center over the first half and then
saw a little time a guard. With the return of Trevor Rees at center, the
6-5, 305-pound Matthews will move to the outside and start at right
tackle to take over for All-American Zach Strief.
- OG Ryan Keenan, Sr.
Keenan went from being a tight end playing guard to one of the best
linemen in the Big Ten. He's strong, athletic and talented enough to
play tackle if needed. He showed no ill-effects of a knee injury that
bothered him earlier in his career.
- C Trevor Rees, Jr.
Rees is back after missing all of last year due to academic issues, and
he'll instantly upgrade the already solid line allowing Austin Matthews
to move to tackle. Rees started 21 straight games before the off-field
issues and should contend for All-Big Ten honors.
- OG Joe Tripodi, Sr.
The 310-pound senior was considered the X factor on the line last year
and he turned in a solid year starting every game on the left side. He's
one of the team's biggest linemen and should be even better in the
- OT Dylan Thiry, Jr.
He's the team's burgeoning star, but he has to stay healthy and he has
to be consistent after struggling with a shoulder problem over the first
half of last year. He blocks out the sun as a pass blocker at 6-8 and
315 pounds and is growing into a dominant run blocker.
- C Joel Belding, Soph.
A pure run blocker, the 300-pound sophomore will push for a little bit
of starting job at either center or guard. He'll be penciled in as the
starter in the middle until Trevor Rees gets back in the swing of
things, but he'll mainly be used as an excellent backup.
- OG Adam Crum, Jr.
Able to play center or guard, the 295-pound junior was expected to be
the starter in the middle last year but turned out to be a little used
reserve. He's experienced enough from plenty of practice reps to be
counted on to play a big part of the rotation.
- OT Kurt Mattes, RFr.
The development of Mattes is one of the keys to the line. He's a
good-sized 6-6, 285-pound athlete who was a big-time recruit for the
Wildcats. Now he'll see time rotating at right tackle with Austin