2010 Northwestern Preview
Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
Posted May 13, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern Wildcats

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Pat Fitzgerald
5th year: 27-23
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 24, Def. 28, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Northwestern Players
1. LB Quentin Davie, Jr.
2. LB Nate Williams, Sr.
3. DE Vince Browne, Jr.
4. S Brian Peters, Jr.
5. DE Kevin Watt, Jr.
6. CB Jordan Mabin, Jr.
7. OT Al Netter, Jr.
8. QB Dan Persa, Jr.
9. DT Corbin Bryant, Sr.
10. TE Drake Dunsmore, Jr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 11 Illinois State
Sept. 18 at Rice
Sept. 25 Central Michigan
Oct. 2 at Minnesota
Oct. 9 Purdue
Oct. 23 Michigan State
Oct. 30 at Indiana
Nov. 6 at Penn State
Nov. 13 Iowa
Nov. 20 Illinois
Nov. 27 at Wisconsin

When can everyone finally admit that Northwestern simply isn't that bad?

Okay, so any team that's any good shouldn't have so many problems putting away Eastern Michigan or Miami University, two of the worst teams of 2009, and losing to Syracuse and Minnesota is a problem when it comes to the respect department, but winning 23 games in the last three seasons, and with only one losing season since 2003, the Wildcats have showed they can actually play.

While there were problems over the first half of last year, the Cats managed to beat Iowa and Wisconsin, they should've beaten Auburn in the Outback Bowl, and they proved Pat Fitzgerald to be right; there's no reason the program can't compete with everyone and be in the mix for New Year's Day bowls and Big Ten titles.

It's not like there's a who's who of NFL talent flowing through Evanston, but the formula is working with Fitzgerald's frenzied passion for the program and an upgrade the overall athleticism across the board has brought in the wins. This will never be a team that dominated year-in-and-year-out, and there will always be struggles against the mediocre (like a comeback win to beat Indiana by one), but the wins are coming. The question now is whether or not Fitzgerald can maintain the success and make Northwestern an even more consistent winner.

But there's no margin for error for the Cats. They could've easily lost to Eastern Michigan, Purdue, Miami University, Indiana, Iowa, or Wisconsin, but give them credit for having the toughness to close out several close battles. The difference between 8-5 and a successful season and a disappointing 5-7 campaign, but as long as Fitzgerald keeps getting decent athletes, and as long as the systems work, this will continue to be a thorny program in the Big Ten's side.

This year's team has some big losses in the passing game, with QB Mike Kafka now a Philadelphia Eagle and the top two receivers also gone, but the line that struggled throughout last year is experienced, deep, and talented, the running backs are quick and should be better, and Dan Persa is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback who fits what Northwestern wants to do.

The defense should be among the best yet in Fitzgerald's five years with a loaded linebacking corps, some nice defensive linemen including dangerous ends Vince Browne and Kevin Watt, and with some good hitters in the secondary.

No, Northwestern isn't Ohio State or Penn State when it comes to talent, but there's no reason to believe this won't be another productive year with plenty of fun, exciting battles and nail-biter after nail-biter.

Just like Fitzgerald has envisioned.

What to watch for on offense: More from the running game. The offensive line was bad, the running backs were injured and lousy, and the offense became too reliant on the passing of Mike Kafka. This year, the big, veteran line should get more chances to blast away and be more physical, and the rushing production should follow with five very quick, relatively small backs to work in a rotation, and with a quarterback in Dan Persa who'll run more than Kafka did. There should be a better balance to the attack.

What to watch for on defense: A terrific year from the front seven. Star end Corey Wootton is off to the Chicago Bears, but he was still trying to find his way back from a knee injury last year. Junior Kevin Watt could be far more productive than Wootton was last year now that he has the full-time job, while Vince Browne is a dangerous end on the other side. The linebacking corps has the potential to be among the best in the Big Ten with several good options and two potential all-stars in Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. This isn't going to be a rock of a run defense against the better power running teams, but the front seven will be all over the place and should spend plenty of time in opposing backfields.

The team will be far better if … the defense doesn't give up more than 31 points. Duh, most teams aren't going to do too well when they allow a ton of points, but last year, Northwestern went 8-1 when allowing 31 points or fewer and 0-4 when allowing 32 or more. In 2008, the Cats gave up 30 points or more three times and lost all three. This year, the team isn't built to survive in shootouts with an offense that could have problems keeping up when the defense is struggling.

The schedule: If the Wildcats are any good they should be in for a huge season. There are only three dates against 2009 bowl teams in the first seven games, and those are against Central Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan State; that's not that bad. Missing Ohio State is the biggest break the team could ask for, while missing Michigan looks nice in name, if not in reality. The finishing kick has a few issues going to Penn State and Wisconsin and getting Iowa and Illinois in Evanston, but the Cats should have a nice enough cushion over the first half of the season to suffer a few losses late. If NU can go 2-2 in the last four games, it might go to its second straight New Year's Day bowl.

Best offensive player: Junior OT Al Netter. The hope is for QB Dan Persa to be a dangerous all-around playmaker with more rushing production to go along with a decent short-range arm, but the most talented offensive player is Netter, a two-year starter who struggled a bit in pass protection last year but has the athleticism and experience to be the team's best blocker. If he's a rock and he does a good job of keeping Persa upright, the offense will be fine.

Best defensive player: Senior LBs Nate Williams and Quentin Davie. Flip a coin on which one is better, and the two, if healthy, will combine to be terrific. Davie did a little of everything for the defense last year with five sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss to go along with his team-leading 90 tackles, while Williams made 86 stops and seven tackles for loss. They're both good in pass coverage, they can get into the backfield, and they don't miss many stops.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Dan Persa. He fits what offensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz likes to do with an accurate arm, good mobility, and a baller-mentality to keep the offense moving. However, it's asking a lot to replace a fourth-round NFL draft pick like Kafka, and there will be times when the offense needs a big-time passer to keep up in shootouts and Persa has to prove he can be it.

The season will be a success if … the Cats win eight games and a bowl. Getting a post-season win would be a step forward considering the school hasn't wona bowl since the 1940s (and hasn't received a a berth in the NCAA men's basketball tournament), and with a light schedule, anything other than eight wins would be a step back. With no Ohio State to face and with winnable road games against Vanderbilt, Rice, Minnesota, and Indiana, the schedule is good enough to at least go bowling again.

Key game: Oct. 2 at Minnesota. The Cats have won two of the last three in the series highlighted by a late shocker in the Metrodome in 2007, and now they have to play outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium in the Big Ten opener. With a home date against Purdue to follow, a week off, a home game against Michigan State, and a trip to Indiana, NU could be 3-1 in Big Ten play, at worst, if they can come up with a good, steady performance against a mediocre Gopher squad.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Northwestern 2nd quarter scoring: 143 – Northwestern 3rd quarter scoring: 59
- Fumbles: Opponents 26 (lost 13) – Northwestern 16 (lost 12)
- Penalties: Opponents 73 for 715 yards – Northwestern 73 for 584 yards

- 2010 Northwestern Preview | 2010 Northwestern Offense
- 2010 Northwestern Defense | 2010 Northwestern Depth Chart
- Northwestern Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006