Big Ten Preview – Northwestern
Offense – Returning Starters – 5; Key Departures – QB, Dan Persa. WR, Jeremy Ebert (7th round, Patriots). TE, Drake Dunsmore (7th round, Buccaneers). OT, Al Netter
Northwestern’s leading passer, rusher and receiver are all the same person: 2012 quarterback Kain Colter. A more accomplished runner than passer, Colter is dangerous with the ball in his hands and replaced departed Dan Persa four times last season. Colter will operate behind an offensive line that returns experience and standout tackle Pat Ward. The fact that Colter and the line are trusted opens up an interesting dimension for Northwestern. Tailback Mike Trumpy isn’t special, but he’ll run hard and find holes because of Colter’s misdirection and threat. Additionally Northwestern will replace Jeremy Ebert with a rare 5-star talent in former USC receiver Kyle Prater. While things didn’t work out at USC for Prater, he was the former no. 2 ranked player in the nation and at 6-5 and 215 pounds is a huge target with speed. If Colter can establish Prater as a deep threat it will not only allow Northwestern to pick up huge chunks of yardage and scoresbut also open up running lanes for Trumpy.
Key – Besides for Colter’s health, establishing Kyle Prater. From the reports out of Northwestern camp, I can’t make out whether Prater is still the prospect he was a couple years ago, but he couldn’t have fallen that far off the map. On size alone he should be a dangerous threat, and judging by Colter’s rare exploitation as the team’s leading receiver, rusher and passer, it’s obvious Northwestern needs to vary its weapons.
Defense – Returning Starters – 5; Key Departures – DE, Vince Brown. DT, Jack DiNardo. S, Brian Peters
Northwestern hasn’t been particularly good on defense despite having a former linebacker at head coach. In 2011 they had a hard time getting off the field on third down and were 106th in the nation at preventing plays of 20 yards or more. When you are at a talent disadvantage, you need to be that much better systematically, and Northwestern hasn’t found the recipe. They toyed with turning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 but usually find themselves in a normal 4-3. The problem with that is they haven’t had a disruptive defensive lineman since Cory Wooten and didn’t possess any last year. This year Northwestern has to replace six starters on defense, and that could be a good thing. Nobody was a difference maker off last year’s team, so now some younger players have a chance to step up and improve. Look for Brian Arnfelt or Will Hampton to be those guys in the middle of the line.
Key – Find an identity and establish some young players to cement that identity in the coming years. If Northwestern is to make the leap between thorn in the side to conference contender they’ll need a more consistent defensive unit.
And 1 – Northwestern only brings back five returning starters on either side of the ball, making them one of the least experienced team in the conference. This does not bode well for Northwestern, who cannot pump in elite recruits and players ready to contribute as freshman and sophomores. Although Northwestern has picked up their recruiting, 2012 will be a tough year for Pat Fitzgerald. On the bright side for the Wildcats, their non-conference lineup is manageable and they start the big season with three teams that should struggle mightily in Indiana, Penn State, and Minnesota.
Prediction – 6-6 (3-5)
Ohio State – 8-17-12
Penn State – 8-20-12
Purdue – 8-21-12
Wisconsin – 8-22-12