College Football Preview: The 2015 Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern Wildcats Preview
2014 Record: 5-7 (86th of 128)
Odds to Win National Championship: +100000 See the Latest Odds
Overview: This is a big season for head coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats, as the program has combined for just 10 wins the last two seasons and missed back-to-back bowl appearances for the third time of the 2000s. Northwestern isn’t exactly a program that has huge expectations but it does want to compete and continue to move in the upward direction.
Offense: Northwestern’s offense has a solid building block in running back Justin Jackson who topped 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman. Dan Vitale, Miles Shuler and Garrett Dickerson provide experience and sure hands on the outside. Also, the return of top wide receiver Christian Jones is a huge plus after missing last season due to injury. Northwestern has some proven talent at the skill positions and an offensive line that should improve after a subpar year. However, a decision between Zack Oliver, Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti at quarterback will decide the fate of this offense. Last season, Northwestern threw for 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, while completing just 57.4 percent of their passes, numbers that clearly must improve. Good luck.
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Defense: Northwestern returns a lot of key guys from a defense that finished 54th in the country and was highly overlooked due to the team’s overall struggles. Anthony Walker had nine tackles for loss as a freshman and has a chance to become a star at the linebacker position. Traveon Henry has been a consistent safety the last two seasons and Nick VanHoose is one of the better cornerbacks in the Big Ten. The defensive line is also loaded with depth and experience with guys such as Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson leading the way. Northwestern’s defense should once again be the bright spot for this football team.
Special Teams: Hunter Niswander returns at punter after averaging 36 yards on five punt attempts. Jack Mitchell returns at kicker after making 77.8 percent of 18 field goal attempts.
Overall: Honestly, with so many starters returning, there’s no reason why Northwestern should fall short of a bowl game for a third straight season. This team is well balanced and that’s without even having a true answer at the quarterback position. Give Northwestern a reliable quarterback, and this team can put a scare into some of the more talented teams in the Big Ten. Either way, this program should get back to a bowl game.