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Northwestern is a Legitimate Contender in the Big Ten West

Northwestern

With college football only weeks away, I wanted to start providing detailed analysis on the teams that I believe provide excellent value from a betting perspective heading into the 2014-2015 campaign.  The first team to qualify as a undervalued squad that offers sports bettors with solid point spread value is Northwestern.

I have always been bullish on the Wildcats in light of their head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, who became the youngest coach in college football in 2006 when he was handpicked by the late Randy Walker as his replacement.  Continuity is extremely important in college football, and Northwestern is just one of four teams in the nation to have the same head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator the last six years.  Entering his ninth season on the Northwestern sidelines, coach Fitzgerald welcomes back seventeen starters, including running back Venric Mark.

Coach Fitzgerald made a brilliant decision back in 2012 when he moved Mark from a slot wide receiver to running back.  In fact, Mark became the school’s first  1,000 rusher since 2006 after garnering 1,366 yards on the ground at 6.0 yards per carry (696 return yards).  Northwestern’s backfield looks like one the best in the nation with Mark returning and the heavily-injured unit from last season finally healthy.  How bad was 2013 for Northwestern’s backfield?  At one juncture in the season, the Wildcats were down to sixth string running back Tim Hanrahan.

Northwestern also enters the 2014-2015 campaign with one of the best wide receiving units in the nation as the top two receivers from last season return.  The Wildcats also possess an outstanding offensive line that boasts 100 career starts (40 career starts last year) as every starter from last season returns.  Northwestern’s strength on the defensive side of the ball will be its defensive line and secondary. The defensive line welcomes back tackle Sean McEvilly (made ten starts in 2012), who suffered an injury in week five of last season and missed the remainder of the year.  The entire secondary returns from last season, including Daniel Jones and Ibraheim Campbell.

Northwestern returns quarterback Trevor Siemian, who split time with departing quarterback Kain Colter in 2013.  Siemian is regarded as the team’s best pocket passer and threw for 2,149 yards (59.7%) last year.  Competing for the starting job will be redshirt freshman Matt Alviti, who threw for 9,750 yards (65.3%; 2,040 rush yards) in high school and will be a legitimate threat with his legs.

Northwestern is one of the most improved teams in the nation and I expect the Wildcats to contend in the Big Ten West this season.  In fact, I am going to call for the Wildcats to win the Big Ten West under the leadership of one of my favorite coaches in football – Pat Fitzgerald.

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