2008 NU Preview
2007 NU Preview
2006 NU Preview
Interested in blogging
about Northwestern football?
Head coach: Pat Fitzgerald
4th year: 19-18
Off. 24, Def. 23, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best NU Players
1. DE Corey Wootton, Jr.
2. SS Brad
3. FS Brendan Smith, Sr.
4. CB Sherrick
5. QB Mike Kafka, Sr.
6. LB Nate Williams,
7. LB Quentin Davis, Jr.
8. DT Corbin Bryant, Jr.
9. OT Al Netter, Soph.
10. RB Stephen Simmons, Jr.
9/12 Eastern Michigan
9/19 at Syracuse
10/3 at Purdue
10/10 Miami University
10/17 at Michigan State
10/31 Penn State
11/7 at Iowa
11/14 at Illinois
11/28 OPEN DATE
Syracuse W 30-10
9/6 at Duke W 24-20
9/13 So. Illinois
9/20 Ohio W 16-8
9/27 at Iowa W 22-17
10/4 OPEN DATE
10/11 Michigan State L 37-20
10/18 Purdue W 48-26
10/25 at Indiana L
11/1 at Minnesota W 24-17
11/8 Ohio State L 45-10
11/15 at Michigan W 21-14
11/22 Illinois W 27-10
12/29 Missouri L 30-23 OT
Even when Northwestern
was winning Big Ten titles in the 1990s, it's not like anyone really
took the program seriously. After all, it was Northwestern.
The program that was synonymous with futility, and jokingly said to
be kept around by the Big Ten to raise up the league's academic profile,
has obviously had some big moments, but it's always been seen as more of
an annoying gnat that buzzes around the heads of the bigger name
schools, rather than be accepted as one of the Big Ten's more
successful, consistent teams.
With the recruiting restrictions,
school size, and a lack of local interest in a major market, there are
plenty of built-in excuses, and all of them valid, that make it hard for
teams to get up for that trip to Evanston, and that's not a bad thing.
Everyone circles the calendar to mark the Michigan game. Everyone gets
jacked up for Penn State, and the year is focused around what a team can
do against Ohio State. Northwestern is still Northwestern, and even
though head coach Pat Fitzgerald is trying to change the perception, the
underdog image works to the team's advantage. However, Fitzgerald has
said from day one that he wants to make Northwestern a powerhouse, and
he might be on the verge of coming closer than anyone thought possible.
Now the team has to start winning more of the big games.
Northwestern isn't exactly an underdog anymore going four out of the
last five years with a 6-6 record or better, and another year, in 2003,
that finished up 6-7 after a trip to a bowl game. Ah yes, the bowl
games. And there's the problem.
For all the positive things that
NU has done over the last 15 years, there hasn't been a bowl win. In
fact, the school is 1-6 in bowls with the only victory a 1948 Rose Bowl
win over California. While winning bowl games is hardly the total
measure of how good a program is, the lack of being able to pull off
that extra victory has cemented the NU into the try-hard category. Oh
sure, the Wildcats can rise up and pull off an upset of Iowa or Illinois
now and then, but when teams are able to take a few weeks to focus and
gameplan, they can't win. And it's not like the bowls have all been
mismatches in talent. There was a Motor City Bowl loss to Bowling Green,
This year's team could be different, and it might not be the
type of Northwestern squad that has its head too far over its skis with
a nice record that gets exposed in the post-season. There are issues,
but there are other parts that will be as strong as the program has ever
It all starts with a secondary that gets everyone back and
has a slew of good-looking backups to count on. Throw in an athletic
linebacking corps, and a line that could dominate if everyone is healthy
(but that's a HUGE if), and a defense that gave up just 341 yards and 20
points per game should be fantastic.
The offense will have to
change some things up a bit with a new backfield that will run more than
it has in the last few years, and with a receiving corps that's wet
behind the gills, but the line should be strong enough to give everyone
time to get comfortable.
There are reasons to have high
expectations at this point considering the recent success, and
Fitzgerald appears to be coming into his own as a coach just as the
talent level is starting to rise. Big Ten teams will be warned and
warned again about how dangerous NU will be, and several will still get
What to watch for on offense: More running. Head coach Mick
McCall's offense didn't work quite as well as expected, with the idea
that the playmakers should have the ball in space as much as possible.
C.J. Bacher was good at distributing the ball around, but he had three
veteran receivers to work with and a do-it-all back in Tyrell Sutton to
rely on. All the top skill players are gone, and while the receiving
corps is the biggest question mark, there are talented runners ready to
pick up the slack. Mike Kafka is a dangerous running quarterback, and
backs Stephen Simmons, Alex Daniel, and Jeravin Matthews are all quick.
McCall will still try to get his top players in places where they can do
something with the ball, but it might just look a bit different.
What to watch for on defense: The health of the defensive front.
Long-time defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz got a ton of production
out of a defense that was camped out in opposing backfields led by Corey
Wootton. The junior has always had the tools and the potential, and he
put it all together last season with a ten-sack season that made him
finally look like the top NFL prospect everyone expected him to become.
Now he has to get over a bad knee injury suffered in the December loss
to Missouri, and that might still take a while get to 100% once the
season starts. Tackle Adam Hahn is trying to get over a foot injury
and versatile tackle/end Corbin Bryant is trying to get past a knee
injury. On the plus side, the injuries allowed others, like end Vince
Browne, to get more work this offseason, but if the starters aren't
healthy, the defensive pressure of last year will diminish.
The team will be far better if … Mike Kafka can throw. He
was excellent running the ball when he replaced Bacher last year,
running for 217 yards against Minnesota and 83 yards against Ohio State,
and while he completed 32-of-46 passes, he threw three picks with two
touchdown passes. He's not going to be Bacher throwing the ball, but if
he's able to provide just enough of a deep passing threat to keep
defenses honest, things will open up that much more for the ground game.
The Schedule: It's not bad.
If the Wildcats can win at Syracuse, and as long as they don't screw up
at home early on, they should be at least 6-2 before dealing with Penn
State. The non-conference schedule is laughable playing Towson, Eastern
Michigan, at Syracuse and Miami University. Going on the road to face
Iowa and Illinois in back-to-back weeks in November will be tough, and
to close out against Wisconsin will be difficult meaning the first half
of the season has to be fantastic. Not playing Ohio State is as big a
plus as it gets, and while it might seem like a plus to miss Michigan,
it's not a break this year..
Best Offensive Player:
Junior QB Mike Kafka. He has to stay healthy, he has to keep the
mistakes to a minimum, and he has to be consistent. The 6-3, 215-pounder
has the starting experience to be ready to produce in a big way, but he
takes big shots (he was knocked out against Michigan) and he has to
prove he can lead the team to wins with his arm as well as his legs. But
he's a talent with the potential to go from a nice relief pitcher to a
dangerous centerpiece to work the offense around.
Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Corey Wootton. But this could
quickly change if he's not 100%. When he's right, he's one of the best
all-around ends in college football and he'll make NFL scouts with 3-4
defenses drool. If Wootton isn't the best player, then it'll be safety
Brad Phillips, a top tacklers who'll be a near-lock for all-star honors.
Safety Brendan Smith and corner Sherrick McManis will also earn all-Big
Key player to a
Senior WR Andrew Brewer. Kafka is the team's key
player, but he needs receivers to throw to with Ross Lane, Eric
Peterman, and Rasheed Ward gone. Brewer didn't come up with a big year
with just 18 grabs for 145 yards, but he needs to become a No. 1 target
who stretches the field from the outside. He's the veteran in the green
receiving corps and he needs to be dangerous..
The season will be a success if
... the Wildcats win nine games again ... and a bowl. Not getting Ohio
State is as big a break as it gets, and Michigan is better this year so
not playing Big Blue is a plus. However, there are just enough offensive
issues to expect better than last year's 9-4 campaign, especially with a
nasty finishing kick. NU won't win at Michigan State and will likely
lose against Penn State and at Iowa, so there has to be a split at
Illinois and against Wisconsin and no mistakes anywhere else.
September 26 vs. Minnesota. Considering Purdue is
in a rebuilding mode and needs to be a win for the Cats. If they can
pull off a win over an improved Gopher team in the Big Ten opener in
Evanston, there's a real chance to start out 6-0 before the brutal part
of the state starts to kick in. A big start, with Indiana still on the
slate, could mean a nine win season is possible.
2008 Fun Stats:
- Third down
conversions: Northwestern 97-of-209 (46%) - Opponents 68-for-196 (35%)
- Penalties: Opponents 78 for 688 yards - Northwestern 61 for 567 yards
- Sacks: Northwestern 34 for 235 yards - Opponents 22 for 176 yards
2008 NU Preview
2007 NU Preview
2006 NU Preview