Northwestern Preview 2006
Posted Aug 6, 2006

The program had to deal with the tragic death of Rashidi Wheeler a few years ago, and now it'll have to go on without the man who helped make Northwestern football relevant.

By Pete Fiutak

The program had to deal with the tragic death of Rashidi Wheeler a few years ago, and now it'll have to go on without the man who helped make Northwestern football relevant.

Of course, Gary Barnett got the ball rolling with a shockingly tough defense and a powerful running attack, and then Randy Walker tweaked the formula with one of the first forms of the spread offense and an attitude that allows the little-engine-that-could battle every big-time team that has the Northwestern game mentally penciled in as a win.  

Now the program has to deal with more tragedy as Walker suddenly passed away from an apparent heart attack. He was 52.

He was just starting to get his just due as one of the best head coaches in America considering he won with little of the talent the big time schools were able to get.

You're not supposed to win when you have the worst defense in America, and you're certainly not supposed to be competitive in a conference like the Big Ten when you can't stop the run. You're not supposed go to bowl games, beat teams like Wisconsin, Purdue, and Iowa, and come within a big-time clutch play of beating Penn State when your pool of possible top recruits can fit in a phone booth. But Walker was able to get the job done more often than not.

Everyone gushes over guys like Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer and Charlie Weis; try winning 14 Big Ten games in three years at one of the world's premier academic institutions with an undergraduate population of under 8,000 and a fan base that barely fills up half of a glorified high school stadium. So how does Northwestern get the job done, and how does it go on without its driving force?

Head coach: Pat Fitgerald
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 24, Def. 21, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best NU Players
1. RB Tyrell Sutton, Soph.
2. CB Marquice Cole, Sr.
3. C Trevor Rees, Jr.
4. OG Ryan Kennan, Sr.
5. DE Kevin Mims, Soph.
6. LB Nick Roach, Jr.
7. WR Shaun Herbert, Sr.
8. LB Adam Kadela, Jr.
9. SS Bryan Heinz, Sr.
10. OT Dylan Thiry, Jr.

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 4-8

8/31 at Miami Univ.
9/9 New Hampshire
9/16 Eastern Michigan
9/22 at Nevada
9/30 at Penn State
10/7 at Wisconsin
10/14 Purdue
10/21 Michigan State
10/28 at Michigan
11/4 at Iowa
11/11 Ohio State
11/18 Illinois

2005 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2005 Record: 7-5

Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/3 Ohio  W 38-14
9/10 Northern Illinois W 38-37
9/17 at Arizona State L 52-21
9/24 Penn State L 34-29
10/8 Wisconsin W 51-48
10/15 at Purdue W 34-29
10/22 at Michigan St W 49-14
10/29 Michigan L 33-17
11/5 Iowa W 28-27
11/12 at Ohio State L 48-7
11/19 at Illinois W 38-21
12/30 Sun Bowl
UCLA L 50-38

Looking at it purely in football analysis and taking the emotional equation out of it, it's about getting good linemen, tough players who know their roles, and a quarterback who can run the show efficiently. It's no coincidence that the team's success over the years came when it have a veteran signal caller. Steve Schnur was the heady passer who led the way during the initial Big Ten title years, Zac Kustok was Alex Smith before Alex Smith, and Brett Basanez improved over his four years to the point of being one of the nation's leaders in total offense. That's why there's a big concern for a huge dip this year.

C.J. Bacher, Andrew Brewer, and Mike Kafka are going to have to be Basanez without the three years of starting experience. There's a fantastic line to work behind and Tyrell Sutton to put all the pressure of the offense on his shoulders, but without the nation's seventh-ranked passing game to keep things moving, another big season might be hard to come by.

It's never right to trivialize a death by saying it could possibly have anything to do with a football team's success, but this is still a good enough team to win plenty of games and throw a few scares into the contenders. Obviously, no team will have to go through this season more on its mind.

The Schedule: The Wildcats could be in big, big trouble if they stumble in losable early road games against Miami University and Nevada. Starting out the Big Ten season at Penn State and at Wisconsin isn't a positive, and a two-game road trip to Michigan and Iowa should crush bowl dreams. If that wasn't bad enough, they come home to face Ohio State and has to deal with improved Michigan State and Purdue teams. NU misses Minnesota and Indiana.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore RB Tyrell Sutton. Sutton gained 970 yards in his first seven games coming within 30 yards of being in the same breath as Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith, and Adrian Peterson as the only backs to gain 1,000 in seven games as a true freshman. Even so, he made a name for himself as both a runner and a receiver catching 44 passes to go along with his 1,474 rushing yards and 16 scores.

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB Marquice Cole. One of the Big Ten's best cover-corners, Cole has 4.3 speed and a great nose for the ball. He became a top all-around defender last year turning into a good open-field tackler while breaking up ten passes and picking off five passes.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB C.J. Bacher. Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka are in the mix for the starting job, but it'll likely be up to Bacher to be the one who gets the keys to the offense. He has seen a little bit of work and has the tools to grow into the job, but he can't just worry about limiting mistakes; he has to make big plays for the Wildcats to be in the mix for a bowl game

The season will be a success if ... the Wildcats win seven games and go back to a bowl. It's possible if they win every game they have a reasonable shot in. At Miami University, New Hampshire, Eastern Michigan, at Nevada, and Illinois all have to be victories, and then there has to be a win over teams like Michigan State and Purdue along the way.

Key game: Sept. 22 at Nevada. The defending co-WAC champions will see this nationally televised Friday night game as a chance to showcase themselves on national TV. With road games ahead at Penn State and Wisconsin, Northwestern must beat the Wolf Pack to avoid a possible three game losing streak and for a likely 4-0 start before facing the tough Big Ten schedule.

2005 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Northwestern 12 for 45 yards - Opponents 11 for 82 yards
- Fourth down conversions: Opponents 17 of 23 (74%) - Northwestern 11 of 20 (55%)
- Interception return average: Northwestern 14.5 yards on 20 interceptions - Opponents 4.7 yard on nine interceptions.

The Last Time Northwestern…
…played in a bowl game…2005 (Sun Bowl vs. UCLA)
…missed a bowl game…2004
…pitched a shutout…1997 (Oklahoma)
…was shutout…2003 (Ohio State)
…scored 50 points…2005 (Wisconsin)
…went undefeated…never
…won a conference title…2000 (share, Big Ten)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…2005 (Brett Basanez)
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2005 (Tyrell Sutton)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…1998 (D’wayne Bates)
…had a first-round draft choice…2005 (DT Luis Castillo)


Related Stories
Northwestern Preview 2006 - Offense
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Northwestern Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Northwestern Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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