Pat Fitzgerald became the youngest head coach in college football (31) in 2006 after replacing the late Randy Walker. Fitzgerald is one of my favorite head coaches because of this enthusiasm on the sidelines and passion for the game, all of which have led to five consecutive bowl appearances for the Wildcats. While Northwestern fields its most talented team under coach Fitzgerald, a difficult schedule that includes games against both Ohio State and Wisconsin could keep Northwestern from reaching double-digit wins in 2013.
- Northwestern’s success this season will be predicated upon an outstanding backfield featuring running back Venric Mark, who switched from being a slot receiver in 2011 and became the team’s first 1,000 rusher since 2006 (Tyrell Sutton). Mark garnered 1,366 yards at 6.0 yards per carry last season and looks to build upon that success in 2013;
- Northwestern is also guided by two capable quarterbacks, both of whom saw action last season. Likely starter Kain Colter threw for 872 yards (67.8%; 8-4 ratio), while also compiling 894 yards on the ground at 5.3 yards per carry. Trevor Siemian threw for 1.312 yards in 2012 (58.7%; 6-3 ratio). With Colter behind center, Northwestern ran the ball 85% of the time; with Siemian under center, the Wildcats threw the ball 63% of the time;
- The strength of Northwestern’s defense is its line, which limited opponents to a mere 128 yards per game last season (28 sacks). With six of the top 8 linemen returning from last year’s outstanding unit, including defensive end Tyler Scott, I look for the Wildcats to have success stopping the run;
- I also like the fact that Northwestern once again fields an outstanding special teams unit led by kicker Jeff Budzien, who made 19-of-20 field goals last year. Venric Mark remains a threat returning kicks/punts as he averaged 18.7 yards per punt return last season, including two touchdowns.
With fifteen returning starters, coach Fitzgerald enters the 2013-2014 campaign with his best team since arriving in Evanston. Look for the Wildcats to pull several upsets this year ands find themselves bowling for the sixth consecutive season.