Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald
2013 record: 5-7 overall, 1-7 Big Ten Legends
2013 Bowl result: None
2014 Returning Starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
Odds to Win 2015 College Football Championship Game: Field 30/1
Odds to Win 2014 Big Ten Championship Game: 40/1
Odds to Win 2014 Big Ten West Division: 18/1
Regular Season Wins: under 7.5 -140 / over 7.5 +110
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The Northwestern Wildcats went 4-0 in non-conference play all by double digits. However, they would then lose seven straight games to open conference play. Only a 37-34 win over rival Illinois prevented a winless Big Ten season for Northwestern. There were plenty of close calls during the losing streak including overtime losses to Iowa and Michigan and losses by a field goal to Minnesota and Nebraska.
The Wildcats return 17 starters from last year. Northwestern hopes there isn’t a repeat of last year’s seven game losing streak. Coach Pat Fitzgerald could be in danger of losing his job if that were to happen.
Northwestern struggled on offense last season averaging 227 passing yards and 172 rushing yards. The Wildcats averaged 26 points per game. The Offense returns 9 starters from that unit and needs to improve in 2014. Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall have said they want to get back to pass heavy offense.
Last season, Trevor Siemian took the majority of the snaps at quarterback, but Kane Colter took a few snaps a game as well. Colter is now with the Minnesota Vikings as a wide receiver. Siemian had a great spring and is the unquestioned starter. Last year, he completed 59.7% of hos passes for 2,149 yards with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Colter threw for 577 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He was also the second leading rusher with 115 carries for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns, and even caught a touchdown pass.
The Wildcats hope running back Venric Mark returns to the form he showed in 2012 when he rushed for over 1,300 yards. Mark played in only three games last season and rushed for only 97 yards. Treyvon Green replaced Mark last year and had 137 carries for 736 yards and 8 touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Green won’t get as many carries if Mark is healthy. Warren Long and Stephen Buckley will also get some carries.
Receivers Tony Jones and Christian Jones both return. Christian had 54 catches for 668 yards and four touchdowns. Tony had 55 catches for 630 yards and 4 touchdowns. Rutgers transfer Miles Schuler should be productive in the slot. Dan Vitale plays a superback/tight end for the Wildcats. He made 34 catches for 382 yards with 3 touchdowns last year. Kyle Prater looks to be more productive since he is healthy in 2014.
The offensive line struggled last year and it could be another disappointing season for Northwestern if they don’t improve in 2014. Only center Brandon Vitabile and tackle Paul Jorgensen were safe from position battles in the spring.
Northwestern gave up 424 yards per game on defense last year but only 27 points per game. They had to stay on the field for long periods of time because the offense had so many three and outs. The defense returns 8 starters and needs to make some more plays to avoid the close losses that plagued them last year.
The defensive line was supposed to be deep and talented but several players underwent off-season surgeries. Ends Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo are strong pass rushers if healthy. The Wildcats must get more production from tackles Sean McEvilly and C.J. Robbins.
Linebackers Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis combined for 184 tackles and 7 interceptions last season. Both return and head a strong unit.
Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell headlines the secondary, but the unit has tons of depth with two or three quality players at each position.
Arthur Omilian and Hunter Niswander will compete to replace two time All-Big Ten kicker Jeff Budzien who has graduated. Chris Gradone looks to improve a punting game that struggled at times last year. Mark was an All-American punt returner in 2012 and Northwestern would love if he could return to that form.
Northwestern faces a tough non-conference schedule with home games against California, Northern Illinois, Western Illinois and a late season trip to Notre Dame. In conference, Northwestern travels to Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa and Purdue. Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and Illinois all come to Evanston. If the offensive line improves, then Northwestern could be a dark horse in the Big Ten West. Still, I don’t see any more than 8 wins.
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