Returning Starters – Offense: 6 Defense: 7
Preview: Northwestern came up just short of bowl eligibility last season going 5-7 overall in 3-5 in conference play. The Wildcats had their chance to reach 6 wins, but the defense fell apart in the final game of the season losing to Illinois at home by a final of 33-47. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has done a great of building the Northwestern program to respectability going 60-53 overall in his 9 years as the head man. The Wildcats will look to build around their 13 returning starters in hopes of getting back to postseason play.
The offense struggled at times in 2014 and the unit will look to get more explosive and take some more risks in 2015. Northwestern was very conservative on offense in 2014 and as a result the team ranked near the bottom of the FBS in big plays. The first order of business for the team is to find their new starting QB. The Wildcats have three guys in the mix to earn the job with senior Zack Oliver perhaps having an edge because of his experience. The O-line will return 3 starters to a unit that will be a work in progress with some guys changing up their position. The run game looks to improve with returning back Justin Jackson coming off a successful freshman campaign. The receiving corps has options and the unit will build around Christian Jones.
The defense was forced into playing some younger guys earlier than expected due to injuries in 2014, but the team is now more experienced in 2015 as a result. The defensive line returns 3 starters to a unit that should get better at pressuring opposing QBs. The line will be built around ends Lowry, Gibson, and Odenigbo. The linebacker position is in more of a rebuild with only 1 returning starter back in the fold. The LB group is hoping to get big things out of guys like Anthony Walker and Drew Smith who become full time starters. The secondary returns 3 starters and could be one of the best units Northwestern has had in some time.
Prediction: There are reasons to be hopeful, but also concerns coming into the 2015 season for a Northwestern team that’s hoping to get back to postseason play. The Wildcats need to find a new option at QB and the team still has some questions surrounding the O-line. The positives have to be the strength and depth of the defense along with the promise and potential of young RB Justin Jackson. Northwestern has some tricky nonconference games against Stanford and Duke, but the team misses out on playing Ohio State and Michigan State in conference. Anything short of a bowl game would be a disappointment.
Projected Record: 6-6 (4-4)