Northwestern had a better than expected season in 2008, can they build on that success or was that just a senior-laden team playing in a weak Big Ten last year? Pat Fitzgerald is a coach on the rise and he will be tested this season with little returning on offense. Joe Pasquali has our Northwestern analysis in our 2009 Big Ten Preview.
Finishing T-#4 in the Big Ten
Northwestern Wildcats (Predicted Finish 8-4)
Summary– Northwestern had the quietest nine win season the country last year and turned plenty of heads in the Big Ten. Wins at Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan proved that this Wildcat team was for real. Bad for the Wildcats however is their inexperience on offense, which will only return 4 starters, none of which are at skill positions. Their schedule is fairly easy, with Ohio State and Michigan State at home.
Offense(C+)– As stated above, NW only returns four players on offense, three offensive linemen and their Tight End Josh Brooks. Senior Mike Kafka will be at the helm for the Wildcats at QB and RB Stephen Simmons should split carries with redshirt Freshman Alex Daniel. Games against Towson, Eastern Michigan, and Syracuse will be good for the inexperienced offense to get clicking before conference play.
Defense (B+)– Northwestern will have the most underrated defense in the conference and also one of the best. Defensive End Corey Whooten missed last season with an injury but is healthy and ready to make an impact. The consensus pre-season All American will most likely be picked in the first round of next spring’s NFL Draft, but this fall he will be causing havoc in Big Ten back fields. All together Northwestern has nine returning starters on defense.
Special Teams (B)– Stefan Demos returns as the kicker AND punter for the Wildcats this season. After having a solid 2008 campaign punting the ball Northwestern has given him all of their special team’s kicking duties.
Coaching (B-)– Pat Fitzgerald is still very green when it comes to coaches in the Big Ten but showed last year that he had all the tools to make an impact. This will be a big season for Northwestern, especially with Ohio State and Michigan off the schedule.